An impressive, if somewhat overwhelming statement concerning man's mass-mythic consciousness and the progressive evolution of the hero/deliverer through the legend of Heracles. ""The nature of things"" determines imperatives of gods and men -- the gods driven, anxious, entangled in obligation; the men limited, always in danger of unwittingly offending the gods; and the heroes, half immortal, often ""insolent and pitiless."" And beneath all, before all, lies the primal serpent of the abyss, dark coils pulsing. Yet Zeus, fated to be father of gods and men (an incestuous bifurcation), would bridge the chasm between them, for in safeguarding the Gates of Heaven from the old gods, it was proclaimed by an oracle that ""the aid of a mortal would be necessary."" Thereupon Heracles -- sired by Zeus in one of his many inventive disguises. The hero straggles through his labors with increasingly dogged irritation -- the last labors ordered capriciously by the senile Eurystheus in his underground hideaway. Madness is the gift of Hera, destiny the legacy of Zeus, but murder and blood-guilt trap the deliverer and he is spotted on a triumphal return squinting through the skull of a beast. Throughout both gods and men summon up ancestral and current calamitous gossip, and if you've left your Bulfinch in the fields of asphodel, you may feel insecure. However the ancient eminences have a felicitous presence -- from Zeus, sharing eaglehood and anecdote with his taloned counselor Morinthos, to Heracles, sprawling in drunken exhaustion in the marketplace. Miss Gordon's prose has a cool acuity and she can unreel and gather in a vast lode of fable with exquisite control. An Olympian effort which requires an equal one of the reader.