Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Real Amazons: Hercules wasn't so bad

One of the things that's always bugged me about the silver age origin of Wonder Woman is the role of Hercules. First he is the villain that causes all the troubles for the Amazons, and yet later he becomes a benefactor and gifts Diana with great strength.

This inconsistancy is never addressed in the comic when in fact a little closer adherance to the myth on which it is based would resolve the situation quite nicely. In greek myth one of the twelve tasks of Herakles (1) was to get the girdle (2) of Hippolyta (3) for Admeta, the daughter of king Eurystheus. The girdle was a gift from Ares (4) that signified her authority as queen of the Amazons.

When Hercules arrives the Amazons greet him warmly and Hippolyta comes to his ship to greet him. Upon hearing his request, she agrees to let him take the girdle. Hera (5), however, is not pleased that he is getting off so easy. To stop him, Hera disguises herself as an Amazon and runs through the land, crying that Hercules intends to kidnap their queen. The Amazons charge toward the ship to save Hippolyta. Fearing that Hippolyta has betrayed him, Hercules takes the girdle and escapes. Some versions say he slays Hippolyta, but other myths take up her story beyond this point. Either way, it is here that the Wonder Woman version departs from its myth basis, as in no version does Hercules defeat the amazons in battle or enslave them.

But if the encounter with Hercules is based a little more closely on the mythic version he becomes much less of an aggressor, and the conflict between him and the Amazons becomes a tragic misunderstanding set up by mean old Hera. In this situation it makes sense that once he found out, Hercules would feel tremendous guilt for the trouble he had caused the Amazons, and it would be perfectly reasonable for him to bless the baby Diana. A shame the writers of Wonder Woman never researched the myths the story is based on enough to actually make sense of it.

1. the greek name for Hercules.
2. a sort of belt
3. note that the accepted symbolism of taking a woman's belt meant to have sex with her
4. Ares/Mars was the Amazons' patron in myth
5. Hercules' stepmother


Ragnell said...

I think Perez was trying to not use such as a prominent Goddess as a villainess here. Hera was a major Greek Diety playing the part of petty evil stepmother in that story. Most of the post-crisis continuity portrays Hera as fairly sympathetic, if inactive, and Zeus as a blustering jerk. Showing Hera as so petty so early on would've killed any later sympathy for her.

Plus, I think he liked the twist of using traditionally heroic Heracles as a major villain.

If Marston jused Heracles in the sdame manner (I haven't read enough archives to know), then it makes even more sense. Most stuff I've seen of him indicates he believed firmly in female supremecy. The last thing he'd want to have is a such a negative female stereotype backing Diana's culture.

I prefer it. I think Hera gets a bad rap from the old Heracles stories, turned from the benevolent Queen of Heaven into the paranoid jealous wife who turns her anger in totally the wrong direction.

Axel M. Gruner said...

What about the other Amazons from Greek Mythology?
If I remember correctly, one of their queens by the name of Penthesileia was killed by Achilles just before the fall of Troy.
Does the WW myth use other amazons besides Hippolyte?

Marionette said...

I was getting to Penthesileia. Some versions of Wonder Woman's origin include other mythical amazons, but none consistantly.

Scipio said...

So Marionette, are you going to weigh in on the issue of what Wonder Woman's been doing lately and the future of her mission?

Axel M. Gruner said...

What I am wondering is that the Amazons and even Princess Diana doesn't seem to know anything about the old greek rites, myths and rituals..
Nothing Homerian...
Nothing Pythagorian...
Not even Neo-Pythagorian...

No Magick of the Archons, no Magick of the seven vowels...

Anonymous said...

The original WW creator had to have the slavery bit to bring his bondage theme to the comic.

The Perez revamp kept it that way, I think, to make it a more 'feminist' story, with all the girls wronged by guys, and only guys. (I'm not sure that portraying one sex consistently as 'bad' and one sex as 'good' really promotes equality of the sexes, but whatever. Perez would quickly add some good men and bad women)