Was Hercules real?

Jan 2016
386
Ohio
I think there is truth to myths. Its just a question of how much that is hard to figure out.

Heracles is probably as real as King Arthur and King Raganar in my opinion. There is the possibility of many people interpreted into the same person. Or maybe there was a single figure and his feats were exaggerated. (or hell, maybe there really was a huge 9 headed lizard called a Hydra and Zues is real, haha)

Have you ever seen the movie "Hercules" with The Rock? It is your typical average Rock action movie, haha but there was one thing I absolutely loved about it.
It showed how the myths weren't quite as we thought they were. Heracles was just a strong man and traveled in a group of other mercenaries that "helped" him do labors. Like the hydra was actually a group of men wearing masks. Cerberus was just 3 black wolves. However they had a story teller that exaggerated his feats.

It kind of puts a perspective on things like how the 12 labors could have been based on real things, but they weren't quite what they have blown up to be. Or its all metaphorical.

Kind of like the Fishermans lie.

Could there have been a man who killed a giant Boar bigger than anyone had seen in their lifetime? Perhaps. (I doubt they kept world records like we do, haha)

Was it Heracles killing the Erymanthian? Perhaps not.

Could there have been a really strong man capable of strong feats never seen before by the common man? Perhaps

The son of Zues? I think not.
 
After 64 pages how do we feel about the topic? Was Hercules real...
Probably. But many of the stories about him are bunk. And there are so many that it will be impossible to say which were true. He was no son of Zeus obviously and many of the more colorful stories that you may have heard (the 12 works of Hercules as an example) seem also all later stories.

There is another line of stories which still show deeds done by more than one man, but there at least we see a typical Greek raider at work.
And his descendants become more like real people as time goes by. His descendants (5th generation) became the 1st kings of Sparta (two houses, both descendants of Heracles), and they certainly did exist.
So that person does seem to be a bit more like Ragnar Lothbrok than King Arthur. But even the non-magical Heracles has too many stories IMHO.
 
Likes: dvch
Aug 2010
16,055
Welsh Marches
The mythological Heracles was mythologically real and we know nothing whatever about any other Heracles; if there was someone else of the same name who prompted the start of all the myth-making that led to the invention with the Heracles that we know, he would have nothing in common our Heracles. So the question is an essentially unimportant one.

By the way, to distinguish the myths of Heracles that seem plausible from those that don't (dragon-killing etc.) provides no criterion whatever for deciding which of his myths may conceivably have had a historical basis.
 
Likes: Openminded

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,384
New Delhi, India
Heracles was the IE Sun God. The Sun God died/became powerless every year with the advent of long night in the Arctic Circle, which was their Urneimat; and came alive/regained his power again on the day of vernal equinox. The story is repeated umpteen times in all IE mythologies. Umpteen times, which in Hindu/Vedic parlance means not only the Sun God (Aditya, Mitra, etc.) but also Vishnu . And a host of Gods are involved in the rescue of Sun God and defeat of the demons (of darkness), i.e., Indra, Vishnu, Ashwini, etc. This was/is the most popular/important myth in IE cultures.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,384
New Delhi, India
By the way, to distinguish the myths of Heracles that seem plausible from those that don't (dragon-killing etc.) provides no criterion whatever for deciding which of his myths may conceivably have had a historical basis.
The historical basis is that it is the myth of people who started from within the Arctic Circle, where the sun shown brightly for seven months and its power declined in the eighth month (that is why the eighth Sun God in Hindu mythology is supposed to have been born unformed, Martanda (Dead Egg - Mrita + Anda). There was a dawn and a dusk for 30 days, and an Arctic night for near about two-months. Ask a primitive from that region 10,000 years ago, and he will reply "That is a difficult time. The demon of darkness (or dragon) has put the Sun God in a cave and placed a huge boulder at the mouth of the cave. Now, other Gods and our venerable shamans* will help rescue the Sun God".
* According to RigVeda - Atharvan and Angirasa (both words related to fire).
 
Jan 2015
5,440
Ontario, Canada
Starting with the obvious, Herakles must have been influenced from the Phoenician Melqart. Another source of inspiration was likely also the Egyptian gods Horus, and Osiris quite possibly. Herodotos includes the Egyptian deity known as Shu as being the same as Herakles. Shu being a god of the air and so I suppose the connection is in the name "Herakles" (glory of the air).

What Herakles represents... Manhood, strength, the hunt, war, but also subtle elements of a solar deity and a death deity. This could be the source for the rivalry between the cult of Apollo and the cult of Herakles. In the myths Herakles is frequently at odds with Apollo. But also fights against Hades and Ares, and Poseidon from time to time. Herakles not only defeats Hades he defeats death itself. This as well is probably an influence from deities like Baal and Melqart, who surpassed death. In many ways Herakles' attributes are multi-dimensional which appears like an attempt to move into the territory of other deities.

As for historicity, impossible to say. At best we know that Herakles became an object of worship in the Archaic period. But not all city-states recognized his divine status. Some merely giving him worship in the form of a hero cult if at all. Prominent religious cults were located in Thebes, Argos and Athens to name some. In the case of Athens, the cult of Herakles was somehow intrinsically tied to Athena... isn't that interesting. However there were two rival sects, for lack of a better word. The one at Thebes which worshiped the icon of an adult Herakles and the one in Argos which used icons of a young Herakles. Maybe this suggests that Herakles was originally a folk hero from the Archaic period. I say the Archaic period because that is as far back as the cult can be traced, probably emerging around the 600's BC and then growing in popularity in the 500's BC.

We know for a fact that the ancients of the Hellenistic and Roman periods associated old Mycenaean sites with Herakle. Particularly in Thebes where Pausanias records that various ancient sites such as graves and a palace were considered to be the burial of the son of Herakles and his place of birth respectively. Pausanias also states that Herakles was long remembered as the Theban general who defeated the hegemony of Orchomenos. There were undoubtedly conflicts between the cities of Thebes and Orchomenos and Orchomenos was in fact dominant at one point. If the conflict that is mentioned did occur it would have taken place in the Late Helladic period, so roughly 1500 BC to 1200 BC.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,384
New Delhi, India
In RigVeda, Aditya (with any name, eight Sun Gods in the beginning, there are more than 15 names during various periods), was not the Supreme God, though he was an important God. The Supreme God was Indra, who went to rescue Aditya. Other Gods Agni, Vishnu, Ashwin, even Saraswati, performed/helped in the rescue.
 
Jul 2014
644
Messinia
Starting with the obvious, Herakles must have been influenced from the Phoenician Melqart. Another source of inspiration was likely also the Egyptian gods Horus, and Osiris quite possibly. Herodotos includes the Egyptian deity known as Shu as being the same as Herakles. Shu being a god of the air and so I suppose the connection is in the name "Herakles" (glory of the air).

What Herakles represents... Manhood, strength, the hunt, war, but also subtle elements of a solar deity and a death deity. This could be the source for the rivalry between the cult of Apollo and the cult of Herakles. In the myths Herakles is frequently at odds with Apollo. But also fights against Hades and Ares, and Poseidon from time to time. Herakles not only defeats Hades he defeats death itself. This as well is probably an influence from deities like Baal and Melqart, who surpassed death. In many ways Herakles' attributes are multi-dimensional which appears like an attempt to move into the territory of other deities.

As for historicity, impossible to say. At best we know that Herakles became an object of worship in the Archaic period. But not all city-states recognized his divine status. Some merely giving him worship in the form of a hero cult if at all. Prominent religious cults were located in Thebes, Argos and Athens to name some. In the case of Athens, the cult of Herakles was somehow intrinsically tied to Athena... isn't that interesting. However there were two rival sects, for lack of a better word. The one at Thebes which worshiped the icon of an adult Herakles and the one in Argos which used icons of a young Herakles. Maybe this suggests that Herakles was originally a folk hero from the Archaic period. I say the Archaic period because that is as far back as the cult can be traced, probably emerging around the 600's BC and then growing in popularity in the 500's BC.

We know for a fact that the ancients of the Hellenistic and Roman periods associated old Mycenaean sites with Herakle. Particularly in Thebes where Pausanias records that various ancient sites such as graves and a palace were considered to be the burial of the son of Herakles and his place of birth respectively. Pausanias also states that Herakles was long remembered as the Theban general who defeated the hegemony of Orchomenos. There were undoubtedly conflicts between the cities of Thebes and Orchomenos and Orchomenos was in fact dominant at one point. If the conflict that is mentioned did occur it would have taken place in the Late Helladic period, so roughly 1500 BC to 1200 BC.
Amazing post! Thanks for sharing all this wisdom and knowledge.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,384
New Delhi, India
"Prof. Max Müller; further informs us that in the Greek mythology we can “easily find among the wives of Hêrakles, significant names, such as Auge (sun-light), Xanthis (yellow), Chrysêis (golden), Iole (violet), Aglaia (resplendent), and Eône, which cannot be separated from Eos, dawn.”

Another indication of the long duration of the dawn is furnished by the Taittirîya Samhitâ, VIII 2. 20. Seven oblations are herementioned, one to Ushas one to Vyushti one to Udeshyat, one to Udyat, one to Uditâ one to Suvarga and one to Loka. Five of these are evidently intended for the dawn in its five forms. The Taittirîya Brâhmana (III, 8, 16, 4) explains the first two, viz., to Ushas and Vyushti, as referring to dawn and sunrise, or rather to night and day, for according to the Brâhmana “Ushas is night, and Vyushti is day.”
"Arctic Home in Vedas", B.G.Tilak
 

Similar History Discussions