Hercules – the hero

June 4, 2017

Astronomy

Hercules is a major constellation and its story goes all the way back to when the ancient Greeks did a major reboot of Gilgamesh. Ptolemy included Hercules in his collection a couple thousand years ago which is how I heard about it.

Hercules was a magnificent bastard. His father was a god which right away spells trouble. His father’s wife resented him, as she did all of her husband’s bastards, and that spelled even more trouble. Squabbling with relatives led to several hilarious misunderstandings which then led to Herc having to perform in a dozen zany episodes altogether resembling the first season of a doomed sit-com. The show stars Hercules as The Hero, Iolaus as the side-kick, and King Eurystheus who is kind of a dick. Then of course there are occasional celebrity guest stars.

The Labors of Hercules

1. Skin the Nemean Lion
Everyone knew that this lion’s skin was impenetrable. So arrows and swords were useless. Hercules solved this one by choking the lion to death. Then he skinned the magical beast but the story sort of glosses over a major plot hole since his knife supposedly wouldn’t have been able to cut it.

2. Kill the Lernean Hydra
This multi-headed beast lived in a swamp. The problem was that if you cut off one head it just grew back, or possibly grew back double, depending on who you ask. Even worse, one of the heads was truly un-killable. To deal with the hydra, Hercules got his side-kick nephew to tag along and burn the bloody necks with a torch as fast as Herc could lop off the heads. That kept them from growing back. Then he took the invulnerable head and buried it under a big rock. Since the nephew had helped, this episode was widely panned by the critics and an additional episode was scripted with less screen time for the nephew. To appeal to the youth demographic, they gave Herc a spiffy chariot and the nephew was re-cast as the chauffeur.

3. Capture the Hind of Ceryneia
The Hind is a deer and Ceryneia is just the place where it hung out. The issue here is that the Hind is a pet deer and it belongs to Diana, the goddess of the moon. Hercules chased it around for a year and finally wounded it which allowed him to grab it. Diana was pissed at first but then Herc was kind of adorable and had lots of muscles and a big dumb face and all. She healed the deer and let him keep it.

4. Capture the Erymanthean Boar
The boar was big, mean, and a rather smelly old pig. On the way to find it Hercules has a sub-plot where he steals some wine from some centaurs and they find out so he kills them, thus bringing in a discussion of moral relativism. Back to the main story, he finds the boar and he chases it into some deep snow, where boars don’t run so well. Herc 1, Pig 0.

5. Clean the Augean Stables
There were thousands of cows and other livestock in the Augean Stables and Herc had to muck out all the manure in one day while the critters were out to pasture. It’s a dirty job so Herc made a side deal with King Augean to be paid in steaks if he could do it. Then he diverted a nearby river to flush out the poop. King Augean refused to pay so Hercules sued and the bulk of the episode is a courtroom drama. Herc produced a surprise witness and won the case but then the manure task was ruled invalid due to “raising the steaks” and they ordered another episode. Between this one and the case of the nosy nephew, the original 10 episodes were stretched to 12.

6. Get rid of the Stymphalian Birds
A large flock of birds can be pretty annoying, especially to farmers. They eat everything and let’s face it, a pile of bird droppings is even more disgusting than a stable full of cow manure. Athena gave Herc some castanets to clickety clack and scare the birds out of the trees where he could shoot at them with a slingshot. These were fierce and scary birds in their own right but Herc’s constant clacking was too much for them and they flew away.

7. Capture the Cretan Bull
This episode was clearly designed to generate a spin-off series. Hercules is able to wrestle and deliver the beast right away, but then the king lets it go. The bull has a whole series of adventures of its own, including a romantic encounter with the king’s daughter that results in the birth of a half-man half-bull guy called Minotaur who hosts his own holiday special.

8. Capture the Horses of Diomedes
The horses were rather spirited and not at all cooperative, but that wasn’t the real challenge. It turned out that the horses were owned and there was a band of capable wranglers who were not about to give them up without a fight. Herc bested them of course and got the goods.

9. Fetch the Belt of Hippolyte
Hippolyte was the queen of the Amazon Warriors who were fierce supporters of women’s rights. It’s best not to make any wise cracks about Hippolyte’s name, or the size of her belt. Hercules knew he couldn’t just beat up the Amazon Queen and take her belt. How would it look? Couldn’t he just order his own clothing accessories from Amazon? Anyway, things looked good when he finally met the queen and she said she would give him the belt, after all he was adorable etc. But then thanks to hi-jinks by the gods the Amazon tribe attacked Herc and his manly men. The final scene is a big bloody battle and Herc comes out of the mess with the belt. People who liked this episode also liked Shark Tank.

10. Round Up Geryon’s Cattle
Geryon is a monster with three heads and three legs. That’s pretty weird but then he was born by being spewed from the severed neck of the Medussa. He lived a quiet normal life on an island with a bunch of cows and a two-headed dog. Hercules was tasked with stealing the cows. The plan was simple. Land with a small fleet, use an army of cowboys to herd the cows aboard, and sail off without waking the dog. Needless to say, the dog attacked Hercules immediately and Geryon joined the fray right after. Herc dispatched the monster and his hound and made off with the beef, but that was the easy part. On the way back a couple of ornery low-down no-good stinking cussing thieving cattle rustling dirty bushwhackers tried to take the cows. Also the prize bull escaped and caused a lot of damage in a small town. Other plot twists make for a feature-length episode but Herc sorts it all out.

11. Steal the Apples of the Hesperides
This is one of the two bonus episodes and it really qualifies as a mini-series unto itself. At first Hercules goes running around town like a frat boy on spring break. After a few fights, light vandalism and heavy drinking, he finally gets to the garden with the apples. They are being guarded by a dragon and the dedicated sorority sisters of I-Tappa-Keg. Hercules tricks Atlas into getting the apples for him and then he takes the magical fruits back to the king. But the joke’s on everyone because Athena steals them back again and returns them to the garden. Hercules says “stupid apples” and everyone has a big laugh. Fade out.

12. Dognap Cerberus
In the season finale Hercules has to go down to the underworld and steal a three-headed pit bull. The underworld, aka Hades, is exclusively the realm of dead people and in some cases their multi-headed companion animals. Cerberus is a hideous monster although he was quite cute when he was little. He stands guard at the entrance of Hades to discourage living trespassers. So down goes Hercules to the gates of hell, fighting various monsters and ghosts and what-not along the way. He eventually meets Pluto who is a real god, not a dwarf god. Pluto says Herc can take the hound if he can overpower him with brute strength, no slipping a pill in a lump of peanut butter. This turns out to be Herc’s toughest challenge but he somehow gets Cerberus in a triple headlock which gains the dog’s trust, thus getting Herc’s face licked in three places at once.

In a epilogue scene Hercules returns Cerberus to Pluto. So hell is protected from bad people trying to get in. It’s a wonder the series wasn’t renewed.

Now for the Astronomy. To find Hercules in the sky, look up sometime between April and November, preferably at night. The bright star up high is Vega. the semi-circle farther north is the Northern Crown. Halfway in between Vega and the Crown you’ll see the Keystone, which is our hero’s big hairy chest.

Look carefully at the right side of the Keystone. Just under his armpit is a fuzzy patch. This is one of the most awesome things in the whole sky. It’s M13, a globular cluster with hundreds of thousands of stars, and for starhoppers in the northern part of our planet there is arguably no better target. It’s my favorite anyway. Whenever I build a new telescope M13 is “first light.”

There is another globular in Hercules, M92. Sure, go ahead and look at it. Now go back and look at M13 again. See? Awesome sauce.

One more thing about Hercules. It’s the direction in which our solar system is currently traveling.

Carpe Noctem

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