The Hercules Trope

Tropes show up in all sorts of media and art in everyday life throughout history, with their meanings changing over time. The Greek Demi-God Hercules is a popular metaphor for remarkable strength or tenacity, which has become an identity given to heroes of everyday life or even people of great physical talents. It even has it’s own adjective “Herculean” used to describe something requiring strength and power. The life of Hercules was not an easy one, and he had to overcome many tasks and feats to be reunited with the Gods to live out in eternity. While the original story of Hercules is rather grim as he was born out of wedlock to a mortal woman with the Greek God Zeus. The Jealousy of Zeus’ wife Hera caused her to torment her stepson and eventually caused him to murder his own family and children due to a spell she casted on him. Despite this evil act forced upon him, Apollo allowed him to complete various heroic labors to make amends and absolve his guilt.

His determination and perseverance have become a desired identity and moniker for generations.  He has countless movies and books, including the Disney classic that I will touch on later, a Marvel comic, and the role fulfilled by strongmen Dwayne Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  There is hardly ever an advertisement or creation that depicts someone weak and evil in the same sentence as Hercules.

Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa’s (Controversial) Godly Seasons

Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were the behemoths of the MLB in 1998 (which was the year after Disney’s Hercules¬†was released), which indubitably earned them the title of “Sportsmen of the Year” for Sports Illustrated. During the season, both of these players were crushing balls out of the park left and right, sparking a race for the all-time homerun record. McGuire ended up finishing on top with 70 homeruns, Sosa with 66. After a cancellation of the World Series in 1994 due to a strike during the season, baseball’s popularity was down, and these two were exactly what the league needed to give it a boost in the media. At the time, this cover was fitting for the two as what they accomplished was God-like. To give this God-like season a literal representation, both of them were dressed in togas for the shoot. This reference to strong and powerful Greek Gods would undoubtedly make the viewer think of Hercules. A perfect example of someone being seen as Herculean for the physical feats they accomplished. Back then, these new records were seen as a modern marvel, but looking back at this cover and the strength of these men, it is ironic that they were using steroids for the duration of the season, and of course playing in what is now the “steroid era.” Regardless, the timing for this cover and style was perfectly unique compared to the other magazines that dressed them in their usual baseball uniforms holding bats.

Teddy Roosevelt vs. Standard Oil

Teddy Roosevelt is often regarded as one of the greatest US presidents to ever serve due to his impacts on the destruction of almighty monopolies, supporting labor unions, and promoting conservation and national parks. This poster makes it no question to the fact that he can be compared to the great Hercules. In this illustration by Frank Nankivell back in 1906 depicts President Roosevelt as a baby Hercules battling two serpents with the faces of John D. Rockefeller and Nelson W. Aldrich. This is a reference to the original Hercules story, where his Stepmother Hera sends two serpents to kill him as a baby, but because of his natural strength, he was able to defeat them. While Roosevelt is seen as the good guy in this poster, the other two serpents were enemies to Roosevelt’s policies. John D. Rockefeller, arguably the richest American in history, was the founder of the Standard Oil Company, a company which had an overbearing grip on the US economy and a violation of antitrust laws. Nelson W. Aldrich was a powerful senator at the time in Rhode Island who was seen as the representative of big businesses such as Standard Oil. While Teddy Roosevelt was a baby compared to these serpents, he managed to strangle them before they could strangle him by using the Sherman Antitrust Act to disband the mogul’s business into smaller ones and to bring down the power of multiple monopolies. Teddy Roosevelts democratic acts gave him the comparison to that of a Greek God.

Zero to Hero

Back in 1997, Walt Disney Studios released their own version of the Hercules story for the world to see. While everyone was familiar with the Demi-God at the time, it had never been seen on the big screen as an animated musical. The story was reimagined to be more kid-friendly for the typical audience, and while this hero-story-turned-romantic-comedy film is often forgotten in the list of Disney classics, it still has a great story with acclaimed voice acting. Instead of the story being driven by adultery and murder, the fan favorite villain Hades is the one who torments Hercules as a child. A potion strips him of his immortality, and he is lost to Earth, wondering where his strength comes from. As he gets older, he finds out his true heritage, and is sent on quests by his father Zeus to regain his immortality and join him on Olympus, all while falling in love on the way. The overall plot of the story is the same as the original, but the characters and the ways he gets back to Olympus are all Disney. As if Hercules wasn’t a popular enough legend, this movie helped boost his popularity with children.

 

The Hercules Trope can be seen in media all over the world because of the popularity of Greek Mythology and the adaptations that come along with them. Often, the seven main Greek Gods are commonly known, but for a Demi-God like Hercules to be a role model for stories of heroism to last through generations makes it as immortal of a trope as the hero himself.

 

References (In Order of Appearance):

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hercules
  2. https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/06/26/mark-mcgwire-sammy-sosa-toga-cover-sportsman
  3. https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o278539
  4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-D-Rockefeller
  5. https://www.e-education.psu.edu/egee120/node/226
  6. https://www.vulture.com/2014/07/disneys-hercules-is-an-underrated-masterpiece.html