Herculean proportions?

中国日报网 2016-09-27 11:12



Herculean proportions?Reader question:

Please explain “herculean proportions” in this passage:

Every spring, thousands of birds, some weighing a pound or less, set off on a journey of herculean proportions. They fly thousands of miles north, to breeding grounds in Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada and to U.S. destinations that include Alaska, Montana and North Dakota. Come September, they fly back over the same gigantic distances to fall and winter habitats ranging from South Carolina to Florida, and from Texas to Mexico.

My comments:

A journey of herculean proportions is a journey that’s very long in distance, very very very long.

And very difficult of accomplishment, too, needless to say.

It is hence, logical to compare those migrating birds to Hercules, the god of strength in Roman legends. Hercules is the Roman name for Heracles in Greek mythology. From Wikipedia:

The Romans adapted the Greek hero's iconography and myths for their literature and art under the name Hercules. In later Western art and literature and in popular culture, Hercules is more commonly used than Heracles as the name of the hero.

Anyways, Hercules is famous for his strength, with which he fights and tames lions, bulls and other big wild beasts.

Hence, in English, we see phrases like “herculean effort” or “herculean task”. It means the effort or task is so huge and daunting that it perhaps requires a man with the strength, stamina and determination of Hercules to get it done.

Speaking of “herculean task”, here’s one for you. Read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and find out more about Heracles, a son of Zeus and the Greek gods and goddesses in general.

Reading Homer in English for the first time will be difficult, what with all the names of people and places that don’t make any sense to us Chinese. Indeed, it will take an effort of herculean proportions, so to speak.

However, the stories are so fascinating that, I promise, you won’t regret embarking on such a journey, ever. Also important to note, it will help us Chinese understand the Western psyche.

For now, let’s read a few media examples for herculean or Herculean as an adjective, for something big, huge, enormous, colossal, gigantic, gargantuan:

1. ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings died today at his home in New York City. He was 67. On April 5, Jennings announced he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.


As one of America’s most distinguished journalists, Jennings reported many of the pivotal events that have shaped our world.

He was in Berlin in the 1960s when the Berlin Wall was going up, and there in the ’90s when it came down. He covered the civil rights movement in the southern United States during the 1960s, and the struggle for equality in South Africa during the 1970s and ’80s.

He was there when the Voting Rights Act was signed in the United States in 1965, and on the other side of the world when black South Africans voted for the first time. He has worked in every European nation that once was behind the Iron Curtain. He was there when the independent political movement Solidarity was born in a Polish shipyard, and again when Poland’s communist leaders were forced from power.

And he was in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and throughout the Soviet Union to record first the repression of communism and then its demise. He was one of the first reporters to go to Vietnam in the 1960s, and went back to the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1980s to remind Americans that, unless they did something, the terror would return.

On Dec. 31, 1999, Jennings anchored ABC's Peabody-award winning coverage of Millennium Eve, “ABC 2000.” Some 175 million Americans watched the telecast, making it the biggest live global television event ever. “The day belonged to ABC News,” wrote The Washington Post, “... with Peter Jennings doing a nearly superhuman job of anchoring.” Jennings was the only anchor to appear live for 25 consecutive hours.

Jennings also led ABC’s coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and America’s subsequent war on terrorism. He anchored more than 60 hours that week during the network’s longest continuous period of news coverage, and was widely praised for providing a reassuring voice during the time of crisis. TV Guide called him “the center of gravity,” while the Washington Post wrote, “Jennings, in his shirt sleeves, did a Herculean job of coverage.” The coverage earned ABC News Peabody and duPont awards.

- Peter Jennings Dies at 67, ABCNews.com, August 7, 2005.

2. On a day when the Democratic ticket held no campaign events due to Hurricane Sandy, Vice President Joe Biden lauded the storm relief efforts across the country and said it’s going to take a “Herculean effort” to deal with flooding and restore electricity to areas that lost power.

“The key is, as cold as it’s here, it’s cold as hell some of these places where people don’t have any energy, don’t have any electricity, and it’s going to take a Herculean effort,” Biden told reporters on the tarmac before taking off for Columbus this afternoon.

Biden, who spent the morning via teleconference on a FEMA briefing and a call to governors with President Obama, praised the work of FEMA, saying the agency has done “one hell of a job,” and the vice president touted the bipartisan work of officials across the country.

“I think FEMA’s doing an incredible job,” he said. “It has pre-positioned resources. The governors are all cooperating with one another. The mayors are cooperating. I’ve never in all my experience seen as much cooperation and acknowledgement of that cooperation from city, state and federal levels, so it’s working like it’s supposed to and I’m really proud of our team.

“I’m also proud of the way the governors have all stepped up with the mayors. Hearing the mayor of Philadelphia and the governor of Pennsylvania, two different parties, talking about the cooperation. Governor Christie [Chris Christie of New Jersey] talking about the cooperation as with the mayor of Newark,” he said.

- Biden Praises Storm Relief Effort, Says It’ll Take a ‘Herculean Effort’, October 31, 2012.

3. A deal has been done, but - in the words of Jean-Claude Juncker - implementing it will be a Herculean task.

“It is the biggest challenge the EU has ever faced,” he said.

It was a sober assessment from the president of the European Commission, which reflects the fact that this is a throw of the dice, a gamble based on deterrence which could well fail.

Scepticism hangs heavy in the air about a host of legal issues, and about whether the agreement can actually work in practice.

The idea at the heart of the deal - sending virtually all irregular migrants back to Turkey from the Greek islands - is the most controversial.

European leaders insist that everything will be in compliance with the law.

“It excludes any kind of collective expulsions,” emphasised European Council President Donald Tusk.

But Amnesty International has accused the EU of “turning its back on a global refugee crisis, and wilfully ignoring its international obligations”.

- EU-Turkey migrant deal: A Herculean task, BBC.com, March 18, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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