Aug 24, 2016 · 11 min read

Superheroes: Then And Now

Unless stated or identified to the contrary, I presume that buried under any plateful of mythological spaghetti lays a morsel of an really meaty meatball. Alas, our modern superheroes have already been identified on the contrary — they all are meatball-less pure mythological pasta. Superman (and Supergirl too), Batman (and Robin), Tarzan, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, The Phantom, Buffy, Van Helsing, Mission impossible, and multi-dozens more are meatball-less.

Modern superheroes, people that have abilities unusual, may also include those that have exceptional mental and/or observational abilities instead of pure superpowers, brawn or athletic skills — examples could include Sherlock Holes, Perry Mason, Miss Jane Maple or Hercule Poirot; perhaps people that have an easy gun like Paladin (TV’s “Have Gun — Will Travel”). Alas, they too are meatball-less fictional pasta.

The superheroes of yesteryear when mythology allegedly ruled didn’t have real superpowers unless these were deities needless to say. Even then the deity’s powers paled compared to our modern superheroes — a certain amount of lighting bolt chucking here; a certain amount of shape-shifting there (though that’s a pretty neat superpower). Even most of the gods needed chariots to acquire around, or horses or they’d to hoof it themselves. There was several exceptions like Hermes (Mercury on the Romans) who’d special high-tech winged sandals as well as a winged helmet.

Eliminating that category — the ‘gods’ — the residual superheroes of middle ages times didn’t have real superpowers (X-ray vision, faster-than-a-speeding-bullet velocities) or super-ultra high-tech gadgets like jetpacks and vehicles much like the Batmobile or rings like Green Lantern’s to enable them to. However, they had powers, usually nerves-of-steel and/or massive strength. Were they as fictional, as meatball-less as today’s day superheroes?

Now I ought to clarify things i really mean by superheroes. It’s not a great deal having special superpower abilities, or possessing high-tech beyond the normal, though that’s some of it. It’s more that superheroes, past or present are heroes by profession, regardless of whether sometimes reluctantly. Or, superheroes are superheroes a minimum of ought to be personal pride or sense of duty and for that reason it is a serious hobby. Superman doesn’t save the world just the once; performing it repeatedly. Jessica Fletcher (TV’s “Murder, She Wrote”) doesn’t solve one whodunit, only one murder mystery to another to another. Paladin doesn’t outdraw one outlaw, but routinely, episode after episode. Probably the thought of superheroes can be summed up as individuals with the “Right Stuff”.

Now surely logic dictates the non-deity superheroes of ancient times share one common trait together with the superheroes of ‘today’, ‘today’ understood to be say back from the events of our grandparents and great grandparents to add the superheroes of these times — that commonality is that they, then along with now, are imaginary. Well, I’m not so sure.

I’ll restrict myself here mainly on the ancient Greek (and for that reason Roman) superhero clan, along with a few others that fall outside that immediate pigeonhole. I’ll do that since 1) it’s the ones that are most familiar to us and 2) it saves this essay from developing in a book-length tome.

Here’s our cast of ancient non-deity superheroes (though some are demigods). Remember that you’ll find nothing from the ancient texts that chronicles the exploits of these figures that explicitly states they’re imaginary or fictional make-believe entities. There’s no such disclaimer. It’s just like there is no disclaimer how the Bible can be a work of fiction though Biblical tales are way more outlandish than anything the standard Greeks dreamt up in their philosophy.

Alexander the truly amazing (356–323 BCE) — There’s surely absolute confidence in regards to the reality with this man, and even though military ‘superheroes’ (determined by you may be about the winning or losing side) really are a dime-a-dozen, every country in each and every era has some, Alex is additionally known heroically for taming the wild horse Bucephalus as well as for undoing the Gordian Knot (though in some versions he cheated a little).

Bellerophon (Greek) tamed the wild and winged horse Pegasus, and killed a monster too (see below).

Beowulf would have been a pre-8th Century CE Scandinavian warrior whose main claim they can fame was monster-slaying (again, see below).

Daedalus in Greek mythology is best called daddy to Icarus. Both of them donned self-manufactured wax-wings as a way to escape imprisonment in Crete, even though daddy cautioned his son to never fly too close to the Sun, son did just that and for that reason the wax holding the feathers of his wings melted and young Icarus did a swan dive to the sea from the higher altitude than is generally recommended. Of course that part of the story is idiotic on two counts. Firstly, as you rise higher from the atmosphere the temperature gets colder. Secondly, the Sun is 93 million miles away, so if you are with an altitude of 1000 feet or 10,000 feet or 100,000 feet it’s hardly from a consequence with regards to being that much nearer to the sun’s rays. That aside, Daedalus travelled everywhere on his hand-crafted wings, and it is well represented across the Greek influenced Mediterranean region, by way of example on Sicily. That aside and before his acquisition of manufactured winged transport, Daedalus was credited with allowing the Labyrinth on Crete the location where the Minotaur (part man, part bull) was saved in to devour young men and women.

Hercules: Now wait, isn’t Hercules really imaginary? Well, quite independent of the Television show and various movies that come with him and the mythology (some modern, some ancient), the guy has at least four entire towns named after him, so you have got to become pretty special and possibly pretty real, which is a lot more than I can say for contemporary superheroes. Exactly what is the Batmanville or Superman City? Exactly what are among those ancient sites that so honour Hercules? Well there’s Heracleion on the border between Macedon and Northern Thessaly; Heraklion (Crete); the main harbour town of Herakleion (Egypt), now submerged some four miles offshore; and naturally Herculaneum (Italy), which, together with Pompeii was damaged when Mount Vesuvius did it’s ka-boom thing last 79 CE. As well as that there is the Pillars of Hercules out by the Straits of Gibraltar. Least us take into account the rather numerous variety of temples constructed and specialized in him (there is many a Hercules cult previously), and also more statues than you will discover museums for — well not nearly but you will find so much of these; statues that is certainly. Then too his image is featured on various coins in the realm dating in the 4th and 5th Centuries BCE. Some sources accredit the creation of the Olympics to Hercules. Not bad PR to have an imaginary character!

I maintain if cities, towns, villages, settlements of any sort as well as other geographical features are named after people, they are named after real people, not mythological or imaginary ones. Once you admit that Hercules existed then his daddy also existed, which was some minor character named Zeus!

Jason (along with the Argonauts) went on a treasure hunts for the Golden Fleece with Hercules fully briefed as crew (among many more). That they had many great heroic adventures together!

King Gilgamesh — there really was a King Gilgamesh, ruler of Warka (Uruk) in early 3rd Millennium BCE of Mesopotamia. The wall he built around Uruk is his archaeological state they fame. He too had many heroic adventures as outlined from the “Epic of Gilgamesh”.

King Arthur, as outlined by scholars, probably has some historical foundation, and possibly lived throughout the 5th or 6th Centuries CE, albeit well taken out of Excalibur, the Round Table and Merlin. There’s really little question there was clearly some relatively famous chieftain back then that more than time morphed in the popular picture of King Arthur, Camelot and the Arthurian legends/mythology.

Odysseus (or Ulysses to the Romans) was the character from the 10 year super heroic odyssey called by Homer, curiously “The Odyssey”. It absolutely was a companion volume to “The Iliad” and also since “The Iliad” led Heinrich Schliemann to find and excavate Troy (once regarded as pure fiction), there is every need to think “The Odyssey” is not a work of fiction either (Homer never says so) however the historic chronicles of our own superhero, Odysseus. Odysseus was also one of several heroes from the “Iliad” in addition to the Trojan War. He crafted the idea for that Wooden Horse among other heroic deeds inside the Battle of Troy (see below for a lot of much more of his adventures).

Oedipus, in good old fashion whodunit detective logic solved the riddle with the Sphinx (and therefore avoided becoming Sphinx-food). The actual Sphinx in this instance had been a hybrid creature but the Greek version, not the harder famous Egyptian one. The Greek counterpart had your head of your woman, our bodies of a lion and wings. From what ancient images survive in the Greek Sphinx, I gather ‘she’ was rather well endowed. Anyway, once bested, once her riddle was solved, ‘she’ committed suicide.

While the Trojan War is way too large in scope in terms of citing the exploits of all heroes concerned here, another mention can do. King Agamemnon of Mycenae who commanded the army loaded onto those 1000 ships (plus 13 more) launched by that face — the face area of Helen, wife of Menelaus (King of Sparta) and brother to King Agamemnon. Mycenae was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann (of Troy fame). Though a comparatively minor site in its time, Mycenae and its Lion Gate are one of the most famous historic and archaeological sites in Greece.

The key occupation individuals ancient superheroes was coping with, usually killing monsters. I assume there was lack of mad scientists bent on world domination BCE; master criminals wanting to illegally corner the gold market back then; and that i gather alien invaders were invading somewhere else at that time too. The task description for superheroes has certainly blown out of all proportion considering that the use of Hercules! Anyway, managing monsters was occupation enough in the past.

Bellerophon, tamer of Pegasus the flying horse, also killed the Chimaera, a gruesome monster, a hybrid composite of lion, snake and goat.

Beowulf (the warrior) had his Grendel to slay, and when that has been accomplished, he to deal with Grendel’s pissed-off mother. That too was accomplished. However, Five decades of peace and quiet later, the now King Beowulf transpired swinging against a dragon, however the dragon was struck out too. It’s a tied ball game with both players retired in the living.

Hercules encountered lots of beasties when you are conducting his twelve labours, a few of which were the object of his ordeals. However, in only two labours did he apparently slay the critters; a monstrous lion and the multi-headed Hydra. Though he killed some man-eating birds, he drove away most of the flock of these predatory birds in the sixth trial. He captured lots of animals alive if required in certain of his other exploits, like a hind, a boar, a bull, some mares, a herd of oxen, and Cerberus.

Odysseus, on his way where you can Ithaca from Troy, gave the Cyclops called Polyphemus a hard time. Unfortunately it was a bad move since it really pissed-off the god with the sea, Poseidon (Neptune for the Romans). So if you might be undertaking a sea voyage, hoping to get home on the little lady with the household after having a 10 year absence — fighting that Trojan War — you really wouldn’t like to annoy Poseidon. Anyway, between Poseidon’s tricks and other obstacles, our superhero needed to face man-eating giants; the enchantress Circe; the Sirens (bird-like creatures with feminine faces and delightful singing voices that can tempt any man); some ‘wandering rocks’; several sea monsters (Scylla & Charybdis); but because a ‘reward’ finally found themselves within the arms of Calypso for seven years. The real key got that seven-year-itch and continued on his made use of the place to find still more obstacles and adventures.

Perseus lopped off the head of Medusa, old snake-hair herself and chief from the dreaded Gorgons. Perseus also did the time-honoured hero-thing and saved a damsel in distress — Andromeda, chained naked into a rock, an offering and treats for the hungry sea monster. The weapon of preference — Medusa’s head, since whoever or whatever viewed Medusa, regardless if that head was in a fairly condition of extreme rigor mortis, got converted into far greater condition of rigor mortis — pure stone. That placed on sea monsters too. After the fight it absolutely was love initially sight — some heroes supply the luck however some trials and tribulations were still ahead for Perseus.

Saint George had a run-in which has a dragon — St. George 1; dragon 0. Now I gather you cannot obtain the honorary word “Saint” attached with your reputation in the event the granting powers-that-be belief that you were imaginary.

Sigurd is the legendary hero of Norse mythology. The german language he’s cited as Siegfried (known mainly today using the Wagner operas “Siegfried” and “Gotterdammerung”). In either case, among a great many other and heroic adventures, a certain amount of dragon slaying was your order through the day.

Theseus slew the Minotaur in Crete, much on the relief of possible future human sacrifices.

Monsters aside, should you reduce many of the more probably embellished bits, there’s not anything really improbable about these superhero tales. Of course some tales need to be taken with over merely a dose of skepticism — perhaps a full salt-shaker worth — such as the Biblical Samson since there is no way now you may connect hair length with physical strength, so Samson, for example, is pure fiction.

Unfortunately these ancient exploits and heroics aren’t normally the type of things that have a tendency to leave behind firsthand hardcore archaeological evidence. There’s obviously plenty of second-hand archaeological evidence — images and carvings — and that’s a start. I have to base their bona-fides or reality on 1) the numerous authors of those epics that never hinted them to be far from reality, the whole truth and zilch however the truth; 2) the regular people of the eras accepted those heroic events as real history in much the same way as we absorb and accept unfolding events we get through the press or radio/TV news bulletins; and three) the ancients often visited some quite considerable trouble to honour and preserve these stories and characters via public and private images, as official emblems, on coinage, pottery galore, jewellery/amulets, on armour/shields, via statutes, dedicated temples, and in many cases naming entire cities committed to their memory.

It’s incredible the ancient mythical characters and events — if mythical they are — are nevertheless around millenia later. That’s real endurance. I’m wondering whether 3000 years from today anyone will remember and have accessibility tales of Wonder Woman, Paladin, or Miss Marple.

While there certainly were some imaginary heroes (though not either built with superpowers or who made heroics their profession) in relatively middle ages times from “Jack and also the Beanstalk” to “Hansel & Gretel”, for a lot of really weird reason, lose your pounds . be described as a relative not enough superheroes relating to the times we escort ancient past and say the early Last century when Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, John Carter of Mars (or Barsoom towards the Martians), Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers appeared. Still no superpowers were involved. It had not been until Superman came to be in the 1930’s how the true ages of the modern superhero, accent on superpowers, had arrived.

Where are the existing real larger-than-life superheroes — the sort who seemingly make super-heroism a regular profession? Certainly in the last several centuries there have been numerous heroes (as well as heroines) — Medal of Honor and Victoria Cross winners, those used in various emergency services, as well as ordinary citizens who rise to extraordinary heroics each time a special and usually one-off list of circumstances arise. But where are our professional dragon slayers? Okay, no current dragons therefore no employed dragon slayers. That aside, there clearly are no longer those superheroes around equal to the ones that were so well known and beloved by the ancient Greeks and other citizens of related ancient cultures. Wrong!

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