An epic Heracles

Barker, Elton and Christensen, Joel (2021). An epic Heracles. In: Ogden, Daniel ed. The Oxford Handbook of Heracles. Oxford Handbooks Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 283–300.



As the son of Zeus, accomplisher of great tasks, and civilizing agent, Heracles appears an archetypal hero, central to any number of myths and whose deeds dominate artistic representation. Yet his appearances in extant early Greek hexameter poetry are fleeting and carefully circumscribed. In this chapter we survey the references to an epic Heracles in order to establish common elements (his “fabula”); consider what picture emerges from the (fragmentary) epics devoted to him; and examine his role in the foundational epics of Hesiod and Homer. Heracles comes across as a quintessential hero who metes out and endures suffering, while simultaneously appearing outlandish, excessive, and one of a kind. His extreme individualism marks him out as a problematic figure in Homer’s grand coalition narratives that represent and interrogate political participation.

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