Soviet Hercules in Russian Animated Films

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


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“The Birth of Hercules,” a 1982 animation of the Hercules myth, directed by J. Kalisher.

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.

The Birth of Hercules
Return from Olympus, directed by A.Snezho-Blotskaya (1969)

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.


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Still from Return from Olympus, dir Blotskaya (1969)

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.

The Poster presented at the Our Mythical Hope conference in May 2017.  (To see the pdf version, click on the image, or on the link below.)
The Poster presented at the Our Mythical Hope conference in May 2017. (To see the pdf version, click on the link below.)

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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.




Afterworlds and Otherworlds

We take a little trip to the afterlife this time!  Lynnette Lounsbury is currently writing her PhD in Creative Practice in the School of Arts at UNE.  Her thesis is a science fiction novel that allegorises key moments in Australian history.  As a writer and a historian, Lynnette continually explores the role of belief, myth, and story in her work for young readers, and soon, young viewers as well.

— Elizabeth Hale

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Philippe de Champaigne, Vanitas

My favourite mythologies are death mythologies. I think it arises out of a religious upbringing that meant from a very early age I was completely convinced that life didn’t end at death. As it turns out, most people through history agreed with me, though their version of events was far more exciting than the one I was given of heaven and hell. Tales of beasts and mazes and boatmen and malevolent spirits – they make for riveting reading and, as a child, easy believing.

At university, I studied mythology, and in particular the writing of ancient mythologies, in my history degree but the idea of my novel Afterworld didn’t completely gel until I literally knocked a book off a shelf in the bookstore and took it back to my table to read over coffee (remember bookstores with coffee shops? What a magical era that was).

It was an older book, a bestseller from 1996 called Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch, and – to cut a very complex philosophic and theological treatise very short  it brought to my attention the idea of global consciousness, particularly when it came to belief systems. It was something I had already noticed in my study – creation myths and afterlife myths are remarkably similar across cultures that are centuries and oceans apart.

There are of course, many explanations as to why this might happen. We are the same species in the end.  Perhaps we simply biologically arrive at the same conclusions about our origins and our place in the universe. Or it could be the result of trade and the sharing of ideas. Or perhaps they all arose from one original tradition. . . .

Or, perhaps… we share a type of global consciousness where on some subconscious level we connect with each other. I don’t have an answer, of course, but I liked that last idea and I let it evolve into the novel, Afterworld,, a story about a boy who finds himself in an afterlife that is a result of our global consciousness, a belief in life after death that is so strong and has been believed for long, that it exists in a physical way.

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Lynnette’s novel, Afterworld, was shortlisted for the 2014 Australian Aurealis award in science fiction for young adults.

Most of the afterlife mythologies cross each other in some way. There are stories of judgement in most; there are ideas of journey, danger and potential loss; there are spiritual guides, guardians and of course, those who would trick or trap the hapless or complacent. I simply brought them together where they intersected and created what I hoped would work as a complete universe, one with recognisable characters – gods and angels, boatmen and guardians – some classical, some Christian, some Eastern.

My afterworld is an attempt to guess and what might happen if humans across Earth’s history were all correct in our beliefs about what awaits us after death. Not everyone liked this idea. It does, after all, suggest that your personal beliefs are only as valid as everyone else. Not less, but certainly not more. But a lot of readers have told me that they feel very comforted by the idea that we might have some sort of input, however small, into our final journey and that our belief is powerful and creative.

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Orpheus in the Underworld, by Jan Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps that’s just the basic human desire to control everything – or perhaps it is a little bit of the Egyptian hope to avoid chaos, the Classical desire to see people rewarded or punished, the Eastern desire to keep learning and growing towards enlightenment and the Christian desire to meet an infinite source.

After Afterworld, Lynnette takes us to The Piazza


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A statue of Dante Alighieri, in the Italian Forum at Leichhardt, Sydney, given a menacing tint by Jim and Lynnette Lounsbury

My current project, a web and television series co-written with and directed by my partner Jim Lounsbury is also an exploration of the afterlife – this time exploring the cross-over between life and death and the idea of fate and pre-destination. Co-writing about imagined spaces was an even more challenging and interesting experience as every writer has such different ideas of what could be waiting “on the other side”. In our story Charon the boatman is determined to save his human lover but offering alternative sacrifices to the beasts of the underworld. Of course, this isn’t what the beasts want. Death is not something we can negotiate with!

Titled ‘The Piazza’ and filmed in the piazza of the Italian Forum in Leichhardt, Sydney, with its Dante Alighieri fountain, the series is a collaboration with the Acting Centre of Australia and features their talented young acting students.

The Italian Forum by day, in Leichhardt, Sydney. Note the statue of Dante in the lower left.


The series has started production and will be finished in late 2017. You can watch the trailer here and there will be more news on our website as the project continues.


— Lynnette Lounsbury