Was Hercules real?

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
4,990
New Delhi, India
The situation was even more complicated with Heracles if he did in fact originate as a historical figure long long ago, because he would presumably have been associated with a specific place originally, but is associated all manner of different places in his fully developed mythology, and became a sort of magnet for stories not originally associated with him, and inspired bards to invent all kinds of new stories. So in the final resort I have no hesitation in saying: our Heracles is purely mythical.
There are counterparts of Herakles in all IE mythologies, right from India to Ireland or Iceland. That establishes that he is a legend and not a historical person. The original story is a 'seasons' story.
 
Feb 2012
3,836
Portugal
The Volsunga Saga gives a good idea of how real people can be fictionalized as many of the characters are believed to be based on real and more recent historical figures from around the end of the Western Roman Empire but one could hardly notice.
G.E. Mylonas points out for instance based on sources that the bandit Skiron defeated by Theseus was actualy a just and upright war minister of Megara for the Megarians, and concludes that it is a possibility that the feats of Theseus in the road between Athens and the Isthmos reflect the territorial conquests of Athens.
 
Aug 2010
15,091
Welsh Marches
I'm inclined to doubt the latter, the Megarians had their own exculpatory tradition about Skeiron which presented him as an upright man, but that seems more like a pseudohistorical reinterpretation of a myth than a genuine historical tradition; I think it can be found in Plutarch's life of Theseus. Speaking from memory here.
 
Feb 2012
3,836
Portugal
I think it can be found in Plutarch's life of Theseus. Speaking from memory here.
Like you say:
1 He also slew Sciron on the borders of Megara, by hurling him down the cliffs. Sciron robbed the passers by, according to the prevalent tradition; but as some say, he would insolently and wantonly thrust out his feet to strangers and bid them wash them, and then, while they were washing them, kick them off into the sea. 2 Megarian writers, however, taking issue with current report, and, as Simonides13 expresses it, "waging war with antiquity," say that Sciron was neither a violent man nor a robber, but a chastiser of robbers, and a kinsman and friend of good and just men. For Aeacus, they say, is regarded as the most righteous of Hellenes, and Cychreus the Salaminian has divine honours at Athens, and the virtues of Peleus and Telamon are known to all men. 3 Well, then, Sciron was a son-in‑law of Cychreus, father-in‑law of Aeacus, and grandfather of Peleus and Telamon, who were the sons of Endeïs, daughter of Sciron and Chariclo. It is not likely, then, they say, that the best of men made family alliances with the basest, receiving and giving the greatest and most valuable pledges. It was not, they say, when Theseus first journeyed to Athens, but afterwards, that he captured Eleusis from the Megarians, having circumvented Diocles its ruler, and slew Sciron. Such, then, are the contradictions in which these matters are involved.
Plutarch • Life of Theseus
 
I'm inclined to doubt the latter, the Megarians had their own exculpatory tradition about Skeiron which presented him as an upright man, but that seems more like a pseudohistorical reinterpretation of a myth than a genuine historical tradition; I think it can be found in Plutarch's life of Theseus. Speaking from memory here.
Yes I think that approach to myth is called euhemerism. It would have been interesting to see Plutarch's take on Heracles if only it had survived.
 

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