On Herakles As Thunderer – The Recollection Of The Weapon In The Classical Conceptual Sphere

There are a few falsehoods in our field which stubbornly refuse to die. One of them is this ongoing notion that Zeus Pater / Jupiter is somehow the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer deific … rather than the Sky Father, Dyaus Pitar, that is the Father of said God.

We have earlier poured quite some effort into demonstrating how this just simply isn’t the case – showing how Zeus / Jupiter is fundamentally congruent with the Vedic understanding, the Nordic understanding, the archaic Proto-Indo-European understanding of the Sky Father … and likewise, how Hercules / Herakles is clearly congruent with Indra , Thor , Hanuman (Bajrangi), etc.

But some things refuse to be banished, even despite the exorcism of evidence – and so we must turn to it again. Aptly enough, upon a Thursday (itself so-called due to a post-Christianization confusion of Roman / Interpretatio Romana theology which named what should have been Jupiter’s Day after Thor … because following the death of living Roman religion, it had been forgotten that this was not the proper linkage – and that not only Jupiter could command the Thunderbolt, for a start).

The lingering question when we bring up the identification of Herakles / Hercules as the Thunderer/Striker is always the same one – namely “where is the Thunder?”

It is an understandable inquiry, albeit an incomplete one – as we can quite clearly demonstrate that various mythic contexts in which the Striker/Thunderer uses the Thunderbolt … are definitely resonant with the mythology of Herakles. Consider my earlier work demonstrating the foundational coterminity of Herakles, Iolaos, and Athena contra the Hydra … with Indra, Trita Aptya, and Vak Saraswati ‘gainst Vritra, for instance.

I would suggest that as applies the mythology of Herakles – a certain level of ‘euhemerization’ had taken place, reducing the God we find in the East as Indra and North as Thor, to a Demigod … and likewise, mythic combats against a world-encircling or water-cycle-disrupting Dragon, into a rather smaller-scale (although still undoubtedly magnificent!) combat against another draconic figure at a fixed geographic place and time which one could physically visit. [as Pausanias did, and argued that the Hydra was instead just a really big serpent embroidered upon by various generations of poets]

In that light, the way we find Herakles’ weapons talked about makes sense. Instead of the most definitely ‘mythic’, ‘metaphysically charged’ weapon of Indra or Thor – the Vajra and Mjolnir, respectively … we find an array of more ‘mundane’ devices: the most archaic visual depictions available to us have Herakles (and Iolaus) hacking away utilizing a Harpe (and it is interesting to note the adamantium harpe occurrent elsewhere in the Greek mythology, perhaps), or firing flaming arrows, or utilizing the bough of a tree as a club.

It is not hard to see how these quite clearly resonate with the actions of Thor / Indra – the smiting of Jormungandr’s head recorded in the Husdrapa, for instance, or the similar decapitations elsewhere in the Indo-European mythic recountings for the combat … and flaming arrows relative to thrown lightning make an obvious, figurative sense.

Yet something is quite clearly missing – and that is the direct remembrance of this being, well, Thunder.

In the East, there is no such complication. And I do not (just) mean the Vedic Hindu sphere. Amidst the Indo-Greeks, we find Herakles informing the figure of Vajrapani [‘Bears the Vajra in His Hand’]; most prominent, nowadays, due to Buddhist referencing of the figure. Evidently, the Greeks found it uncontroversial to associate Herakles with a Vajra- [that is to say Thunderbolt-] bearing figure.

But in the West? Where are we to look.

Our associate Athanaricus alerted me to the following lines from Seneca’s Hercules Oetaeus – voiced by the Chorus therein in address to the titular, eponymous figure following His incipient Apotheosis:

“Never to Stygian shades is glorious valour borne. The brave live on, nor shall the cruel fates bear you o’er Lethe’s waters; but when the last day shall bring the final hour, glory will open wide the path to heaven.

But do thou, O mighty conqueror of beasts, peace-bringer to the world, be with us yet; still as of old regard this earth of ours; and if some strange-visaged monster cause us with dire fear to tremble, do thou o’ercome him with the forked thunderbolts – yea, more mightily than thy father’s self the thunders hurl.”

As we can see – it is a case of ‘Like Father, Like Son’ – and both Hercules in this Roman regaling and Jupiter are regarded as wielding and hurling Thunderbolts.

Once again – this is fundamentally consistent with the Indo-European mythology. Rudra – Dyaus Pitar, per direct Vedic statement upon the subject – wields a Vajra as well. Odin is hailed as Þundr – ‘The Thunderer’.

I do not think that it is coincidental that in Seneca’s work, we find Hercules wielding the Thunderbolt proper only following His Apotheosis.

The Thunderbolt is, after all, the Divine Weapon. And the Classical sphere had forgotten that Herakles was always Divine – viewing Him as born to mortal woman and ‘working His way up’ through the course of His mythic arc.

There is some potential resonancy there for the Hindu perception of Hanuman (Bajrangi – from ‘Vajra’), wherein this God is cast down from Heaven due to, we may say, ‘not taking Divinity seriously enough’, and cursed with forgetfulness for His true nature … having thence to earn His way back up to true self-knowledge and the Heavenly Realm through good deeds in a manner perhaps not unreminiscent of the repentance-quest of Herakles in the Twelve Tasks. But more upon that, perhaps, some other time.

My point is – the Romans, the Greeks, would be unlikely to view a still ‘mortal’ Herakles .. Demigod though He may Be .. as capable nor appropriate to view as wielding the true Divine Thunderbolt.

He should have to ‘become’ (more-fully) Divine first. An understanding unnecessary in the East for a variety of reasons – including the intriguing fact that in the Hindusphere, the ‘line’ between God and Mortal in such regards is much more of a … blurry spectrum; and certain humans, Avatars or otherwise, wielding Divine Weaponry is not entirely unexpected (although, as Lord Rama shows, in potential intriguing resonancy with an occurrence of Odysseus … not everybody can even lift, let alone string, certain Divine Weapons).

Another interesting occurrence is to be found within Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica:

“No more does the Tirynthian hero handle quiver or twanging bow, but scatters the ranks with his trusty club. And as when some great forest totters beneath the woodmen’s repeated blows, and the heavy oak groans as the wedges are driven home, and now fir and pine begin to fall, even so beneath the blows sound the hard bones and jaws of warriors, while the ground is white with scattered brains. The nimble Admon had sunk at his feet; Hercules seized his chin and beard and brought down his club’s thunder-stroke upon him from above, and “Now shalt thou fall,” he cries, “by Hercules’ own weapon – no slight guerdon and an ever-memorable doom.” The other shuddered as he fell, for he straightway recognized his friend’s name; and he bore the horrid deed down to the unwitting shades.”

Now, again, we have it quite clearly – Hercules described as wielding His Club in a thunderous manner.

This is not an artefact of the translation, either – here is the original Latin:

“occupat os barbamque viri clavamque superne intonat ‘occumbes’ et ‘nunc’ ait ‘Herculis armis, donum ingens semperque tuis mirabile fatum.”

The relevant word in that is ‘intonat’ – third person form of ‘intono’; with ‘intono / intonare’ meaning ‘I thunder / to thunder’; and deriving directly from the same Proto-Indo-European ‘(S)Tenh’ which produces Old Norse ‘Thor’ (Proto-Germanic Þunraz / Thunraz – which also turns into ‘Donner’, etc.), modern English ‘Thunder’, Celtic ‘Taranis’, and so on and so forth (Latin Attono / Adtono – ‘I Strike With Lightning’ – is, unsurprisingly, from the exact same root; both are built around Latin ‘Tono’ – ‘I Thunder’).

It is an intriguing verb to utilize there, to say the least.

Some might suggest, of course, that this is a mere choice of descriptive language upon the part of V. Flaccus – and in truth, that is not beyond the bounds of potentia if we are searching for an explanation. Yet I do not think that it was chosen either lightly or inadvertently – I think it is there precisely because it resonates so well.

There are other portions within the realms of V. Flaccus’ Argonautica wherein he seems to reference materials more apt for our understanding of the archaic underlying Indo-European mythology than earlier (and yet also ‘later’ – relative to the origins) Classical texts had recorded. But, again, another matter for another time.

For now – it is enough to observe that within the Classical realms, it was not thought controversial to portray Herakles / Hercules as wielding the Thunderbolt, striking with quite literally Thunderous force!

Exactly as the broader, archaic and underlying Indo-European mythic typology would suggest to be the case.

Herakles, once more, is quite clearly the Indo-European Striker/Thunderer.

Hail / Jai.

One thought on “On Herakles As Thunderer – The Recollection Of The Weapon In The Classical Conceptual Sphere

  1. Pingback: On Herakles As Thunderer – The Recollection Of The Weapon In The Classical Conceptual Sphere – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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