When I used to read a Greek legend about Hercules vs. Antheus encounter, I couldn’t figure out why Hercules had to actually wrestle the giant. After all, he had modern (to that time) weapons in his disposal like bow and arrows, a javelin, and a sword. In other words, he could have eliminated the brute easily in no time. Yet he chose a fistfight, the fight on his terms. The following story is my thoughts about what motivates Hercules to do so.
"You're a wuss!" the stranger had a very thick unpleasant accent in Greek.
His wide nostrils flared, cold grey eyes expressed obtuse stubborn anger and lips held ill-conceived grin above a degenerate chin. Being a tall man himself, Hercules nevertheless was a foot and a half shorter than the stranger. "A giant." he figured. The giant had broad shoulders, muscular extremities, short neck and the thick skin of a red brick just like the color of dirt in deserted land Hercules was traveling. Squinting Hercules could almost mistake him for the part of the landscape. Heavy and clumsy, he looked as if nature couldn't find planned materials at the right time and therefore used whatever was at hands, compensating lack of proportion by excessive size.
"Listen, pal, let"s not start calling each other names, ok?"
"If you"re no wuss, fight me." The giant continued, beating himself on the chest.
Hercules inhaled deeply trying not to get mad. The least of what he needed now was to get sidetracked. This travel to get three silly apples from the garden of Hesperides already took him longer than any of his previous labors. Cousin Eurystheus knew where to send him this time.
His way to the land of Hyperborean ran through the deserted canyon restricted on both sides by the granite cliffs rising high almost vertically. Several days Hercules traveled under blazing sun carrying his ammunition. And now this hulk - totally unnecessary obstacle.
Hercules, therefore, tried to be diplomatic.
"Respectable warrior, why do we need to fight?"
"This is my land and my rules. You fight or you leave."
"I understand. But why? What compels you to fight? Is that a promise given to Gods? If so I could offer a sacrifice?"
The giant didn't answer.
"You see, I have nothing against you," Hercules continued, "I am not a scout. More people are not going to come and attempt to settle this land. All I need is to pass through one time." He appended his speech with the raised index finger.
Hercules tested the eyes of the giant. The expression of mistrust and animosity settled on it like the patina on the copper etching. Hercules tried to approach him from a different angle.
"If you"ll let me pass I can give you a valuable gift." Hercules pulled a copper mirror from his luggage and rotated it in the air letting its polished surface sparkle. Besides weapons, food, and water, Hercules" bag contained a set of trinkets and jewelry. He hoped that the later would help him to negotiate his deal with Hesperides sisters. "See, my friendship could be more valuable than my enmity."
"You're stupid!" the giant smirked. "I kill you. All this," he pointed toward the ammunition, "be mine. And I add to my collection," with his smirk growing until it occupied most of his face, he redirected his index finger toward the mount of bones that comprised skeletons of travelers unable to compete with him in wrestling.
After a couple more attempts to reason with the giant, Hercules concluded that diplomacy was futile. The man standing in his way was a primitive, who had no concept of civilization and its rules of conduct. Hercules could easily eliminate the giant with either a sword or arrows. He survived many battles where he killed many. But the idea of slaying an unarmed man sickened him.
For a moment Hercules entertains the thought of running around the giant without his permission but tossed this idea. True, he could outrun the giant, but then he had to leave all his ammunition behind. Not hoping to find food and especially water in this canyon, Hercules also considered the fact that the stranger knew the terrain better and could attack him at night while Hercules was asleep. Lastly, Hercules felt disgusted by running away from anybody or anything. He would have to take the fight. Moving his ammunition bag further back so it wouldn't be on the way, Hercules came back to the giant and stood against him hands up defending his chin and stomach.
He wasn't going to let himself be intimidated or angry. Neither of these feelings was helpful. The giant looked strong, but not quick and coordinated. Hercules noted with satisfaction the difference between giant"s awkward assemblage and his own powerful but elegant and proportional built. His gut hung out flabby and Hercules thought it was a good spot for a strike. He figured he could break the opponent down by punching him in the body and then either to knock him out with the barrage of hard blows into the head or choke him out; either way incapacitating him and proceeding with his journey.
His estimate seemed to work. When Hercules quickly sprang close the opponent and delivered his first uppercut right in the giant"s solar plexus, stranger"s face distorted with pain as he collapsed on one knee. He recovered surprisingly quickly though and only swayed his head showing Hercules that the punch had no effect.
Opponents now circled each other in the narrow strip of land between the cliffs, throwing probing jabs. When Hercules attempted another uppercut, the giant took it better, ducked and grabbed Hercules" leg. Hercules was on guard, delivering a blow on the stranger"s neck. The giant released the leg and collapsed on the ground losing consciousness. Right after that, he sprung out again carrying no trace of the blow. This time he was able to surprise Hercules, grab him around the waist and body-slammed him. Hercules rolled over preventing the stranger from mounting. He decided to avoid full body contact, preferring to nail the opponent with uppercuts and hooks to the body.
This pretty much determined the pattern of the fight. Faster and more athletic Hercules imposed his pace and style. Landing most of his punches he avoided direct contact with the giant who tried to catch the hero and pin him down.
After an hour of engagement even capable of great endurance Hercules started showing the signs of fatigue. The giant though seemed fresh as if it were the first minutes of the fight and Hercules understood that he had to change the tactics. It"s not that the stranger could take Hercules" uppercuts. Almost every good punch dropped him. But instead of getting weaker as a result of such punishment the man as if got stronger and stronger.
An experienced fighter, Hercules was thrown off. He had a feeling that something was amiss in this development, something contradictory to his experience and laws of nature. He sensed he was tricked.
"You are a great warrior!" complimented he trying to test the ground during the moment when they circling each other between contacts. "I swear I should know of your noble name. Not only me; entire Greece must know of it."
The Giant had swallowed the bait.
"Name is Antheus."
Antheus! The name flashed through Hercules" mind like a fiery chariot.
Now he knew who he was against. He already had many chances to deal with Gaia"s offspring. For example in his unforgettable encounter with Hydra. They all were a bunch of ignorant and arrogant loudmouths, and this one was no exception.
To throw or knock Antheus to the ground was useless. Every time he touched the earth, Goddess transferred her motherly love and strength to him through handfuls of fresh dirt that Antheus grabbed upon landing. The only possible way to substantially hurt him was in the air.
Hercules abandoned punching like a useless skill set and proceeded to wrestle. Clumsy and slow in a fistfight, Antheus nevertheless was an incredibly strong grappler. His body felt like a hot stone.
Both warriors pushed against each other clinging in the uncompromising mutual effort. Shiny from the sweat that oozed from the inflated muscles, they looked like a carefully chosen composition for a major sculpture.
Antheus was pulling Hercules down, closer to the soft fresh dirt where he could mount and pin his elusive adversary with all his mighty strength and weight. Hercules, on the contrary, tried to lift Antheus up, away from the hungry embrace of Gaia.
Changing the pace, Hercules grabbed Antheus from the side and inched his way to the "death lock" a choking maneuver hopeless for the opponent. In another two minutes of desperate struggle, he finally secured his hand under the Antheus" chin establishing the steel grip over his neck.
"You lost, warrior", Hercules said breathing heavily; "there is no escape from this hold. I will let you go if you promise me not to interfere with my mission anymore."
Half choked, Antheus tapped out – the wrestler sign of submission. Hercules released his hold, letting the titan"s body to collapse, and having patted dazed Antheus on the shoulder "Good fight", went to pick up his ammunition bag.
Suddenly Hercules felt a tremendous blow on his neck. For instance, the sky turned black for him sprinkled with bright yellow stars. His knees buckled as huge massive body landed on his back. Hercules had to take several steps forward in order not to fall.
The situation drastically changed. Now Antheus stood at his back inches away from the securing the "death lock". Holding Antheus hands from moving any closer Hercules hissed "I defeated you in the honorable fight and spared your life. How could you attack me from behind?"
Antheus laughed sarcastically. "You're stupid. I am smart."
Stunned by this revelation, Hercules somewhat loosened his resistance only to let Antheus move an inch closer to the "death lock".
Hercules was a civilized man and generally was of an opinion that people have a good and a bad side to them. Therefore with increasing bewilderment, he entered a realization that there are people who are so genuinely evil. Hercules experienced the mad fury, a horrible feeling he remembered preceded him killing his wife Megara and children a long time ago; the horrible deed that burned him with an acid of shame, and cost him his life service to Eurystheus. But now he welcomed this feeling. He realized that he couldn't apply the humane restrictions of combat to this primitive, simply because this primitive jeopardized the very existence of his civilization which champion and emissary Hercules was.
With his peripheral vision, Hercules noticed a sharp rib of a cliff ten paces away from the site of the struggle. Overpowering the pain and lack of air, feeling the huge heavy load on his shoulders Hercules starts moving towards the cliff. The last paces he almost ran.
His ammunition bag with weapons was about thirty paces away; too far out of reach. Antheus would have choked him by then.
Antheus sensed the danger, but too late. Right before the cliff Hercules turned around and slammed Antheus body into the sharp edge. Antheus grip instantly loosened allowing Hercules to turn and face his adversary.
Tired but furious Hercules lifted Antheus in the air, pressed him against his chest and started tightening his muscles. Blood came out from underneath his nails, but he didn't stop. Madness gave him strength. Feeling that the Hercules grip getting tighter and tighter and unable to reach the Earth, Antheus screamed from pain, helplessness, and anger from a realization that he is in pain and helplessness. Continuing the pressure Hercules soon heard the sound of crushed ribs and then the spine. He finally released the body of the titan and it fell to the ground.
Antheus start crawling away from the site of the battle grabbing the fresh dirt with both hands. Blood flew from his mouth and nose leaving a bright red trail on the brown soil.
"Mummy, I am hurt! I am hurt. Help me, mummy, help me!" appealed he to Gaia hoping that his mother would, as usual, come to his rescue.
Looking at the plunged and dying titan Hercules sighed. Inside the bully, there was but a little boy. His death was useless just like his insistent stubbornness that left Hercules no options.
Silently Hercules picked up his heavy ammunition bag and continued walking through the deserted plain towards the land of hyperboreans. Earth hooted underneath his feet with the low-pitched sound of a gigantic bell. That was Gaia bemoaning her beloved but perverse child.