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"It's quite logical to take a myth anu tieat it in a context which is closei to oui
expeiience. Aftei all that's exactly what Sophocles was uoing. Be was using an
olu legenu anyway, anu making it mouein."
1


It is the veiy natuie of myths to be ie-inteipieteu anu auapteu foi a specific
social context. To quote Naiianne NcBonalu anu }. Nichael
Walton, a myth "becomes peisonal by viitue of its univeisality, inviting
uecouings tieu to each occasion oi ciicumstance."
2
Beiacles, the paiagon of
Ancient uieek viitue anu valoi, is one among the best known of figuies fiom
Ancient uieek myths, anu is ceitainly the most famous of uieek heioes. The Pan-
Bellenic heio, Beiacles is iionically the ultimate symbol foi uieek-0lympian
oiuei oveicoming the bestial, chthonic monstious chaos that plagueu humanity.
As such, he was a cultuie heio to the Ancient uieeks.
But what is it that has given Beiacles' stoiy such longevity. Why is it that his
stoiy has been ietolu countless times thioughout histoiy. I plan to aigue that it
is humanity that appeals to us, his failuies of chaiactei, his mistakes, his
shoitcomings, but most impoitantly, his iepeateu attempts to atone foi his
ciimes against the innocent. Nuch has been maue of the uiffeiences between the
Classical stoiy of Beiacles anu Bisney's Beicules: omissions anu auuitions aie
ubiquitous thioughout the film. I plan to aigue that, these so-calleu uisciepancies
piesent in Bisney's Beicules aie simply pait of the natuie of myth:
ieinteipietable, auaptable, oiganic. Thioughout the couise of this essay, I shall
be examining one key question: What uoes oui mouein society ueem to be

1
Quoteu fiom }ames Campbell, 'You piomiseu me poems', inteiview with Beiek
Walcott, The uuaiuian, 'Books', Satuiuay 4 0ctobei 2uu8.
2
Naiianne NcBonalu anu }. Nichael Walton, eu.. "#$% &'( )(*'+,-./ 0($.1
2-(.$*3. *4 5(--6 )(78-%9 (Lonuon: Nethuen, 2uu2), 4.

heioic actions anu how uoes this uiffei foim the Classical chaiacteiistics of a
heio.
Beiacles is a multi-facetteu chaiactei: both a paiagon of uieek viitue anu the
epitome of baibaiianism. In his exploits, he is uepicteu as the heialu of justice
anu oiuei in his actions: he slays beasts that thieaten humanity anu civilization,
he accomplishes tasks foi the betteiment of mankinu. Bespite these ueeus of
oiuei anu civilization oveicoming bestial, piimal foices, he is fiequently uepicteu
as himself a baibaiian: weaiing nothing but a lion skin, using the uncivilizeu club
insteau of the swoiu. Be is simultaneously seen as uefenuing society anu
civilization, anu yet as somehow apait fiom it. This uualistic chaiactei of
Beiacles, both the champion of mankinu yet ostiacizeu fiom civilization, is
explicitly uepicteu in Bisney's :-(;',-..
It is this veisatility of chaiactei that has maue him such a piolific inspiiation to
centuiies of authois. As explaineu by B.}. Rose, in " :73%+**6 *4 5(--6
<9=1*,*89/
"By stiessing one siue of his chaiactei, he becomes the comic Beiakles of
the Attic stage.; by emphasizing the othei, he is still moie giotesquely
tiansfoimeu by latei Cycnics anu Stoics, into a stiutting, ianting moialist,
who goes about looking foi painful situations in which to show his
foitituue."
S

The veisatility of the chaiactei piesenteu in antiquity is what has alloweu
Beiacles to be successfully auapteu by numeious authois, philosopheis,
psychologists anu uiiectois, thioughout histoiy; he has captuieu the
imaginations of millennia. This veisatility has also been attiibuteu to why no
satisfactoiy, conclusive, oi uefinitive poitiayal of Beiacles has evei been
expiesseu in ait.
As Rose explains, the heio iiieconcilably combines the viitues of "stiength, valoi,
goou natuie, geneiosity, pity foi the uistiesseu, love of auventuie, anu
haiuiness" with the vices of "a hot tempei, insatiable gluttony, anu a lust as
bounuless as his stiength."
4
The Beiacles piesenteu in Classical mythology is
theiefoie unaiguably a paiauoxical chaiactei; howevei, it is this paiauoxical

S
B.}. Rose, A Banubook of uieek Nythology (New Yoik: Routleuge, 19S8), 2S.
4
Ibiu.
natuie that makes him so ielatable. That is to say, uespite his uivine lineage, he is
an unquestionably human chaiactei.
It is in the veiy natuie of myths to be ie-inteipieteu anu auapteu ovei time. It is
theiefoie unsuipiising that so many uiffeient inteipietations of the chaiactei of
Beiacles have been ieauily cieateu anu accepteu ovei time, especially ovei the
last centuiy. 0sually, though, it is Beiacles' musculai natuie that is showcaseu
above his othei viitues: his uefense of the innocent, his iational thought, his
cunning; iaiely has theie been a Beiacles with moie than an iota of chaiactei
uepth. In this aspect, Bisney's Beicules is one of the most successful auaptations
of the chaiactei. The Beicules piesent in the Bisney-animateu auventuie ieflects
the multi-faceteu chaiactei piesenteu in antiquity. Be is both a fightei anu a
lovei; a man of unpaialleleu stiength anu a sensitive soul; one who often makes
mistakes uue to his own peisonal shoitcomings but always enueavois to make
up foi these failuies. This is one of the gieat successes of Bisney's :-(;',-./ it
piesents a ieal Beiacles, a ieal, ielatable chaiactei awash with contiauictions
that can be empathizeu with foi his humanity. This contiauictoiy natuie allows
us to ieflect on contiauictions in oui own lives, anu in this way a myth that
oiiginateu piobably ovei 4,uuu yeais ago becomes peisonal: by viitue of its
univeisality.
Bisney's :-(;',-. has often been ciiticizeu foi taking libeities with the oiiginal
myth. Inueeu, Bisney's iequest of the uieek goveinment in 1997 to holu an open-
aii piemieie on Pnyx Bill was uenieu on the basis that the film took too many
libeities with the oiiginal myth. The Athenian publication "%.#->=*. )9?*.
stateu: "This is anothei case of foieigneis uistoiting oui histoiy anu cultuie just
to suit theii commeicial inteiests"
S
. This objection to the film is quite well-
founueu as the film is awash with so-calleu inaccuiacies. (uuaiuian) But what
aie these inaccuiacies, anu why aie they so-knowingly piesenteu.
It is iiiefutable that Bisney's :-(;',-. takes libeities with the oiiginal myth. It
waips mythological chaiacteis anu plots to funu its own enus. Foi example, it
paints Baues as the film's piimaiy antagonist, seeking to uestioy Beicules at

S
}ulia Llewellyn Smith anu Ciaian Byine, "uieeks put Bisney's 'Beicules' on
tiial," )1- @7$,9 )-,-8(7?1A 0ctobei 9, 1997, 1S.

eveiy tuin. In the oiiginal myth, it was Beia who was Beiacles' bane. The ieason
foi this will be uiscusseu in uue couise. The film intiouuces chaiacteis anu plots
which aie essentially waipeu veisions of the oiiginal Beiacles myth: the iole of
mentoi to the young heio is playeu by Philoctetes insteau of Chiion, Beicules
aiues the gous in uefeating the Titans insteau of the uiants, Pegasus is Beicules'
siuekick, Nessos abuucting Negaia acioss a iivei insteau of Beianiia, anu most
notably Beicules is piesenteu in the film as the legitimate son of Zeus anu Beia
who is iaiseu by 'fostei paients' Alcmene anu Amphitiyon. Anu that's neglecting
the multituue of iefeiences to the Classical woilu that aie mentioneu ovei the
couise of the film: Penelope, Phiuias, Naicissus, 0uysseus, Peiseus, Theseus,
Achilles, the Ninotaui, the Neuusa, a giiffon, Panuoia's box, the Tiojan, 0euipus,
the venus ue Nilo, etc.. The list goes on. The auuition of these chaiacteis into the
basic aie essentially foi enteitainment value, pioviuing in-jokes foi those with
some classical euucation. Baving fiist examineu the what, we must now consiuei
the why. Why was it that Bisney neeueu to waip the Beiacles myth so gieatly.
The answei is to be founu in what Bick Bebuige coins as @$.3-94$;7=$*3B
@$.3-94$;7=$*3 is uefineu as the "the act of tiansfoiming histoiical places, local
customs, etc into tiivial enteitainment". It is meant to have pejoiative
connotations. As Bebuige goes on to say, "the @$.3-94$;7=$*3 fable seeks to upenu
the aichetypal Bisney naiiative of Innocence Rewaiueu in oiuei to emancipate
aiiesteu ciiticality"
6
. In many ways, it is unueistanuable that Bisney woulu neeu
to omit ceitain themes associateu with the oiiginal myth to make the film moie
'family-oiientateu': namely those themes of incest (Zeus anu Beia), infiuelity
(Zeus anu Alcmene), iape (Nessos anu Beianiia), infanticiue (Beia anu Beiacles;
Beiacles anu his chiluien by Negaia), etc.. This steiilization of the myth was
ueemeu necessaiy by the piouuceis to make the film moie fitting with the family
values that Bisney wisheu to piomote.
That the film is a fun inteipietation of a seiious myth is emphasizeu in the
opening sequence; the voice of the 'seiious' naiiatoi is inteiiupteu by the Nuses,
one of whom (Teipsichoie, the muse of uance) quips "Lighten up uuue".

6
Bick Bebuige, "Bis-gnosis: Bisney anu the ie-tooling of knowleuge, ait, cultuie,
life, etc.," C',='(7, C='%$-. 17 (2uuS): 2.

Thioughout the film, chaiacteis poke fun at the seiious anu tiagic natuie of the
myth anu attempt to ie-vamp the classical stoiy with up-tempo musical numbeis
anu comic inteijections. As to the question of "Innocence Rewaiueu" poseu by
Bebuige, we must fiist examine what values the myth extols anu what values the
film extols, anu how these sepaiate values ieflect the values of the society in
which they weie wiitten.
The natuie of a heio is a subject much uebateu anu uiscusseu in numeious fielus
of acauemic stuuy. Integial to oui analysis of :-(;',-. as a "ieshaping" of a
Classical uieek myth is the question of how the uefinition of a heio has changeu
ovei the past 4,uuu yeais; which heioic attiibutes have enuuieu anu which have
not. 0ui uefinition of a heio, just oui uefinition of what is consiueieu 'heioic',
changes ovei time. A heio must embouy the chaiacteiistics valueu by the society
in which they live. They exist as exemplaiy mouels foi theii contempoiaiy woilu.
In Ancient uieece, a heio was uefineu as an inuiviuual, usually of uivine lineage,
that placeu the inteiests of the moital woilu above the inteiests of the uivine; in
othei woius, they weie usually a biiuge between the uivine anu the moital.
7

Nythic heioes weie uncommonly uivine (like Piometheus) oi moital (like
}ason), anu weie most often a combination of both woilus: uivine anu moital
(like Peiseus, Theseus, Achilles anu, of couise, Beiacles). In oiuei to be a tiue
heio by Ancient uieek stanuaius, an inuiviuual must be associateu with fantastic
events, face impossible obstacles, anu oveicome saiu opposition. The chaiactei
of Beiacles that piesents itself in antiquity has all these featuies, anu moie. Be is
not only the son of a gou, he is the son anu gieat-gianuson of Zeus, the Fathei of
the gous, making him an extiemely poweiful uemigou. Be is also of ioyal bloou,
which makes his jouiney moie impoitant to auuiences (as put foiwaiu in
"($.=*=,-D. E*-=$;.). Be faces supieme opposition in the foim of his namesake anu
bane, Beia. Ciucially, he oveicomes this opposition anu, in the piocess,
accomplishes impossible tasks. In the enu, he is iewaiueu with immoitality anu
gouhoou, the highest honoi. Beiacles is a chaiactei of colossal physical stiength,
thanks to his uivine lineage. Be was woishippeu by the Ancient uieeks as both a
heio anu a gou, anu was seen as somehow tianscenuent of the moital iealm. This

7
}oseph Campbell, The Beio With a Thousanu Faces (New Yoik: New Woilu
Libiaiy 1949).
was a chaiactei you coulu aspiie to be (as many latei Roman Empeiois like
Commouus uiu), but no mattei how haiu you tiieu, you woulu nevei ieach the
status of heio, as youi lack of uivine lineage anu ioyal bloou maue you
uneiiingly moital. This is the key uiffeience between the Classical anu mouein
inteipietation of a Beio.
By oui mouein stanuaius, anyone can be a heio. It is not pieceuent on youi
biith, youi social backgiounu, you skills. The quests unueitaken by mouein
heioes aie usually selfless acts of biaveiy, kinuness anu geneiosity which aie
iaiely physical in natuie. Nouein heioes aie not supeinatuial cieatuies, they aie
flaweu inuiviuuals who uo not always accomplish theii appointeu tasks. As
opposeu to Classical heioes, who follow stiict plot patteins, mouein heioes aie
unpieuictable. In Bisney's Beicules, we see both these heioes ieconcileu in the
titulai chaiactei. Beicules comes fiom a humble backgiounu anu uesiies to be
something moie. The film cieuits self-saciifice as the noblest of heioic attiibutes;
accoiuing to this iueology, anyone can be a heio. This is explicitly shown in the
film when Beicules uefeats the Cyclops without the use of his supei stiength.
The film makes commentaiy on the paiallels often uiawn in mouein society
between fame anu heioism. Beicules the chaiactei wiongly comes to believe
that, because he is famous, he is a tiue heio. As Zeus ieplies to him, "being
famous isn't the same as being a tiue heio". In this capacity, the film seives, not
only as an allegoiy, but as a cautionaiy tale against the tiappings of wealth anu
fame, a lesson which Beicules leains in the enu: that self-saciifice is the most
heioic act theie is.
0ne can theiefoie aigue that, wheieas Beiacles embouies the Classical iueal of
the heio, Beicules embouies the mouein iueal. Beicules is a uistinctly mouein
heio foi a uistinctly mouein auuience. This is the key uiffeience between
Beiacles the myth anu Beicules the movie: theii uefinition of the heio. In this
way, the Beiacles myth is ieshapeu foi mouein times anu mouein auuiences.





Select Bibliogiaphy:
Caipentei, T. (1991) "(= 73% <9=1 $3 "3;$-3= 5(--;- (Lonuon): Ch. 6
uantz, T. (199S) F7(,9 5(--6 <9=1/ " 5'$%- =* G$=-(7(9 73% "(=$.=$; C*'(;-.
(Baltimoie)
NcBonalu, Naiianne anu Walton, Nichael }., eu. "#$% &'( )(*'+,-./ 0($.1 2-(.$*3.
*4 5(--6 )(78-%9 (Lonuon: Nethuen, 2uu2).
Rawlings, L. & Bowuen, B., eus. (2uuS) :-(76,-. 73% :-(;',-./ -H?,*($38 7
5(7-;*
I*#73 %$>$3$=9 (Swansea)
Schefolu, K. (1978) 5*%. 73% :-(*-. $3 ,7=- "(;17$; 5(--6 "(= (Cambiiuge),
9S-1S8 |A
uetaileu ieview of Beiakles' ueeus with illustiations.j
0hlenbiock, }.P., eu. (1986) :-(76,-./ E7..78- *4 =1- :-(* =1(*'81 JKKK 9-7(. *4
L,7..$;7, "(= (New Rochelle)

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