Ways of Interpreting Myths about Hercules Ancient Theories http://killacan.com/heracles/
The Web of MythMonolithic or Multifunctional Euphronios 'Heracles and Antaeus' c.515. Louvre Interpreting myth is like Penelope at her loom. Thread upon thread of interpretation is interwoven in myth. As one approach to myth goes out of favor and is unraveled from the fabric, another takes its place. The result is that, like Penelope's shroud, the cloth of myth interpretation is ever-changing and can never be finished. See Sienkewicz on the Web of Myth See also Michael Webster’s Ways of Interpreting Myths
Ancient Ways of Viewing Myth Archaic 750-480 B.C. Classical 480-323 B.C. Hellenistic 323-146 B.C. Myth as Venerable Tradition Questioning of Myths (Rationality) Myths as Allegory Myths as Instructive Models Myths as Inaccurate Myths of Questionable Morality Myths as Dangerous Gods as Deified Heroes and Kings Homer Xenophanes Theagenes Anaxagoras Aeschylus Euripides Socrates Plato Euhemerus Timeline: http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Contemporaries.html
Myths as Venerable Tradition Homer. Odyssey 11.600ff.:  "After him I saw mighty Hercules, but it was his phantom only, for he is feasting ever with the immortal gods, and has lovely Hebe to wife, who is daughter of Jove and Juno. The ghosts were screaming round him like scared birds flying all whithers. He looked black as night with his bare bow in his hands and his arrow on the string, glaring around as though ever on the point of taking aim. About his breast there was a wondrous golden belt adorned in the most marvellous fashion with bears, wild boars, and lions with gleaming eyes; there was also war, battle, and death. The man who made that belt, do what he might, would never be able to make another like it. Hercules knew me at once when he saw me, and spoke piteously, saying, my poor Odysseux noble son of Laertes, are you too leading the same sorry kind of life that I did when I was above ground? I was son of Zeus but I went through an infinity of suffering, for I became bondsman to one who was far beneath me- a low fellow who set me all manner of labours. He once sent me here to fetch the hell-hound- for he did not think he could find anything harder for me than this, but I got the hound out of Hades and brought him to him, for Hermes and Athena helped me.' "On this Hercules went down again into the house of Hades, but I stayed where I was in case some other of the mighty dead should come to me.”
Xenophanes of Colophonc.570 B.C. Questioned the Anthropomorphism of the Gods #170 But mortals consider that the gods are born, and that they have clothes and speech and bodies like their own. #171 The Ethiopians say that their gods are snub- nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair. #172 But if cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves. Hera Suckling the Baby Heracles. Apulian Red-Figure Squat Lekythos, c. 360-350, From Anzi.
Myths as Allegory Theagenes of Rhegium (525 B.C.) gods as symbols of human qualities; e.g., Athena = wisdom Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (c.500-428 B.C.) The misdeeds of the gods are intended to illustrate evil and teach virtue. Athena, Hercules and Atlas Metope from Temple of Zeus at Olympia c.450
Myths as Instructive Models (Paradigmatic Model) Aeschylus (c.525-456 B.C.) used myth to teach Athenians about the gods and the their role in the civic life of Athens. Pompeo Batoni Hercules at the Crossroads, v.1753, one of many paintings inspired text allegorical of Prodicus of Ceos. http://pre-gebelin.blogspot.com/2008/04/prodicus-allegory-of-virtue-and-vice.html
Myths as Inaccurate Euripides on the birth of Dionysus: Confusion between thigh (meron) and hostage (hemeron), a reference to the false image of Dionysus which Zeus gave to Hera as a hostage. Watch out for this in Euripides’ Bacchae (295) Boston Museum of Fine Arts 95.39Attic Red-Figure Lekythos
Heracles = Hera + kleosGlory of Hera? Infant Heracles and the Snakes. Roman, 2nd cent. A.D. Capitoline Museum. Rome
Herodotus on Heracles [2.43] The account which I received of this Hercules makes him one of the twelve gods. Of the other Hercules, with whom the Greeks are familiar, I could hear nothing in any part of Egypt. That the Greeks, however (those I mean who gave the son of Amphitryon that name), took the name from the Egyptians, and not the Egyptians from the Greeks, is I think clearly proved, among other arguments, by the fact that both the parents of Hercules, Amphitryon as well as Alcmena, were of Egyptian origin. Again, the Egyptians disclaim all knowledge of the names of Neptune and the Dioscuri, and do not include them in the number of their gods; but had they adopted the name of any god from the Greeks, these would have been the likeliest to obtain notice, since the Egyptians, as I am well convinced, practised navigation at that time, and the Greeks also were some of them mariners, so that they would have been more likely to know the names of these gods than that of Hercules. But the Egyptian Hercules is one of their ancient gods. Seventeen thousand years before the reign of Amasis, the twelve gods were, they affirm, produced from the eight: and of these twelve, Hercules is one.
Myths as DangerousPlato Banishes Poetry (=Myths) from his Ideal Republic In Republic Book X Socrates banishes poets from the city as unwholesome and dangerous because: • The poets pretend to know all sorts of things, but they really know nothing at all. The things they deal with cannot be known: they are images, far removed from what is most real. By presenting scenes so far removed from the truth poets, pervert souls, turning them away from the most real toward the least. • Worse, the images the poets portray do not imitate the good part of the soul. The rational part of the soul is quiet, stable, and not easy to imitate or understand. Poets imitate the worst parts—the inclinations that make characters easily excitable and colorful. Poetry naturally appeals to the worst parts of souls and arouses, nourishes, and strengthens this base elements while diverting energy from the rational part. • Poetry corrupts even the best souls. It deceives us into sympathizing with those who grieve excessively, who lust inappropriately, who laugh at base things. It even goads us into feeling these base emotions vicariously. We think there is no shame in indulging these emotions because we are indulging them with respect to a fictional character and not with respect to our own lives.
Hercules and Omphale. Detail of The Twelve Labours Roman mosaic from Llíria (Valencia, Spain). Flintstone. First half of the 3rd century. In the National Archaeological Museum of Spain (Madrid).
Euhemerism On Euhemerus of Messene, see http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/euhemerus.html. From Diodorus Siculus: Now Euhemerus, who was a friend of King Cassander [of Macedonia (301 to 297 B.C.)] and was required by him to perform certain affairs of state and to make great journeys abroad, says that he traveled southward as far as the [Indian] ocean; for setting sail from Arabia he voyaged through the ocean for a considerable number of days and was carried to the shore of some islands in the sea, one of which bore the name of Panachaea. On this island he saw the Panachaeans who dwell there, who excel in piety and honor the gods with the most magnificent sacrifices and with remarkable votive offerings of silver and gold.... There is also on the island, situated on an exceedingly high hill, a sanctuary of Zeus, which was established by him during the time when he was king of all the inhabited world and was still in the company of men. And in the temple there is a stele of gold on which is inscribed in summary, in the writing employed by the Panchaeans, the deeds of Ouranos and Kronos and Zeus. Does Euhemerism apply to Hercules?
APOTHEOSIS OF HERAKLES Museum Collection: Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany Catalogue Number: Munich 2360Beazley Archive Number: 215718Ware: Attic Red FigureShape: PelikePainter: Attributed to the Kadmos PainterDate: ca 410 BCPeriod: Classical
APOTHEOSIS OF HERAKLES Museum Collection: British Museum, London, United Kingdom Catalogue No.: London B424Beazley Archive No.: 301068Ware: Attic Black FigureShape: Kylix, little master lipPainter: Signed by the Phrynos Potter Date: ca 560 BCPeriod: Early Archaic