The imperialists’ adoption of the myth of Hercules and the many headed Hydra to their cause is problematic and flawed. Firstly, there is nothing Herculean about the imperialist agenda of expansion and economic exploitation. Secondly, far from being the devilish and much maligned mythic creature that is the Hydra, those represented by it are mostly victims of imperial conquest. In other words, the various groups of colored people, revolutionaries and the progressive-minded who comprise the Hydra are actually the ones who are Herculean in their courage and intent. Hence, it is easy to see the problem of usurping an ancient mythological dichotomy of ‘Good v Evil’ and applying it incorrectly to promote an imperial agenda. This essay will flesh out the thesis that, ‘based on first-hand accounts of John Smith and Richard Frethorne, the analogy between the heroic labors of Hercules and the enterprise of imperialism is misleading at best and malicious at worst’.
Let us begin the task of de-mystifying this myth by turning to a few key firsthand accounts of life under the Crown’s orders. The firsthand experiences of Captain John Smith are testimony to the misery and acute poverty of the assigned Hydras. Far from being venomous and hazardous as the many-headed beast, the subjects of the colonies were exploited to the utmost. Even their bare survival was a matter of chance at times. As Captain Smith notes in the beginning of his journal entry
“Being thus left to our fortunes, it fortuned that within ten days scarce ten amongst us could either goe, or well stand, such extraeme weaknes and sickness oppressed us… our allowance was somewhat bettered, by a daily proportion of Bisket, which the sailors would pilfer to sell, give, or exchange with us, for money, Saxe-fras, furres or love.” (Smith, p.110)
It is impossible to believe that such famished subjects as the servants of the imperial crown would later be brandied under the term Hydra when they revolted in the name of fairness and justice. To illustrate, let us consider the dire shortage of vital resources faced by Captain Smith and his team of expeditioners as they went about to fulfill the Crown’s command. The acute short of food for the sailors on imperial mission is well captured in the following lines:
“…that indeed he allowed equally to be distributed, and that was halfe a pint of wheat, and as much barley boyled with water for a man a day, and this having fryed some 26 weekes in the ships hold, contained as many wormes as grains; so that we might truly call it rather so much bran then corne, our drinke was water, or lodgings Castles in the ayre: with this lodging and dyet, our extreame toile in bearing and planting Pallisadoes, so strained and bruised us, and our continuall labour in the extremitie of the heat had so weakened us…those that escaped, lived upon Sturgeon, and Sea-crabs, fiftie in this time we buried…” (Smith, p.110)