Greek God Antaeus Essay, Research Paper
Like many great authors, both past and present, Henry David Thoreau uses literary techniques not limited to Greek mythological allusions. Throughout his masterpiece, Walden, mythological allusions are made from his ideas of life and his thoughts about his present state of the environment. Thoreau uses a mythological allusion when he states that, “They [the beans] attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus.” (Thoreau, 1849) Although Thoreau wrote Walden many centuries after the Greek civilization had been wiped out, the historical use of strength as exemplified in the myth of Antaeus drives many themes throughout Walden.
The giant Antaeus was the child of two great gods. His mother was Gaia, goddess of mother earth, and his father was Poseidon, god of the sea. (Encyclopedia Mythica, 1) Antaeus was said to be the strongest of all the gods. He was King of Lydia and greatly renowned as a great wrestler. As the myth states, Antaeus defeated and killed all who vainly tried to upscale him. It was said that he gained more and more strength every time he touched his mother,-the earth- for she supplied him with never ending strength. Although undefeated for years, Hercules finally was able to defeat him. Hercules knew his strength was contact with the earth. He proceeded to engage in a battle with the undefeated giant. Hercules won the fight by lifting him off the ground, holding him by the neck and strangled the great Antaeus to death. Antaeus couldn’t regain his strength because he had lost contact with the ground- the source of his replenishing strength. (Eddie, 1) Thoreau uses the idea of never ending strength that is derived from the earth throughout Walden.
The earth is symbol of strength throughout the novel. An example of the strength of the earth appears in the first chapter where Thoreau is explaining why he wants to get away from every-day life and live off the land. He decides to live with only the basic necessities of life: clothing shelter, and food. (Thoreau, 1778-1781) All these things he generated with the direct help and strength of the land. He grows his own food and builds a house out of natural elements from the forest. It is the strength of the earth that allows him to rely solely on the terrain. The earth has given him the opportunity to grow crops, use trees for his shanty, and hunt small animals.
The main theme in Walden that deals with the strength of Antaeus comes from the following quote: “They [the beans] attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus.” By working the land, Thoreau has felt the strength of the earth. He now feels the power that can come from the depths of the planet. The beans are use as a paradigm for basing all the strength, power, and good deeds of the world upon. Thoreau states that because he has become one with the earth, he can now feel the strength and prowess that the earth possesses. This is similar to the story of Antaeus in several ways. Antaeus cannot leave the ground, for if he does, he will soon loose all strength and wither away, which also holds true for the bean plants. If they were to be uprooted, they would soon wither away and become inedible. In other words, without the roots planted firm into the earth, they will die. Thoreau feels the power of the earth- the power that gives life to both the bean plants and indirectly to his body. The strength of his life has been made possible by the earth’s powers.
“The life in us is like the water in the river.” (Thoreau, 1942) Thoreau uses this in his conclusion of Walden. It not only sums up his work, but it also ties in and concludes the myth of Antaeus. The life in us is what we know, experience, and learn. The river is to the earth as humans are to the earth. Constantly flowing, constantly making contact with the earth, and constantly growing in speed and force as it heads to an ultimate end. Life is like a river to Thoreau. People use the earth as a river would use its banks. We all need to let the earth guide us downstream, to make our turns, to set us in the right direction. When contact with the earth is accomplished, we can gain strength from the earth and ultimately reach our final goal- a good life. Like Antaeus, having our feet firmly planted with the earth and becoming one with its powers, we can live a long life. Once removed, it is only a matter of time before death will overcome oneself.
Eddie. “New to list and question.” Online posting. 5th Nov, 2000. List Serv: . 6th Nov, 2000. .
Editors. “Antaeus”. Encyclopedia Mythica – Article: Antaeus. April 20, 1999. . Nov 6th, 2000.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Baym, et al. 5th ed. Vol 1. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998. 1768-1942.
Walker, Catherine. “The Hydra, No.3: Antaeus, or Back to the Land.” Napier University – Craig Lockhart Connections. Contact address: . Available: . Nov 6, 2000.