Hercules in Popular Culture

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Hercules

For my research paper I chose to explore and analyze instances of the great Greek/Roman hero, Heracles (Hercules), appearing in popular culture and the effect his myths had on early civilizations. Considered by most to be the greatest of the Greek folk heroes, Hercules was the embodiment of masculinity and physical power. The word “herculean” literally translates into “having enormous strength, courage, or size” (dictionary.com.) Since their inception, the myths and legends of Hercules have been immensely popular and have had vast influences on people and cultures throughout the world. Over the next few pages I will attempt to compare and contrast several examples of Hercules’ representation in pop culture with the underlying myths that are being depicted. I will also piece in the undeniable influence these myths have had on people throughout history.

First, however, I would like to start by giving a little bit of background information on the hero known as Hercules. Hercules was born as the son of Zeus and a beautiful mortal woman named Alcmene, in the Greek city of Thebes. Due to his father’s divinity, Hercules was given the gift of extraordinary physical strength and courage. From the beginning, the events of his life were shaped by the wrath of the goddess Hera, who scorned the boy that was a reminder of her husband’s infidelity. As he matured he faced countless tasks and hardships, but through his victories he forever glorified himself in ancient literature. The stories of Hercules had quite a large impact on the early Greeks. Some, such as the ancient Spartans, believed they were descendants of the great hero and strived to be like him on the battlefield and in the gymnasium. Elsewhere, in Thebes, the Cult of Heracles was a religious group that was created which worshiped him as the divine protector of man. The cult constructed many shrines throughout the ancient world and even held festivals in his honor every year (theoi.com). Later on, the Roman Empire completely idolized the champion they referred to as Hercules and showcased his popularity by crafting countless statues, temples and gardens in his name. In Pompeii, there are many such gardens that were built for him including the House of the Garden of Hercules (Jashemski). A mountain passage that led from Italy to Spain was even known to the Romans as “The Road of Hercules” (DeWitt). Beautiful architecture dedicated to Hercules can still be found throughout the world today, such as the Hercules Garden at the Blair Castle in Perthshire (Dingwall). As you can see, he is more than just a myth to these people; he is an influential cultural icon who they looked up to. As great a hero as he was, Hercules was not without flaw. He was also know to have an intense desire for women and wine and was prone to extreme fits of rage (Phillips). One myth which paints Hercules in a bad light comes from his childhood. As a boy, he murders his musical tutor Linus with his own lyre for reprimanding him. In adulthood, he kills his wife Megara and their children while he was temporarily driven mad by Hera (ancientgreece.com). Though not perfect, I believe that it is this complexity of character that has fascinated audiences and allowed the Herculean myths to withstand the test of time so well. Another factor that I believe has played into the popularity of his myths is the contemporary obsession with “larger than life” heroes and the heroic ideal. Andrew Anderson, a Harvard professor of the Classics, explains that Hercules was the first representation of the “perfect hero” and may have been used as the model for later greats such as Achilles and Alexander the Great, who were both thought to have idolized Hercules.

Myths of Hercules have captivated audiences and established themselves in popular culture since the days of ancient Greece. Flash forward to the present, and the Hercules name is trendier than ever. His stories are regularly depicted through the use of...
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