A Snippet of the Story of Hercules
As the song “Zero to Hero” from Disney’s “Hercules” tells it, Hercules went “… From zero to hero in no time flat. Zero to hero just like that…”. Now, it is safe to say that Disney took quite a few creative liberties with their movie about Greece’s favorite hero. In the movie Hades is trying to kill him because he is afraid of Hercules’s power. Hercules grows up with a mortal family and discovers he is the son of Zeus. He then embarks on a song-filled journey where he is trying to establish his title as a god. In the end he marries Meg (Megara) and lives happily ever after. It makes sense that they took creative liberties, because the real story of Hercules is not kid-friendly, unlike the Disney version. The real story of Hercules starts as many do in Greek mythology, with Zeus having an affair.
Hercules was the son of Zeus and a mortal named Alcmena. When Hera, Zeus’s wife, found out she “as always, furiously jealous and… determined to kill Hercules” (227. Mythology). One night when the future hero was sleeping in his crib, two snakes slithered into his room in an attempt to kill him. The snakes were sent by Hera. When Alcmena and her husband came into Hercules’s room, they found him sitting upright with a dead serpent in each hand. Baby Hercules strangled two giant snakes to death. As a boy he took a liking to fencing, wrestling, and other subjects that showed off his strength. He famously accidently killed his music teacher after an argument they had. He was not aware of his own strength.
That strength was the hero’s main power, as evidenced by many stories about him, from strangling serpents as a baby to The 12 Labors of Hercules. His strength was rivaled by no mortal man. The son of Alcmena was also known to be self-confident, courageous, emotional, passionate, and not very intelligent. Another quality of Hercules was that he was willing to suffer any punishments for his misdeeds whether or not they were intentional.
The best example of that willingness to be punished is The 12 Labors of Hercules. Those were the result of a truly horrific event. Hera, in her hatred of Hercules, caused him to go mad and kill his wife, Princess Megara and their three sons. When he regained his sanity, he felt so guilty that he was ready to kill himself as well. Theseus stepped in suggesting that killing himself was cowardly and asked the broken hearted Hercules to go to Athens with him. Hercules did not stay in Athens for long. In his guilt, he went to Delphi to ask the oracle what to do to atone for his misdeeds. The priestess agreed with Hercules in that he needed to be purified. She told him to go to Eurystheus to be his slave. Eurystheus was the King of Mycenae and the cousin of Hercules. Eurystheus came up with 12 impossible tasks for the hero of Greece to complete. Hera had given Eurystheus some ideas for punishing Hercules. The tasks are called The 12 Labors of Hercules. Only after he completed the tasks could he be purified for the murder of his wife and sons.
When portrayed by Disney, the life of Hercules was filled with fantastic adventure and a comical sidekick, along with musical numbers that pushed the story along. When in real Greek mythology it was actually filled with guilt for the harm he had caused and him defeating monsters to try to make up for what he had done.
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