Hercules’ real parents and other fun stuff Disney didn’t tell you

This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.

Perhaps you know Herakles as the Greek hero who completed the Twelve Tasks. Perhaps you know him as Hercules – his Roman name. Perhaps you only know him from the Disney movie. If the latter is the case, you might be surprised to learn that Disney made quite a lot of changes. (Or maybe you’re not surprised. It’s Disney, after all.) In fact, it’s more like they just took a bunch of characters from Greek mythology and made a new story – which is probably a good idea if you want to make a story suitable for children of all ages. It’s obvious that the makers of the movie knew a lot about Greek mythology and purposefully chose to go in a different direction. So, with the disclaimer that I love the movie Hercules a lot, I’m going to tell you about five things they ‘got wrong’ (or, purposefully changed because they weren’t Disney material).

1. Hera is not Herakles’ mother

Hera actually hated Herakles very, very much. His real mother was Alcmene, the wife of Amphitryon. One night Zeus visited Alcmene while he was disguised as Amphitryon, and Herakles was conceived. (And when Amphitryon got home that night he and Alcmene conceived another child, so that Alcmene was pregnant of twins – one demigod and one mortal.) Herakles was initially called Alcides – he later took the name of Herakles, a composite of ‘Hera’ and ‘glory’, to please Hera and calm her hatred.

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2. Herakles brutally murdered Megara (or at least their children)

In the myth, Herakles married Megara when he was young; they had children and lived a happy life. Hera, however, couldn’t stand seeing Herakles happy – he was, after all, the living proof of one of her husband’s affairs. So one day, she induced mania in him: a mix of madness and rage, that blinded him and made him kill his children. In some versions he also killed Megara, in others she just married someone else. In any case, once the madness faded and Herakles realised what he had done, he fled to the Oracle of Delphi to find out how he could repent for the terrible crimes he had unknowingly committed. The Oracle told him he would have to perform ten tasks (or labours, as in The Labours of Herakles), which turned into twelve because of a few technicalities, for a king and distant family member named Eurystheus.

3. Herakles only met Hades once and they weren’t enemies

The last of the Twelve Labours was to retrieve Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the Underworld. Herakles went down into the Underworld, kindly asked Hades if he could borrow Cerberus, and Hades agreed – as long as Herakles would subdue the monster dog without using any weapons. He did, carried Cerberus away on his shoulders, scared the shit out of Eurystheus, and then returned the dog without any further problems.

You see, Hades isn’t such a bad guy. The place he lives in/rules over is a little gloomy, scary perhaps, but as a person he was mostly known to be strict, but just. I still love him in the Disney movie though – terrible representation of mythological Hades, but an amazing villain nonetheless.

4. Herakles had nothing to do with Pegasus

There’s not much I can say about this, really. Herakles and Pegasus never met. A hero who did ride Pegasus is Bellerophon, our prompt for the 25th. I’ll tell you all about Pegasus then.

5. Herakles wasn’t trained by Philoctetes

Actually Philoctetes, as in the movie character, never existed (in the world of Greek mythology). There is, however, a Greek hero called Philoctetes who was a friend and maybe even lover of Herakles. He was not a satyr. Some myths say Herakles was trained by Chiron, the centaur famous for training heroes. Whether he was trained by him or not, Herakles did kill Chiron accidentally with a poisoned arrow. In case you hadn’t noticed: killing people accidentally is kind of Herakles’ thing.

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Herakles – demigod booklifting

Besides the things mentioned above, Herakles was famous for being supernaturally strong. He could probably lift an entire bookcase, easily. He could probably lift an entire bookcase with several people sitting on top of it, also lifting books. I managed… a few books. But, you know. One of them is really big.

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