The AHRC-supported Hercules Project aims to chart and account for the significance in western culture of the classical hero Hercules, from late antiquity via the Renaissance to the present day.

The project builds on research by Emma Stafford on the ancient Greek hero Herakles (also spelt Heracles and better known by his Roman name ‘Hercules’), notably the monograph Herakles (London 2012), the final chapter of which provides a brief overview of the hero’s extraordinarily persistent role in post-classical literature and art.

The first stage of the project was an international conference, Hercules: a hero for all ages, held at Leeds 24-6 June 2013.  This brought together scholars from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, as appropriate to the variety of periods and media involved, as well as contemporary artists/writers of Hercules-themed worked. This was the first step towards the formation of a ‘Herculean network’ which is now forming the basis for the project’s more ambitious second stage.

An AHRC Networking grant (£30,000) is supporting us in the development of a selection of specific themes in Herculean reception. The network’s brief includes the publication of a series of four volumes, each treating a particular period and/or aspect of the hero’s reception, the development of this website, and a further conference in July 2017.  It is also associated with two activities aimed at a public audience, the on-going Labours of Herakles exhibition, and the musical drama Herakles.

Hercules in the 2010s

2014 was a particularly good year for Hercules’ profile in the media. It saw the release of not one, not two, but three Hercules films, The Legend of Hercules (with Kellan Lutz in the title role), Hercules, starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and the ‘mockbuster’ Hercules Reborn, starring the wrestler John Hennigan.  For comment, see articles in The Conversation by Alistair Blanshard (Hercules, body envy and the challenge of being man) and Emma Stafford (Brain or brawn? New Hercules film is bringing back the muscle).

2014 also saw the extraordinary exhibition The Twelve Labours of Putin, celebrating the Russian leader’s 62nd birthday (6th October).  The series of images depicts this Herculean Vladimir Putin fighting such updated opponents as the Lion of Terrorism, the many-headed Hydra of the EU, Japan, Canada and the US, and subduing the Bull of Crimea: see reports e.g. in Time and on the BBC News.

In 2015 our hero appeared as champion of the exhibition Following Hercules: the story of Classical Art at Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Classical Archaeology. Events accompanying the exhibition include a lunchtime talk at the Fitzwilliam by Emma Stafford, Hercules: the thinking person’s superhero.