Also Heracles

Celebrated hero, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, possessing exceptional strength: among his many adventures were the twelve labors of Hercules for his cousin Eurystheus, performed in order to gain immortality.

    see Greek and Roman Mythology

A member of the super-hero team the Avengers published by Marvel Comics.

Hercules is the son of Zeus, the king of the gods of Olympus and Alchmena, the wife of King Amphitryon of Troezen. Hercules was born with great strength, strangling two serpents in his crib.

Hercules is best known for performing his Twelve Labors during his mortal life. One of his labors, the cleaning of the Augean Stables was actually performed by the Eternal known as the Forgotten One or Gilgamesh. Hercules's mortal life ended when he was killed by the plot of the centaur Nessus, being poisoned by his wife Deianeira. Zeus brought Hercules to Olympus making him an immortal.

Hercules came to Earth to seek adventure. While traveling around the world, he came into contact with the super-hero team the Avengers. He was given membership to the team and served for many years.

For a time Hercules was made mortal again after he angered his father Zeus. He continued to serve as a member of the team, despite the danger of being killed.

Constellation of the northern hemisphere. 

Named after the Roman mythology hero mentioned elsewhere in this node. It sits rather high up, between Lyra, Coronoa Borealis, Sagittarius and Scorpius and pictures a kneeling Hercules. It is one of the largest constellations, measuring 1225 square degrees. The constellation is at its highest in the summer, July being the best time to see it. 

Being one of the oldest recognized constellations, it's been documented to have symbolical, value for as far back as old Babylonia. The Babylonians had it assigned to their main god Marduk. The Greeks first called it Engonasi ("The one who kneels") but later on let Heracles name the constellation. When drawn, it usually pictures Hercules with a lion skin and a spear, which would symbolize parts of his 12 labors

As for astronomical objects, there are a few interesting ones in Hercules. The star Ras Algethi or Rasalgethi (Arabic for "kneeler's head"), which appropriately makes up the head, is also one of the largest stars known. This red giant star has about 600 times the diameter of our sun. Another object that is easily seen with the naked eye is M13, the Hercules Cluster. This is a cluster of 300,000 stars, and looks like a undefined, hazy kind of smeared out star. M13 is about 25,000 light-years away, making it one of the farthest objects in the Milky Way galaxy. There's also the pulsar Hercules XI which sends out X-rays as it rotates. This neutron star completes a revolution around its own axis every 1.2 seconds. Hercules also has its own meteor shower shooting out of the constellation, the Tau Herculides, which can be seen between May 19 until June 19 every year.

To find Hercules in the sky, best is to look for the bright Vega in Lyra, high up, a little to the east in the early night. Almost straight overhead, west of Vega, you can see the Keystone, which is the four stars making up the torso of Hercules. And there you have it.

               o                     O  Rasalgethi
            .                   .    .
          .                .         .
        o   .          .             .
               o   .                .
 Kornephoros    O                   .                      o
                                    .                    .
                  .                 O .               .
                                        o .         .
                   .                        O .   .
                                               o o
                    .     .    o   .    .   .  o
                     O          .
                     .           .
                      .           .
                M13 X .            .
                      .   .  .  .  .O o .  . o     
                     .                     .
                    o                     .
                   .                      .
                 .                       .
                 o                       o

See how he kneels and holds his spear ?

Disney Animated Features
<< The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Mulan >>

Release Date: 27 June 1997

As if it wasn't bad enough that Disney warped an historical account (never mind that it was probably heavily embellished), then followed it up with an evisceration of one of the greatest works of literature ever, they now turned their mighty axe of Disnifying onto a classic Greek myth.

At least, that's how the company's critics would see it. In truth, Disney was not doing much more than they had done, successfully, in the past -- taken existing works and putting their own spin on them to make entertaining animated features. And neither Pocahontas nor The Hunchback of Notre Dame would have made good family films without the revisions applied by Disney.

Hercules is the same way, although perhaps less so -- but being mythology, Hercules' adventures are hardly set in stone anyway.

John Musker and Ron Clements, directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin were back at the helm for this film, for which they took a tack similar to that of Aladdin. Their focus here -- unlike, say, in The Lion King or Hunchback -- was less on the animation and the music than on humor and sheer entertainment value. The story of Hercules seems to make that focus an odd choice, but it turns out that it works -- mythological stories can be interpreted so many different ways that they can fit several different styles.

Most people know the story of Hercules, but it was changed somewhat for this film, mainly for dramatic reasons. Hades, lord of the Underworld, is jealous of his brother Zeus's power and prestige as ruler of the sky and the other gods. He hatches a plan to take over Mt. Olympus, but is told by The Fates that the newborn god Hercules (son of Zeus and Hera) is destined to thwart the attempt.

He sends his minions Pain and Panic to kidnap and kill the baby by using a special serum to make him mortal, but they botch the job and Herc survives, retaining only his god-like strength. Herc is adopted and grows up aware only that he is different -- awkardly so. He visits a temple of Zeus, where his father tells him that to return to Mount Olympus, he must become a true hero. Sent off (upon his mount Pegasus) to train with the satyr Philoctetes, then forced to deal with Hades' machinations and the enigmatic Megara, Hercules discovers that heroism might not mean quite what he thought it meant...

The story centers around that definition of heroism, skewering modern American concepts of what makes someone a hero. See, Herc thinks that being a hero means killing beasts, saving people's lives, and becoming famous. He becomes so famous for his exploits that "they slapped his face on every vase," he endorses sports drinks and sandals with his picture on them, and he even has an action figure! But he learns that it's more important what's in his heart, and that he can even be a hero without his super strength. A lesson, perhaps, that could be learned by many today, who continue to look for heroism in the wrong places.

The writing is fairly solid, with good moments of (often anachronistic) humor. The city of Thebes, where Herc goes to prove that his training was successful, is called "The Big Olive;" Herc becomes a modern-style celebrity, with his face on billboards and merchandise; Hades is a fast-talking, wheeling-and-dealing businessman type. Characterization is good, with even Hercules going through believable changes. The strongly independent and sarcastic Megara is also well-written, showing her inner conflict and the reasons for it well. Hades, whose part was re-written entirely when James Woods was hired to voice him, is, perhaps, not as menancing as he could be (except in a shady-businessman sort of way), but at least he's funny.

Music is not as prominent in Hercules as it had been in The Lion King and Hunchback. Alan Menken teamed this time with David Zippel, and while the music is good, the lyrics are probably a step down from Stephen Schwartz's work in Hunchback and Pocahontas. Menken draws from a wide variety of musical traditions to create the soundtrack, from American Southern Gospel to Motown.

The narrators of the story (after a brief, dry, PBS-style attempt by Charlton Heston) are the Muses, who here take the form of a quintet of Gospel singers. They sing, gospel-style, though the back story, then take a reduced role for a while. A young Hercules sings about his lonliness and longing in the ballad "Go The Distance," also recorded as a pop arrangement by Michael Bolton. When Herc meets up with Phil, the satyr sings of Herc being his "One Last Hope" for training a successful hero. The Muses return for a rocking "Zero to Hero" as the now-buff Hercules makes his mark on Greece and becomes the world's first superstar. And Megara realizes she's falling for Hercules as she sings the Motown-style power-ballad "I Won't Say I'm in Love," backed by the Muses. The songs and score, taken as a complete work, don't exactly form a cohesive whole, certainly not as they did in Hunchback, but the individual songs are good.

The voice work keeps up a long tradition of quality, with the cast led by James Woods as Hades. Woods' rapid-fire ad lib delivery prompted a re-write for the character, and the character draw some comparisons to Robin Williams' Genie. While Hades is a funny character, his evil intentions remain clear at all times.

Popular actor Danny DeVito voiced the philandering Philoctetes (who is even shorter than DeVito), and Rip Torn played the king of the gods. Matt Frewer and Bobcat Goldthwait voiced Panic and Pain, Hades' useless assistants (aka the comic relief). The voice of Megara, Susan Egan, originated the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway but lends a much more cynical tone to this character. Veteran actor Hal Holbrook played Herc's adoptive father, and bandleader Paul Schaffer had an amusing turn as Hermes (who mysteriously looks just like Schaffer).

"Go The Distance" was nominated for a Best Music, Song Academy Award, but was otherwise ignored at the Oscars. The history of Disney's nominations was beginning to imply that the Academy felt compelled to automatically nominate that year's Disney film's ballad for an award (although "Out There" and "God Help the Outcasts" from Hunchback were both ignored). I've often disagreed with the Academy's choices for the best song(s) from a film, and Hercules is no exception.

The film was brought to the small screen for a run as animated series. The TV show changed the film's facts slightly, claiming that Hercules' training with Phil was long-term, and that he continued to attend high school during that time. The episodes usually dealt with Hercules' attempts to overcome his outcast status among his peers.

Hercules was a modest success, but the decline in popularity three years after The Lion King was clear. The reasons for this are less clear, but something turned moviegoers off. It may have been simply Disney fatigue. Eight years after The Little Mermaid, Disney had seven films in the can; the seven films before Mermaid stretched back sixteen years. Maybe parents were growing tired of the formula -- outcast hero + attractive love interest + evil villain + wacky sidekicks + lots of singing.

But although not wildly successful, the formula was still successful enough, and Hercules is a perfect example of it. Like Aladdin, its spiritual predecessor, it's no great work of art, but it's a good, entertaining family film. Regardless, Disney was about to start playing with the formula a bit, taking it in some new directions...

Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (, Frank's Disney Page (, and the dark recesses of my own memory.

The Greek Legend of Heracles - also known as Herakles(Roman Name: Hercules)

Heracles was born in Thebes to Queen Alcmene of Tiryns and Zeus (who took the guise of her husband Amphitryon). Heracles was conceived over three nights and upon his birth was his father's pride and joy. This resulted in Hera's hatred and jealousy of the young boy. Ironically, Heracles name means "Hera's Glory". At eight months old, Hera sent two snakes to kill him in his crib. The infant grabbed the snakes and strangled them to death.

After killing his music tutor with a lute, he was sent to tend cattle on a mountain by Amphitryon. Here, he was visited by two nymphs - Pleasure and Virtue - who offered him a choice between a pleasant and easy life or a severe but glorious life. He chose the latter.

One of Heracles challenges was put to him by King Thespius of Thespia who wished him to impregnate each of his 50 daughters. According to the legend, Heracles did this in one night, which I'm sure would've made his father proud.

Later in Thebes, Heracles married King Creon's daughter, Megara. However, Hera drove Heracles into a fit of madness during which he killed his wife and children. Upon realizing what he had done, he fled to the Oracle of Delphi. Unbeknownst to him, the Oracle was guided by Hera. He was directed to serve King Eurystheus for 12 years and perform any task which he required, thus resulting in the The Twelve Labours of Hercules.

After completing these tasks, Heracles joined the Argonauts in the search for The Golden Fleece, rescued heroines, conquered Troy, and helped the Gods' fight against the Gigantes. He also fell in love with Princess Iole of Oechalia. Heracles advances were spurned by the King and his sons, except for one - Iole's brother Iphitus. Iphitus became Heracles best friend. But once again, Hera drove Heracles mad and he threw Iphitus over the city wall to his death. Once again, Heracles purified himself through servitude - this time to Queen Omphale of Lydia.

Heracles later married Deianira. When travelling with her, he came to a river where the centaur Nessus made some money by carrying people across. Heracles decided to make his own way but entrusted his wife to the Centaur. However, Nessus attempted to rape Deianira and Hercles shot him with a poisoned arrow. Nessus, as he was dying, gave Deiranira his coat which he stated would stop Heracles from ever being unifaithful. He did not however mention, that as it was stained with his blood - it would poison whoever wore it.

Heracles later decided to elope with Princess Iole, and realizing he was not dressed for the occassion requested that his wife send him a coat. Deianira, who knew more about Heracles' relationship with Iole than he thought, decided to send Nessus' coat in order to keep him faithful. However, when Heracles put on the coat it burned his skin, and he was unable to remove it. Heracles begged Zeus to save him, but his calls went unanswered. He eventually ordered his attendents to light fire to him in order to put him out of his misery. Upon hearing this, Zeus decided that his son's brave deeds had made him worthy of Immortality. Zeus brought him to Mt. Olympus and made Heracles a God.

Her"cu*les (?), n.

1. Gr. Myth.

A hero, fabled to have been the son of Jupiter and Alcmena, and celebrated for great strength, esp. for the accomplishment of his twelve great tasks or "labors."

2. Astron.

A constellation in the northern hemisphere, near Lyra.

Hercules' beetle Zool., any species of Dynastes, an American genus of very large lamellicorn beetles, esp. D. hercules of South America, which grows to a length of six inches. -- Hercules' club. Bot. (a) An ornamental tree of the West Indies (Zanthoxylum Clava-Herculis), of the same genus with the prickly ash. (b) A variety of the common gourd (Lagenaria vulgaris). Its fruit sometimes exceeds five feet in length. (c) The Angelica tree. See under Angelica. -- Hercules powder, an explosive containing nitroglycerin; -- used for blasting.


© Webster 1913.

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