We all know Disney’s Hercules: the shy red-head with muscles of steel and a heart of gold. The real Hercules, however, was perhaps one of the least child-friendly figures in Greek mythology. As an avid watcher of Hercules (1997) (by avid I mean a couple of times a month) I was totally devastated when I discovered that Hercules was actually kind of a jerk. So, in true American fashion, I decided to share my devastation with all of you. The following are five interesting facts about the Hercules of Greek myth.
- Heracles, the Greek version of Hercules, means “glory of Hera.”
Hercules was the result of one of Zeus’ (many) extramarital affairs. As both Zeus’ wife and the goddess of marriage, Hera couldn’t stand his women on the side or the kids produced by his “rolling stone” tendencies. She attempted to kill Hercules multiple times throughout his life, including sending snakes to murder him as a child. His original name was actually Alcides. Giving him the more ironic title “glory of Hera” had little effect on the goddess’ ire.
- He was basically a barbarian.
The Greeks were perfectly aware that Hercules was a primitive character. He was described as large, muscular, and dangerous. He also carried around a large club—an outdated weapon even then—and wore the pelt of a lion that he killed during one of his Twelve Labours. (He was basically BamBam from the Flinstones.) Many of his myths involve violence and destruction. He was both a hero and a warning about the possible consequences of excess.
- He once had sex with 50 women at the same time.
I’m just going to leave that there.
- Megara was his first wife, and he killed her.
Hercules’ infamous “Twelve Labours” were a punishment he endured after going totally postal and killing his first wife, Megara, and their three sons. Hercules went to the Oracle at Delphi, who said he had to serve his cousin, Eurystheus of Mycenae, to purify himself of his crime. Of course, he only went crazy because Hera purposely drove him mad. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
- He also killed one of his biggest fans over horses.
Hercules is on the market for a new wife after completing his Twelve Labours. He enters an archery contest for the hand of a beautiful princess named Iolê and wins fairly easily. Iolê’s father, however, isn’t too keen on handing his daughter over to the guy who literally beat his last wife to death. After Hercules leaves empty-handed, Iolê’s father notices some of his horses are missing. He blames Hercules, but Iolê’s brother, Iphitus, is a fan of Hercles and doesn’t think the hero would do something so petty. He travels to Hercules’ home to help prove his innocence, but Hercules is so offended that he kills Iphitus instead. He then has to go back to the Oracle for another cleansing, which Apollo refuses to offer at first. This time he must spend three years as a sex slave for a foreign queen. (And I’m sure he detested every minute of it.)
So there you have it. Hercules is definitely not the loveable social-outcast we have come to know and love through Disney. People weren’t afraid of him, because he was misunderstood. They were afraid of him, because he had the habit of throwing people over cliffs when they made him angry.