September 21, 2022

The Comparison of the Prophet Jonah and Hercules

Hercules wrestles Triton

In the second troparion of the sixth ode of the iambic canon that was composed by Saint John of Damascus for the feast of Theophany, we chant:

Ἐκ ποντίου λέοντος ὁ τριέσπερος,
ξένως Προφήτης ἐγκάτοις φλοιδούμενος,
αὖθις προῆλθε, τῆς παλιγγενεσίας,
σωτηρίαν δράκοντος ἐκ βροτοκτόνου,
πᾶσι προφαίνων,
τῶν χρόνων ἐπ' ἐσχάτων.

The triple-night Prophet
strangely made the belly of the lion of the sea swell,
and came forth, making manifest beforehand to all
our regeneration in the last days
and our salvation from the dragon that slays mankind.

Interpreting this hymn, Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite writes in his Eortodromion the following, based on what Saint Cyril of Alexandria wrote:

"In their mythology, the Greeks say that Alcmene had relations with the pseudo-god Zeus over the course of three nights, and by this Hercules was conceived, which is why he has been named 'triple-night'. They have further mythologized, that among the many feats and contests done by Hercules, he entered into a large fish described as a dog, while he held a sword in his hand, by which he cut open the belly of the large fish, and emerged unharmed, except for the fact that his head was naked of hair. The Melodist therefore transfers the mythology of Hercules to the story of Jonah, borrowing the same words of the poet Lycophron, who wrote about Hercules through iambic verses:

That triple-night lion whom
The jaws of Triton’s sharp-fanged hound consumed:
Living he carved its vitals, but, being burnt
By steam from cauldron on a fireless hearth,
Dropped to the ground the bristles from his head,
That child-destroyer, ruin of my land.

... By this being written beforehand it foretells the universal resurrection of the dead."