I am Hercules!

posterWell, not me. Rather, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is, in the latest film portraying this hero from Greek mythology.

The movie has been out for a month now, but I finally got to go and see it this week.

When I first saw the trailer back in the spring, I was blown away by what I saw. I couldn’t wait. But there is always that part of me that worries the trailer is as good as it gets. ‘What if the rest of the movie is complete rubbish?’ ‘What if I waste my time and money?’

If you’ve been reading my posts for a long time, you’ll know that I’m open to modern interpretations of ancient and medieval tales. Retellings of these stories are essential to their survival.

But there are always versions that go a little too far, savaging the story until it is unrecognizable.

Thankfully, Hercules was not among the latter. This was a fun movie, filled with some wonderful moments.

This year I’ve been really interested in the character of Herakles. If you haven’t read them, check out the posts on the old website about The Triumph of Herakles, and The Tragedy of Herakles. Come back to this post to comment on those if you have any thoughts.

Hercules (I’ll use the Roman name the movie uses for the rest of this post) is a wonderful, heroic, and tragic character for the ages. It’s no wonder his exploits have harnessed our imaginations for ages.

*I’m not going to spoil anything major from the movie, but if you don’t want to know anything beforehand, you may want to come back to this post after you’ve seen the movie.

First of all, Dwayne Johnson was great as Hercules. He became Hercules, and his screen presence was powerful to say the least.

But let’s get a couple of things out of the way first, things that bothered the historian in me.

For some strange reason, the filmmakers set the movie in the mid-4th century B.C. That’s odd, because that’s the time of Phillip and Alexander of Macedon (the Great). The date is sort of irrelevant (if not misleading) but it would have been cool to see it set in the mid-14th century B.C. when such events might have taken place.

If we were to put things on an historical timeline, Herakles’ labours took place before the voyage of the Argo which took place before the Trojan War. The remains of Troy VI, the level that is commonly assigned to the Trojan War, have been dated to about c.1275 B.C. So, the mid-14th century may be the correct period for Hercules’ story. That foggy, less documented era certainly would have played better with the epic mythology of Hercules in the movie.

I know, perhaps I’m splitting historical hairs, but another thing that got me was that King Eurystheus, Hercules’ cousin (they were both grandchildren of Perseus), was King of Athens in the movie. In mythology, Eurystheus was actually King of Tyrins and Mycenae. However, there is a later tradition linking Eurystheus and Athens, and that comes from Euripides’ play Heracleidae. In the play, Herakles’ children hide from Eurystheus in Athens, under the protection of Demophon, who actually was King of Athens. My only thought is that Athens may be more recognizable to the average movie-goer.

King Eurystheus hiding from Herakles

King Eurystheus hiding from Herakles

Lastly, the movie is not about the Twelve Labours of Hercules, though the trailer does give that impression. You see a couple of the labours, but the film focuses more on the tradition of Hercules being asked by the King of Thrace to help him fight his enemies.

In mythology, it is the Gods themselves who ask for Hercules’ help in fighting the Giants in Thrace; the Battle of the Gods and Giants is one of the most depicted battles in ancient art.

But there are a lot of gems in this film, references to parts of the Hercules tradition that are told in a way that it could be fact or fiction – his parentage including Zeus, the snakes sent by Hera into his crib when he was a baby, and a few of the labours. It’s all good stuff!

What I like are the companions who accompany Hercules in the movie. Each person is actually from the generation before the Trojan War, which makes their inclusion more or less accurate.

Death of Tydeus from Etruscan temple pediment Pyrgi, Italy

Death of Tydeus from Etruscan temple pediment Pyrgi, Italy

There is Tydeus, who was one of the Seven against Thebes, and the seer Amphiaraus, who was also among the Seven against Thebes, as well as King of Argos. He is brilliantly played by Ian McShane. Autolycus, Odysseus’ grandfather on his mother’s side is there, as well as Atalanta whose son was one of the Seven against Thebes and who, in some traditions, was the only woman to join Jason’s crew on the Argo.

Amphiaraus leaving for war

Amphiaraus leaving for war

Atalanta

Atalanta

Lastly, Iolaus is there with Hercules as the hero’s nephew, and this lines up with ancient traditions about that character.

I won’t go into more detail because I don’t want to spoil things, but this ensemble of ancient names only serves to enhance the character of Hercules and make the story more interesting.

Mosaic depicting Iolaus and Herakles

Mosaic depicting Iolaus and Herakles

However, I have to say that my favourite part of the movie was how Dwayne Johnson and the writers explored the tragic side of Hercules. The hero is haunted by his past, the actions that led the gods to command him to carry out the Twelve Labours for Eurystheus. I go through this in The Tragedy of Herakles.

I’ve enjoyed some of Dwayne Johnson’s previous performances, but credit to him, he really got into this role and played it beautifully. Apparently, he isolated himself for training for 8 months in Hungary so that he could get deep into the person of Hercules.

I’d say he succeeded.

Some people will undoubtedly slam the movie for many things, but if you like mythology, and if the story of Hercules appeals to you, you should definitely see this movie. It has action, drama, laughs, and most importantly of all, it brings ancient storytelling to life before your eyes!

Having fun with history!

Having fun with history!

And anything that gets people interested in history and mythology is a good thing.

Thank you for reading!

If you’ve seen Hercules, I’d like to hear what you liked or didn’t like about the movie.

Tell us in the comments below.

Watch the Official Movie Trailer for Hercules!

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