There are just some heroes that everyone knows about. There are heroes and legends that transcend race, nationality or gender or religion. They are icons. They stand for something, and they reach for an ideal that for the most part, we all admire or even aspire to. The mighty man with muscles of magnitude is one of them. His name is used as an adjective, for Pete’s sake….so don’t tell me that Hercules isn’t an icon!
Hercules, the son of Zeus and legendary hero of Greek and Roman myths. His very name has been used to describe strength and power. Most of us probably only know about Herc because of TV shows and movies….most notably Kevin Sorbo, who starred in Hercules: the Legendary Journeys on TV. Perhaps I should have more confidence in the younger generation…..because I hope that’s not the case. Hercules in truth has a far more impressive history. As stated he is the son of Zeus and mortal woman. (So was Perseus seen in the movie Clash of the Titans…I guess Zeus was trying to nail anything that moved back in the day) From day one of his ancient life, Hercules was known for superhuman strength (he strangled two snakes in his crib) and that’s what we know him for today. Hulk can’t be the strongest one there is, not as long as there’s a Hercules!
In Greek mythology Herc was a bit of an ill tempered lout, but a heroic one nonetheless. Best known perhaps for the 12 Labors of Hercules, the demigod inspired the Olympics! In myths, old Herc had it pretty rough though. He was tormented by a jealous Hera (Zeus’s wife, who held a grudge since Hercules was the result of Zeus spreading the love around, if ya know what I mean) and tricked into killing his family. (Which is why he did the 12 labors, in repentance) to be honest, Herc’s past is more dark and gritty then we’ve come to know him nowadays.
But we modern TV watching folks mostly know the strong man from TV shows and movies. Herc has been in so many its hard to keep track of them all! The children’s TV show “Wishbone” even did an episode where the day dreaming dog, dressed in a lion cloth, told the story of Hercules. Even the Three Stooges had a movie with him! In animation he had a series of five minute cartoons where he used a magic ring to gain his super strength, and constantly thwarted the evil wizard Daedalus (I guess it was a different Daedalus than the one from the Icarus story….that Daedalus was supposed to be a good guy) And Disney had to horn in with their animated movie about him. Lou “Incredible Hulk” Ferrigno played Hercules in the 80’s in a laughably bad movie, and Herc appeared briefly in Jason and the Argonauts. The Italian Maciste movies were originally called “Son of Hercules”, and I have no idea why they were renamed. After all Hercules was the Roman name for the strong man…in Greek he was Heracles. But I guess Heracles doesn’t sound as manly as Hercules. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Hercules in New York” was a horribly stinky movie, known now only because it was one of the Governators first movie roles and that it was, well, awful. However, the best image of Hercules is probably from the old Steve Reeves movies from the 60’s. Even though they were lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 they were still pretty good Sword and Sandal movies, and Reeves was a quintessential Hercules. Bull headed, slightly arrogant but still a good hearted guy and brave warrior. Though some critics dismissed the Reeves movies as convoluted mythology they were a big hit with movie watchers. Sadly reeves passed away in 2000.
But that doesn’t mean the end of Hercules as a movie star. How could it? None of the movies or shows listed above actually follow the mythology to the letter, so its fair game that theyre are many more stories to tell about him. And the romantic notion we have of Hercules today lends itself well to heroic stories. Face it, friends, Hercules is cemented in our culture as an icon. Whenever someone thinks of being very strong, or full of muscles the name and image of Hercules pops into mind. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be seeing the demigod in movies and TV shows in some shape or form for years to come. And you know if Sword and sandal movies come back into vogue Hercules will be one of the first names on the Theater Marquee.
Wanna know more about Hercules? Visit your local library or read up about him here.