One of the highlights of the Our Mythical Hope conference was the poster presentations by Philology students from the Belarus State University. Under the direction of Dr Hanna Pauloskaya, they produced posters about the manifestation of classical mythology in contemporary popular culture. I asked them to modify their presentations for Antipodean Odyssey. Below is the text, of a presentation on Soviet Hercules in Russian Animated Films and the pdf of the poster is attached also.
— Elizabeth Hale
Two Soviet cartoons – “The Birth of Hercules” (1982, directed by J. Kalisher) and “The Return from Olympus” (1969, directed by A.Snezho-Blotskaya) were created on the basis of a cycle of ancient Greek myths about Hercules. Ancient Greek myths were popular in the former USSR. And of course one of the most famous heroes in these myths was Hercules. He was a prototype of Alosha Popovich, and Ilia Muromets in Slavonic culture and he did heroic deeds that had positive impact on children, which is why the production company was interested in him.
At all times the main function of Hercules was to protect people from monsters. As Martin Nilsson tells us in “The Greek National Religion”:
“People have always believed in magic and witchcraft, this belief was preserved in classical Greece, so it was necessary to protect the house from invisible evil, for this purpose people turned to Gods who were able to protect them from all evil. One of them was the great hero Hercules who destroyed many monsters, evil spirits and even Death itself. Above the entrance to the house the Greeks usually wrote: “Here the gloriously triumphant Heracles dwells; here let no evil enter”’
The plot of each cartoon dedicated to Hercules is simple but at the same time is filled with deep meaning. “The Birth of Hercules” first of all tells about the origin of the hero. The lines of the famous Russian poetess, translator and screenwriter, Yunna Moritz sound as the keynote of the cartoon:
“Ты родился на Земле, ты не грозный страшный Бог, человечий ты сынок. У тебя живая кровь, к людям сильная любовь”
(You were born on the Earth, you are not an angry terrible God, you are a human son. You have living blood and strong love to people).
The emphasis in “The Birth of Hercules” is laid on human nature of the hero which is clearly traced in his actions aimed at any help to people and the fight against evil.
From early childhood Hercules had shown an inexorable desire to clear out the Earth from any evil. Snakes became such demonstration in the cartoon that hadn’t been the result of the anger of offended Hera but procreations of Chaos and little Hercules came out to fight them. In the scene of fighting them the growth of Hercules is shown symbolically. There is a strong humanistic orientation in this cartoon based on the human’s value, his freedom and responsibility.
The image of the winner Hercules appears in the cartoon “The Return from Olympus.” The phrase said by Hercules himself can be named as the keynote of all cartoon:
“Я остаюсь на земле. Я человек, я иду к вам, люди!”
(I remain on the Earth. I’m a man, I’m coming to you, people)
From this it is seen that in this cartoon the human nature of the hero clearly outweighs the divine. Hercules knows that the Earth needs him, people of the 20th century need him because the new threats came to mankind- fascism, racism, militarism – and
“океана не хватит, чтобы смыть всю грязь с Земли”
(The ocean is not enough to wash away all the dirt from the Earth).
An important part of the cartoon is the plot of Prometheus` rescue. Prometheus who is liberated by Hercules gives him the sacred fire that was once stolen from the gods for the benefit of people. This fire in the soul of Hercules symbolizes the spiritual aspiration to help people, to struggle with everything that can stop life on the Earth. Having received this fire, Hercules keeps it in his heart, saying
“священный огонь до сих пор горит”
(a sacred fire still burns).
It burns in the heart permeated with the willingness to give himself for the sake of serving people, ready to give up everything he would have received living on Olympus for the salvation of mankind and the planet.
Thus, we can say that in these two Soviet cartoons the image of Hercules is represented in strict accordance with the ancient tradition of heroes` representation. Humanism, the desire to help people, the theomachism – everything is embodied in the Soviet image of animated Hercules. This image of Hercules undoubtedly had a positive impact on the formation of the personal qualities of Soviet children and the youth and demonstrated on the basis of the hero’s actions the value of the heroic personality and also instilled in them a sense of justice and called for struggle against wars and violence.
We can’t say we are absolutely sure that there was some political implication in these cartoons. But it goes without saying we can find allusion on the authoritarian regime that was popular in the Former USSR in these cartoons especially in “The Return from Olympus”. And as a result of this wrong way of governing the country threats came to mankind- fascism, racism, militarism. Perhaps this was a subtle attempt to challenge the authorities.
Authors of the project: Natalya Muzhyla, Katsiaryna Kasyan, Alina Tsikhanovich, Belarus State University, Faculty of Philology, 4th year students. Scholarship holders of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Republic of Poland, trainees at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw.