Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day XCIII - Geryon

Three-bodied giant,
Visited by Heracles,
Hero claims cattle.

Another great figure from Greek mythology, Geryon is the three-bodied giant believed to live on the isle of Erytheia beyond the Hesperides to the west of the world's end (ancient Greek thought figured the edge of existence was whatever lay beyond the Mediterranean Sea). Reckoned to be a ferocious giant with brutal, warrior inclinations, the most outstanding thing about the figure is that he's seen as a 'three-in-one' beast. Geryon is described as being triple-bodied with three heads and torsos joined together which all ultimately adds up to something spectacularly terrifying. Depictions don't always agree on exact numbers of heads, legs and arms, however, and sometimes the giant is given wings. Despite all the ferocity, Geryon has a herd of magnificent red cattle that he cares for with the aid of Eurytion the human hersdman and Orthrus the two-headed watchdog (and brother of Cerberus). Heracles, despatched to claim the cattle, sails in a golden cup to the Hesperides and clubs the giant's companions to death before grappling with Geryon himself. The triple-titan meets his demise when the demigod knocks off one of his helmets and pierces the forehead with a hydra-venom-laced arrow. Legend then has it that Heracles brings the special bovine back to King Eurystheus having successfully completed task ten (after he gets sidetracked when Hera sends gadflies to bother the cattle and causes them to scatter across the continent. It takes the hero a year to gather them together again). It's a pretty sorry end for such a striking, imaginatively-inspiring beast. To the great giant cowherd of Greek mythology, I'd say a bit of empathy and awed respect for his outstanding anatomy is due.

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