Hercules is one of the most famous Greek heros of the ancient times, well known for his heroic achievements and his unbelievable strength. He was someone very special who at the same time was extremely ordinary, in the concept that he faced everyday problems that he had to overcome himself. Although his courageous personal traits make him famous, he was not perfect in all aspects. Hercules was born to a mortal woman by the name of Alcmene and fathered by the greatest God in Greek mythology, Zeus, making Hercules a Demi God.
This idea meant that Hercules had some features that were very godly, some divine powers, but at the same time he was a mortal, meaning he could die. It is suspected, that the Greeks invented this idea because they wanted to reach the Gods as much as possible, to create images of that would deem themselves worthy to the higher divinity. Something is always hidden behind every myth so it is very probable that once, a man existed that was physically strong and made such an impression to the ancient Greek world, that a myth was created around his name.
The question is, did Hercules really exist? A major factor in the well known tragedies surrounding Hercules is the hatred that the Goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, had for him. He was the son of the affair Zeus had with the mortal woman Alcmene. The very existence proved one of Zeus’ many illicit affairs, and Hera often conspired against the mortal offspring as revenge for her husband’s infidelities. Rebecca Kennedy, student of Saint Anselm College says; “ Hera’s hatred of Hercules is irrational. It’s almost as if she knew he was going to challenge her favour in heaven in some way.
She knew there was something about Hercules that was different than the other children and maybe she felt threatened by this but everyday of his life seemed to be paying for this hatred of hers. ” At 8 months of age, Hera tried to kill the infant Hercules by sending two poisonous snakes placed in his crib one night. However, the infant grabbed the snakes and strangled them to death. Though Hera failed to kill Hercules, she persecuted him throughout his life, causing many of the events that led to his great suffering and punishments.
In February 2004, in a Greek town called Thebes, archaeologists uncovered evidence that sheds new light on the story of Hercules birth. There, they discovered a buried temple beneath an ordinary residential lot with its center holding the remains of an alter. Among the architectural remains, hundreds of ceramic vases, bronze vessels and statuettes were found that each portrayed images of Hercules. After the discovery, researches linked the findings to a 2500 year old text that describes a mysterious house of Hercules at Thebes, just outside the gates of the ancient city.
The find is believed to mark the site of the house where the Thebans believed Hercules grew up. The description on the ancients text matched perfectly with the site and is also said that the shrine was erected on the precise spot of Hercules birth. Tom Stone, a Greek Historian suggests “Hercules is unable to form emotional contacts with anyone in fact there seems to be a kind of schizophrenic quality to his make up. He was half human and half divine. And yet he had a father who would not protect him from the terrible trials and tribulations that Hera inflicted upon him.
He was left alone suspended between heaven and earth and having no where to go” Some versions of the Hercules myth portray that his family came from a Greek settlement called Tyranids. Ancient sources suggest that it was once home to a real warrior who was renowned for his great strength and even thought to have a direct connection to the Gods. This warrior who’s name is lost in history served the ruler of a powerful kingdom called Mycenae. In the myth Hercules also serves the king of Mycenae, his cousin Eurystheus who assigns him the 12 labors.
Other clues about the man behind the myth can be found at one of Greece’ most legendary sites, Olympia. In the year 1776 BC the first olympic games were held there. Winning these games was the closest a mortal could get to the Gods. There are striking parallels between the challenges Hercules faced in his labors and those of the games. Both were feats of strength and endurance that only the most disciplined athlete could achieve. The connection between Hercules and the Olympics runs deeper. Hercules reportedly founded the Olympic games after one of his labors.
It is suggested that he is directly connected with the original foundation of the games. Remains of the tracks at Olympia are 600 feet and according to the Ancient Greeks, thats 600 of Hercules own feet. According to legend Hercules paced out the stadium which was 600 steps and is 192. 27 meters. Historians have deduced that Hercules feet were actually 12. 6 inches long, a size thirteen shoe. More traces of Hercules can also be seen in the main temple. Relieves salvaged from the exterior walls depict his 12 labors. He was revered by all athletes and measured one self up against Hercules.
It was very important to the Greeks never to surrender, so many athletes died rather than give up. While still a young man, Hercules went to fight the Minyans, an indigenous group inhabiting the Aegean region, that were forcing the Thebans to pay tribute. As a reward for conquering the Minyans, The king of Thebes gave Hercules the hand of his daughter, Megara. Hercules was devoted to her and the three children she bore him. One night while Hercules was sleeping, Hera struck him with a fit of madness during which he presumed his family to be his enemies and killed his wife and children.
When he awoke from his temporary madness, he found himself covered in the blood of his own family. Peter Struck of the University of Pennsylvania says “ He didn’t know that he’s the one who did it. But nevertheless he had the blood stains on him. The physical mark of guilt. As its from this horrible accident that the rest of Hercules’ story unfolds. When his blind rage subsides, it is replaces with intense remorse, a horrible anguish that will plague him forever. ” The regret Hercules feels is known to the Ancient Greeks as bloodguilt.
In antiquity bloodguilt is understood to be a curse that clung to the person from the blood of the other who’s murder they were involved in. It is seen to be linked with Christian Penance where the person would do certain good acts on earth to make up for the bad that one might have committed. This is seen to be the very pivot of Hercules’ life. Devastated with sorrow and guilt, the hero went to the oracle of Delphi to ask how he could atone for his misdeed. The oracle told him to go to King Eurystheus of Tiryns and to submit to any punishment asked of him.
Here she also announced that if he completed the tasks set before him, he would become immortal and be able to join the Gods of Mount Olympus. Delphi is the sacred temple that plays the key part in many Greek myths. But its not just a mythical place. Ruins of the oracle temple can still be found in the mountains of central Greece. 2500 years ago a priestess stood there in a trance like state as mysterious vapors rose up around her. She spoke in riddles and supposedly channeled the word of the Gods. A new discovery reveals where the the oracles powers originated.
A recent geological survey shows that the Delphi temple sits precisely on the intersection of two fold lines. This may explain the magical vapors that surrounded the prophetess. The new evidence suggests that movements of the earth around these folds might actually have released ethylene gas that would have leaked through these cracks in the earth. People who breathe a lot of this gas will fall into a trance that sound almost exactly like what the Oracle of Delphi experienced. ? The labors Hercules set out to complete served a function which was to remove the pollution from having killed his family.
He needed to purify himself to purify his hands to purify his soul later of the grievous crimes he committed. Little did Hercules know that King Eurystheus was submitted to serve for Hera and that the labors were created to challenge and lead Hercules to his ultimate defeat. His first task was to bring Eurystheus the skin of the invulnerable lion which terrorised the hills of Nemea. The problem for Hercules that he has to overcome is that even though he was a magnificent archer, the lions skin was impervious to his arrows.
So it is only with his natural strength that he manages to overcome the lion. When he does he skins the lion and adopts it as his own armor and begins to wear it. In all labors Hercules is succumbed to a theme becomes evident that it is man versus nature. The nine headed Hydra that is Hercules’ second labor, represents the human lust for pleasure which the Greeks believed to be unkillable. As he sliced through one of the the Hydra’s necks, two more grew in its place. Hercules’ soon realised that he needed to develop a new strategy so he grabbed a torch and singed the skin of the beast.
He came up with the idea to burn the stumps to cauterise the neck so that the head couldn’t grow back. After he had slain the beast, he dipped his arrow heads into the blood of the Hydra and from then on he had toxic arrows. The word toxic which means ‘poisonous’ comes from the Greek word toxon, which is a bow you fire arrows with. So toxic in Greek simple means relating to the bow which preserves the legend of Hercules inside the word. On his way to his 10th labor, he had to venture beyond the Mediterranean Sea, into the Atlantic Ocean but an obstacle stood in his way.
A mountain range that connected Europe and Africa into one continent,sealed off the sea from the ocean. In Greek mythology it is suggested that to overcome this, Hercules split the mountain in two from one blow of his sword. This part of the myth was created to explain how the atlantic and mediterranean were joined. These two cliffs are known as the Pillars of Hercules or the Rock of Gibraltar. To the ancient Greeks the pillars of Hercules were not just a gateway into an unexplored ocean but were also the portals between reality and myth.
A recent discovery suggests there were many sailors who dropped anchor there to pay respects to the hero himself. In a cave in the rock of Gibraltar, archaeologists have turned up hundreds of artifacts believed to be linked to hercules. Samples were taken and sent away for radiocarbon dating and were all perfect matches within each other as they all seem to point to a period of about 400 years from about 800BC to 400BC. These objects were being placed every specifically for a particular reason and archaeologists are quite confident that what has been found were there are part of a big shrine for Hercules.
Experts believe Greeks came to the shrine to pray for their lives as they prepared to follow Hercules into the unknown. They did not know what if anything lay beyond the pillars. In the myth hercules faces the same uncertainty as he crossed the threshold into the unknown. After completing the 12 labors, Hercules did not feel the relief he thought he would receive and was still dreaded with guilt. He realises that there is only one escape from Hera’s curse and so he builds a huge funeral pyre. His life on earth ends just as he endured it, in torment.
When the burning process begins it seems to be the final cleansing that burns away is not Hercules, but his mortal flesh and this releases his soul as he himself ascends into heaven. It is through his death that he is finally redeemed and Zeus, the king of Gods himself, invited Hercules to join the immortals on Mount Olympus and his nemesis Hera finally relents. Hercules struggles made him the perfect embodiment of an idea the Greeks called pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which would lead to fame and, in Hercules’ case, immortality.
The combination of strength and suffering in the same character made him relatable to the people of the Ancient Greek world. They saw a hero in Hercules both to be pitied and admired, someone who’s tragic story was connected to their own reality. Hercules’ final act is one of self sacrifice and again there is an interesting Christian parallel to this hero who has to suffer to obtain immortality and when he lights himself on fire it burns away all the mortality and all thats left is his essence and thats what ascends into heaven.
The true reality of Hercules would have started by word of mouth from people getting together, of different cultures and sharing their own tales of the local hero that they knew to have overcome great difficulties. As they shared these stories they began to realise that all their stories were closely related from which, the traditions started to weave together creating the myth of Hercules forcing society to question his existence. BIBLIOGRAPHY WEBSITES: Wikipedia – Hercules Dates accessed: 21 February 2011 4 June 2011 Date updated: 7 August 2011 Site: http://en. ikipedia. org/wiki/Hercules Author: Unknown Wikipedia – Hercules the Legendary Journeys Date Accessed: 12 March 2011 Date Updated: 31 July 2011 Site: http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Hercules:_The_Legendary_Journeys Author: Unknown Greek Mythology: The Labors of Hercules Date Accessed: 12 March 2011 Date Updated: 8 February 2011 Site: http://www. mythweb. com/hercules/ Author: Unknown Hercules Essay Date Accessed: 1 August 2011 Date Updated: 30 June 2011 Site: http://www. megaessays. com/viewpaper/84520. html Author: Helen Piper The Story Of Hercules
Date Accessed: 14 May 2011 Date Updated: 21 December 2010 Site: http://www. lotsofessays. com/viewpaper/1700700. html Author: Tom Stone BOOKS: Hercules: World Mythology, Adele Richardson, Capstone Press, 2003 Date Accessed: 22 March 2011 Greek And Roman Mythology-Hercules, Nancy Loewen Capstone Press, 1998 Date Accessed: 21 July 2011 The Arms Of Hercules: Book 3 of the Gods, Fred Saberhagen, Tor Books; First Edition 2000 Date Accessed: 10 February 2011 The Labors Of Hercules, Agatha Christie, Fontana Books, London 1990 Date Accessed: 8 May 2011