The Hero Cycle of Hercules Hercules is the most popular hero in all Greek mythology. However, the question that arises in one’s mind is what is so special about him? It could be that he is the son of the ruler of the Gods, Zeus. It could be the obvious repugnance of Hera, the god of marriage and Zeus’s wife. This is because he is the result of Zeus’s unfaithfulness to her. It also could be that despite Hercules not quite fitting the great Greek hero cycle, he is a hero nonetheless.
The hero cycle is a customary path that a Greek hero should go on to be recognized as a true saviour.
This path has nine milestones that a true hero passes. Three of the most important are going on a quest, a near death battle and getting a reward. This essay will explain how Hercules primarily goes through all these stages and proves to be an amazing hero.
It is in the beginning of the Hercules story that he does not follow the first elements of the hero cycle: Birth, Discovery of Destiny and Not Being Ready. In a usual hero myth, a hero is born to some form of royalty, but he does not know about his remarkable abilities or origin.
Even though the king of the gods had fathered Hercules, he does not really fit this element. Because he had proved to be special since as mere baby, he had killed two huge snakes that Hera had sent to murder him (Creighton 96). Despite the story not following the first element of the hero cycle, it does in the second element, where the hero discovers what he was born to do. Hercules, drove to insanity by Hera, killed his wife and children. Upon coming to his senses, he felt such guilt, that he went to the oracle of Delphi for how he could redeem his horrible deed.
It is the oracle who revealed that Hercules must carry out twelve orders given by Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns, and then he will gain an eternal life (97). Lastly, in the third element a hero is hesitant or is not prepared to go through their quest. Hercules doesn’t really fit this role as he acted like a fierce warrior even before he set out on his quest, “And as soon as Hercules had matured, he proved Tiresias’s prediction true, for in addition to his enormous strength he had a deadly aim, and with his bow he rid the country of many troublesome beasts” (96).
So the quest he had determined himself to go on isn’t as terrifying as it is to a standard hero, since Hercules had battled with many horrible creatures before. Even as, Hercules does not quite match some elements like his birth and his readiness, he does follow the other elements on his journey forward. The next three elements, the Quest, Wise Man or Woman and Romance, are where Hercules proves he is a hero thoroughly. The Quest is where a typical hero would go on an adventure that would lead to his final test and would have to overcome challenges and distractions on the way.
Hercules too, defeats his own challenges as he finishes his twelve labours, like when he kills the Lernean Hydra, captures the Cretan Bull and the three headed guard dog of Tartars (103). The fifth element of the hero cycle, Wise Man or Woman, is someone who helps the hero conquer his obstacles. In Hercules’s case, his father Zeus helped him finish his eleventh labour, which was to steal Hera’s Golden Apples, by giving Hercules permission to free Prometheus, the only one who knew the location of the apples (102).
As his venturesome journey comes to an end, he also completes the sixth element, Romance, where a customary hero finds his lover, “Now the murders committed by Hercules during his madness had been atoned for he wished to settle down and remarry. And, during a visit to the King of Calydon, Hercules fell in love with his beautiful daughter, Deianera” (104). Thus, Hercules had found his significant other who helps him get over the loss of his family. And so, Hercules continues to fulfil his role as a hero by accomplishing his labours, accepting another’s help and by encountering romance.
Hercules’s story continues to follow the hero cycle as he completes the next elements: Final Battle, Rebirth and Reward. The Final Battle is where a Greek hero encounters his last trial where he might face his death. This is true for Hercules as one day a centaur, Nessus fell in love with Deianera and tried to kidnap her, but Hercules shot him with his Hydra poisoned arrow, before he could get away. But that clever centaur told Deianera that if she wipes his blood on Hercules, he wouldn’t ever love another woman and Deianera believing him, smeared his blood on Hercules’s shirt.
He died because of the Hydra poison in Nessus’s blood (105). The hero cycle rolls out the next element, Rebirth, where a hero achieves a new life and defeats mortality. Hercules achieves this quite literally. After the poison incident, Zeus thunders in and claims his son’s mortal body and gives him immortality (106). But even before that point, Hercules was reborn when he fell in love with Deianera, since he moved on from his mourning guilt-filled life for killing his family after battling with the consequences.
Hence, after such drastic measures, Hercules gains his reward, like any other classic Greek hero, “A cloud shrouded the mountain top, and the great hero was carried up to the home of the gods in a chariot drawn by four horses; there he lived forever serving as guardian of the gates of Olympus” (106). This is how, Hercules, the legendary hero, meets his end only to begin again among the thrones of Gods. Like so, Hercules completes the hero cycle. In conclusion, the Hercules’s story and the hero cycle weave a profoundly close pattern.
While Hercules has a slight change of scenario at his birth and despite the fact that he was ready even before his quest, Hercules still is a hero through and through. Like any typical hero, he finds his destiny, finishes his twelve labours, falls in love again with Deianera, faces death and is reborn and rewarded. Also like any other story, the journey of Hercules is a metaphor that can help us understand our real lives. The lesson here would be that while we may lose someone we love or do something that is frightfully dreadful; we should face the consequences and move forward.
Even though, Hercules had killed his own family, he did not let his remorse, anger or even sadness rule him. Instead, he faced them, which in a way was his twelve labours, and moved on with bravery and had learned to love again and start anew. At the end, Hercules’s most heroic deed was not when he had slain all those horrific creatures or when he saved the ordinary people from grave danger; it was when he had saved himself from the monster within him. WORK CITED Creighton, David. Deeds of Gods and Heroes. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, 1967.
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