Heracles

This animation is based on myths of Heracles (Hercules to the Romans).  It is made from a late archaic Athenian black figure vase which depicts Heracles wrestling a water god.

The story was developed by pupils from Addington School, Reading.

about the myth

Heracles was a major figure of classical Greek myth and religion.  As the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Heracles was neither a normal mortal nor an immortal.  The historical Greeks offered him sacrifices, following a tradition that he had been transformed into a deity following his death.  Many Heracles myths involve him defeating monsters.  To some extent these myths can be seen as a metaphor for human civilisation triumphing over difficulties – particularly those difficulties caused by life lived in close proximity to the powerful forces of the natural world.

about the animation

This animation combines two myths.  In the first, Heracles defeats a fish-tailed deity in a wrestling match.  It’s hard to tell images of water deities apart.  Poseidon was the top sea deity but it can't be him because he had legs not a fish-tail.  Many others were thought to exist, including Oceanus, Proteus, Nereus, Triton, and a host of river gods.

It’s most likely that this vase depicts a wrestling match with the river-god Acheloüs, as there are lots of references in ancient literature to Heracles wrestling this powerful deity.  Most describe the fight as a contest for the right to marry the princess Deianeira.  In the ancient play, Women of Trachis, Sophocles (author of Oedipus Rex) gives Deianeira a speech recalling how Heracles defeated the shape-shifting Acheloüs, saving her from an unwanted marriage (Women of Trachis, lines 9-30).  But her marriage to Heracles wasn’t a happy one, and eventually Deianeira unwittingly killed Heracles by smearing his clothes with poisonous blood.

© Trustees of the British Museum. 1929,0513.1

The blood had come from an episode in which Heracles shot a centaur with arrows dipped in the blood of the Hydra.

The myth of the Lernaean Hydra is the other story that has been woven into this animation.  Killing this monster was one of Heracles’ Twelve Labours.  Each time he chopped off one of the Hydra’s heads, two would grow back in its place.  Using intelligence as well as combat skill, Heracles worked with his companion Iolaus to burn the Hydra’s neck-stumps each time a head was chopped off.  With the wounds seared shut, new heads could no longer grow back and the Hydra was defeated.

Images of the defeat of the Hydra and of Heracles’ match with Acheloüs both featured (along with other myths) on a carved throne of Apollo in his sanctuary at Amyclae near Sparta (see Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 3.18.13-16).  Myths always exist in connection to other myths!

Most of the Heracles figure in this animation had to be freshly created, as the vase painter had positioned his body behind that of Acheloüs.  The Heracles on the vase was augmented by sections which reflect other contemporary black figure images of Heracles.  You can see lots of examples here: http://www.theoi.com/greek-mythology/heracles.html

storyboard

Addington school pupils' storyboard compared frame-by-frame with the animation

vase details

Attic, Black figure neck amphora depicting Heracles wrestling Acheloüs or Triton.  Late Archaic, c.525-500BCE.  Ure Museum (Accession Number: 52.3.1).  Unlike the large amphora used in Well-Wishers and Clash of the Dicers this vase is only 16.5 cm tall!

music

The track on this animation is called Nomos M.  It was created by ancient music specialist Professor Conrad Steinmann of Melpomen.

Find out more about ancient music through our blog post on the subject, and in interview with Prof. Steinmann.

© Ure Museum (52.3.1)

further reading

A. Blanshard, Hercules, a Heroic Life, (Granta UK, 2007)

W. Burkert, Greek Religion, (Blackwell, 1985) pp.208-211

E. Stafford, Herakles, in the series 'Gods and Heroes in the Ancient World’ (Routledge, 2012)

follow-up activities

1)  Ask your pupils to imagine a contest between to superheroes they know of.  Ask them to present a short explanation on what they would compete for, how they would compete, and who will win.

2)  Which of Heracles’ labours do your pupils know?  Ask them to write a short creative piece describing one of the labours, or ask them to create a storyboard that depicts its major features.

3)  Ask each of your pupils to create a mythical figure which is half human, half something else.  Have them explain their choices to the rest of the group.

Ure Discovery

Ure Discovery was an innovative Arts Council funded project run at the University of Reading’s Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology in 2013.

Steve worked with staff and students at the University of Reading helping local secondary school groups interpret and respond to the Ure Museum collection.

The pupils created stories, storyboards, and other artwork based on a selection of vases and each storyboard was transformed into an animation made from images of the vase which inspired it.  Ancient art, digital artistry, and teenage imagination combine to retell ancient myths and present new stories.  The Ure Discovery and Ure View animations can be seen alongside their vases via a tablet trail that visitors can take around the museum.

Creative Commons License

Except where otherwise noted, content on www.panoply.org.uk by S.Simons & S.Nevin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.