Hymn to Herakles

For Stephen

To Herakles

Remember with song the far-famed
son of Zeus of the blue-black locks
and Alkmene whose lovely shoulder
was white as the moon, glory of Hera
who delights in gold is his name, he who
shed the red blood of many a monster
during his travels through Europe, Asia
and the African lands. Pillars at one end,
and a wall at the other did Herakles leave behind
to remind men that he, a living God,
had walked among them performing wonders
never to be forgot. As many of these as he did
he begot even more sons and daughters,
and they in time became heroes and kings
and revealers of sacred mysteries
like their lion-hearted progenitor.
One could argue until every last cow
of Geryon has come home about which
of his works was most deserving of preservation
down through the ages in fables, paintings, statuary
and stage productions at his brother’s festivals –
was it when he strangled the many-headed Hydra
or bedded the fifty daughters of Thespius in a single night,
that time he and Dionysos charged into the fray
on the backs of braying asses, turning the white-foamed tide
in the war between the gleaming Gods
and their ferocious, red-haired Giant foes,
or perhaps when he sailed to the Black Sea
with Jason and Orpheus in search of the Golden Fleece –
but that is fruitless labor indeed, and it would be better by far
to just praise Herakles, and lift high a horn of wine in his honor.