From dreams to Greek mythology…natural progression? Perhaps. Where else can you find so many colorful characters all together? And colorful they are – flamboyant Gods and mighty heroes and of course the mandatory damsels in distress! Ever since I found Roger Lancelyn Green’s, Tales of the Greek Heroes in the INOX bookshop, I’ve been lost in ancient Greece, wandering along its fertile plains, serenaded sometimes by the gentle music of Pan’s pipes, and at others by Apollo’s magical lute! I’ve been enjoying myself and am loath to leave 🙂 but toddler summons can only be ignored for so long and no longer! Back to reality then…although after Inception, can you ever really be sure? Geez! Like life isn’t complicated enough already 😛
But never mind my humdrum existence…lets travel back in time to those days when Gods and monsters still roamed the earth and heroes went around performing heroic deeds. I think one of the reasons I love mythology so much is that growing up in India, their presence and influence is inescapable! Gods and demons were everywhere, still are – in Grandma’s stories, in books (remember ‘Amar Chitra Kathas’, the first introduction most Indian children had and indeed still do, to the magical world of Indian mythology?), on TV, in theatre, in cinema, in art…everywhere! I was brought up on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (my absolute favorite story of all time), that mother of all potboilers, with its heady mix of drama and rampant emotions, replete with palace intrigues, double-crossing relatives, weaklings, cowards, heroes, gods, demons and damsels! No wonder, Indian movie-makers keep returning to this epic for inspiration and a re-telling of its basic plot, ‘coz like all good epics, this one too has many stories within stories.
I think my love for Greek mythology in particular (although I love Norse legends too), stems from the fact that the Greeks view their Gods, much the same as we Indians do – as refined, super-developed versions of ourselves, humans. It makes them real, easier to love, understand and identify with. To me, their appeal lies in their obvious humanity – their anger, their arrogance, their impulsiveness, their petty jealousies, their mistakes, their ability to forgive, and their regular interactions with their subjects, us humans. I also like, that they needed human-help (more often than they must have liked!), to get out of the sticky situations they got themselves into! A classic example being Zeus and Prometheus…and so enter Heracles or Hercules as the Romans called him!
So that’s what heroes were, for the most part – children, usually with one divine parent, often Zeus, (who seems to have had a ball, while trying to sire the one Hero, who would save him and his Godly ménage from total annihilation by the Giants as prophesied by Prometheus); who generally displayed some exceptional skill or super-human ability early in childhood; and who, early on in life, had to prove their heroism usually by going on quests considered impossible and designed to kill them, requiring great valor and skill. Most heroes were of royal lineage (Zeus was partial to princesses ;-)) like Perseus, Theseus, Heracles and many suffered early persecution and injustice at the hands of their rulers, who were often cowardly, jealous tyrants, afraid of their courage and strength.
My favourite is Hercules (I prefer the Roman name), not so much for what he accomplished (and he did accomplish it all –slaying lions and giants, chasing hinds, battling the amazons travelling to the end of the world not once but twice, raising the Pillars of Gibraltar, form just a tiny part of all he achieved), but because, you have to admit, the guy had Spunk! You know what I mean? It isn’t easy, being the ‘Chosen One’ (ask Harry!), always having to prove yourself to the Gods while continuously subject to their spite and jealousy. Having your very birth postponed, (just because Hera, wife of Zeus and Queen of Gods had a point to prove), an event that causes you to lose your rightful throne to your cowardly cousin and become his slave! How am I doing so far? Performing twelve labours for said cousin, chosen by the jealous Queen herself, with never a moment’s peace, let alone a simple Thank-you! But then, who would ever think to thank a slave right? Living constantly under the burden of having being born to fulfil a higher purpose, to be of use, at some crucial moment in the future, when the fate of the entire universe is in your hands! But hey, no pressure! So, I forgive him his occasional bouts of anger and arrogance, and focus instead on the fact that he hung in there and did the best he could which was better than most, kept his cool in the face of grave danger, was smart or cunning as the situation demanded, didn’t go looking for a fight just ‘coz he could have won hands down every time, and never shirked a task – just or unjust, which to me are the true hallmarks of a Hero!
There are others of course, Perseus who slew Medusa and Theseus who solved the Labyrinth and killed the Minotaur and Jason the Argonaut who brought back the Golden Fleece and all the Heroes who fought at Troy and many more…but to me Heracles is the ‘One!’. Unique, original, one-of-a-kind – My Hero 🙂
In an aside, another one of my favourite heroes in literature is a namesake; although the two couldn’t be more different, and indeed, both would probably be horrified at the thought of such a comparison. Nevertheless, they are similar in many ways and heroes both to me – take a bow, Hercule Poirot!
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