Myths and Legends 6
80 pages. Illustrated with custom artwork, historical artwork, archeological photos. Bibliography.
Let's say that you want to have an enjoyable read about Hercules, but you don't want to wade through a dusty tome on Greek and Roman mythology. This book is for you.
The author, Fred Van Lente, previously worked on the Incredible Hercules series for Marvel Comic. While not a mythological scholar, he brings enthusiasm to the task, writes well, and has done his research.
A three-page introduction tells a bit about the subject and the author, and makes the point:
You don't know Hercules. Worse, you think you do, but you're wrong.
His point being that the Hercules of legend is not the heroic strongman readers may be familiar with, but a figure who embodies all the strengths and weaknesses of manhood. Yes, Hercules personifies the original toxic masculinity.
A sidebar discusses the sources available to scholars, and that the author is resolving (or ignoring) inconsistencies in order to construct a cohesive narrative.
A 13-page chapter, King of Thebes, explains the basics of Greek mythology, explains the circumstances of Hercules' semi-divine birth, and covers his life up to the point where he slays his own family in a fit of 'divine madness'. Sidebars cover Hercules' brother Iphicles, Hercules in classical drama, and Hercules in astronomy.
The next 17-page chapter, Eurystheus and the Labors, explains that Hercules must atone for his crimes by performing a series of heroic feats (the Labors of Hercules), while the Greek gods interfere one way or the other. A map shows the location of all of the Labors. This chapter covers the first four Labors, plus Hercules' voyage with the Argonauts. A sidebar discusses Hercules as sex symbol, and a two-page illustration depicts Hercules, allied with Athena, fighting Hera, Poseidon, Hades and Ares.
A 13-page chapter, Return to the Labors, covers five more of the Labors, with a sidebar on Hercules in the movies.
The Final Labors (13 pages) shows Hercules completing the Labors and earning his redemption. A sidebar covers Hercules in the comic books.
According to prophecy, Hercules will someday save the world. In The Living Legend (14 pages), the author covers the great battle of the Greek gods versus the giants, where Hercules saves the day and is reconciled with all of the gods. He has further adventures until, tricked by a centaur, he is poisoned. In great pain, he commits suicide by throwing himself on his own funeral pyre. He awakens to find himself admitted to godhood in Olympus (depicted in a two-page illustration). A sidebar covers Hercules on television.
A three-page final chapter, Hercules the God, discusses the ancient worship of Hercules, and whether he should be considered god or demigod.
Alexey Aparin did the custom illustrations for this book. The style is somewhat cartoony, and the level of detail varies considerably.
I found this to be a quick read and fun reference. Recommended.
Book is available in print and ePub formats.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .