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Friday, August 28, 2009

Shape of Ancient Thought 3: Dressing Up in Animal Skins and Dancing Around is What Humans Do

NYC - Metropolitan Museum of Art - Youthful Hercules

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Youthful Hercules

  • Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought' (POST)
  • Shape of Ancient Thought 2: Similarities btwn Buddhism/Hinduism to Greek Philosophy (POST)

Let's talk about Hercules for a minute. Facts about Hercules:
  1. Heroic semi-divine figure from Greek myth. In ancient mythology the man Hercules myth was his "12 labors." He was also a favorite subject for both Greek and Roman artists.
  2. Greek Hercules was inspired by the Babylonian/Sumerian hero-figure Gilgamesh.
  3. Hercules is always depicted in possession of a club and an animal skin.

In Shape of Ancient Thought, McEvilley uses "3" to try to link up Hercules w/ late ancient period "tantric" practices, which he postulates were old Dravidian believes that became "sub-strata" (i.e. were brutally opressed) during the Aryan invasion. He points to the fact that tantric/holy-crazy men wanderers dressed in animal skins, acted like animals, and carried a club/staff as their only possession.

I say "wahhhh wahhhhhhhh" to that idea because first of all, dressing up in an animal skin is probably the most common, basic shamanic practice of all cultures. See, for example, A.L Kroeber's hand book of the Native Californians, where almost all of these totally isolated tribes practices some version of the "bear dance." I think the best you can say is that the depiction of Hercules has some antecedent in shamnic practice... but then again: Don't we all?

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