And now for something a little different: we revisit Disney’s classic 1997 film Hercules! Unlike when we were 5, we now have plenty of booze in hand to explore what Disney got right and got wrong with Greek mythology. We review how the 90s were a WILD time, play 20 questions of Zeus fuckery, and realize the past is probably FULL of bad smells.
This week, Amanda recommends seeing Captian Marvel (then reading lots of good good fic!)
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: ... and I'm Julia.
Amanda: ... and this is episode 121, Myth Movie Night: Hercules.
Julia: I'm very excited to try something new with the Myth Movie Night. It was a great suggestion by our good, good friend, Eric Silver, and I think it's gonna be a lot of fun.
Amanda: Absolutely. We talk a little bit about the origins and why we're so stoked in the actual episode, so for now I'm gonna just tease it and let you enjoy that in a few minutes. But for now, we would love to welcome people who we would invite first to any Myth Movie Night in the future, our newest patrons: Kelly, Taylor, Sophia, Teal, Elise, and Teagan.
Julia: Y'all are wonderful. And you know who brought the popcorn, Amanda?
Amanda: Our supporting level producers. Gosh, we can rely on them for just about anything. Phillip, Julie, Eeyore, Samantha, Christopher, Alicia, Kathy, Vinnie, Danica, Marisa, Sammy, Josie, Neil, Jessica, Phil Fresh, and Deborah.
Julia: They are fantastic. They brought the popcorn. But our legend level patrons are the ones who snuck in booze in their pockets and their wallets and flasks.
Amanda: Yes. Truly the most advanced maneuver. Thank you very, very much to Hailey, Sarah P, James, Jess, Sarah, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie, and Leanne.
Julia: We are inviting you over to every movie night, not just the myth ones.
Amanda: And speaking of movie night, Julia, I know that you are already on this train. But I want to make sure that every single Spirits listener goes out to see Captain Marvel. That's my recommendation for the week.
Julia: It's very, very, very, very good.
Amanda: It is so, so good. I snuck a generous old fashioned into the movie theater in my thermos. That's my new move. Not a flask, but a thermos with ice in it, that way it stays cold.
Amanda: And I actually didn't even drink it because I was so enraptured by the movie. I just didn't need it. I loved it. I loved it so, so much. I love origin stories. I thought this was a really fascinating take on it. I loved the friendship in the middle of the movie. That was really kind of its emotional center. I love all of the cameos from people we didn't expect. My favorite S.H.I.E.L.D agent was there and it was just the absolute best. I was kind of nervous because I was worried that it would be bad when I was so excited for it, but I loved it so, so much, and I think everybody should go out and see it once, twice, maybe three times.
Julia: Yeah. I 100% agree, Amanda. Excellent recommendation. Highly recommend Captain Marvel. I kept calling it Miss Marvel. It's Captain Marvel.
Amanda: Captain Marvel. I know. Gotta refer to her by her military rank, much like we did with Dr. Emily Wilson last episode.
Amanda: We'd also love to thank our sponsors for this episode. Care/of will give you 50% off your first month of personalized vitamins with the code SPIRITS50. And Zola, where you can make a free wedding website and get $50 off your registry at zola.com/spirits.
Julia: And Amanda, I know we mentioned this in the episode, but we were drinking heavy this episode.
Amanda: Oh, we sure were. Straight whiskey for me, straight gin for you. Straight gin is such a move.
Julia: I mentioned in the episode what my gin was. Would you like to share what your whiskey was?
Amanda: Yes. I was drinking some small batch seasonal whiskey from Van Brunt Stillhouse, which is right here in Brooklyn, and it's like a smokey campfire whiskey, so it is sort of that flavor that you might like from a good scotch, but not quite as intense, for people like me who prefer a smoother bourbon-style whiskey.
Julia: Very, very nice.
Amanda: Totally delish. And finally this week, we would love to invite you to invite a friend over for a myth movie night. Watch the movie together, laugh, have fun, and then show them how to subscribe to Spirits so that you can enjoy our reactions to the movie, and have a friend where you can do a little podcast day every week together.
Julia: Yeah, we've said a million times this podcast came out of the fact that Amanda and I just liked talking about death and mythology over cocktails, and we know that if you're listening to this, you probably enjoy the same thing. So rope your friends in, tell them about the show, and we're gonna keep growing and keep loving.
Amanda: Absolutely. So, without further ado, enjoy Spirits Podcast episode 121, Myth Movie Night: Hercules.
Julia: So, Amanda, much of our college experience was we lived separately. I lived in Boston, you lived in New York, so we would do a lot of joint watching of things, either over Skype or via text or what have you.
Amanda: Yeah. What I really appreciate, Julia, is that we didn't necessarily talk every day. We might have talked once a week when we were both super busy, but it was enough. And when we saw each other, it was just back to BFF levels. But watching stuff with you and being extremely drinking and sassy about 1776 or whatever are among my favorite memories.
Julia: They are mine as well, my friend. We, in the past couple of episodes of Spirits, have mentioned the Disney film, Hercules, and every time I mention it, Amanda looks at me and she's like, "I've never seen that," or, "It's been 20-something years since I've seen that." And I decided it was time to rectify that. So today's episode of Spirits is about Hercules, but not necessarily about ... well, we're gonna talk about Disney's Hercules, and then what's wrong with it. There's so many things wrong with it.
Amanda: But there are also so many things right.
Julia: Yeah, that's true.
Amanda: Historically, I can't speak to the accuracy. But it was extremely entertaining and we're also being sure to choose our strongest, most godly drinks, i.e. straight whiskey for me, straight gin for Julia.
Julia: Yeah. I am currently enjoying the Dogfish Head Whole Leaf Gin, which if you know Dogfish Head, they make mostly beer, but then my mother-in-law moved down to Delaware where Dogfish Head is located, and all of a sudden I was drinking all of their whiskey and all of their gin and all of their mixed drinks, 'cause they make those.
Amanda: Delicious. I love a brewery that can do both.
Julia: So, Amanda, I want kind of your first impressions as we go into this movie. What are your thoughts kinda going into it?
Amanda: Well first, starting with the metadata, as I am wont to do.
Amanda: Netflix only said this was a 60% match for me, to which I say, how dare you? How dare you, Netflix? I also respect that this movie is a tight 90. It is a tight 90 minutes, 93 I think, with credits and everything. But I extremely appreciate that. I think all TV shows should be half an hour and all movies should be 90 minutes, and I highly, highly appreciate it.
Julia: I like that you just don't have time for more. You're just like, "Mmm, no. It's not gonna happen. I'm sorry."
Amanda: You know, I just feel like the storytelling would be tighter. In the same way that we rarely let Spirits go over an hour because we really want to keep it fun and our best throughout the whole episode.
Amanda: I just feel like a tight 90 makes you make better storytelling decisions.
Julia: I can understand that, and I agree with it. Not necessarily the case in Disney's Hercules. We'll talk about it later. But I appreciate your dedication to the craft.
Amanda: Thank you. My first actual impression of the movie was that the Muses are amazing, and I loved this convention of doing the storytelling via a museum. And as you know, it is my genuine life's goal to be alone in a museum after closing, so ...
Julia: I know. We need to do that for you at some point. Amanda, what do you know about the Muses besides what you're seeing in Hercules?
Julia: Okay. I'm kinda surprised by that, 'cause they seem up your alley.
Amanda: Obviously I know they they're a noun and I assume that that comes from some kind of actual origin. And I have some vague idea that they specialize, like literature versus art versus music, but that's all I got.
Julia: Yeah. I smiled very big and nodded my head when Amanda said that, because she's right. In Greek mythology, there are nine Muses. They are the daughters of Zeus and the Titan goddess of memory, Mnemosyne. Each Muse has a specific domain, as you said. Anything from epic poetry, song, history, love poetry, tragedy, dance, hymns, comedy, and astronomy.
Amanda: Astronomy. I love that there is such a specific Muse.
Julia: Yeah. Nowadays that's more of a science, but the fact that it was kind of mixed in with all of these artsy things, I really, really enjoy. Typically, you can tell which Muse is which in art by the prop that they held, but because in Hercules they have no props, I could not tell you which Muses are represented.
Julia: So the first scene that our Muses kind of talk about is the fact that ... it's basically the origin of the world for Greek mythology, which Disney does in a very fun and song-filled way, but it is not super accurate.
Amanda: Well, it's a little accurate.
Amanda: Well, my first question during the film was, were the Titans really such terrorizing forces before Zeus fixed things? Because I don't know if Zeus is a fixer of things, more of a causer of problems, so I would love to hear the actual mythological story of the world being created.
Julia: Okay. So as we've discussed in past episodes, Zeus was the youngest of his siblings and the youngest son of Rhea and Cronus, who were both Titans. Cronus swallowed all of his children because of a prophecy said that one of his sons would kill him. Rhea hid Zeus on Earth and he was raised by a goat, fun fact. When he became an adult, he returned to fight his father and the other Titans.
Julia: Interestingly, the plot talks about how Zeus traps the Titans in some sort of vault. Cronus actually locked up the cyclopes ... which are technically Zeus's half siblings ... in a dungeon in Tartarus, which is a deep abyss far below Hades ... the place, not Hades the person ... that was closed by an iron gate. So when the Titans were defeated with the help of the cyclopes, they were in turn locked in Tartarus. So Disney actually got that part right a little bit.
Julia: I do want to clarify, as you asked, the difference between the Titans and the Olympians. The Titans were actually the second generation of divine beings in Greek mythology. So there were the primordial deities, the first gods and goddesses born out of the void of Chaos, such as Gaea and Uranus. They gave birth to the Titans, such as Thetis, Rhea, Oceanus, and Cronus. From them specifically, Rhea and Cronus, the Olympians were born. So they're really not terrible in any sense. There are specific Titans that are distinctly monstrous, and we'll talk a little bit about them and their children later on in this episode, but Titans like Thetis and Cronus and Rhea were not monstrous any more than our Olympian gods were.
Amanda: But they present them as giants that are quite elemental and quite destructive, versus the perfect glowy forms of the Olympians.
Julia: Right. And honestly, that's probably more accurate to what the primordial gods and goddesses looked like, where Gaea, for instance, was literally the earth. Uranus was literally the sky. So they were far more elemental and almost natural compared to the more human-like gods of the Olympians and to some extent, the Titans.
Amanda: I mean, I understand. You're doing a lot of lifting in a song-filled animated sequence and I feel like it didn't impact my enjoyment of the film or my understanding of Hercules in context at all. But that's what we're here for, is to learn about all these kind of mythological invitations to learn more that the film gives us.
Julia: Right. And it's so much easier to other the "monsters" of the film early on by making them look like giant monsters.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: When it's just these like, these kids fought their parents, it's much less interesting.
Amanda: Yeah. And a scary grandparent is less scary than a scary monster.
Julia: A giant mountain or living tornado.
Julia: So we get to the modern day times, where Zeus has defeated the Titans and is now king of the gods, and we are introduced to the birth of Hercules. Fun fact, Hercules, not the Greek name.
Julia: We're gonna use in interchangeably in this episode because I have a lot of gin in my body right now and it's gonna be a pain to distinguish, but the Greek name is Heracles and it means "glory of Hera," which is ironic. I mean, we'll talk about it later. Unlike what the movie lays out, Hercules was not born a full god, but rather a demigod. And of course, Hera was not his real mother, because if we know anything about Zeus, it's that he fucks around.
Amanda: Yeah. And he would be born a full god if Hera was his mom.
Julia: So because they decide to go the route of, "Yo, Hera is his mom and he's a full god," they have to create this kind of subplot where Hades takes away his godlike powers.
Amanda: Okay. I mean, I get it. I get it in a filmmaking sense that you want to have Hades invested in this kid's birth and his hubris and his servants being bad at their job leads to what actually happens. But why is he named after Hera? Just because Zeus is like, "Fuck you, that's not your mom"?
Julia: So Zeus had very little to do with it, actually. And I think so-
Amanda: For once.
Julia: Hercules is actually the child of Zeus and a woman named Alcmene. She is an absolute badass. She deserves a moment for us to just take some time to talk about her. Her name means "strong in wrath."
Julia: The movie did it right because she is actually married to a man named Amphitryon and she is the granddaughter of Perseus and Andromeda.
Julia: Do you recognize those names?
Amanda: Perseus I know from the YA book and Andromeda I know from ...
Julia: Harry Potter?
Amanda: ... the show.
Julia: Yeah. Perseus and Andromeda ... you might remember Andromeda was strung up after her mom said, "Oh, yeah. She's prettier than the gods," and then the kraken attacked and Perseus had to fight them off and he was able to do that by cutting off our good dear friend Medusa's head.
Amanda: Perseus, even though your butt looks good in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the statue with Medusa holding your head is much better.
Julia: It is. Can confirm.
Julia: So she was described as the tallest, most beautiful woman, with wisdom that was surpassed by no person born of mortal parents.
Julia: It is said that her face and dark eyes were as charming as Aphrodite's.
Amanda: You know, these days we're told like, there's no one that's objectively the best. You do you, you're here to fully self realize and be yourself. She sounds like actually the best, though.
Julia: She's very, very cool. I like her a lot. So my question, Amanda, is can you take a guess as to how Hercules was actually born?
Amanda: Conceived or born?
Julia: Well, conceived.
Amanda: Oh, so many options. Okay, let's do a round of ten questions of Zeus fuckery.
Amanda: Was he in animal form ...
Amanda: For the conception? Okay, phew. All right. Did he disguise himself as a mortal?
Amanda: Was he in a position of power over the woman that he impregnated?
Julia: Kind of.
Amanda: Did he lie or engineer a scenario in which he could bed her?
Julia: Yes he did.
Amanda: Oh, baby. Oh, we're getting close. Did she think that she was saving the world or someone else because she slept with Zeus?
Amanda: Or the guy.
Amanda: Did he promise her something if she slept with him?
Julia: He did not.
Amanda: Well, not quite as exploitative as I feared, but I think that's as close as I'm gonna get, so tell me the story.
Julia: Okay. Alcmene's husband, Amphitryon, accidentally killed her father, Electryone and her brothers were killed as well. So she tasked her husband to avenge-
Amanda: Proton and Neutron?
Julia: Yes, Proton and Neutron. That was a good good joke.
Amanda: Maybe the dumbest joke since Toyota tree.
Julia: It was very, very good.
Amanda: On this day…
Julia: The gin makes me giggly, so you're winning me over here. So she tasked her husband to avenge her brothers and be purified after killing her husband. So while he was off doing this, Zeus transformed himself into Amphitryon and seduced Alcmene in that form ...
Julia: ... telling her stories about how he avenged her brothers.
Amanda: Did not see that one coming. I should have asked, did he pose as someone in her life.
Julia: Yeah. He transformed one night into three, and in their time together, they conceived Hercules. When Amphitryon returned home the following night, Alcmene told him that he had already been home, and then Amphitryon found out that it was Zeus from the blind prophet of Apollo, Tiresias. So that is how Hercules was conceived. And I think that Alcmene knew that it was Zeus, so she was like, "Maybe if I name him 'glory to Hera,' we'll be good. Maybe she won't be pissed."
Amanda: I respect it. I respect it, though.
Julia: She didn't know. She didn't know at the time.
Amanda: No. They've both been wronged by Zeus. That is the great lie of history, that women wrong each other. We rarely do.
Julia: I also want to make note that Hera did not have a lot of children with Zeus. I feel like we might have talked about this a little bit. But the ones that she did have were not the most honorable of the gods. Ares, for instance, was the child of Zeus and Hera, was well known for his cowardice in Greek mythology. Hephaestus was also an interesting one that Hera gave birth to. In most versions, she was super jealous of Zeus for giving birth to Athena on his own, so she decided to do the same and gave birth the Hephaestus, and there's two versions of the story. One where Hera looks good and one where she doesn't. So in one version, Hephaestus is born imperfect. Hera rejects him, tosses him off Mount Olympus, and he is injured. In another version, Zeus is furious and doesn't believe that Hera gave birth on her own, and tosses Hephaestus off Olympus himself.
Amanda: So either way, Hephaestus suffers, unfortunately.
Julia: Yes. I believe that Hephaestus loses a leg and then replaces it with a mechanical one that he builds himself.
Amanda: I mean, ingenuity.
Julia: Yeah. And he gains his own traction on Olympus and is honored as one of the Olympians when he starts making Zeus his signature lightning bolts.
Amanda: Also, true fact, the first piece of fan fiction I ever wrote was a historical real person fiction-ship between Alexander the Great and his best friend, and probably lover, Hephaestus.
Julia: I love it. Thank you for that detail. It's perfect.
Amanda: You're very welcome.
Julia: We next see that Zeus, in the movie ... 'cause we're still talking about the movie ... gifts Pegasus to Hercules. Fun fact, did you know that Pegasus is not the name for all flying horses, but rather this one specific flying horse?
Amanda: I think I did know that somewhere in my brain, but I still find it adorable. Also, my brothers and sisters can confirm this, but I'm pretty sure we had a little Pegasus action figure, maybe as a McDonald's toy, when we were little.
Julia: Yeah. I was gonna say, I think it was a McDonald's toy. I remember having that, too. So Pegasus is the actual name of the horse. The species of winged horse in Greek is called pterippus ...
Amanda: Oh, wow.
Julia: ... with a silent P, like pterodactyl.
Amanda: Oh, cute.
Julia: So Pegasus is the child of Poseidon, actually, because Poseidon created the horse.
Amanda: Yes, coming back to me.
Julia: And he was birthed from Medusa's blood when Perseus decapitated her. Because as we talked about in the Medusa myth, Medusa was raped by Poseidon. Pegasus would fetch thunder and lightning for Zeus when he was in battle. He is actually captured by the hero Bellerophon in order to defeat the chimera, but Bellerophon falls off of Pegasus, returning to Olympus, and falls to his death. Pegasus is actually transformed into a constellation after this. We can talk about the importance of constellations in the Disney movie at some point, but ...
Julia: ... it's very, very cool. And then we are introduced to Hades, who is played by James Wood, who is an awful, awful human being. That is just not even ...
Amanda: Yeah. No argument.
Julia: He sucks. Fun fact about Greek mythology, Hades never wanted to rise up against the Olympians. In fact, he actually very rarely meddled in the nonsense that the rest of the gods were pulling. Giving him Pain and Panic, which we see later on when he's descending down to the underworld, is actually a really interesting choice because they're clearly inspired by Deimos, who is dread, and Phobos, which is fear, and they were the children of Ares and Aphrodite, who would ride alongside Ares in battle, specifically to spread fear before and during a battle. Is that interesting?
Amanda: That is. I mean, unfortunately the crimes against civilians and in fear mongering this information, all of these tactics are still utilized because that is ... It's not just equal foes on a battleground figuring stuff out. And it makes sense, and is sort of poetic in a way, that it was this kind of emotional manipulation and additional, non-physical, just person-to-person stuff that was being utilized as early as then.
Julia: Fun fact, Ares had two other children who were both daughters. I believe their names were Eros and Eos, and they were strife and chaos, who also rode into battle with him. We are then introduce to the Fates, which are also known as the Moirai in Greek mythology. They're not terribly far off in this portrayal, I guess. They were known as the spinner, the allotter, and the unturnable, which is a metaphor for death. They control the threat of life for every mortal from birth to death and no god or mortal could influence their decisions, as we could see with them cutting the string of life of that woman as they're introduced, and later on in the film as well trying to cut Hercules's and it doesn't work. They all had eyes of their own, though. The sharing the eye thing is an interesting little twist, but not canonical to the mythology whatsoever.
Amanda: Yeah. I was like, "Oh, is that one eye gonna be misplaced or distracted?" Nope, that's just for flavor.
Julia: Just for fun. Just for funsies. They were also said to appear the three nights after a child's birth to determine the course of its life in the Greek mythology version. We see Amphitryon and Alcmene do end up raising Hercules after he is kidnapped by Pain and Panic from Mount Olympus and his godhood is drained, except for his powerful, powerful strength.
Amanda: Yeah. Those were my questions. Was he really a strong baby? But if he was never a god demoted to a mortal then I guess he just was a demigod with some godly and some human sensibilities.
Julia: Yeah. So, I do want to talk about that a little bit. Hercules was well known for his extraordinary strength, his courage, his ingenuity, and of course, obviously, his sexual prowess with both men and women.
Amanda: Damn. Of course Hercules was bi. He's great and cute and wears lots of sandals.
Julia: BiCon, BiCon, right here.
Amanda: Historical BiCon, I love it.
Julia: I will say the only other inaccuracy of the raising of Hercules is that Alcmene was the daughter of a king and Amphitryon was also pretty high ranking, so they probably weren't just farmers hanging out ...
Julia: ... in the Greek suburbs, I guess.
Amanda: But Julia, we have to see them get their really impressive house behind their original house at the end of the movie.
Julia: It is very cute. Quick note, too. The donkey/mule that they have in the scene where they're going to the marketplace is actually named Penelope, which is Odysseus's wife in Greek mythology.
Julia: Which, God bless Penelope. She had to deal with all those suitors for those 30 years where Odysseus was just not around.
Amanda: I also believe that when they were deciding which movie to make next at Disney, a adaptation of The Odyssey was one of the choices. So instead they went with Hercules, but maybe that was a little callback.
Julia: Interesting. I'm curious how they would have gotten away with Odysseus's bullshit.
Amanda: Don't know. Don't know.
Julia: We also get one of my favorite songs that always makes me tear up in this segment, which is Go the Distance.
Amanda: Yes. I know. It's a very catchy melody and made me think of the song that makes me tear up every time, How Far I'll Go from Moana.
Julia: Yep. They're very similar in both message and melody, I guess. Yeah.
Amanda: Well, it's the "I want" song and it's their call to adventure, as we learned in the Hero's Journey episode.
Julia: That is true. Hercules finds out that his parents aren't his real parents, which is only half true in the real Greek myth. So he decides to go to the Temple of Zeus, and seeing Zeus in weird statue form. Zeus tells Hercules that-
Amanda: Like Abraham Lincoln.
Julia: Like Abraham Lincoln. It is very Abraham Lincoln-esque. It is weird.
Julia: In seeing Zeus, Zeus tells Hercules that only gods can live on Mount Olympus.
Amanda: A, Zeus just shows up. He's like, "Oh, hello son. So glad you came here into the ten-foot radius where I can sense humans, much less the rest of your life where you've been living in a field one day's walk from here."
Julia: I think he needed to discover his path. I don't know. It's hero's journey bullshit. But he couldn't have just been like, "Yo, I'm a goat. I'm gonna talk to my son now."
Amanda: I don't know. I mean, clearly Zeus doesn't mind jumping into people's bodies for funsies, so ...
Julia: That's true.
Julia: So Zeus tells Hercules that only gods live on Mount Olympus, which is super not true.
Julia: One of the key examples, Amanda, is Ganymede, who is a hero from Troy. Ganymede was a mortal. He was hot. Zeus fell in love with him. Zeus transformed into an eagle and just swooped up, grabbed him, took him to Mount Olympus ...
Amanda: Oh yes.
Julia: ... and now he's his cup bearer.
Amanda: Yes. Eagle husband.
Julia: Eagle husband.
Amanda: Not even eagle husband. Eagle boss.
Julia: Not a god, living on Mount Olympus. Way to make an exception for your lover and not your child, Zeus.
Amanda: Yikes. Bringing up all kinds of adult child's feelings in me. Oh boy.
Julia: There's also some true hero nonsense, which is not accurate to the mythology at all, and we'll talk a little bit why Hercules has to do all of his heroic tasks in the mythology, but hint: it's not to make his father proud, I guess.
Amanda: Okay, so yeah, this is like the kinda emotional crux of the whole movie, which is Hercules needs to be willing not just to do heroic stuff that makes him look good, but to sacrifice himself for others and that makes him a true hero. That's a wonderful moral, but it doesn't have any standing, you're saying, in the Hercules origin story.
Julia: It is. It's a great Disney trope that mythology clearly did not mirror back in the day.
Julia: So we go to meet Philoctetes, who is played by Danny DeVito.
Amanda: He's so painfully Danny DeVito. I'm like, "Oh, Danny DeVito's in this movie." There's some actors where you just know from the jump.
Julia: Oh man. So I'm gonna put this out here first. He's not a satyr. In mythology, Philoctetes, not a satyr. Satyrs, I will say, are nature spirits that have horse-like features. Goat features are fawns.
Amanda: Right. But less cool to say.
Julia: Less cool to say. But Philoctetes, in the real Greek mythology, is the prince of Thessaly.
Julia: He's an archer who participated in the Trojan War, 'cause he was one of the suitors of Helen.
Amanda: Wow. And he didn't train all these heroes?
Julia: So there's an interesting thing. Philoctetes, on the way to the Battle of Troy, he was stranded for a minute on this island called Lemnos by the Greeks. Basically he got either bitten by a snake or injured in some way, but he was left behind. The Greeks wanted nothing to do with him. Apparently his injury smelled so bad, they were just like, "We're just gonna leave you on an island."
Amanda: Oh no.
Julia: So he was only retrieved when it was revealed by a prophet that the Greeks would need an archer and the bow and arrow of Hercules, which Philoctetes had.
Julia: Because Philoctetes' grandfather or father ... I can't remember which, Greek timelines are weird ... had inherited the bow and arrow of Hercules when he died. So Philoctetes was also said to be the one that killed Paris, who is the prince of Troy, which really kind of hit the climax of the Trojan War. When we see Disney Philoctetes, he is around chasing nymphs, which we actually see several references to Greek mythology in real quick succession. There are plenty of stories where women or nymphs were pursued by gods and men and are transformed into flowers or plants. Daphne is the first one that comes to mind, where she was being chased by Apollo and begged to be saved and was turned into a laurel tree. Apollo being the asshole that he is then took the laurel branches and turned them into a wreath that became one of his symbols.
Amanda: Yeah, that makes all indie films real, real dark.
Julia: Yep. Womp womp. Not great.
Julia: So Phil then makes a reference to a bunch of Greek myths and Greek heroes. He mentions Jason and the Argonauts, he mentions Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus, and Achilles. Let's go into the tragic endings of all of those Greek myths real quick. Jason died after he broke his vow to love Medea forever, which means he lost favor with Hera and then was crushed by the stern of the Argo.
Amanda: Oh damn.
Julia: Perseus was killed by the son of Proteus, who was also killed by Perseus because Perseus turned him into stone using the head of Medusa. Theseus was thrown off a cliff after he lost popularity with the people of Athens.
Amanda: Didn't know that one.
Julia: Historically, that is true, which is wild to me.
Julia: Achilles, of course, was killed during the Trojan War, the Achilles' heel, et cetera. Odysseus is probably the only one on that list that didn't meet a terrible death, but he did have the whole Odyssey thing and the trials ...
Julia: ... returning from the Trojan War.
Amanda: All of the Odyssey is him almost dying.
Julia: Yeah, that's true. He was pretty close most of the time.
Julia: So, Phil decides he's gonna train Hercules, and his first foray into ... Also, a great montage.
Amanda: Oh man. I'm a sucker for a good training montage, and I really, really enjoy this idea that a hero can be born but must also be made. Like you can be born with all the tools, but you still have to kind of have to go through something or forge your future for yourself. Again, probably just the Disney wanting a good story in me, but I enjoyed that little part.
Julia: I mean, you see it in Mulan, too. Mulan had all of the capabilities to be a warrior, she just needed the Be a Man montage.
Amanda: Yeah, exactly. And the ability to hack the social structure to allow her those opportunities.
Julia: I am shocked that I love a song that is sung by Danny DeVito.
Amanda: I know. That poor man.
Julia: It's one of the wild concepts in my life.
Julia: So, Phil trains Hercules in a great 90s montage. His first foray into the real world is saving Megara from the centaur Nessus.
Amanda: So is that a real thing? I called her "pretty lady Meg" because the one thing I knew about Hercules was there was a pretty lady named Meg.
Julia: Also my favorite voice actor of all time, Susan Egan, plays Meg, and honestly, sometimes you look at your past and you're like, "I wonder why I do this." And I realize my voice, the way I speak, is mostly based off of how Susan Egan talks.
Amanda: Oh wow. That's such a trippy realization.
Julia: She is incredible. She's Rose Quartz in Stephen Universe. She was the original Belle on Broadway, I'm pretty sure ...
Julia: ... in Beauty and the Beast. She is fantastic. I love her voice very, very much.
Julia: So, we meet Megara and we meet Nessus. Fun fact, Nessus is a famous centaur from Greek mythology, and Hercules did kill Nessus in mythology. But, fun fact, this is why Hercules dies.
Julia: Hercules has this other wife in Greek mythology called Deianira, who is kidnapped by Nessus. Hercules pursues them and shoots Nessus with a poisoned arrow. Nessus lays dying and tells Deianira that his blood will make sure that Hercules will love her forever and Deianira believes him.
Julia: So she saves some of his blood and later she begins to distrust Hercules, so she spreads the blood on a robe and then gives it to her husband. Hercules puts the robe on during a meeting of heroes, is burned, and then killed by the blood.
Amanda: Damn. You know, sometimes after recording Spirits, I will just kind of have that little nugget in my brain and then turn to my partner and be like, "Hey, please don't ever try to poison me with my own blood or a centaur's blood or anything like that because I will love you forever. Just ... we don't have to make sure that happens."
Julia: Yeah, that's fair. I think that's something that you should definitely put in your wedding vows.
Amanda: I feel like we know enough from Harry Potter and such not to fuck with love potions.
Julia: So, this version, the Disney version, we don't have Deianira. Instead, we have Megara. So Megara is actually a character in Greek mythology. She is the princess of Thebes in mythology, which is ironic since they're heading to Thebes anyway in the movie. In the mythology, after Hercules defends Thebes from invading forces, Megara is offered to Hercules as a wife. Hercules is actually really pleased with the match. He brings her home to Amphitryon's place. He's like, "Hey, yo, Stepdad, check out my cool new wife." And they have two-
Amanda: Like you do.
Julia: You know, like you do. So they have two kids together and it's around this time that Hera finds out about Hercules's lineage and flips out.
Amanda: Julia, I really wanna know what happens next. But first, I think I'm gonna need a refill.
Julia: Oh yeah. That's probably a good idea. Let's go get a refill.
Amanda: Julia, you are getting married in just a few months. How's it feel.
Julia: Yeah, don't remind me. No, I'm very nervous.
Amanda: No, it's gonna be so great. I'm so excited.
Julia: It's gonna be great.
Amanda: It's the event around which my entire 2019 is revolving.
Julia: You're wonderful.
Amanda: Thank you. And in my maid of honor duties, luckily one of them is not setting up a wedding registry for you. I don't know if people do that, but it seems like a giant pain in the butt. Luckily, we have Zola, which makes so many wedding planning things super easy. You can sign up for Zola to get a free wedding website, which is super useful. Have your FAQ, have your travel info. And, of course, to build your dream registry and put it right there on the website. So to start your free wedding website and get $50 off your registry on Zola, go to zola.com/spirits.
Julia: Yep. Again, that is zola.com/spirits. Z-O-L-A .com. And let me tell you as someone who is doing wedding planning, it is really nice to have one less thing to worry about. So thank you, Zola, for sponsoring the show.
Julia: And Amanda, I'm gonna tell you about Care/of. As I've mentioned before, 2019 is 20-fight-teen, the year Julia learns how to wrestle.
Amanda: *Rap Air Horn*
Julia: And I've been trying to bulk up, get some real arm muscles going on, working on my triceps and my biceps. And you know, Care/of has been really, really helpful. So, Care/of is a monthly subscription vitamin service that delivers completely personalized vitamin and supplement packs right to your door. And you're probably asking me, "Julia, how do they deliver personalized vitamin and supplement packs?"
Amanda: How do they?
Julia: You take a fun little quiz online. It asks you about your diet, your health goals, your lifestyle choices. It only takes about five minutes, and then it basically recommends scientifically-backed vitamin and supplement recommendations based on what you're looking for. So I'm saying, "Hey, I want to bulk up a little," and so they're like, "Ooh, yes, we have a vitamin for you." Thank you, Care/of. It's so much easier than me trying to go to Vitamin Shoppe and asking them a million questions.
Amanda: And you can even ask for vegan and vegetarian supplements, which is great. I know that when I was vegan and trying to find a protein powder that wasn't animal based, it was freaking really challenging. And I actually just learned that Care/of sends a portion of every sale to the GOOD+ Foundation, which provides pregnant people in need with valuable prenatal vitamins.
Julia: The nice part is, what I really liked about it was everything that they recommend, they have science PDFs to back up what they're saying it's good for. And I just appreciate some good science every now and again.
Amanda: For sure. And I hear that our listeners can get 50%, five zero percent, off your first month of personalized Care/of vitamins at takecareof.com with the code SPIRITS50.
Julia: Yeah. Again, that is takecareof.com and you enter the promo code SPIRITS50, five zero. And you get 50% off your first month. What else is there? It's wonderful.
Amanda: Wonderful. So thank you Care/of. Thank you Zola. And now, let's get back to the show.
Amanda: All right, I am on tenterhooks here. I need to know what happens when Hera discovers what's happening.
Julia: She strikes Hercules with temporary madness in which he kills his children, and in some stories, Megara.
Amanda: No! That got very serious.
Julia: I know. So this, in most stories, is the trigger for the 12 labors of Hercules, as atonement for the murder of his wife and children. And we're gonna talk a little bit about those later when it seems appropriate in the film.
Amanda: Okay. Whoa, there's just so much. In the film or in mythology, is there any kind of reason why Meg and Hades would have a deal or a relationship?
Julia: Not a thing at all. They make up this plot line where Meg had a former lover that she sacrificed herself in order to save from death and then he ended up leaving her. Not a thing that happened. Kinda feels somewhat almost Orpheus like, but not quite.
Amanda: Yeah, that's the thing that came to mind.
Julia: But again, Orpheus never left Eurydice for another woman. He just made a dumb choice right at the end of his decisions.
Amanda: Don't look. Don't do it. Well, in the film, we also get this adorable moment of ... I think it was one of the little demon boys yelling, "Someone call IXII!" 9-1-1.
Julia: We're almost there. It's very cute, though.
Amanda: It's very good.
Julia: So Hercules has arrived in Thebes where all the citizens are super unimpressed by the rookie hero, which makes sense because Thebes was historically the largest city in the area. Oftentimes it was just at war with all the other city states of Greece. It hated Athens. It was constantly fighting with Athens. Just a lot of fighting going on through all of the history of Thebes. But, the first thing that he does is fight against the hydra. As Amanda pointed out, you get the cute little demon disguised as a child saying, "Call IXII," which is fucking adorable.
Amanda: It's very good. I had to rewind and listen again 'cause it's very good.
Julia: I honestly didn't get that until, like, as an adult re-watching the movie. I'm like, "What is he saying?"
Julia: Gonna fight the hydra. The hydra is actually one of Hercules's labors in the myths. So it is said to have poison breath and that it smelled so bad that its scent was deadly.
Amanda: Oh, wow.
Julia: Like, it smelled so bad that it just killed people like that.
Amanda: You know, I know that we know intellectually that the past smelled worse, but I love these moments where ... the really just very bad smells in the past.
Julia: It's just real, real bad. So actually, the hydra was a child of two very monstrous Titans, in case that interests you at all, since we were talking about monstrous Titans earlier on.
Amanda: It does, and it seems to kind of crawl out of Hades, or at least a very deep cave. So what's the background on them?
Julia: It was said to be based in a cave that was near some sort of lake. This is not very specific. But its parents were said to be a giant serpent-esque monster, and then its mother was a half woman, half serpent giant.
Julia: Yes. So very, very cool. So we get the hydra. The original myth doesn't say much about the regeneration of the heads. That was actually something that was added on later. But in the stories that it has the regeneration of the heads, Hercules was said to be able to cut off all the monster's heads and stop the regeneration by burning their necks with fire so they couldn't grow back.
Amanda: Oh, good. Because during this scene, I yelled, "Burn it with fire!" And I wasn't sure if I was just being extremely violent or if there was some reason that my brain knew that.
Julia: You made sense. I'm very, very proud of you. Instead of doing that, Hercules in the Disney film just crushes it with big old rocks.
Amanda: Okay, whatever. I mean, it was a nice image for him to kind of unfurl the clenched claw and have that heroic image where all of the town, who are conveniently gathered in an amphitheater just looking onto this cave, are able to see it.
Julia: You know what my one complaint about that scene was?
Julia: Hades is just like, "Well, this is it. I won." I feel like as the god of death, he would be able to decide, "Yeah, he's not dead. I don't know if he's dead right now, but he's not dead." You know what I mean?
Amanda: Yeah. It seems like his way of looking at the souls is just in that soul river that we're gonna get to. So maybe when he's out on the town, he's not able to feel every death. Well, we do go right into another fun montage of a bunch of different labors, I assume. I took notes, 'cause I don't know what they are, but I know that he kills a pig and he beats some kind of lion that looked just like Scar. There was some kind of lake monster and maybe a Minotaur and a Gorgon.
Julia: Okay, yeah. All right. Pretty solid. So, the song that you're referring to is Zero to Hero, which is our fame montage in this film. And in fact, the song does feature several of the 12 labors, so now is a good a time as any to expand upon what the 12 labors were. So, after Hercules killed his wife and kids, he went to Delphi to see how he could atone for his crimes. Delphi is where the oracles were, specifically Zeus's oracles.
Julia: So the oracle sent him to his cousin, King Eurystheus, and in return, he would be rewarded with immortality and forgiven for his digressions if he spent 12 years in the king's service. Let me list off the 12 labors for you. The first one, slay the Nemean lion, which was your Scar lion there. So the lion was said to not be able to be killed by mortal weapons, and it had golden fur that was impervious to attacks and claws that were sharper than any mortal weapon. So, manages to do it.
Amanda: Huh. How did Hercules do it?
Julia: That's a great question. Hold on one second.
Amanda: He was just a demigod and he was able to do it?
Julia: So basically, Hercules created some arrows, didn't realize that the golden fur was impenetrable, tried to shoot the lion, didn't work. So at the same time, he blocked the cave that the lion was living in, and so he stunned the beast with his club, used his immense strength, and strangled it to death.
Amanda: Oh boy.
Julia: But not before the lion bit off one of his fingers.
Julia: And then once it ... There are other versions, too, that say that he made the lion roar and then shot an arrow into its mouth, which the fur wasn't able to ... Basically it's like ingenuity, courageousness, brute strength. Those are the usual ways that he's able to do the labors. So he actually-
Amanda: I won't make you recount every one, but I appreciate that example.
Julia: I will at least give you some fun details. Interestingly, the lion pelt of the Nemean lion ended up being one of his signature looks.
Amanda: And he models that in the following famous montage.
Julia: He does. That is true. The next one is the hydra, as we talked about. The third one is capturing the Ceryneian Hind, which is this huge deer that had gold antlers, hooves made out of bronze, and was said to outrun any arrow in flight.
Amanda: That's some The Magicians type shit.
Julia: That is. It feels like Shadow and Bone. They have to capture a large white deer. So most versions say that he was able to capture it in his sleep. Another one was that he was able to just kind of chase it by foot because he's so fast and so strong. He just real good at stuff.
Julia: The fourth labor was capturing the Erymanthian boar, which is just a wild monstrous boar. He was real big.
Amanda: That was in the montage.
Julia: That was in the montage. He also had to clean the Augean stables in a single day, which was a big deal 'cause the horses were immortal, huge, and shit a lot.
Amanda: Oh. So Join the Party listeners will hear some parallels to our labor party arc.
Julia: I may or may not have recommended the 12 labors as good starting points for Eric.
Amanda: Well thanks, Julia, 'cause it was a slog. No, it was very fun.
Julia: He had to slay the Stymphalian birds, which were a pack of man-eating birds with bronze beaks and sharp, metallic feathers.
Amanda: Can they be my best friends or moms?
Julia: They lived in a swamp.
Amanda: That's fine. I can be a swamp hag.
Julia: He also had to capture the Cretan bull, which was the father of the Minotaur.
Julia: He had to steal the Mares of Diomedes, which were man-eating horses that were wild, uncontrollable ... and actually, fun fact, since you mentioned it before, Alexander the Great's horse was said to be a descendant of these.
Amanda: Well that horse ate very well while Alex and Hephaestion made out in his tent.
Julia: That's true. It happened.
Julia: He had to obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, the Amazonian queen. Her girdle was given to her by her father, Ares, the war god. You might recognize him. I feel like we might have talked about this in the Amazonian episode.
Julia: The next one is he had to obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon, who had one body, three heads, six hands, six feet, and had wings.
Amanda: A lot of monster and animal wrangling going on here. Are you sure they just didn't want to pay for shepherds?
Julia: It wasn't even that he had to wrangle that monster. He had to wrangle the cattle of that monster.
Julia: He had to steal apples from the Hesperides, which are nymphs of the evening and the golden light of sunsets who guarded golden apples that were printed in Hera's garden as a wedding present when she got married to Zeus.
Amanda: That sounds beautiful.
Julia: And then lastly, he had to capture and bring back Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the underworld.
Julia: And it's really funny. The way that he does that one is basically he goes and he talks to Hades and Hades is like, "I mean if you can't, I guess you can just take him." And so Hercules just goes and wrestles Cerberus, throws him over his shoulder, and then brings him back up to this king cousin. And the cousin is so scared, he's like, "Please just leave it. Bring it back and then you can just leave. You don't have to do any of these anymore." And Hercules was like, "All right. Cool."
Amanda: It's Cerberus's big day. It's his big field trip.
Julia: So those are our labors. In the plot line, we're kind of running low on plot points that are still historically and mythologically accurate, but we do get to hear my favorite song, which is Megara's song, which is I Won't Say I'm in Love.
Amanda: It was a very sweet song. And I also appreciated how just after this montage of labors kind of intercut with it was a montage of becoming famous. And it was very hilarious how this was so mid-90s in that there are Air Hercs, aka Air Jordans, because at the same time, NBA players like Michael Jordan ... perhaps the most famous of all time ... were merchandising, getting deals on billboards, and making a shitload of money from things like shoes that were extremely expensive because they sold out immediately and there was resale market. So I thought it was extremely, extremely funny.
Amanda: Also, the Disney store was gaining in popularity as a thing during this time. I just read the book Disney War, which is about the post-Walt Disney's death fight for survival and control in the company. It was riveting. And they were just really expanding and leaning into this idea of merchandising at the time. So I figured that some of the people within Disney might have had some tongue in cheek comments about how the priorities of the company and the fact that they were expanding to Tokyo and shit with their Disney stores.
Julia: There was also some sweet AmEx references, 'cause there were a lot of really ridiculous AmEx commercials during the 90s.
Amanda: It was very good. And if we want to expand for a second ... and forgive me, I'm two whiskeys deep ... but the idea of this whole movie is framed with the idea of heroic narratives, and like, who do we choose to exalt, who do we choose to keep as our heroes. It starts in a museum where they're like, "Hey, just read the pottery and you'll see that Hercules was really important." And which of those informs the other, you know? Is it truly those who are the most important that we write down and that we immortalize, or is it a mixture of both?
Amanda: And as we so often talk about, history is like a biased and written record, and I just found it really fascinating to think about what is fame, who merits it. And it's, of course, not the fame, but ultimately something much more personal, intimate, and private, which is self sacrifice, that really matters for Hercules in the end.
Julia: Yeah, so let's wrap up the plot points of the movie real quick. Meg and Hercules go on a date because Meg is pressured to find out if he has any weak points. She turns Hades down saying, "He has no weaknesses. He's gonna beat you." Hades realizes that Hercules does have a weakness, it's Meg. So he approaches Hercules with a deal. If he gives up his powers for 24 hours, Meg will not get hurt. They shake on it. Hades enacts his Titan plan, unlocks the Titans from Tartarus, and presses them to attack Mount Olympus and the Olympians on there.
Julia: Basically it seems as though the Olympians are going to fail and Hades is going to be able to take over. He sends a cyclops to attack Thebes and in the process, Meg is hurt saving Hercules, who does not have his powers. And Hercules, because the deal was broken and Meg was injured, is able to get his powers back and save the day up on Mount Olympus. But at the same time as he's saving the day on Mount Olympus, Meg passes away and Hercules needs to go get her. So Hercules storms Hades, is able to retrieve Meg's soul from the river of death, which is the River of Styx, which really shouldn't do the things that it implies in the movie. Really it just should either remove your memory or it should give you immortality, but it doesn't do any of those things.
Julia: Hercules makes his sacrifice, which returns him into a god, and in the process is able to save Meg's life. He is welcomed back onto Olympus as a full god and decides to give up his godhood so that he can live with Meg. The only other historical and mythological point I will make here is, does Hercules actually become a god in Greek mythology?
Julia: What do you think Amanda?
Amanda: I think not. What is the answer?
Julia: The answer is kind of.
Amanda: No, you baited me with a question that I thought was yes or no, but the answer is maybe.
Julia: So the answer is when he achieves the 12 labors, he is welcomed as an immortal and as a god into Olympus. But, at the same time, we know that he also dies in the Greek mythology. So the thing is, if you look at the Odyssey, there is a passage in the Odyssey. Hercules is accepted into the Pantheon, but in the Odyssey, Odysseus encounters Hercules in Hades. And here's the quote from the Odyssey:
Julia: "And next I caught a glimpse of powerful Heracles, his ghost I mean. The man himself delights in the grand feasts of the deathless gods on high. Around him, cries of the dead rang out like cries of birds scattering left and right in horror as he came like night."
Amanda: Oh damn. So this is like the ghost of his mortal self while his god self is up above?
Julia: That is basically the implication that we get, yes. While the movie ends with Hercules being put into the sky as a constellation, it seems as though he has a mortal life back on Earth, and so he can die a mortal life while still being an Olympian god.
Amanda: And is there mythological or cultural significance to being immortalized as a constellation?
Amanda: 'Cause that's sort of the running theme of the whole movie.
Julia: Yes, there is. Usually you gotta die in order to do it.
Amanda: Got it.
Julia: Usually it's an apology by the gods being like, "We fucked up. I'm sorry. You shouldn't have died when you did."
Amanda: "We're sorry your life is gone, but you're in the stars?"
Julia: Yeah. So Hercules does have a constellation. People like Orion have a constellation. You probably can recognize Orion and Orion's Belt in the sky. Orion was only made a constellation after he was accidentally killed by trickery from Apollo and Artemis unfortunately doing it to him.
Julia: So it's very interesting to kind of see who is immortalized as a constellation and who is not. Usually it's a bad thing. Not in that it's bad because you're made into a constellation, but rather being a constellation is a consolation prize.
Amanda: Oh, look at that pun.
Julia: That was really dumb.
Amanda: As far as those go, though, it's not a bad one to be able to look up into the sky, or if you're from the constellation's perspective, to look down on the rest of the cosmos.
Julia: Yeah. So that wraps up our thoughts on Disney's Hercules. Do you have any closing thoughts on the film itself or the mythology that it's based on?
Amanda: I thought it was fine film. I thought it was lovely. I missed my Pegasus toy as soon as I saw Pegasus come on screen. I think self sacrifice is somewhat of a fucked up narrative when it comes to love.
Amanda: But being willing to go the extra mile to pass up what is easy or what might be best in the moment to prioritize the health, safety, and wellness of those around you is something that brings me more and more joy as I become an adult. It's not about whether I'm comfortable in the moment necessarily. That doesn't kind of rule all my choices. But it's what is best, healthy, and happy for everybody around.
Amanda: Also, fame is not the answer usually, most of the time.
Julia: Yeah. I think that is right. I think Disney instilled some good values in us, even if they didn't give us the most accurate interpretation of Greek mythology. And honestly you can't for a G-rated movie. Sorry. Especially if Danny DeVito's in it.
Amanda: Listen, any movie that frames itself around a meta-historical narrative involving museums and a chorus is pretty good in my book. And I had a lot of fun doing this, Julia. I really enjoyed being able to kind of deconstruct the movie live with you on air. And listeners, if you enjoyed this, let us know and we'll think of more movies that we can bring into the Spirits Movie Night.
Julia: Yeah. I think this could be a fun little segment for us once a month or so. So please let us know your thoughts on this. I'm happy to get suggestions for other movies that have some mythological basis for us to take a look at.
Amanda: Including maybe scary ones? What if we just went back and forth between these fun kids movies and scary ones?
Julia: You mean I'm gonna make you sit down and watch Pan's Labyrinth? You know it.
Amanda: Oh no. Oh no. I shouldn't be allowed to have ideas after many whiskey.
Julia: No, sorry.
Amanda: Okay. Well, remember to be careful about the ideas you commit to with your best friends. And moreover ...
Julia: Stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool.