The Labours of Hercules

October -The Stymphalian Birds

The Mythos:

Eurystheus bids Hercules to expel the man-eating birds who infested the Lake of Stymphalus in the mountains of Arcadia; they had wings, talons, and beaks of iron, and their feathers shot out like arrows.

Hercules destroyed some of them with his arrows and scared the others away with the sound of a brazen cymbal made by Hephaistos and given to him by Pallas Athene.

They flew away to an island sacred to Ares in the Black Sea.

The Clavis:

The Lake Stymphalus is symbolical of creative and generative force in its static unprecipitated condition as suggested by its position in the mountains of pure Arcadia.

The Birds, or Stymphalides as they were called, symbolize the inordinate tendencies which utilise this creative energy for unnatural and abnormal purposes, with all their attendant destructive consequences to the human organism.

Scorpio is the Zodiacal Sign connected with this labour. Some perverted Scorpio aspects are such as pertain to uncontrolled impulses, unbridled passions, destructiveness, callousness, tyranny, vindictiveness, intolerance, secretiveness, and pessimism.

But the pure influences of Scorpio are controlled forcefulness, energy, penetration, skill, resourcefulness, thoroughness, determination, devotion to the ideal, strength, courage, and potent regenerative capacity.

The Exegesis:

This task may be defined as that of controlling the desires, impulses, and passions. These are all good in their highest phases, and are not necessarily to be destroyed, even when perverted, but rather they require to be ordinated and their abnormal aspects expelled. They are essential to the process of human regeneration, even as they are to the processes whereby the human race is generated and perpetuated. In their original condition these forces are pure and holy, but because of their remarkable potency they may easily and quickly be converted into deadly powers, consuming the human flesh, even as did the Stymphalides.

All human art is an expression of man’s inherent creative force, but when this is directed towards the gratification of inordinate desires and selfish propensities, then, in addition to the other evils, there is the prostitution of the sacred office of Art in the development of all manner of unnatural and non-ideal implements – as when Science and Art are devoted to the manufacture of instruments of destruction and war. These are suggested by the metallic wings, talons, beaks, and feathers of the birds.

But Creative Art is characterized by divine inspiration and is ordinative and elevative in its influence. Pallas Athene – Divine Wisdom – is the inspiration of the true Artist-Soul. Hephaistos – the Divine Smith – is the skill of the true Artist.

Thus, the Sound which Hercules produces by means of the brazen cymbal, made by Hephaistos, and given to him by Pallas Athene, is symbolical of pure creative and expressive Art, which dispels all that is inordinate, degrading, and destructive.

 

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from Sacred Mythoi of Demigods and Heroes © The Shrine of Wisdom 1999