Friday, July 22, 2011

Heracles Is Not My Favorite

Hercules Farnese 3637104088 9c95d7fe3c bI don't know what it is about him-- maybe because he's so well-known, but I just don't feel drawn to Heracles, generally. If I were to write a sequel to Helen of Sparta though, I'd end up having to research him. In my Pirithous book, I toyed with the idea of bringing demigods into the modern world. A missing father is really a god called back to Olympus, etc. I didn't actually go with that, because it was a little bit too Percy Jackson, and in the context of the romance the story was supposed to be, it didn't really serve a purpose, but it led me to wikipedia for a refresh of some Heracles basics. (Because obviously Heracles is a god, now, serving as a guardian of Olympus, and nobody ever talks about demigod children of Heracles!)

Specifically, I wanted to know what he looked like -- not the symbols which identified him, like the lion skin or the club or the apples in his hands, but hair and eye color, proportions, his physical self. Of course wikipedia was pretty much useless in this regard, BUT, I did find a couple of pictures of some marble statuary. Roman copies of Greek originals. Which uh, also do not tell me anything about his hair or eye color at this time, but I thought I'd share them all the same.

Herakles and Telephos Louvre MR219What I found perhaps even more interesting on the wikipedia page was the list of his consorts and children. Don't get me wrong, I was well aware of the fact that Heracles got around. I mean, who doesn't know that Heracles had multiple wives? I just hadn't realized quite how many other women he was involved with, or how many children he had. And seeing it as a list -- well. Let's just say it sunk in a little bit deeper, and I'm starting to wonder how Heracles had TIME to fight monsters with all the other um, activities, he was engaged in (that Thirteenth Labor must have been real rough on him--I think it deserves an Affairs of the Gods recounting at some future date). But man, it would suck to have been a child of Heracles. I mean, sure, you got the prestige of being the son of (arguably) one of the most famous men in all of history, and the touch of demigod blood probably made your life easier, but when you were competing with that many half-siblings for his time? In most cases, behind his wife's back? Clearly Heracles took after his father, Zeus, and I'm not sure I blame his wife for the poison shirt anymore.

All that said, that statue of Heracles holding an infant in one arm and that club in the other, with that slight smile on his face? I feel like it gives us a great glimpse into the Greek interpretation of Heracles' character. He was a protector, a hero, a great man, but for all that, he was not untouchable or unreachable to the people around him. He was also the kind of man who didn't shy from bouncing a baby on his knee when he wasn't busy saving the world from monsters. And maybe, just maybe, the babies were the reason he went to all that trouble to begin with.

I'm not going to lie, that statue makes me like Heracles a little bit more than I did when I started.


  1. Wow. That list of consorts IS kind of impressive, isn't it? But really, I think you have to ask: Did Heracles really beget all those kids? Who wouldn't explain a sudden, unplanned, or mysterious pregnancy by claiming a famous father? It's been done before…

  2. Absolutely true, Anassa! But I would guess more of them are the result of later kings making up a son of Heracles to trace their lineage back to than they are someone trying to explain an unplanned pregnancy-- and all of this is predicated on the idea that Heracles lived and breathed as an historical figure. I definitely fall on the side of believing that he lived at some point in some form, son of a god notwithstanding. An exceptional man who became ever more exceptional as time went on and the stories were told and retold. Having an ancestor of such fame would have given kings a greater right to rule in a time when being born the son of the former ruler didn't guarantee nearly as much as it did later (I am kind of inclined to believe this is an early form of Divine Right, co-opted by the emperors of Rome and then the Christian kings.)

  3. Heracles represents but the heroic side of humanity, but also the darkness within (he kill at least one of his wives and their children in a fit of god inspired rage). I also found it fascinating how (according to a wiki-walk I did many moons ago) the story of Heracles migrated through central Asia and apparently made it all the way to Japan.

  4. Yeah-- he killed Megara and his children by her, I'm not sure I would say he's a symbol of the darkness within, because as you say, it was god inspired. It was not something within him, it was something imposed UPON him. Hera was frequently cruel to him, but Heracles always and immediately sought penance for those crimes, and even when he was forgiven by those he had wronged without need of service, he still did the time.

    of course, if you take the gods out of the equation, his character changes. But that's the same with all the heroes. Without the gods pulling strings and jerking them around, most of them become terribly abusive and violent human beings.

  5. Edit: sorry, I meant he killed his children by Megara, not that he killed Megara I do not know why that came out. So silly!

  6. Wow...and I thought I was his only mistress. *snerk* Thanks for indulging me with more naked gods :)

  7. I think Mistressing for Heracles would be pretty light-work. He's so busy carrying on all over the place, it seems like it would take him a while between rounds!

  8. That makes perfect sense too, Amalia—more sense than my idea, I think. :) We see that famous ancestor thing with the Norse and the Anglo-Saxons, don't we? And probably with the rest of the world. It's seems like it would be a common behaviour, and it makes sense that Divine Right would stem from that, yeah.

    I'm completely prepared to believe Heracles lived in some for too. Him and every other hero. If nothing else, nobody's proved they didn't…

  9. It definitely exists in the Norse Sagas! Sigurd's family traces itself back to a son of Odin.

    (and funnily, Icelanders today have awesome records when it comes to genealogy and many of them can trace their roots right back to Snorri-- without having to lie about it.)

    and yes! I absolutely believe that Theseus was a King of Athens at some point in time, and I have no trouble buying that Heroes lived. Or that gods lived, for that matter. El husband subscribes to an idea that pagan gods are often the result of some famous person getting blown out of proportion, and actually, Snorri uses this in his prologue to lay out the Aesir as descendants of King Priam of Troy (which I do NOT buy at all. Not everything is related to Troy, people!).


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