Yesterday Seamus Heaney died in Dublin at age 74. He was a great poet and translator, and although I don't usually commemorate the deaths of favorite writers on this blog, I will in this case because one of my favorite of his poems deals with wrestling. "Antaeus" (1966) depicts the giant Antaeus, son of the sea-god Poseidon and mother earth Gaea. Hercules defeated and killed him in a wrestling match. According to Ovid, Antaeus could not be defeated so long as a part of his body touched the earth (his mother), so Hercules held him up off the ground and crushed him in his mighty arms.

     When I lie on the ground
I rise flushed as a rose in the morning.
In fights I arrange a fall on the ring
     To rub myself with sand. 
     That is operative
As an elixir. I cannot be weaned
Off the earth's long contour, her river-veins.
    Down here in my cave 
    Girdered with root and rock
I am cradled in the dark that wombed me
And nurtured in every artery
    Like a small hillock. 
     Let each new hero come
Seeking his golden apples and Atlas:
He must wrestle with me before he pass
     Into that realm of fame 
     Among sky-born and royal.
He may well throw me and renew my birth
But let him not plan, lifting me off the earth,
     My elevation, my fall.
The screen shots are from Hercules the Avenger (1965), which puts a slight spin on the myth. In a misty cavern, while a whole city collapses over their heads, Antaeus (stuntman Giovanni Cianfriglia), son of the earth, wrestles Hercules (Reg Park), son of the sky god Jove. In the film, Antaeus impersonates Hercules, doing much harm in his name, complicit in the kidnapping and torture of Hercules' (hunky) son, played by Luigi Barbini (who appeared in several Pasolini films). In the film, Hercules wins by holding Antaeus aloft in a choke hold, thus strangling him.

In younger days, I strongly identified with Antaeus because of his enthusiasm for wrestling (albeit a fatal enthusiasm, in his case) and because he dwelled in the desert in Libya (I was born in Tripoli, Libya, on a U.S. Air Force base).

So long, Seamus Heaney. I will remember you.


  1. In a mythology book I read as a kid, Antaeus was protecting the Pygmies, and that total prick Hercules murdered him, then enslaved a couple Pygmies to give as a "gift" to some queen. Dick move, Hercules!


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