In the classical depiction of Hercules, key themes of Redemption and suffering go hand in hand and are present throughout. When Hera (Zeus’s wife) drives Hercules to madness she sends him to brutally murder his own wife and sons. Hercules is overwhelmed with a sense of ‘blood guilt’ and suffering and condemns himself to exile. He then seeks the Delphic Oracle’s help, she tells him that he is to complete 10 labours for King Eurystheus in order to redeem and rid himself of the blood guilt and suffering and become an immortal (APOLLODORUS, LIBRARY 22. . 12. ) The idea of suffering makes heroes like Hercules relatable to the mortal audience and whilst Hercules is a demi god making him faster, stronger and more agile than any other hero- he remains human in character. No task of Hercules is an easy one but he is willing to go through these taxing adventures in order to redeem himself and set things right. In the post classical depiction- Disney’s 1997 movie Hercules- those themes of redemption and suffering are not so present instead themes of selflessness and true heroism are strong.
Hercules is presented as Zeus AND Hera’s son and is a full god- until Hades poisons him, taking all but his strength. He is deemed mortal and lives with his adopted family in Thebes. Hercules begins the 10 labours in order to regain his immortality and live on Mt Olympus with the other gods. As Hercules begins attempting and completing the labours he becomes somewhat of a celebrity with the mortals and they begin to worship him.
But the labours alone are not enough to make him immortal, he needs to show true selflessness and be willing to sacrifice himself in order to save another. When Hercules dives into the pool of spirits in Hades’ underworld to bring Megara back to life he risks dying to do so and only this is enough to be a true hero and regain him his immortality. Aspects of Hercules’ story have been modified to suit the viewers and be age appropriate but the theme of heroism has been dominant in both depictions and that is because Hercules himself was a true hero.