Myths often transform over time as generations after generations retell them. One of the major characteristics of such allusions is that the contemporary versions have changes incorporated in them meant to advance the duplicator’s agenda. The mythological subtext of the contemporary work of art retains the fundamentals of the original myth but differentiates it to suit and serve particular purposes. This paper interrogates the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys as a contemporary myth to compare it with the ancient Greek Heracles myth. Analysis indicates that the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys alludes to the Greek hero Heracles’ attributes but unlike in the ancient myth, the contemporary one promotes a familial, less violent outlook.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys is a contemporary work of fiction based on the ancient Greek myth of Heracles written by Euripides, with Heracles later being referred to as Hercules by the Romans. The television series ran from January 16, 1996 until November 22, 1999 (Weisbrot 3). It was set in native New Zealand to invoke the ancient Greek atmosphere. Hercules: The Legendary Journeys features Hercules and his sidekick Iolaus saving various innocent villagers from evil forces, including warlords, monsters and rogue gods (Weisbrot 5). The plot resonates with the events in the original Heracles stories in Greek mythology. In both, the hero is involved in fighting evil; there is a struggle for equal rights and the rule of law as underlying themes. Furthermore, in both television series and original myth, Hercules possesses supernatural powers derived from Zeus, the king of the gods (Euripides 23). The contemporary myth portrays Hera as the evil stepmother who is determined to make Hercules’ life miserable. In the original myth, Hera is the queen of gods who hates Hercules since he is Zeus’ son born to a mortal woman, Alcmena. Hera persecutes him throughout his life until the point when Hercules attains immortality (Euripides 84).
However, the comparison of the original and the contemporary myth explicates several significant differences in form and substance. The clear conclusion from the comparison is that, for reasons best known to the creators and directors of the television series, the contemporary myth fundamentally diverges from the original one even though it manages to retain the major underlying themes. The contemporary Hercules myth includes certain elements and characters not present in the original myth. For instance, in the original Greek mythology of Heracles, there is no woman named Xena, but in the contemporary mythology she is present (Richardson 45). In fact, in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, her role was so prominent that it necessitated a protracted spin-off series named Xena: Warrior Princess (Weisbrot 40). Another major difference is the incorporation of a sidekick in the contemporary Hercules myth. In the television series, Iolaus played by Michael Hurst assists Hercules played by Kevin Sorbo in his evil-fighting adventures (Weisbrot 10). While in the original Greek myth Heracles enlists help in some instances, in most cases he is a lone ranger, fighting mythical creatures and gods alone (Corman 756). Therefore, the contemporary version that retells the Heracles myth has numerous major and deliberate misrepresentations of facts.
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The significant changes between the two myths depict the changes in the way people understand the myth. At face value, the changes are meant to give today’s heroes a human face. In the ancient Greek mythology, Heracles is a normal human being (Euripides 9). His divine powers bestow upon him immense strength but do not change his physical attributes as portrayed in the contemporary Hercules myth. The adaptation and consequent portrayal of Hercules as a strong, heavily built individual embodies the prevailing popular narrative that portrays nowadays heroes as extraordinary beings (Corman 757). The effacing of the divine powers and the consequent focus on the physical attributes of the heroes reflect the changes in the way people perceive and understand the original Heracles myth and the whole of Greek mythology by extension.
The differences between the original and the contemporary Heracles myths also reflect the underlying agenda of the series producers, which is to foster familial love. The contemporary myth portrays Hercules as an affable person, wholly devoted to rescuing the weak and the oppressed (Weisbrot 15). It does not portray him as a violent person, even though in the original myth, Heracles has fits of rage that lead to him to act irrationally. Thus, he fights and kills many people and mythical creatures (Richardson 26). On the contrary, the contemporary myth is meant for family consumption; therefore, violence is toned down. In most scenes in the television series, the antagonists fighting Hercules merely stagger off bloodied but still alive. In instances where there are deaths, they mostly take place off the screen (Wesibrot 56). Furthermore, in the contemporary myth, Hercules and Zeus are portrayed as getting along quite well and in constant contact with each other, which is not necessarily the case in the ancient myth. The duplicator’s agenda is to make the series family-oriented and advance familial love between the characters in the series, in the process diverging from the original myth. Through deviating from the specifics of the original myth yet retaining the underlying theme of fighting the evil, the storyteller manages to create gaps, which he fills with his agenda, in this instance, familial love.
The existence of the mythological subtext lends more credibility to the story but curtails in-depth character development. The series plots gain more meaning as the audience perceive them to be true-life events (Corman 758). From the choice of the setting of the television series, it is clear that the producers intended to reproduce the Greek effect and situate the storylines in ancient Greek. The television series was shot in New Zealand in areas with structures that resemble those of the ancient Greek periods. Thus, it is clear that the producers intended the audience to make the connection between the original and contemporary Hercules myths. The existence of the mythological subtext played a crucial role in forming the contextual frameworks for the series’ standalone episode format (Weisbrot 64).
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