HERACLEA: A Legend of Warrior Women by Bernard Evslin

HERACLEA: A Legend of Warrior Women

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In a short preface Evslin refers to the goddess-worshipping, pre-Hellenic inhabitants of Greece, suggesting that the later Heracles hero tales were a corruption of their legend of a gigantic young woman. Evslin here uses the frame of the Heracles legend, but with a difference. Heraclea (called Palaemona in her lifetime) is born not to Alcmene by Zeus but to Hera, who takes revenge for that affair by coupling with Alcemen's husband Amphitryon; and instead of strangling serpents in her cradle Heraclea has a serpent wrap itself around her and lick her ear--whereupon she understands the language of animals (and is henceforth a vegetarian). Also, she is born tiny, a result of treacherous prenatal poisoning, but later has herself stretched by the dreaded Pig Ploughman. Like Heracles, Heraclea slays a few monsters and fetches the Golden Apples, but those adventures are only part of her story. She originally undertakes the labors on behalf of a loved father-figure, Melampus the healer, but soon switches her affection to a boy, Arion. He figures with her in the most bizarre episode, becoming stablehand for a collection of mares (linked to the Centaurs, ancestors of the Amazons, and indistinguishable from women in both the story and the nude drawings). Meanwhile she becomes an inmate, leading a rebellion against the mares' male keepers. (And 1,000 armed men ""fled in a frantic rabble."") From this--Evslin doesn't shrink at the grandiose--comes a high treason trial in heaven, Hera's indictment of sexism, and her punishment--to be chained beside Prometheus while vultures tear at her womb. Though not much more attractive as a contemporary role model than her male counterpart, Heraclea (""glory of Hera"") is certainly imposing, and Evslin's full-blown treatment suits her nature.

Pub Date: April 24th, 1978
Publisher: Four Winds