SML Ancient Correspondence ~ File Under: Disney, No You Didn’t!

Who’s that guy? Oh, yeah, who’s that guy?


Disney told you, dear readers, when you were so small and sweet. Your muscles were tender, like a lamb’s, and you still had a healthy amount of baby fat that would have brought the flavors together. All you would have needed was a dab of mint jelly and . . .

Mmm Mmm Good

Mmm Mmm Good

You, reader, would have been a tasty treat. Too bad we didn’t catch you then. Lucky for you, we have refined tastes.

You, baby, on the other hand . . .

You, baby, on the other hand . . .

Back to this guy:

Hercules2So who is he?

wrong Whatever you said, you’re wrong. If you didn’t say Hercules, you’re wrong. If you did say Hercules, you’re still wrong.

Disney’s Hercules is about someone, but it sure as hell isn’t Hercules.

For one thing, in the film, the demi-god is born of Zeus and Hera who are both divine. In the original myth, Hercules is the son of Zeus, a god, and Alcmene, a mortal.  Alcmene is the wife of Amphytryon. Disney includes these characters as the hero’s adoptive parents and the lie makes sense. Zeus’ dalliance complicates Hercules’ life in a way that is very non-family-friendly.

Zeus, the king of the gods, was a philanderer (hence his baby mama – Alcmene) and this drove his rightful wife out of her immortal mind. However, instead of leaving Zeus or going Lorena Bobbitt on him (KENTUCKY REPRESENT!), she usually took her rage out on the women that Zeus . . . well, ahem, raped* and the resulting children.

*Zeus’ Rapes: Zeus was not above seizing women while in the guise of animals (don’t ask, we don’t know why), but he raped Alcmene by assuming the appearance of her husband while the man was away. Now, this brings up a complicated issue of consent. Would a mortal really not consent to the king of the gods? If they knew what Hera might do to them, they certainly might. There are also stories where maidens cry out and beg others to save them. Alcmene couldn’t have consented because she was tricked into believing that she was with her lawful husband.

The reason why Zeus and Alcmene’s union is not family friendly is, obviously, because it’s outside of the confines of marriage and because Hera makes it a mission to try and kill that little baby Hercules.

hercules baby_1 She sent two snakes to kill him in his crib as one can see in this mosaic. We love this depiction of Hercules because he looks like one of those overweight babies on Maury.

What? At least I’m not a young professional who still watches Maury.

What? At least I’m not a young professional who still watches Maury.

Now, snakes do threaten Hercules in the Disney version, so other than the infidelity issue, what’s so potentially damaging to young audiences?

What’s worrisome is what Hera does next.

She waits until Hercules is at this point in his life:

hercules and megaraOh look, it’s Megara. Look how in love they are!

Yes, yes, so in love they are, so in love.

Yes, yes, so in love they are, so in love.

So, Megara and Hercules get married and – hang on to your fanfiction! – they have a couple of kids.

And then Hera makes Hercules lose his mind. Losing one’s mind can mean a variety of things.

We mean, look at it:

dsmHera means to destroy Hercules’ life, so she inflicts upon him a violent psychosis so that he takes his children and Megara for enemies and slaughters them. Euripides, the Greek tragedian, personifies madness and puts these words in her mouth:

“If indeed I must forthwith serve thee and Hera and follow you in full cry as hounds follow the huntsman, why go I will; nor shall ocean with its moaning waves, nor the earthquake, nor the thunderbolt with blast of agony be half so furious as the headlong rush I will make into the breast of Heracles; through his roof will I burst my way and swoop upon his house, after first slaying his children; nor shall their murderer know that he is killing his own-begotten babes, till he is released from my madness. Behold him! see how even now he is wildly tossing his head at the outset, and rolling his eyes fiercely from side to side without word; nor can he control his panting breath; but like a bull in act to charge, he bellows fearfully, calling on the goddesses of nether hell.”

For the entire play:

Then, to be even crueler, Hera brings him out of his madness so that he can look upon the bodies of his loved ones that died by his hand.

In one version of the myth, the only way to cleanse himself of the miasma, or pollution, of murdering his family, is for Hercules to take on the twelve labors. However, in Euripides, maybe because it’s a tragedy, the hero kills his family right after he completes his twelve tasks. In the tragedy, he is purified and he finds a new home in Athens, but the audience knows that even if things seem to be resolved (though how resolved can things be after one kills his entire family?), they won’t be for long.

And why won’t things be resolved for long? Haven’t you been listening to a single thing we’ve said since we began Ancient Correspondence? Classics wants you to feel bad and scared and empty on the inside. Just wait till next week.


Megan Miller

SML's New Ancient Correspondent: Megan Miller is a classicist with a bent toward the macabre. She received her master's from Oxford, but now tells as many monster stories as she can to the students in her university courses. Stay tuned for more Ancient Correspondence, coming soon!

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