Sexuality and Relationships that are in Greek Mythology, But not in the Disney Cartoon

It is common to see sexual relationships in Greek myths between cousins, siblings, parents, and aunts/uncles. In today’s society that is extremely frowned upon and because of the awkwardness and uncomfortable feel this topic makes individuals feel it is a topic not often discussed. This is something adults wouldn’t choose to see, hear, or watch, let alone allow their children too. Disney’s Hercules lacks these frowned upon relationships probably because of their obscurity. Some incestuous relationships in Greek mythology include:

  • Zeus and Hera (brother and sister)
  • Cronus and Rhea (brother and sister – Titans)
  • Nyx and Erebus (brother and sister – Titans)
  • Myrrha and Theias (daughter and father)
  • Peresphone and Hades (niece and uncle)

I will be focusing on Zeus and Hera because they are the parents of Hercules and I will also throw in the myth revolved around Myrrha and Theias. Although Myrrha and Theias are not included in Disney’s Hercules they signify the explicit relationships that the many of the Gods had.

Disney's depiction of Hermes

Disney’s depiction of Hermes

Zeus and Hera were siblings from the Titans. The joined together and produced many offspring: Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Dionysus, Perseus, and Hercules. Zeus was known for his erotic escapades and had more children as a result of this: Peresphone by Demeter and the Muses by Mnemsoyne. Many of Zeus’ children as a result of incest and adultery are present in Disney’s Hercules, but they are not portrayed as his children. Instead they are given amusing/entertaining qualities that exclude their explicit reasons for existence, they are seen as friends and assistants of Zeus instead of his children. Click here to see a video of the Disney Gods and Goddesses that are children of Zeus, but not acknowledged for it. 

The Greek myth of Myrrha and her father Theias is one that the Disney movie completely excluded from the film Hercules, except for one character soon to be revealed. The severity of their relationship proves the explicit behaviors of many Greek Gods. Myrrha was the daughter of Theias; she committed incest with him and bore the son Adonis. After having intercourse with her father she became impregnated. Aphrodite was included in this myth for the belief that she urged Myrrha to commit incest with her father (Aphrodite being included in the Disney movie). When Theias heard of his daughters pregnancy he chased her with a knife. She fled to the gods who turned her into a myrrh tree until their son was born. Myrrha gave birth to her son Adonis in tree form.

420px-'Birth_of_Adonis',_oil_on_copper_painting_by_Marcantonio_Franceschini,_c._1685-90,_Staatliche_Kunstsammlungen,_Dresden

Myrrha giving birth to Adonis as a Myrrh Tree

The Uncles of Hercules: Poseidon and Hades

In the original Greek myths Poseidon and Hades are Hercules uncles, like in the Disney reproduction. Theses characters resemble much of their mythological counterparts, with a few critical exceptions:

Hades and his forced wife Peresphone

Hades and his forced wife Peresphone

Hades often drew with his brothers Zeus and Poseidon for shares of the world. He ended up getting the worst end of the stick, his draw made him lord of the underworld. In his myths he is greedy, unpitying, terrible, and manipulative – much like in the Disney movie. The myths also spoke of Hades tendency to favor those who increase the amounts of deaths. He paid particular attention to the Erinnyes. There were three of them: Tisiphone, Alecto, and Megaera (the woman that Hercules falls in love with in the Disney movie shares this name – coincidence?). They pursued wrong does until death; they were often the cause for suicide – not directly related in the Disney movie. The Erinnyes were not represented in the movie, maybe because of the fact that they were violent and caused events that were less than favorable for a children’s movie, so instead Disney put the mythological creatures known as Fates at Hades right wing instead.

images

Disney’s Depiction of Hades

The Fates are three old sisters responsible for deciding one’s destiny. An intriguing aspect of them, which may have been influential in Disney’s choice to use these Greek Gods instead of the Errinyes, was that they shared a single eye. Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis measures the lot in life and determines how long their life will be, and Atropos cuts the thread of life at the individual’s death. Now this doesn’t exactly sound Disney, they’re responsible for death! But Disney has it’s way of making it more child appropriate, see this video.

Disney's Depictions of Poseidon

Disney’s Depictions of Poseidon

Poseidon was the God of the sea and he protected all waters. He is known as the second strongest Greek God, next to Zeus. His weapon was a trident that could shake the earth and destroy any object. There is a myth that claims Poseidon once tried to woo Demeter and in his attempts he attempted to create the most beautiful animal – which turned out to be a horse. In the Hercules movie Poseidon’s presence isn’t greatly evident. But there were a few, minimal, important remarks between him and Hades that represents their quarrelling relationship.

The important temple on the Akroppolis, the Erechtheion stands on the mythical site that connects the sea god (Poseidon) and Athena for patronage over Athens. Poseidon was known to be greedy and quarrelsome when he tried to take over other Gods cities. During this contest between him and Athena, Poseidon struck rock with his trident, creating a spout of water. Athena defeated him in this contest by giving Athens an olive tree. The Athenians enclosed this sacred rock in the Erechtheion’s north porch.

The Erectheion

The Erechtheion

The Comparison of a Mythological Battle and a Disney Battle

After reading the previous post and hopefully gaining a sense of understanding when it comes to Greek mythology, we see that Zeus and his battles play a major role this cultures myths. As we have read, he is the savior of the Sky Gods and the God of all Gods, now we will focus on a few wars that he was involved in while keeping Disney’s Hercules in mind for comparison.

Before getting into detail about the wars involving the Gods, click here to view the Disney interpretation of these in order to keep it in mind for comparison.

Looking at this battle between the Titans vs. Hercules and the Sky Gods in Disney’s Hercules we can’t find a single relatable mythological event. Rather, there are numerous myths that seem to have been joined to create the entertaining Disney battle. Two of these mythological events that we’ll look at are The Titan War and The War of the Giants.

The Titan War is something we have already reviewed. It was the battle between Zeus and the rest of the Sky Gods vs. their parents, aunts and uncles (the Titans). A war ensued and the Sky Gods came out victorious, imprisoning the Titans in a pit called Tartarus. In the Disney film, Titans are released from a pit known as Tartarus – although the titans are depicted incorrectly (according to Greek myth). Once the Titans are released they focus their efforts towards revenge on Zeus for locking them up.

Comparison of Disney's battle

Comparison of Disney’s interpretation and the actual myth

Athena Attacking the Giants

Athena Attacking the Giants. Notice the serpent-like features of the giants. Picture copied from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giants_(Greek_mythology)

The Greek myth of The War of the Giants describes a war between Giants born from the earth who’s father was Tartaros (the pit). These giants made war on the God, but were destroyed in battle with the help of Herakles. These Giants were depicted as warriors dressed in armor barring spears and flaming torches. In sculptures they were sculpted with serpent tails for legs. There are related myths describing storm giants, one having the name Typhoeus. He was an immortal storm giant who was imprisoned by Zeus in the pit of Tartaros. He was responsible for storm winds. In Disney’s Hercules the “titans” that are released seem to be very similar to these giants or storm giants. The appearance of the titans can be described as giant and can most definitely be seen as storm causing.

Comparison of Disney's interpretation and the actual myth

Comparison of Disney’s interpretation and the actual myth

So as we can see, a collaboration of these two myths has occurred in the Disney movie, Hercules. Soon I will focus on the Gods involved in these battles and their characteristics compared to Disney’s depiction of them.

An Introduction to Greek Mythology and the Foundation of Modern Day-Mythical Entertainment

If we’re getting into Greek mythology we need to understand the origin of the Gods and their myths:

“According to ancient greek legend, the creation of the world involved a battle between the earth gods, called titans, and the sky gods. The victors were the sky gods, whose home was believed to be atop the Mount Olympos in the northeast corner of the Greek mainland.” – excerpt from Marilyn Stockstad, Art: A Brief History, 5th Edition

This war between the sky gods and the titans was known as titanomachy. It continued on for a long 10 years. But before we get into more detail of this epic battle, understanding the reasons behind it would prove to bring a sense of clarity.

Kronos and Rhae with their new born child. Notice the facial expressions on the two. Rhae lacks a smile while Kronos; face is haunted with one.

Kronos and Rhae with their new born child. Notice the facial expressions on the two. Rhae lacks a smile while Kronos; face is haunted with one.

The titans and sky gods were all relatives, it was a battle consisting of aunts/uncles/parents vs. nieces/nephews/children – intriguing, right? There were 12 titans that were ruling, six brothers and six sisters. Each brother paired up with a sister and produced children (this is what they don’t show in our Disney’s Hercules). The titan pair that proves to be most significant of this story is between Kronos (Saturn or Father of Gods) and Rhae (Mother of Gods). Kronos was told by his parents (Earth and Sky) that he would be defeated by one of his children. So he did what he thought was a logical solution – he swallowed each child as soon as they were born (see what I mean by grotesque and explicit?). Because the children were immortal, this did not kill them – Kronos’ logical solution proved to be not-so-logical after all.

Rhae grieved the loss of her children and she searched for a means to prevent further grief. Before the birth of another child (the mighty Zeus), she went to the island of Crete. Here she gave birth to him and hid his cries with the banging of weapons so Kronos would not know about his whereabouts. Instead of giving him a child to swallow she gave him a stone wrapped in cloth. Expecting it to be a child, he swallowed it without any thought.

Zeus grew strong very quickly, and not long after his birth he was able to force Kronos to throw up his siblings. Now this has to be the finest example of sibling love, agreed? This is where the battle originated – straight from the gut of their father to the battlefield. The sons and daughters of the titans (aka, the Sky Gods) versus the their parents (the Titans).

Greek God family tree that illustrates the relations between the Olympians and the Titans. Image found here

Greek God family tree that illustrates the relations between the Olympians and the Titans.

A GIF of Disney's Hercules Titans displayed as an animation of the common ancient greek pottery and paintings

A GIF of Disney’s Hercules Titans displayed as an animation of the common ancient greek pottery and paintings

Now venturing back to how this is all related to modern day entertainment, we can see a battle similar to this near the ending of Disney’s Hercules. Although this is a revengeful attack, it does illustrate the battle that once occurred between the two groups and it focuses on the significance that Zeus played because of the repetition of “Zeus” coming from the newly released Titans. In Greek mythology these titans took human shapes. They were much larger and more extravagant, but they did not take the forms of earth elements – like in Disney’s Hercules. Cyclope is the one titan who is appropriately resembled (in a sense). Contrasting with the original myths and this children’s movie, Cyclope was a titan who had actually helped Zeus with the take down of the titans. The portrayal of this Cyclope’s fighting against him is incorrect and is used to enhance the audience’s entertainment.

Now that we’ve established where the Greek Gods came from and understand some of their disturbing backgrounds we can get into further detail about how they were depicted in ancient art and how they are now viewed.

Sources:                                                                                                                                                  Greek God family tree found here                                                                                                       Kronos and Rhae found here                                                                                                            Hercules’ Titan GIF found here                                                                                                             Ideas gathered from here