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Book Title: Hercules, My Shipmate|
The author of the book: Robert Graves
Date of issue: April 1966
Format files: PDF
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Reissued by Creative Age Press in 1945 as Hercules, My Shipmate, a novel about the voyage of the Argo. Written with ideas on The White Goddess as a cultural/anthropological backdrop to the ancient Greek tale.
What the Golden Fleece really was—a cloak tossed to earth by a drunken Zeus, a sheepskin book of alchemic secrets or the gilded epidermis of a young human sacrifice named Mr. Ram—nobody knows. But Graves is quite sure that, whatever the Golden Fleece was, the voyage of Jason & his Argonauts really happened. His story shows the legendary cruise as one of the bawdiest, bloodiest, most boisterous expeditions of all time.
In I, Claudius & its Claudius the God sequel, Graves brought the teeming life of Claudian Rome so vividly alive that they became bestsellers. In the not-so-successful Wife to Mr. Milton, his blend of imagination & scholarship projected his readers into 17th-Century England & the bedchamber temper tantrums of the blind poet-politician.
With Hercules & shipmates, Graves becomes an ancient Greek, moving among demigods & goddesses, myths & monsters with an easy familiarity & a wealth of erudite detail. Both sometimes seem too much of a good thing. Atomic-age readers, ill-attuned to the leisurely, formal talk of myth-age Greeks, may find themselves skipping some of the longer speeches.
Most of the Argo's 50-oar crew were princes, each with a special talent & gift of the gods. The only woman aboard was a princess: Atalanta of Calydon, a virgin huntress who could outrun any man in Greece. Argus, who built the Argo, was the world's finest shipwright. Castor & Pollux, sons of Leda & Zeus-as-swan, were champion prizefighters. Nauplius, Poseidon's son, was an unrivaled navigator. Orpheus could make sticks & stones dance to his lyre. Hercules of Tiryns was the world's strongest man. He would've captained the Argonauts were it not that in moments of insanity he murdered friend & foe alike.
Captaincy devolved on Jason of lolcos—a man nobody liked or trusted, but who had a power denied to all the others: women instantly fell in love with him. Even surly Hercules agreed it a quality worth all the rest.
Backed by divine blessings & equinoctal winds, the Argonauts set sail. On the Island of Lemnos, peopled solely by women, they generously stopped off to help out with spring sowing. Nine months later, 200 children were born, of whom no less than 60 were said to be the spitting image of Hercules.
On Samothrace, they were initiated into the sacred mysteries. The Goddess of All Being mated with the Serpent Priapus to be delivered of a bull. Then the sacred nymphs leapt on them & scratched & bit until even Hercules passed out. Thereafter, the Argonauts glowed with "a faint nimbus of light."
The Argonauts boldly pushed on thru the dread Hellespont & entered the Black Sea. To their dismay, Hercules deserted, summoned home to perform another of his mighty labors. "Holy Serpents!" he growled. "Tell me what this time?" The job—cleaning the Augean Stables—didn't take long. He stayed around afterwards with the Lydian high priestess—who in due time bore male triplets. In gratitude, she taught him to spin, tying up his hair in blue braids. He was crazy about it, admitting confidentially he'd always wanted to be a woman.
The Argonauts went on without Hercules. Reaching Colchis, Aphrodite won the Fleece for them. She made her son Eros wait behind a pillar with his bow until handsome Jason strode into the King of Colchis' palace. Eros shot Medea thru the heart, & the smitten princess helped to get the Fleece from her father's temple. Mythology's most famous voyage had reached its goal, but Graves takes 150 more pages to wind things up.
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Read information about the authorRobert Ranke Graves, born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King's College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon & Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford. While at Charterhouse in 1912, he fell in love with G. H. Johnstone, a boy of fourteen ("Dick" in Goodbye to All That) When challenged by the headmaster he defended himself by citing Plato, Greek poets, Michelangelo & Shakespeare, "who had felt as I did".
At the outbreak of WWI, Graves enlisted almost immediately, taking a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He published his first volume of poems, Over the Brazier, in 1916. He developed an early reputation as a war poet and was one of the first to write realistic poems about his experience of front line conflict. In later years he omitted war poems from his collections, on the grounds that they were too obviously "part of the war poetry boom". At the Battle of the Somme he was so badly wounded by a shell-fragment through the lung that he was expected to die, and indeed was officially reported as 'died of wounds'. He gradually recovered. Apart from a brief spell back in France, he spent the rest of the war in England.
One of Graves's closest friends at this time was the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was also an officer in the RWF. In 1917 Sassoon tried to rebel against the war by making a public anti-war statement. Graves, who feared Sassoon could face a court martial, intervened with the military authorities and persuaded them that he was suffering from shell shock, and to treat him accordingly. Graves also suffered from shell shock, or neurasthenia as it is sometimes called, although he was never hospitalised for it.
Biographers document the story well. It is fictionalised in Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. The intensity of their early relationship is nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in Graves's collection Fairies & Fusiliers (1917), which contains a plethora of poems celebrating their friendship. Through Sassoon, he also became friends with Wilfred Owen, whose talent he recognised. Owen attended Graves's wedding to Nancy Nicholson in 1918, presenting him with, as Graves recalled, "a set of 12 Apostle spoons".
Following his marriage and the end of the war, Graves belatedly took up his place at St John's College, Oxford. He later attempted to make a living by running a small shop, but the business failed. In 1926 he took up a post at Cairo University, accompanied by his wife, their children and the poet Laura Riding. He returned to London briefly, where he split with his wife under highly emotional circumstances before leaving to live with Riding in Deià, Majorca. There they continued to publish letterpress books under the rubric of the Seizin Press, founded and edited the literary journal Epilogue, and wrote two successful academic books together: A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928).
In 1927, he published Lawrence and the Arabs, a commercially successful biography of T.E. Lawrence. Good-bye to All That (1929, revised and republished in 1957) proved a success but cost him many of his friends, notably Sassoon. In 1934 he published his most commercially successful work, I, Claudius. Using classical sources he constructed a complexly compelling tale of the life of the Roman emperor Claudius, a tale extended in Claudius the God (1935). Another historical novel by Graves, Count Belisarius (1938), recounts the career of the Byzantine general Belisarius.
During the early 1970s Graves began to suffer from increasingly severe memory loss, and by his eightieth birthday in 1975 he had come to the end of his working life. By 1975 he had published more than 140 works. He survived for ten more years in an increasingly dependent condition until he died from heart failure.
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