Herakles’ Choice? More Tiring than Tawdry for a Tuesday

This toxic brew is one part myth, one part moral philosophy and at two parts misogyny mixed up with some delightful Xenophontic prose. It is as if Robert Frost wrote about the path less taken but in moralizing prose capitalizing on hateful stereotypes. Ok, so, it is not really like Robert Frost at all. Happy Tuesday!

Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.1.21-29

“Wise Prodikos in his composition on Herakles (which he performs for many people) also expresses similar views about virtue, he says this much, as far as I can remember. For he says:

“Herakles, when he was moving from childhood into adolescence, that time when the young take control of their lives and demonstrate whether they will turn onto the path of virtue or vice, went out to sit down in a quiet place because he was uncertain which road to take.

While he was there, two giant women appeared and approached him. The first was fine to look at and naturally free—her body was dressed in purity, her eyes with shame, her bearing with wisdom, and her clothing was white.

The other woman was fed too much and was thick and soft; her skin was all decorated so that she seemed whiter and pinker than she really was, and her bearing made her look taller than she was naturally. Her eyes were opened-wide; her clothing showed off how everything was especially “in season”; and she was looking over herself all the time, trying to spot if anyone else was looking at her. She often was peeking at her own shadow.

When they approached Herakles, that first woman went in the manner which was mentioned, but the second ran up to Herakles because she was eager to to defeat her. She said. “Herakles, I see that you are unsure what path to follow in your life. If you make me your friend, I will take you on the most pleasing and easy journey. You will not miss out on any of life’s pleasures, and you will live without experience of sufferings.”

[…]

Then, after Herakles listened to this, he asked “Woman, what is your name”. And she said, “My friends call me Happiness, the haters call me Vice.”

“Meanwhile, the other woman approached and said, “I have also come to you, Herakles, someone who knows your parents and I have learned your nature as you were educated. This is why I hope that, if you choose the path I am offering, you will become a great doer of noble and solemn acts and that I will seem more honorable and famous for the good things I bring. I will not lie to you with an introduction of pleasures: I will tell you the truth, how the gods have made the world for you.”

[21] καὶ Πρόδικος δὲ ὁ σοφὸς ἐν τῷ συγγράμματι τῷ περὶ Ἡρακλέους, ὅπερ δὴ καὶ πλείστοις ἐπιδείκνυται, ὡσαύτως περὶ τῆς ἀρετῆς ἀποφαίνεται, ὧδέ πως λέγων, ὅσα ἐγὼ μέμνημαι. φησὶ γὰρ Ἡρακλέα, ἐπεὶ ἐκ παίδων εἰς ἥβην ὡρμᾶτο, ἐν ᾗ οἱ νέοι ἤδη αὐτοκράτορες γιγνόμενοι δηλοῦσιν εἴτε τὴν δι᾽ ἀρετῆς ὁδὸν τρέψονται ἐπὶ τὸν βίον εἴτε τὴν διὰ κακίας, ἐξελθόντα εἰς ἡσυχίαν καθῆσθαι ἀποροῦντα ποτέραν τῶν ὁδῶν τράπηται:

[22] καὶ φανῆναι αὐτῷ δύο γυναῖκας προσιέναι μεγάλας, τὴν μὲν ἑτέραν εὐπρεπῆ τε ἰδεῖν καὶ ἐλευθέριον φύσει, κεκοσμημένην τὸ μὲν σῶμα καθαρότητι, τὰ δὲ ὄμματα αἰδοῖ, τὸ δὲ σχῆμα σωφροσύνῃ, ἐσθῆτι δὲ λευκῇ, τὴν δ᾽ ἑτέραν τεθραμμένην μὲν εἰς πολυσαρκίαν τε καὶ ἁπαλότητα, κεκαλλωπισμένην δὲ τὸ μὲν χρῶμα ὥστε λευκοτέραν τε καὶ ἐρυθροτέραν τοῦ ὄντος δοκεῖν φαίνεσθαι, τὸ δὲ σχῆμα ὥστε δοκεῖν ὀρθοτέραν τῆς φύσεως εἶναι, τὰ δὲ ὄμματα ἔχειν ἀναπεπταμένα, ἐσθῆτα δὲ ἐξ ἧς ἂν μάλιστα ὥρα διαλάμποι: κατασκοπεῖσθαι δὲ θαμὰ ἑαυτήν, ἐπισκοπεῖν δὲ καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος αὐτὴν θεᾶται, πολλάκις δὲ καὶ εἰς τὴν ἑαυτῆς σκιὰν ἀποβλέπειν.

[23] ὡς δ᾽ ἐγένοντο πλησιαίτερον τοῦ Ἡρακλέους, τὴν μὲν πρόσθεν ῥηθεῖσαν ἰέναι τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον, τὴν δ᾽ ἑτέραν φθάσαι βουλομένην προσδραμεῖν τῷ Ἡρακλεῖ καὶ εἰπεῖν: ὁρῶ σε, ὦ Ἡράκλεις, ἀποροῦντα ποίαν ὁδὸν ἐπὶ τὸν βίον τράπῃ. ἐὰν οὖν ἐμὲ φίλην ποιησάμενος, ἐπὶ τὴν ἡδίστην τε καὶ ῥᾴστην ὁδὸν ἄξω σε, καὶ τῶν μὲν τερπνῶν οὐδενὸς ἄγευστος ἔσει, τῶν δὲ χαλεπῶν ἄπειρος διαβιώσῃ.

[26]καὶ ὁ Ἡρακλῆς ἀκούσας ταῦτα, ὦ γύναι, ἔφη, ὄνομα δέ σοι τί ἐστιν; ἡ δέ, οἱ μὲν ἐμοὶ φίλοι, ἔφη, καλοῦσί με Εὐδαιμονίαν, οἱ δὲ μισοῦντές με ὑποκοριζόμενοι ὀνομάζουσι Κακίαν.

[27] καὶ ἐν τούτῳ ἡ ἑτέρα γυνὴ προσελθοῦσα εἶπε: καὶ ἐγὼ ἥκω πρὸς σέ, ὦ Ἡράκλεις, εἰδυῖα τοὺς γεννήσαντάς σε καὶ τὴν φύσιν τὴν σὴν ἐν τῇ παιδείᾳ καταμαθοῦσα, ἐξ ὧν ἐλπίζω, εἰ τὴν πρὸς ἐμὲ ὁδὸν τράποιο, σφόδρ᾽ ἄν σε τῶν καλῶν καὶ σεμνῶν ἀγαθὸν ἐργάτην γενέσθαι καὶ ἐμὲ ἔτι πολὺ ἐντιμοτέραν καὶ ἐπ᾽ ἀγαθοῖς διαπρεπεστέραν φανῆναι. οὐκ ἐξαπατήσω δέ σε προοιμίοις ἡδονῆς, ἀλλ᾽ ᾗπερ οἱ θεοὶ διέθεσαν τὰ ὄντα διηγήσομαι μετ᾽ ἀληθείας.

[29] καὶ ἡ Κακία ὑπολαβοῦσα εἶπεν, ὥς φησι Πρόδικος: ἐννοεῖς, ὦ Ἡράκλεις, ὡς χαλεπὴν καὶ μακρὰν ὁδὸν ἐπὶ τὰς εὐφροσύνας ἡ γυνή σοι αὕτη διηγεῖται; ἐγὼ δὲ ῥᾳδίαν καὶ βραχεῖαν ὁδὸν ἐπὶ τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν ἄξω σε.

CarracciHercules.jpg
Annibale Carracci, “The Choice of Hercules”

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