My favorite hero from Greek mythology isn’t one of the muscle-boys everyone knows about (personally, I don’t have much use for oiled muscular men—vengeful scantily-clad goddesses are more my style). Hercules, Perseus, Jason and his Argonauts, Theseus, and Odysseus all accomplished great deeds and won renown, but I can’t say I’d like to have a beer with any of them. I mean, can you imagine the conversation? Take your pick, any one of these heroes would go on and on about himself and his total epic awesomeness, probably using some amalgam of frat boy Jersey Shore surfer lingo like “bodacious” and “dope” and “stoked”—and every chick in the bar would be making goo goo eyes for you-know-who. “So brodingo, like I totally put a gnarly beat-down on this bad ass dude who was, like, totally half man and half bull. It was ba roos! Ladies, no need to throw down—there’s plenty of Theseus to go around! Bro, thanks for being my wingman—you can have that slop tart in the corner. She’s jacked hideous. A total sloppopotamus. Have fun!” Just thinking about it drops my IQ by 20 points.
Nope, my favorite hero is a bit less likely to brag—and certainly less likely to turn the heads of the females in the bar (slop tarts or otherwise). My favorite Greek hero is Carcinus the giant crab. You don’t hear much about him. Probably because he’s a crab—but most likely because he got crushed underfoot by that meathead Hercules.
So here’s how the story goes. One day, Carcinus the giant crab is minding his own business, doing whatever it is that giant crabs do, when lo and behold a goddess appears, and not just any goddess but the Queen Goddess herself—Hera, angry feminism deified. She orders Carcinus to go fight some bloke, who is in the middle of a battle royale with the nine-headed Lernaian Hydra, who sometimes comes over to Carcinus’ crib for poker night (only eight of his nine heads have a good poker face). Carcinus, being the devoted, goddess-fearing arthropod that he is, obliges, and jumps into the fray. He’s not much use next to a giant nine-headed snake, but he does his best anyway, harassing the muscle-bound attacker by pinching his feet.
So as it turns out, this bloke is none other than Hercules, the son of Zeus (King of the Gods and a total player)—half-man, half-god, and totally jacked with the worst case of roid rage you have ever seen. Carcinus doesn’t last long; he gets squashed by Hercules, almost as an afterthought. And to add insult to injury, after Hercules dispatched the Hydra, having worked up a mighty appetite, he probably had a victory feast consisting of the biggest crab cake in history.
So it wasn’t all bad for Carcinus—Hera, perhaps feeling just a little bit guilty, placed Carcinus among the stars where he became the constellation Cancer. Not too shabby for a giant crab, but all in all he likely would have rather been hanging with his peeps back in the crustacean nation. But oh well, being a famous constellation is pretty cool—until some pinhead nerdy scientist comes along and names a horrible disease after you.
So, why all this talk about Greek mythology and giant crabs? During a recent shoot along the South Carolina coast, I photographed a dead tree sticking out of the sand. I decided I liked the shot enough to give it a name—but what? There seemed to be something sinister and vaguely crab-like about the image, so I started doing some research into giant crab myths, when I stumbled across the sad story of poor Carcinus. Needless to say, I didn’t really like the way things turned out.
So I decided to honor noble, brave, and selfless Carcinus not only with a title inspired by his trials, but also with a new, Tarantino-style Inglourious Basterds-esqe ending to his unfortunate tale. In my version of the story, Hercules isn’t the hero—and Carcinus isn’t the type of giant crab to be easily trampled underfoot.
After defeating the Hydra, Hercules, weary from his battle, leans heavily on his club, feeling pretty impressed with himself. He’s just beginning to plan how he’s going to boast about this at the bar later on—and thinking he might finally get that threesome with the sloppy drunken twins who always seem to have wardrobe failures in his presence—when an ominous shadow falls over him. He turns, his arrogant smile fading, as he sees mighty Carcinus, Lord of All Things Shellfish Related, rise from the sand, a Colossus of armored plates and razor-sharp spines, a spirit of godly vengeance, the wrath of the sea embodied in two massive pincers. Hercules screams like a little girl as his salty doom approaches, and then all goes dark.
That night, Carcinus celebrates his victory beneath the stars with a feast of Hercules-on-the-half-shell. Demigod tastes especially good paired with a Boutari white, preferably the Moschofilero.
About the image: “Carcinus Arises”—Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area, South Carolina. Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital Camera, Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD Lens for Canon Cameras, ISO 50, f/16, 1/200 second.