Sample Reflection Paper: The Most Remarkable Figure in Greek Mythology
A reflection paper is a type of written coursework that features the thoughts, feelings, or ideas of the writer regarding a given topic. The project’s name is derived from the act of deep reflection performed before writing the paper. This sample reflection paper discusses the author’s thoughts about Hercules as the most remarkable figure in Greek mythology.
Greek mythology has been the subject of universal admiration and great scholarly attention due to its scope, richness, and creativity. Homer’s two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, for instance, continue to captivate readers today despite being older than 2,700 years. Greek mythology has inspired literature, music, drama, fashion, the fine arts , and film. It is replete with tales of battles between gods and mortals, heroic adventures, fascinating creatures and dreadful monsters, triumphs and tragedies, and many more accounts of great imaginativeness. Indeed, there is no shortage when it comes to captivating figures in Greek mythology. But among the many figures whose stories have been passed down from generation to generation, perhaps no other is more remarkable than Heracles, more commonly known by his Roman name, Hercules. From the moment of his birth up until the end of his tale, Hercules’ life is filled with details that were as astounding as they were reflective of his complexity as a part-god, part-human hero.
A Most Unusual Birth and Childhood
Like many heroes in Greek mythology, Hercules was born a demigod, which means that he was half-human and half-god. But unlike many other demigods, Hercules was the son of the greatest god of all: Zeus himself. According to legend, Hercules was conceived when Zeus disguised himself as the mortal Amphitryon and slept with Amphitryon’s wife, Alcmene. The same night, the real Amphitryon arrived and also slept with his wife. This resulted in Alcmene giving birth to twins, one sired by Amphitryon and another sired by Zeus. When Hera, Zeus’ wife, was enraged when she discovered her husband’s infidelity (Albert 143-146). Zeus had had numerous mistresses and produced equally numerous illegitimate children. Powerless to stop her husband from being unfaithful, Hera punished her husband’s illegitimate children instead, and the same fate awaited Hercules.
Hera sent two serpents to kill Hercules in his crib. But the young Hercules, having developed extraordinary strength due to being the son of the king of the gods. The infant Hercules grabbed the two serpents and killed them with his bare hands (Albert 144). That Hercules was able to defend himself against the two serpents at such a young age is just one of the many astounding episodes in the demigod’s youth. As Hercules grew up, he continued to exhibit remarkable strength. Not only did he grow up to be over seven feet tall, but he also was superb in strength to everyone around him. According to one legend, Hercules killed his music teacher, Linus, by hitting him with a lyre after the teacher hit him first (Albert 145). The episode with Linus, however, revealed Hercules’ main flaw: he was prone to extreme fits of anger that clouded his judgment.
These episodes in the infancy and childhood of Hercules serve as heralds to an extraordinary life ahead. Unlike many other heroes whose younger years are often left unremarked at by the existing literature, the level of detail regarding Hercules’ childhood makes it seem that he has been earmarked for greatness. And indeed, as the next sections will show, Hercules’ importance did not end in childhood but instead only grew in both number and greatness.
The Twelve Labors
Although Hercules was born a demigod, he still lived among common mortals and more or less established a normal life. Matyszak’s compilation of stories about Hercules states that Hercules was offered Megara, the daughter of the king of Thebes, as a wife after he saved the city from an invading army. He married Megara and had children with her. However, Hera was far from finished with him. Scheming once again to bring Hercules misery, she caused the young demigod temporary madness. Hercules murdered his own children as well as his twin brother’s children by throwing them into a fire. He regained his senses and was overcome by grief and guilt. He consulted an oracle to find out how he could be forgiven for his sins. The oracle stated that he had to submit himself to King Eurystheus, who would require him to perform ten labors. Only after completing these tasks would he be granted forgiveness (Matyszak 64-68).
The first labor was slaying a lion that had been terrorizing the city of Nemea. Similar to how he dealt with the serpents as an infant, Hercules used only his bare hands to slay the lion. He then took the skin and fashioned a cloak out of it that he always wore as a reminder of his power. The second labor was slaying the terrifying nine-headed monster called Hydra. The Hydra was almost impossible to kill since it would grow two heads for every head cut off. Hercules killed the monster with his nephew Iolaus, who burned the stump of a head every time Hercules cut off one so that it could not grow back. The third labor was to capture the golden hind of the goddess Artemis. The hind was a mythical creature similar to a deer known for its elusiveness. Hercules stalked the hind for a year before finally catching it and presenting it to Eurystheus. Similarly, the fourth labor was capturing the Erymanthian Boar, which had been attacking the city of Erymanthus. Again, Hercules’ strategy was to chase the boar for a long time until it tired. He finally succeeded after a long while (Matyszak 73-75).
The fifth task was to clean the stables of Augeas, which comprised over 3,000 cattle that produced poisoned waste. To accomplish the labor, Hercules changed the course of the Alpheios and Peneios rivers. The next task was to kill large man-eating birds living beside Lake Stymphalia. He used a rattle given to him by the goddess Athena to scare the birds, which he then shot with arrows. The seventh labor was to catch a massive bull that was terrorizing the city island of Crete. Despite the odds, Hercules succeeded in capturing the bull and bringing it back to Eurystheus alive. The eight labor was to steal the man-eating horses of King Diomedes of Thrace. Hercules completed this task by feeding King Diomedes himself to the horses and then binding their mouths so that they could no longer eat another human. The ninth task required Hercules to steal the girdle of Queen Hippolyta, leader of the Amazons. Hippolyta had a girdle that she received from her father. Hercules was tasked with capturing this and giving it to Eurystheus. However, Hippolyta had been ordered by Hera to attack Hercules once he arrived. But he fought the Amazons fiercely and was able to capture the girdle. The tenth labor was to capture the cattle owned by a monster called Geryon, which was a giant that had three heads and six arms. Hercules killed Geryon by shooting it with poisoned arrows that were dipped in the blood of the Hydra, thus allowing him to take the cattle back to Eurystheus (Matyszak 79-93).
Although Hercules was required to perform only ten labors, Eurystheus tricked him into performing twelve by adding two more. The eleventh, therefore, was to steal the golden apples owned by the Hesperides, who were daughters of the titan Atlas. The apples were guarded by a dragon with a hundred heads named Ladon. Hercules sought the help of Atlas, who stole the apples while Hercules carried the heavens upon his shoulders. Finally, the last task was to capture the three-headed dog Cerberus from the underworld. Hades, the god of the underworld, agreed to hand over Cerberus if Hercules could catch him with bare hands. Hercules managed to perform the task, thus ending his labors once and for all (Matyszak 95-100).
Death and Immortality
While the twelve labors are the best known of Hercules’ exploits, by no means does his story end there. On the contrary, Hercules continued to perform great feats that showcased his strength and heroism. One such event was becoming the slave of Queen Omphale of Lydia. Hercules had slain the son of Prince Eurystus in an argument, and for this, he was made to serve Queen Omphale for three years as atonement. After this, he eventually married a woman named Deianeira (after giving his wife Megara to his nephew). But Deianara was tricked by a centaur named Nessus into giving Hercules a poisoned cloak. Although he managed to remove the cloak after he felt the poison, he suffered from unendurable pain because the cloak ripped off his flesh when he removed it. He begged to be burned on a funeral pyre to end his suffering. Impressed by his bravery and decision to choose death over suffering, the gods decided to take Hercules to Olympus and grant him immortality (Hamilton 242-243).
Given the richness of the stories featuring Hercules, it is beyond doubt that he can be considered the most remarkable figure in Greek mythology. Not only was he the strongest man in the mythos, but he also was a deeply flawed figure. This gives him depth and substance, allowing him to be relatable to readers despite the fact that he was a demigod. The enduring appeal of Hercules can be seen in how his figure remains popular today. He remains the subject of many works of art, literature, and even film. The Renaissance Period , for instance, produced many works that depict him. In the end, the choice of the most remarkable figure may be subjective, but in the view of this paper, no one comes close to surpassing Hercules.
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Albert, Liv. Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook: From Aphrodite to Zeus, a Profile of Who's Who in Greek Mythology. London, Simon and Schuster, 2021.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York, Grand Central Publishing, 2011.
Matyszak, Philip. Hercules: The First Superhero . British Columbia, Monashee Mountain Publishing, 2015.