The Labours of Hercules
May -The Oxen of Geryon
Eurystheus bids Hercules capture the Red Oxen of Geryon, a monster represented with three heads and three bodies, in the western island of Erytheia, situated off the coast of Epeirus.
On his mission to perform this task numerous incidents occur, all of which are not given here. He killed the two giants - Antæus and Busiris, - who opposed him on his journey from the east to the west; he erected his two Pillars – Calpe and Abyla – at what are now called the Straits of Gibraltar, by cleaving a mountain in two; he shot an arrow at the Sun because its heat oppressed him, and Helios, admiring his boldness, presented him with a golden crater or boat, in which Hercules sailed across the ocean to Erytheia.
On landing he at once slew the monster Geryon, and also the two-headed dog Orthrus and the giant Eurytion, who guarded the dark oxen of Hades, which herded with the others.
Hercules then led the oxen away, and after many other adventures, during which he founded two cities and slew two princes who opposed him, he at last brought the oxen to Eurystheus, who sacrificed them to Hera.
Geryon means "The Roarer" or "Shouter"; with his triple body and head he may be regarded as representing the three planes of the objective realms of existence, which are called into manifestation by creative sound, and continually give expression to that sound.
The Oxen of Geryon signify the natural cosmic forces imprisoned, as it were, in the realms of duality. They are red in colour, representing the lower and animal aspect which the forces have assumed.
Erytheia means "reddish"; it is like the ultimate condition of the precipitated cosmic forces, which take on different colours as they proceed from the subjective realms Above (symbolically in the East) to the objective realms Below (symbolically in the West), red being the lowest colour of the visible spectrum.
Epeirus has to do with solid earth or "terra firma". The fact that the island Erytheia, where the oxen are herded, is said to lie off the coast of Epeirus suggests the uncertainty and instability of duality, which does not rest on a firm foundation.
Orthrus means "dawn-darkness". The dog with its two heads – light and darkness – is the guardian on the threshold of duality, where complementary aspects of generative force are operative.
Eurytion means "wide and far-reaching". As the guardian of the red oxen he is significant of the far-reaching effects resulting from the use and misuse of providential energy.
The Dark Oxen of Hades signify the perversion or inversion of cosmic forces.
The Two Pillars, Calpe and Abyla, denote the entrance into the realms of duality, the borderline, as it were, between the Subjective and the Objective, the Above and the Below.
The Golden Boat of Helios or Apollo is like the divine impulse or will, which carries the Soul over the sea of objectivity.
Chrysaor means "golden-sword", an epithet of Apollo, showing the high origin of Geryon, of whom he is the father.
Gemini, "The Twins", the Zodiacal Sign of Mutual Attraction and Unific Diversity, appropriately associated with this Labour.
Some inverted Geminian aspects to be overcome are: dualistic tendencies, vacillation, exaggeration, craftiness, and restless, aimless and wandering pursuits.
The pure influences of Gemini are such as produce a singleness of purpose amidst a multitude of undertakings, versatility, eloquence, resourcefulness, and precision; all these are suggestive, when considered in connection with the capture of the Oxen of Geryon.
The relation of Mercury, the Planetary Lord of Gemini, with his restless activity, eloquence, and ingenuity, with this Labour, is readily to be seen.
The task of Hercules in this Mythos may be expressed as that of gaining Prudence to prevent the force of Providence being perverted by dualistic imprudence. In other words, it is the Soul'’ conquest over the limiting conditions of duality.
Providence is always good in its essence, but when participated in by secondary natures its force may be perverted or subverted, and thus, by the dual law of cause and effect, limitations and fetters are produced, which it is the labour of the hero-soul to remove.
Therefore, Eurystheus (the Inner Monitor of the Soul) bids Hercules go forth forth into the transient regions to gain control of the cosmic forces (oxen) which have been drawn down to the very last of things (Erytheia, the reddish land in the west, where the sun sets), by the unsubdued, boisterous expressions of the threefold objective nature (Geryon), into whose keeping they have been given.
Before embarking on its quest the Soul must manifest its inherent power to control the fluctuating realms of duality, hence Hercules slays the two giants, Antæus and Busiris, the adversaries who denote the reactional effects of the soul’s out-going operations; he also erects his Two Pillars, evincing thereby the Soul’s prepotency over all transient opposing forces and principles.
The Soul is a unity-in-multiplicity, being one in its essence but plural in its activity, therefore it is able to produce duality and multiplicity from unity and yet also resolve them back again.
However, the divine urge is needed ere the Soul proceeds from its unific essence into diversity of action; Hercules, feeling the fiery influence of Helios, responds with a shaft of aspirational-prayer (arrow) to the Lord of Light, who gives the Soul the power (golden boat) to sail over the trackless seas of transiency to the far country.
The slaying of the Guardians of the Oxen is only the first stage of this complicated Labour, which enables the Soul to release the cosmic forces; but when liberated they are not easy to control. All the resources of Hercules are called into play in the arduous undertaking of directing the forces back to their source through numberless pathways and in the face of manifold difficulties.
Even Hera opposes him, but since Heracles is "the Glory of Hera", as his name suggests, Her opposition is simply instrumental in educing further his latent powers, so that eventually the forces of which She is Queen are consecrated to Her Service, when the Oxen are sacrificed by Eurystheus.
The Mythos is readily interpreted in terms of Man, the Microcosm, and the full elucidation of all its details affords a portrayal of the extraordinary ordeals and experiences which confront the Soul when it aspires to elevate and transmute the inherent powers and forces imprisoned in the very deeps of the body.
from Sacred Mythoi of Demigods and Heroes © The Shrine of Wisdom 1999