Greek Mythology and Tragedy in Hercules
Famed for his mighty muscles, Hercules was the son of the mortal woman Alcmene and the god Zeus. Hercules performed many legendary feats of strength, the first of which came as an infant: when Zeus’s wife Hera placed two serpents in his crib, Hercules quickly strangled them. After he had grown to manhood Hera got revenge by driving Hercules briefly mad, causing him to slay his own wife and children. As penance Hercules performed his famous 12 labors (or tasks), which included killing the Hydra, capturing Cerberus the dog, and cleaning the stables of Augeas.
Hercules appears in many ancient Greek stories and is one of mythology’s best-known heroes.
Mythologies are fantasies that have the power to endure in people’s minds and culture through time. For this, mythological stories and characters have been part of substantial themes of films in the history of filmmaking. They have a significant place in the world of filmmaking because mythological stories and characters have the ample amount of mystery and magic that has the ability to capture the audience’s attention and imagination.
Storylines may differ or be similar to the myths itself but the essence of the mythological character exudes.
One such masculine and mythological character is the half-man half-god Greek hero, Hercules. This mythological character with extraordinary physical strength has been featured and appeared in numerous films in the big screen and television. With the different depictions of Hercules, this paper then is an assessment on how he was portrayed and presented in films. The materials considered for this study were Disney’s animated film “Hercules” released on 1997 and Roger Young’s miniseries entitled “Hercules. Half Man. Half God. All Power.” released on 2004 by the Hallmark Channel.
Hercules on Disney’s Animated Film
According to the Big Cartoon Database (n.d.) “Hercules” was a “Disney update on classic mythology”, an animated film about his journey towards finding a place where he belonged. Here, Hercules, the son of Greek gods Zeus and Hera was born god-like strength in Olympus, the home of the gods. When Hades, the God of the Underworld, learns that his plan of domination in the future will be affected because of Hercules’ existence, he summons his two followers, Pain and Panic, de-immortalize the child Hercules and kill him in the mortal world. Pain and Panic, failed in their mission and only succeeds in making Hercules mortal. No mortal beings are allowed to dwell in Olympus, which leaves Hercules in the care of Alcmene and Amphitryon, the childless mortal couple who found him on the bushes.
Hercules later grows into a misfit adolescent because of his extraordinary strength that always gets him in the center of chaos. His adoptive parents later tells him of his past and a medal found with him that is a link to Zeus, his father. Hercules then journeys to the temple of the gods. Zeus appears and confirms Hercules thoughts. Zeus tells him that the only way that Hercules can enter Olympus again is that if he becomes an earthly hero to gain his godliness.
The adolescent Hercules then goes on a pursuit of a hero status with the help and instructions from the satyr, Philoctetes. He achieves the hero status later in adulthood but is perplexed because he still is not a god. When Hades learns that Hercules still lives, he orders his soul-bound follower Megara to deceive Hercules. Hades tries to block his path to being a God with calamities and creatures like the multi-headed, Hydra. Hercules becomes a God when he sacrifices himself for Megara. The animated film ends with Hercules choosing to stay in the mortal world to be with Megara.
The most obvious difference of the animated film from the original Greek myth of Hercules is that the dreadful factors of his origins were revised and some components of modern day popular culture were utilized. According to Royalty.nu
(n.d.), Hercules was born to Alcmene, wife of Amphityron, but fathered by the Greek God Zeus. Zeus deceived Alcmene into thinking that he was Amphitryon on a night when the real Amphitryon was away. Hera, Zeus’ wife loathed Hercules and tried several times to try and kill Hercules, much unlike in the animated film, where Hera as Hercules’ mother doted on him.
The animated film focused on Hercules’ early life; the famous ten labors of Hercules and the other half of his life was not included. The circumstances of the Greek myth characters like Megara, Zeus, Hera, Aphitryon, Alcmene and the rest included in the film were greatly modified to fit the storyline of the animated film. Apart from that Hercules’ twin brother, Iphicles was excluded in the storyline. Greek mythology portrays Hercules as a character with “low intelligence and terrible temper”(Royalty.nu, n.d.). Although there was much difference from the original Greek myth, Hercules’ character as half-man half-god hero with weaknesses was still portrayed. Hercules’ character in the animated film was a bit naïve but he was not quick to loose his temper. Audiences were also given a taste of Hercules’ famous battles with calamities and creatures.
Hercules on Roger Young’s Miniseries
According to FilmAffinity (n.d.), this Hercules miniseries is about “the gifted child born of a blood greater than mortal who would become the most powerful of all gods”. Roger Young’s miniseries starts with how Hercules was conceived. Similar to the Greek myth, the dissolute God Zeus deludes the Princess of Thebes, Alcmene, into thinking that he is the princess’ husband, Amphitryon, and then forces himself on Alcmene on a night where the princess was awaiting her husband’s return. When Alcmene gives birth to twin boys, Hercules and Iphicles, Alcmene and Amphitryon are perplexed on which baby is fathered by Zeus and whose is Amphitryon. They later realize that Hercules is Zeus’ son when he kills the snakes with his bare hands an infant.
Hercules develops into a lumbering young man, “rejected by his mother, envied by his brother Iphicles and loathed by Zeus’ wife Hera” (FilmAffinity). Similar to the Greek myth while Alcmene reserves no love for Hercules, he grows up with Amphitryon doting on him and teaching him. Hercules then falls for Megara but was rejected. Their brief connection results to a child. When he lost his temper and accidentally hurt his teacher Linus during a class, Amphitryon sends far away to be taught under the care and instruction of a centaur, Kiron.
Hercules becomes an agile adult and more capable to handle his great strength. He then was married to Megara after he helps the king from the creature Hydra. Megara and her sons, turn out to be “tools of the vengeful Hera, plotting against him and initiating events that lead to his banishment from his people” (FilmAffinity). To atone the punishment that he deserved in killing his own children, Hercules agrees when he was given difficult challenges which were set out to destroy him. With his ally Linus, he travels the Stymphalian Swams to the River styx of the underworld, faced with challenges and monstrous creatures that was arranged to kill him. Hercules willingly continues on this journey that afterward made him a “legend on Earth and achieve immortality in the heavens” (FilmAffinity).
With the storyline of the miniseries, it was clear that the filmmakers focused on the raging politics between the noble mortals and their want of power and control. It is important to note that this miniseries was one of the few productions that embarked on Hercules true conception with regards to the original Greek myth. Hercules’ character of recklessness and short temper was portrayed true to the original Greek myth during his younger adult days. There were slight alterations unto how certain events happened to the characters but the miniseries was in a way loyal to the Hercules’ myth. For example, Hercules develops a more profound thinking later on the miniseries but there was no hint of that according to the Greek Myth. The Gods Hera and Zeus were not given much attention during the miniseries and only appeared briefly. The supposed raging battle between Hera and Zeus was implied but not shown comprehensively.
In conclusion, both films were individual depictions of Hercules’ character as the legendary Greek hero. He is a paragon of action and masculinity, and thus embodies characteristics such as great strength, great courage, and great appetites, including erotic adventures with both women and boys or young men. These qualities did not prevent him from being regarded as a playful figure that used games to relax from his labors and played a great deal with children.Aelian, while he was a champion and a great warrior, he was not above cheating and using any unfair trick to his advantage. However, he was renowned as having “made the world safe for mankind” by destroying many dangerous monsters, and he was also held up as an example for never having attacked first, but for having conquered all merely by defending himself when attacked, and protecting the helpless and distraught. His self-sacrifice obtained him the ascent to the Olympian realms and he was welcomed by the gods. He represents a balanced, complete energetic principle of the masculine, partaking of both light and dark influences.
Historically, the strong American presence in post-war Italy is evident in the very physical presence of Steve Reeves as Hercules. Moreover, the film’s masculinization of revenge also seems to reflect the ideals of post-war society. Instead, as the character of Hercules suggests, it is more important for the wandering male, and also the foreign influence, to be incorporated into the domestic sphere. Hercules preserves the morality at the centre of the family. Paradoxically, however the interference of Hercules also ensures continued dependence on foreign influence and protection.
Each film represented the filmmakers approach on representing a storyline associated with Hercules’ myth. Disney may have chosen to emphasize more on Hercules’ journey to his fate in a more conducive way that was appealing since their audiences are young people. Roger Young’s miniseries took more of a similar likeness to the original myth although alterations were made on how events were played because the storyline demanded that it be so.
FilmAffinity. Hercules (TV). FilmAffinity – MovieAffinity. Retrieved May 15, 2007 from http://www.filmaffinity.com/en/film260353.html
The Big Cartoon Database. Hercules Story Details. The Big Cartoon Database. Retrieved May 15, 2007 from http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon_synopsis/6-Hercules.html
Royalty.nu. Hercules, Young Hercules. The Gordon Knot Webring. May 15, 2007 from http://www.royalty.nu/legends/Hercules.html
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