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The Original Hercules Myth Is Far More Gruesome Than The Movies Show You

Updated July 17, 2019 71.2k views13 items

From the animated Disney film to the so-bad-it's-kinda-fun TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, the mythological strongman Hercules has long provided source material for some epic-adventure entertainment. But these stories often gloss over the more gruesome parts of the hero's exploits. The real story is much gorier. When you get the Hercules facts directly from the myths where they originated, the Disney film is revisionist at best and a downright knockoff at worst, The Legendary Journeys is family-friendly froth, and the 2014 film Hercules is little more than a good reason to watch Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for 98 minutes.

Hercules, as he is presented in myth, is an extremely complex character, and his tale is so complicated and involved that it often borders on the convoluted. Hollywood, of course, has a vested interest in making intricate stories as easily digestible as possible. They had their work cut out for them in attempting to trim, edit, and revise Hercules's escapades into something watchable and not so totally gruesome that it turned off everyone. But it's a disservice to the myth not to at least point out a few of the disparities between the show business Hercules and the mythological Hercules.

  • Photo: Gustave Moreau / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Another Labor Involved A Grisly Fight With The Hydra

    Slaying the Lernaean Hydra was another of the Labors. The beast had nine heads, and when one was cut off, two more took its place. In the Disney movie, the Hydra is slain after Hercules smashes a mountain and sends rocks raining down on it. But in the myth, the Hydra met a far more grueling end.

    Hercules severed all nine heads, and as each one was cut off, he seared the necks with a torch so another wouldn't grow - all while the smell of burning flesh filled the air.

  • Photo: Peter Paul Rubens / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    To Complete Another Labor, He Slew The Amazon Queen

    Another one of the Labors stipulated that Hercules had to obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. The girdle was a symbol of her authority and right to rule. When Hercules got to the Amazons, Hera again interfered, disguising herself as an Amazonian and telling the women he was there to slay Hippolyta and enslave the population. The women revolted, and in their fight against Hercules, Hippolyta lost her life. The hero took the opportunity to confiscate her belt and fled.

    Hollywood versions of this story neglect to include that Hercules's theft of the girdle is a symbolic strike. In the ancient Greek world, a woman who even loosened her belt for a man was showing her submission. If a man took her life her before yanking off her belt, he was essentially defiling her lifeless body.

  • Photo: Heinrich Füger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    His Father, Zeus, Was An Amoral Tyrant

    Hera wasn't the only mythological character Disneyfied into a loving parent. Zeus is portrayed in the movie as a burly, white-bearded dad who's just a big teddy bear under all that power and bulk.

    In the myths, Zeus was quite the opposite. He terrorized mortals and used physicality - often vicious and gruesome - at the drop of a hat in order to get his way. He also fathered hundreds of illegitimate children with hundreds of different women, both mortal and immortal. Plus, most of the movies and TV shows casually omit the fact that Zeus and Hera were siblings

  • Photo: Mary Hamilton Frye / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Wasn't Associated With The Pegasus, Which Has A Gory Origin Story

    In Disney's take, Pegasus is depicted as Hercules's cuddly horse-like companion and trusted friend, by his side at all times. In the source material, there's no account of Pegasus ever accompanying Hercules anywhere; instead, he's associated with the hero Bellerophon.

    Pegasus's origin is - not surprisingly - incredibly gruesome. He reportedly sprang "from the teeming neck" of the slain Medusa, his mane drenched in her entrails.