Allegorical hero and the initiatory quest for Virtue

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by Lesley Madytinos

The heroes of myths and legends hold a most important place within the allegories of the ancients and within human society, past and present. Regardless of whether these heroes arise from the mire of historical battle or focus upon an ordinary person faced with an extraordinary challenge, the motif of the path of the hero is identified by a personal choice made by the hero from which unfolds a particular course of action that embodies specific qualities. These heroic actions and the qualities they suggest become the values of any community of humans (1).

Heroic qualities may differ from culture to culture but they are perceptible as variable icons of human value at any given moment in time. Yet despite their changing natures these values embody an Idea that transcends their mutable qualities. This Idea exemplifies the capacity for humans to sublimate their instinctual energy and passions in service to an abstract goal (2). This abstract goal is symbolic of the quest of the hero and is not only the agent of psychological maturation but is also the medium of the initiatory process.

It is unfortunate within many modern Polytheistic belief systems that the initiatory path of the Hero is ignored and its validity refuted. The cause of this is often an aversion to the concept of bad or good as embodied and exemplified within dualistic belief systems such as Christianity. When dealing with a personal aversion to the concept of absolute evil and its personification in the form of the devil or absolute Good in any form, it is not easy to be able to objectively embrace the heroic struggle that takes places allegorically between that which is good and that which is bad. It is common in the early to intermediary stages of conversion from Christianity to Polytheism to struggle to separate the Judeo/Christian notion of absolute Good and absolute evil and its theological/philosophical implications from the ancient understanding of the nature of Good and Bad.

There are vast differences in discerning the nature and function of duality within the Judeo-derivative theologies than when one considers the principles applied by dualistic philosophies and theologies within certain of the more developed Polytheistic ancient religions. These differences in perception are even more relevant for the Polytheistic practices that offer initiatory or conversion paths. These distinctions between ancient Polytheistic Religion and Judeo-Christian notions of dualism and the nature of Good and Bad are critical containment factors for any initiatory and/or transformation process.

Without a true understanding of the difference between Good and Bad in any particular ancient system of belief and Good/Evil within a Judeo-Christian context, the very conversion process may become distorted and the initiatory development may be left uncompleted. These distinctions become critical when one enters the belief system of the Ancient Hellenes as it is the key to understanding the culture which in turn provides the point of reference for unlocking the mythology.

Within ancient Hellenic mythology, the hero is of vital importance for not only the benefit and the good of the whole tribe but also for the personal benefit of the hero. The basic motif is that what is good for the hero is good for the tribe and what is good for the tribe is also good for the hero. This brings forward the notion that good actions and passions benefit everyone or at least a majority of the people.

Within context to initiation, the initiatory Path of the Ancient Hellenes is the path of the Hero who must enter the Underworld to learn the Great Mysteries of the Goddess. Heroes such as Orpheus, Odysseus, Jason, Perseus and Herakles all faced the Underworld in some form. Some heroes made the actual journey through the gates of Hades and back again while others faced Deities or Beings associated with the Underworld. A third type of heroic motif centered on the quest for symbolic items linked to the teachings of the Underworld. The beauty of these heroic allegories is that they are multi-dimensional and have a historical and metaphysical basis as well as an initiatory function. They may be understood from many different perspectives and the only common factor existing within the diversity of interpretation is that they hold up a mirror to the individual, in much the same manner as Athena assists Perseus to defeat Medusa. This mirrored image illustrates the personal level of development and understanding of any particular person who invokes the mythical world. However, any initiatory system that invokes the mythical world and the heroic path also simultaneously invokes the energy of the heroic struggle between that which is good and that which is bad. It is a sad and frequent fact that many initiations remain incomplete if the primary notions of good and bad are distorted by either aversions or unclear ideas of the nature and function of the heroic struggle and quest.

Since time immemorial the figure of the hero has captured the imagination of humanity and acted as a role model for any community’s social value system. Within the allegories of the ancient Hellenes, the hero represented the concept of Arête (pronounced ‘ah-ret-eh’) meaning virtue. The physical attributes and lineage of a hero symbolised the particular qualities of Arête that the hero personified. Some were cunning while others were ingenious, strong or brave. The events and figures encountered upon the heroic quests may vary in nature but the pattern underlying the journey remains the same. This pattern is the initiatory motif allegorised through the tension of the opposites and the battle between good and bad. Within context to the initiatory process and on the most basic level, this motif includes the concepts of fission (the separation of one into two through the creation of the good/bad duality) and fusion (through the resolution of the opposites as the victory of the hero and the achievement of the goal of Arête). The reasons for embarking upon the heroic quest are also variable factors but frequently take the form of some goal that must be accomplished by the hero for the purposes of benefiting the tribe or the heroes themselves. This motif is akin to what was called Agathon (good) by the ancient Hellenic philosophers. And here we come upon a most interesting aspect of the nature of the Good; ancient and modern Greek has two concept words ‘agathon’ and ‘kalon’ (1a) to define what in English would be translated into a single word ‘good’.



1.1. Agathon and Kalon

To understand the nature of the good/bad duality of the heroic quest within ancient Hellenic mythology requires an enquiry into the very nature of Arête (virtue) and into the influence of the transitory nature of Good within any value system. These changing values offer modern Polytheists a unique perspective on the morality of the ancient civilisation in its various phases of cultural development. The role of Mystery initiation in ancient society was a rite of passage meant to evolve a person from dependent existence into a state of growth, spiritual responsibility and deep maturation. This enquiry begins with Pythagoras (3), the initiate and mathematician whose school and students would influence the ancient and modern world in such a profound manner (4).

In Aristotle’s Metaphysics mention is made of the ten principles of the Pythagorean school of thought. These ten principles were comprised of the ten dualities (5) that ordered the Kosmos. The ninth of these principles is given as the tension of the opposites between good and bad as dual sides of a single principle. The exact word used to define this principle of good is αγαθόν ‘Agathon’ (1a). This word as an ordering principle of good has a very specific meaning and is used within context to that which is ultimately Good, beneficial, advantageous and includes the concept of various talents or innate abilities. Yet at some point, this tension of the opposites changed focus and the other word for ‘good’ (καλόν – kalon) (1a) became more commonly substituted in place of Agathon.

Kalon is as ancient a word as Agathon and was used by Homer to denote personal beauty; by Aristophanes to indicate ‘divine duty’ while other usages of the word included ‘admirable, glorious or just actions’. This change in the value of Good is visible in the idealised form of human proportions embodied within the art of the classical period as well as the field of ethics that governed the political life of Athens as the cultural centre of the ancient world. The key to understanding the implications and results of the rise of ‘kalon’ as the popular concept of Good and its legacy within the modern Western mind may be found in the field of Aesthetics and Ethics.

1.2. Aesthetics and the Senses

The philosophical field of Aesthetics seeks to know the nature of Beauty and understand the principles underlying its manifestations. This enquiry requires an investigation into the very nature of the human mind and its sciences, arts and crafts as the expression of not only the structure of the mind itself but also of the human value systems instilled therein by the conditioning of the society within which they live. Hence the aesthetics of any society affords a unique perspective on the value system of the time.

The ancient Greek word ‘aesthesis’ means ‘that which may be perceived by the senses’ and aestheticism as a practice indicates a devotion to beauty in its sensory forms. ‘Aesthesis’ (1a) as a concept includes our entire range of sensory awareness and any knowledge derived there from. From this range of awareness and knowledge, the philosophical enquiry into the nature of Beauty seeks to understand that which the human mind perceives as beautiful and that by which it is repelled. From the philosophy of the Classicists, it may be deduced that the Forms that the mind conceived of as beautiful could be understood geometrically as that which participates within a specific symmetrical set of proportions. This teaching would form one of the cornerstones of what is now called the field of Sacred Geometry.

Of all the enquiries into the nature of Aesthetics, perhaps none have had a more profound influence on the modern Western mind than the ‘Father of modern Nuclear Physics’ Demokritos (6). As a philosopher, metaphysician and presumed alchemist, Demokritos’ works and those credited to him by others, offer us an understanding into the core essence of the philosophy underlying what Plato called ‘Ideas’ as the beginning of all things; the first, most superior and conclusion of all deeds/actions/forms being the Good. Plato stated quite firmly that these Ideas could not be perceived by the senses and only by the soul (psyche). Demokritos sheds further light on this subject with his belief that the senses were not reliable agents by which knowledge of truth could be gained and that the human mind was only capable of perceiving the changes of things according to our own constitution and the movements of patterns (7).

This teaching would be reiterated and reinforced over 2000 years later by one of the founders of Quantum Theory, Werner Heisenberg and his famous ‘Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle’ (8) that stands as a key difference between Einstein’s beautiful geometric theory and quantum theory. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that we can never know simultaneously the velocity and position of a subatomic particle. The most we may ever be able to calculate is the probability that an electron will appear in a certain position at a certain velocity. This is a factor in creating what is known as the Observer Effect and echoes Demokritos’ statement that the mind was only capable of perceiving the changing nature of things. Yet simultaneously Quantum Theory (9) assured us of a reality that lay beyond what our senses could perceive. A reality of dynamic interactions that cause the material structures of the physical world. The agents of this reality were objective and could not be seen within their own truth via the human senses. The human mind was only capable of perceiving their effects as patterns that could be expressed in the form of religion, mythology, geometry, art, music, dance, history or scientific and philosophic enquiry. This again echoes the sentiments of Demokritos and illustrates magnificently the transitory nature of Aesthetics as a motion through time and Kalon as the expression of these qualities at any given moment within the evolution of human consciousness.

1.3. The Transitory Nature of the Good

If the type of good conceptualized within the word Kalon is understood to express any configuration of specified qualities of an eternal notion that such a thing as Good even exists or has the capacity to exist, it becomes necessary to enquire into the distinction between the eternal nature of Good as an Idea and the transitory nature of qualities that are upheld as manifestations of Good at any particular moment in time.

Aristotle’s exhaustive work in the field of Ethics and more specifically ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ (10) assists greatly in this enquiry. Aristotle draws a distinction between different lifestyles and the varying instances of good that arise within each. That which is Good within a life devoted to sensory enjoyment differed from the Good of the political life and even the contemplative life. These variable natures of the Good arose as a result of convention and were not an innate part of human nature itself. These changeable qualities of Good created the field of Ethics, as a necessity and a consequence of promoting harmony within any human community. Ethics as a system of qualitative Good became the basis of the political life in both its presence and absence. The specific qualities of Good within any community became the basis of its laws, trends and conventions.

The field of Ethics requires great precision in its selection of the qualities of Good that any political system would embody and enforce as an expression of the value of its individual society. These precise qualities exemplify the principle of Justice as the ultimate Good of the political life. As a consequence of the meticulous nature of these qualities a diversity of opinions and reactions were created. A core difference between the transitory nature of ethical good as Kalon and the more enduring form of Agathon may be found in the origin of the word Ethics and the teaching this brings forward.

1.4. Ethics and Arête (Virtue) as a Quality of the Good

In Plato’s ‘Meno’ (11) Socrates asks the great question, “Can Arête be taught or learnt?” This question strikes at the very heart of the field of Ethics. The word ‘Ethics’ derives from the ancient Greek word ‘ethos’ (1a) meaning habit. The usage of this word to conceptualise the notion of qualitative Good as ‘Ethics’ answers Socrates; ‘Yes, it may be taught by habitual usage’. Aristotle echoed these sentiments but created a further distinction in that as a consequence of any pre-determined or single form of Good (such as Justice as the goal of the political life) (12), those that produce or preserve its qualities or those that prevent its contrarieties participate in the ‘Good’ only in a secondary sense or by means of analogy. The distinction may be understood further by determining the nature of the difference between habitual/analogous Good and that which is Good itself. The Good is diverse in nature and only its effects or qualities may be perceived via the human senses.

These effects and qualities may be defined as the modes of moral and physical virtue. However, when defined modes of virtue are enforced by convention, any actions or passions deriving there from, participate in the nature of the Good only as a comparison to that which is Good within its own nature.

In accordance with this primary understanding, Plato defined the eternal nature of Good as varied and manifesting within different contexts (13):

(a) Within the category of substance as the Idea of Good
(b) Within the category of quality as Arête (Virtue)
(c) Within the category of quantity as Moderation
(d) Within the category of time as the Appropriate Time or Opportunity
(e) Within the category of relation as that which is Useful

Hence as a result of the Good having so many senses of being, common definitions of that which was Good could not be impressed upon the Good within its own nature. Plato’s student Aristotle developed this line of enquiry and furthermore defined Ethics or Moral Arête to be “taught Reason that may be perfected by habit”. He stated that before moral virtue could be taught, the potential for Arête had to be acquired.

The importance of acquiring this potential for Arête cannot be overstressed, for applied Reason or Ethics without this potential will lead only to analogous good actions at best and erroneous misdeeds in the name of Reason at worst. The quest for this potential for Arête forms the allegorical basis of many heroic sagas of the Ancient Hellenes. This spiritual and psychological journey through the initiatory process of the heroic self is the search for the Good in its varying manifestations as the goal of initiation; designed to liberate one from dependent existence and to embrace a new state of being based upon responsibility, individuality and maturity.

1.5. Agathon, the Potential for Arête and the Logos

‘For best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another’s wisdom, is a useless wight’
Hesiod (14)

Through the field of Ethics or taught reason, the type of good the word ‘Kalon’ symbolized was indeed a far more materialistic concept of Good than the abstract Idea of Good conveyed by the word Agathon. Yet within the spiritual understanding of ancient Hellenic thought, the concept embodied within the word Agathon held the most sacred of meanings.

It was associated with the Mystery of the Logos (15) as the divine spirit (daimon) within humanity. This personal spirit was called Agathodaimon (good spirit) and embodied the qualities of the Logos as the innate human ability to reason (16) and hence as the potential for Arête within humanity. The Stoic Damaskios (17) refers to Agathodaimon as the God who came from the first principles while Orpheus’ Hymn No. 73 (18) refers to the Daimon as Zeus Melichios (19). From this a vital understanding of the role of both Agathon as an ordering principle and Agathodaimon as Divine Reason arises.

Within ancient teachings the Zeus Nous is the Divine Intellect and Agathodaimon is this innate intelligence and ability to reason as a personal guiding principle that orders the life of each individual. This human capacity for reason and rationality was called Logismos from which arose the idea of Syllogismos as the Art of Reasoning or ‘an ability to reason that may be taught’. Syllogismos is called a syllogism in English and refers to a formula of three propositions; the first two propositions are called premises and are linked by a logical connection while the third proposition is called the conclusion. This formula is the core basis of not only Aristotelian Ethics but is also the motif of the resolution of the opposites as an initiatory system. Most importantly, it is the practical means by which Agathon may be understood by means of taught reason.

Aristotle began his enquiry by looking at the principle of Agathon as the highest form of Good that orders the Kosmos through the development of innate abilities that benefit any individual facet of creation and as a consequence benefit the total nature of the Kosmos simultaneously. He then identified that which destroys the nature of Agathon as Excessive or Defective action or passions. Understanding this, it may be further defined that true Arête is the vehicle of Good as a beneficial system for both the individual and the tribe simultaneously, thus aligning Arête with both the ordering principle of Agathon and with the qualitative Good of Kalon. As a consequence of this understanding, moral virtue on a personal level must thus lie upon the mean or at the middle point between excessive and defective actions.


The above diagrams represent an important principle in certain ancient Hellenic philosophy. Many of the philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle, believed that Virtue was a singular quality and manifested within different contexts of the Good through the expression of different sub-qualities. These sub-qualities themselves did not have their own nature and thus could not be propagated as principles in themselves. Hence the sub-qualities of the quality of Virtue could not be accurately defined or taught. Arête can only be learnt by experience and practiced as a rule by habit.

The nature of true Virtue is thus the preservation of the internal Good (Agathodaimon) from the destructive human impulses of Excess and Defect (as represented by Kakon/Bad). From this we may understand that the perception of Bad only arises when the perception of Good is diminished. This develops and places the motif of the initiatory quest of the Battle between Good and Bad upon a very firm philosophical basis and illustrates this war to be the internal struggle between Virtue and Vice. The means by which this understanding of Arête proposes to face this heroic battle is that through the preservation of the Good that which is bad will be greatly diminished. This is a different approach to the active destruction of bad as a primary aim without consideration of the simultaneous destruction of the Good. Nor does the system aim to imitate what appears to be good. On the contrary its true aim is to develop the Good in any individual nature according to that which is truly beneficial and in accordance with the unique talents of the individual. Hence Virtue becomes a principle of personal excellence and that which seeks to fulfill its own highest potential. Furthermore, as neither Good nor Bad can exist without the presence of the other, as a consequence of logic, it is thus the ratio of Good to Bad that determines the Arête (Virtue) or Vice of an action or passion.

1.6. Actions & Passions; Pleasure & Pain

Both Arête (Virtue) and Vice are related to actions and passions. Actions and Passions in turn are motivated by pleasure and pain (20). Hence Virtue and Vice are also closely related to pleasure and pain. It is through dependence on pleasure and aversion to pain that an individual becomes bound to a course of actions or passions that destroy that which is Agathon (Good) through excess and defect. Instances of this principle can be seen in daily living when over-indulgence in food or drink for the sake of pleasure (excess) will lead to illness and the opposite extreme of abstaining from food and drink (defect) will lead to inevitable death. Health as the Agathon and Arête of the body is thus only maintained through the mean between excess and defect. From this we may understand that Arête as a principle of personal excellence or moral virtue may be accurately defined as a mode of choice. This is the choice of the mythical hero who will face pain and deny pleasure to preserve that which is Good and benefit the tribe simultaneously.

Yet the principle of choice cannot exist without the principle of aversion or avoidance. Hence Aristotle noted that Arête and vice have three objects of choice and three objects of avoidance: The three objects of choice are the noble, the advantageous and the pleasant while the three objects of avoidance are the base, the injurious and the painful. While actions and passions are based upon either a pleasure-seeking principle or arise due to an avoidance of pain, those upon the heroic path of initiation will remain bound in the internal conflict between Good and Bad rendering two separate results.

Firstly, with an internal locus of control; the initiate in such a struggle will often mistake good and bad for pleasure and pain. From this perspective pleasure will become associated with good and pain with bad. With this incorrect system of measurement only further avoidance (defective action) can arise as a choice and freedom thus inhibited. Secondly, for those with an external locus of control, either the Good or Bad in idealized form will be projected on the external world and its dual opposite projected onto the Self. This will result in either psychological self-flagellation or worse if the Bad is projected onto the Self and measured against some idealistic and imagined form of external Good. If the Good is projected onto the Self and the Bad is externalized, the dual struggle of the initiate will materialize in the physical world as anger, hostility and a lack of personal responsibility.

Aristotle may offer the solution to such instances when the pleasure/pain principle overrides our sense of reason as well as our sense of good and bad. The secret to overcoming the battle between Good and Bad as an internal guiding principle appears to lie within the concept of that by which we measure our actions or passions. Aristotle advises that neither our actions nor our passions should be equated with pleasure or pain. When pleasure and pain no longer motivate our choices and avoidances, only then may we be free to determine the true nature of Virtue and personal excellence thus bringing to an end the battle phase of any particular heroic quest. Armed with a more effective and positive understanding of the duality of Good and Bad and its motivating factors, the archetypal energies of the hero and the heroic task may be more successfully invoked. Such a hero will not be inspired or discouraged by pleasure or pain and be able to serve that which is beneficial (Agathon) completely.

‘Virtuous is the man who uses his pleasures and pains wisely’



2.1. The Invocation of the Heroic Archetype

The term ‘archetype’ is often misunderstood as meaning certain definite mythological images or motifs. But these are nothing more than conscious representations. The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif. Representations that may vary greatly in detail without losing their basic pattern. (21)

Dr. Carl Jung’s idea of archetypes as the human tendency to form expressions of a basic pattern such as a heroic mythologem opened up a field of depth psychology that explored the structure of the human mind. This concept of the mind’s structure investigates thought patterns and subconscious sense impressions that connect any individual mind to a consensual human reality that arises from the unique physiological configuration of the human body (22). This consensual human reality was conceived of by Jung as a collective force that psychologically drives mankind toward growth and higher aspirations (23). This is a contemporary expression of the ancient teaching of the Zeus Nous and the role of Agathodaimon within an individual. Within general Post-Christian esoteric lore, Agathodaimon is now propagated as the Higher Self. The role of Agathodaimon has a unique function to play within the subconscious and conscious invocation of the initiatory motif. He is the agent of evolving consciousness, intellectual independence, growth and maturation.

Initiatory lore preserves the basis of the ancient teaching by stating that conversation with the Higher Self must be achieved as the catalyst and guiding principle for initiation. This is the same motif that expresses itself simultaneously as the conscious acknowledgement of Agathodaimon as the Zeus Nous (Divine Intellect) that empowers an individual with the potential for Arête (Virtue). This understanding of the nature of the conversation between the Higher and Lower aspects of the self, assists in the process of initiatory fission as the Higher Self or Agathodaimon (Agathon – Good) becomes the potential for Arête as does the Lower Self (Ego) become the representation of the Bad (by absence of virtue). Yet this understanding alone is not enough and has led many a prospective initiate into self-destructive excesses. This occurs when the initiatory task remains vague. If it is the task of the Higher Self or Agathodaimon to motivate the Lower Self or Ego towards beneficial growth (Agathon) and to diminish the excessive or defective actions and passions of the Ego, the function of the Ego or Lower Self must be understood within this specific context. The Ego or Lower Self may be defined as the human capacity to create boundaries to differentiate the sense of self from others.

In other words, it is the containment factor of the personality as a particular configuration of qualities and thus it is the role of Agathodaimon to break this containment factor to afford the initiate the opportunity to rebuild these boundaries according to new principles.

It is through the fission of the total personality of the initiate into Agathodaimon and the Lower Self (Ego) that a new synthesis may be created in the form of an enlarged form of identity whose boundaries have grown to include the lessons experienced within their personal initiatory quest (24). This is also the primary basis for most heroic allegories and the pattern of the heroic journey may thus be understood as a quest of separation (fission) and a return to unity (fusion) (25).

There are many ways to imagine the life we live.
In stories and myths we see how imagination works and how we might re-vision our lives. It is in our images of Self, the imagining and fantasising of our work that leads to a sustaining sense of self.

James Elkins – Lawyers & Film – The Hero Archetype

The object of both heroic initiation and the principle of Arête are identical. It may thus be deduced that Arête is the guiding principle of initiation as is the Hero and heroic quest the mythical expression of the initiatory motif. The object of Virtue is to render an individual independent from external circumstances (26). This is accomplished by mastery of the Self and is also the object of the heroic quest.

Typically, there are four types of heroes within myths and legends (27). The first is the ‘Unwitting Hero’ who embarks upon the heroic quest without knowing it or in spite of himself. This type of Hero marks the first level of Self Mastery, the control of the base urges concerned with choices motivated by desire for pleasure or aversion to pain. This is the primary controlling factor that renders a man or woman dependent upon others. The second type of Hero is the ‘Divinely Guided Innocent’ and corresponds to the second level of self-mastery; the control of the emotions. The third step of self-mastery is the control of the mind and is represented by the figure of the ‘Wounded Hero’. Fourth and finally, there is the ‘Quester’ who exemplifies the final stage of self-mastery as the union with the Higher Self (Fusion). Within Hellenic mythology, the Hero that embodies all four of these principles and more is Herakles. It thus appears to be no coincidence that Herakles is the only hero to be recognized within the Eleusinian Mystery Cult and their legendary initiatory system (28).

2.2. Herakles, a Model of the Hero and the Heroic Journey

Allegorically, the life and lineage of Herakles is a perfect model of the Hero. The motif of his heroic journey illustrates the path that leads from the early mire of base urges to an inevitable crisis; the subsequent unity with a higher guiding force (Agathodaimon); the ensuing atonement (recognition of personal excess and defect) and finally following the mean of Arête to self-mastery.

This journey of Herakles occurs on three levels.

1. As a historical figure fulfilling the function of the ancestral role model and founder who guides the actions and values of a tribe.

2. As a metaphysical teaching that illustrates the immortal aspect of Herakles as the son of Zeus, who is established mythically as one who is born from the Zeus Nous or Agathodaimon in its unity with the human body as represented by the earthly Queen Alkmene (29). This union between Divine Spirit and Matter thus endowed humanity with the capacity for Arête. Through the perfection of the soul by mastery of the self, the Immortal Herakles ascends to Olympos as a mythologem representing the union of the lower self with Agathodaimon (Zeus Nous).

3. As the mythical figure whose tales and legends illustrate the immortal Herakles and his mortal twin Iphikles and their differing qualities that demonstrate the development of Arête and the stages of self-mastery (the twelve labours) within the initiatory quest.

Herakles (meaning ‘the glory of Hera) is a son of Zeus who inspires the allegorical wrath of Hera and is born as the embodiment of the ‘Unwitting Hero’. He has no choice but to rise to the challenge to preserve his life from Hera’s wrath. Within this aspect of the allegory, the child Herakles represents the ‘Divinely-Guided Innocent’ whose relationship with Hera will catalyse his further development upon the heroic path. Yet Herakles was not born alone and his twin brother was named Iphikles meaning ‘famed for his strength’ (30). This notion of the twin brothers represents a fifth type of hero namely ‘the Twins’ who within this myth represent allegorically the two-fold nature of Good as Arête and Moderation within a single heroic form. This two-fold nature corresponds to the quality and quantity contexts of the principle of Good. The quality of Goodness is Arête and is illustrated by the bravery and strength of Herakles. The quantity of Good is Moderation and this is illustrated by the effects of its absence within the youthful Herakles that leads the hero into a life of excess and defect. The actions and passions of the Twin heroes within context to the story will thus exemplify and illustrate the early excesses and defects of bravery and its ultimate moderation as the emergence of temperance within the Herakles myth.

This is initially illustrated through the first deed of the hero as provoked by the intervention of Hera as the Divine Guide of Herakles (31). It is told that when Herakles and Iphikles were but babes in arms (32), Hera sent two snakes into the chamber where they lay sleeping. The infant Iphikles shrank back from the serpents in fear, but the tiny Herakles raised his head and grasped the two snakes, strangling the life from their writhing bodies. This early tale symbolizes the heroic Arête of Bravery in the figure of Herakles and the defective action of Iphikles motivated by cowardice. The difference between the twins is illustrated by their mythical fathers. Herakles was sired by Zeus and hence the divine intellect of the Zeus Nous resided within him as Agathodaimon. Herakles bore within him the immortal good spirit and did not fear death. His twin Iphikles was sired by Amphitryon, the mortal husband of Alkmene and residing within him was the mortal fear of death. This illustrated the cautious and fearful nature of Iphikles who would need to overcome his fear to find bravery within himself.

Yet Herakles himself represented a lack of Arête in his youth. Although he was brave and fearless, he was rash, impulsive and overly emotional. He killed his tutor and later when driven mad by Hera, killed his wife and children. This mythical motif illustrates a very important principle within the allegory of Herakles. In his angry passion, his rash impulsiveness, within the dark depths of his murderous madness, Herakles embodies the excess of bravery as a vice. Driven by his lack of fear, Herakles represents the flip side of Iphikles. Each twin is driven by the fear principle; Herakles by the lack of fear (defect) and Iphikles by excessive fear. This is a perfect example of mythical symmetry, for cautious Iphikles must overcome fear to be brave while fearless Herakles must learn caution to become moderate. Together the combined figures of the twins symbolize the nature of the Good that manifests within quality as Virtue and within quantity as Moderation.

During the early years of the twins’ lives, as Herakles oscillates between excess and defect, Iphikles leaves his home and family and enters willingly into the service of the King of Argos and Mykenae (33). The meaning of the name of this great King may offer a clue as to his mythical rather than historical nature. Evristheos means ‘the broad God’ and appears to allude to an unnamed God with far-reaching power. It may be likely that Evristheos was associated with Zeus via the Rite of Divine Kingship. Thus the King would symbolize the Zeus Nous or Agathodaimon into whose service one twin enters simultaneously as the other twin descends into the tension of the opposites between excess and defect. This is a vital clue into the early stages of any developmental journey such as life. The extreme natures of excess and defect must be known before the mean of Arête can be found and Agathon preserved. This is a lesson for everyone. Our early mistakes are the exploratory foundations that offer us the vital experience necessary for true virtue as internal goodness. Yet before the path of Arête can be found and the true hero can emerge, the challenge of the quest must be presented. Herakles, filled with emotional guilt, now represents the ‘Wounded Hero’ who must sublimate his passions and actions into the service of the heroic quest to atone for his misdeeds.

Thus is born the heroic task of the Twelve Labours as laid out by Evristheos, the master of Iphikles. It is only when Herakles enters the service of Evristheos that he as a hero moves into the fourth and final stage of the heroic journey; the quest itself. This final stage is magnificently evoked in the mythical tale of the guilt-ridden Herakles who is united with his twin half, Iphikles and the two-fold energy of the hero is directed by service to Evristheos as a mythical symbol of Agathodaimon. Subsequently the development of Herakles will fall to Evristheos who will set the twelve labours of the heroic quest. A sense of completeness is now within the hero Herakles as all the parts of the puzzle are united and the real work may begin.

The twelve labours are the specific challenges and steps to self-mastery within this particular heroic path and are so extensive in nature that they encompass a saga in themselves. It would not serve the myth well to attempt a synopsis of their specific meanings.

It is suffice to say that the early years of the hero that lead to the unity with Agathodaimon and enable the capacity for Arête in any person are the hardest to endure and ultimately to overcome. These early years are the time when the passions and actions are slaves to the sensory life and where pleasure and pain reign as king and queen of the senses. Many a great figure has emerged from the mire of excess and defect. Herakles is but one of them.

The teachings of excess and defect, of virtue and vice and of pleasure and pain embody the internal struggle between Good and Bad. These experiences form the core foundation of personal excellence for those who make the choice to walk the path of Arête and invoke the glorious myth of the Hero as their initiatory guiding principle. Goodness is the true virtue of the Hero and he lives this virtue as a life principle. Goodness is not a quality that may be defined or a set of rules that need to be written in stone. Goodness is the very nature of the Kosmos and all within it. Vice is only bad in that it destroys the Good through excess and defect. But simultaneously Vice also participates in the Good as it teaches us by default what is beneficial for us and the world in which we live. There are no devils to destroy here for even that which is bad exists to highlight that which is good. Both virtue (example) and vice (default) exist in service to that which is the Highest Good as Agathon; the first principle that orders the Kosmos and the life of each living being. This is the goal of the hero and the completion of one cycle upon the initiatory wheel of life.

A Song of Rebirth

Last night I drank from the cup of life
Life is inside me now
The God of Life
Throbbing deep within
My heartbeat his drum
A vital echo whose rhythm I must heed
‘Live’, beats his drum, ‘live, live, live’
My life, this dance
His voice, my song
Filling the caverns of my soul
With life and love and love of life
Last night I drank from the cup of life
Life is inside me now
The God of Life
Throbbing deep within


1a. ‘Αναλυτικό Λεξικό της Αρχαίας Ελληνικής’ – Μακάριος Π. Πελέκης
The Analytical Dictionary of Ancient Greek has been used for all examples of usages of ancient Greek words in the above article.
1. ‘The Masks of God’ by Joseph Campbell;
2. ‘Mythologems’ by James Hollis
3. ‘The Pre-Socratic Philosophers’ by G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven
There is a problem with dating the teachings of Pythagoras & the Pythagoreans as most mention of them come through the works of the philosopher Aristotle and often do not mention individual Pythagoreans and rather refer to the school as a whole. Hence dating of the material has been broken down into two periods: Pre-Parmenidian Pythagoreanism and Post-Zeno Pythagoreanism. The Pythagorean information used within this article is taken from the Pre-Parmenidian Pythagorean period.
4. ‘Hyperspace – A scientific journey through the 10th Dimension’ by Michio Kaku
For information concerning the influence of Pythagorean Theorem in contemporary society please refer to the mathematical language of Bernhard Riemann and more specifically ‘Riemann’s Metric Tensor’ and its implications within four dimensional Geometry.
5. The ten principles accredited to the Pythagoreans, according to Aristotle’s ‘Metaphysics’ are as follows:
The Limited and the Unlimited; odd and even; one and plurality; right and left, male and female; resting and moving; straight and curved; light and darkness; good and bad; square and oblong.
6. ‘Democritus’ by Paul Cartledge
7. ‘The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt’ by Jack Lindsay – Chapter 5 ‘Demokritos and Bolos of Mendes’
8. ‘Hyperspace – A scientific journey through the 10th Dimension’ by Michio Kaku
9. ‘The Tao of Physics’ by Fritjof Capra
10. Aristotle’s ‘Ethics’ and ‘Nichomachean Ethics’
11. Plato’s ‘Meno.
12. ‘The Pocket Aristotle’ – Edited by Justin D. Kaplan
13. ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’ by Richard Tarnas
14. ‘The Pocket Aristotle’ – Edited by Justin D. Kaplan
15. The word ‘Logos’ means ‘Word’, ‘Reason’, ‘Speech’, ‘Idea’, ‘Message’ in literal translation but as a root cause within humanity creates the ability to reason. This ability to reason is the potential for moral arête (virtue) or ethics.
16.’The origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt’ by Jack Lindsay – Chapter 14 Agathodaimon.
17.’L’Empriere’s Classical Dictionary’ by J. L’Empriere D.D. (1904 edition)
18. The Orphic Hymns – translated by from the ancient Greek by M & L Madytinos
19. Zeus Melichios refers to the Divine Child Zeus who was fed by honey (meli) and is petitioned for cleansing from impurity and redemption from erroneous behaviour.
20. Aristotle ‘Ethics’ – Penguin Classics
21. ‘Man and His Symbols’ – Carl Gustav Jung
22. ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’ by Richard Tarnas
Chapter entitles ‘Romanticism and Its Fate’ that investigates Dr Jung’s study of the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant and his ideas concerning the a-priori structure of the mind.
23. An essay on Heroic Archetypes by Anette Wyandotte
24. ‘Story Builders Users Manual’ distributed by Seven Valley Software
25. ‘The Writers Journey’ by Christopher Vogler
26. ‘Highlights of Greek Philosophy’ by Khan Amore
27. ‘Discovering the fairytale that is your everyday life’ by Wendy Pini
28. ‘Eleusis’ by Dr C. Kerenyi
29. ‘The Gods of the Greeks’ by Dr C. Kerenyi
30. ‘The Heroes of the Greeks’ by Dr C. Kerenyi
31. Diodorus Siculus offers an earlier intervention by Hera as she suckles the baby Herakles who has been exposed by his mother, without knowing him to be a son of Zeus. The overflow from her breast creating the Milky Way.
A different version of this tale is offered by Eratosthenis, the Achillis Introductio in Aratum and the Astronomica that also speaks of the creation of the Milky Way and the babe Herakles who is bought to Hera by Hermes while she sleeps. These variants of the first intervention of Hera have been excluded from the above article because they derive from the Roman period and thus do not exemplify the Hellenic understanding. A further reason is that by Roman times, Herakles’ character had been changed and was no longer worshipped as a hero and ancestor but in a deified form linked to the sun.
32. There are conflicting tales giving the age of the Twins when this event occurred.
‘Nemea’ by Pindar tells us that the twins were newborn while Theokritos states that the babies were ten months old.
33. ‘Pausanias Periegeta’

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