The influential Lord Raglan awarded the mythical hero Hercules an exceptional 17 points on the his hero scale. The scale is a classification of the characteristics that can be drawn in parallel between the majority of mythical heroes. Hercules strikes a great deal of similarities with other mythical heroes, such as the fact that he is the offspring of a Greek God, there was a plot to kill him at his birth, he ends up far away from home and his family, and of course, he achieves many heroic feats, killing mythical beasts and adventuring fruitfully (Raglan, 1998).
William Burkert spent many years studying mythical heroes, and his research led him to conclude that there were patterns in the construction of iconic heroes. For example, many heroes have dominion over animals, winning the side of hunters and shepherds, which has possible Paleolithic foundations. This if often the case in Hercule's story, and in the Twelve Labors in which he toiled and battled. His first Labor was to defeat the Nemean Lion, and to bring back its skin as a token of his victory. He realized that weapons such as arrows would be useless against this formidable opponent, but he needed no weapon for this Labor, and was able to throttle the massive beats with only his hands. The Lemaean Hydra is another animal representation – a snake with nine heads, residing in the waters of Lema. With the cutting off of one head, another grows to replace it. Heracles was resourceful however and was able to defeat the beast with help from Iolaus. There are many other trials which show his mastery over animals, such as the capture of the Erymanthian Boar, the Cretan Bull and the Ceryneian Hind, the killing of the Stmphalian Birds, and to steal the Mares of Diomedes.
Many of these events can be linked to early Greek folklore. Burkett was able to find a recurring pattern in the way Greek heroes behaved, and what they did. Such patterns found include innocence and loss of innocence, the danger of relatives, sex, childbirth, family and comeuppance. Another evident pattern is that of the unfortunate scapegoat (Burkert, 1979)
Heracles was a fairly typical if exemplary Greek-Roman mythical hero, because of his unwavering courage, and unmatched strength. These powers are the result of his semi-divine status, being the son of Zeus and the mortal Alceme. It is interesting to note the similarity between his semi-divine status, and Jesus who is also part human and part god.
The conception of Hercules was the result of adultery on Zeus's behalf. When the goddess Hera finds out that her husband was unfaithful and bore an illegitimate son, she became mad with rage, and sent two snakes to kill Hercules while he slept in his cot. The strength and bravery of Hercules was evident even at this tender age, as he was able to defeat them on his own. Raw power such as this can be compared to Samson in the Bible. But the difference between Samson and Hercules is that Samson derives his strength from the length of his hair, whereas Hercules has a much more inherent strength.
Choice is another common pattern in Greek mythology, and a crucial moment in his story is when he has to decide between a life of mortal pleasure, or a life of virtue. This question is given to him by the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and the goddess of virtue, Athena. In a characteristically heroic fashion, Hercules chooses the life of virtue, but this is in quite a contrast to Gautam Buddha, who live the life of pleasure and indulgence from an early age in his father's palace. Hercules belief is that true happiness, veneration and glory comes from embracing difficulties and overcoming them.
Hercules meets and marries Magara later on in his tale, and they bear children together. However, this is when things begin to take a turn for the worse for Heracles. Hera is still out to get him after what happened before, and enraged by him still, she uses all her divine strength and power to drive him mad. It works, and in his own madness, Heracles unwittingly kills his own children and his wife. When he comes to his sense, he is distraught, and seeks Delphi and Oracle for guidance on how he can make up for what he did, to himself and to the gods. He is told to serve the King of Tiryns for twelve years, after which he is commanded the Twelve Labors. Once he completes this, he is assured peace once again. During these Labors, he is imprinted with the virtues of wisdom, strength and courage.
Just like the hero should, he completes the tasks set for him, and he regains his integrity and his soul for the horrible events Hera forced him to conduct. With such an amazing feat of accomplishment, he is granted a seat with the gods themselves in Mount Olympus. Upon his ascent, he loses all remnants of his mortality, and is born again as truly divine. He reconciles with Hera, and lives peacefully with her and his father (Loewen, 1998).
Burkert, Walter. Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual. University of
California Press, 1979
Loewen, Juvenile. Hercules. Capstone Press, 1998
Raglan, Fitzroy Richard. The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama. Somerset:
Courier Dover Publications, 2003