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 formed the basis for the project’s more ambitious second stage.
Stage 2 of the Hercules Project enjoyed the support of an AHRC Networking grant (Sept 2016-Dec 2018). This facilitated the development of a series of publications on various aspects of the post-classical reception of Herakles-Hercules (each treating a particular period of the hero’s reception), via meetings between the editorial teams, commissioning of papers and a further conference, Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World, held at Leeds 7-9 June 2017. Details of the publications can be found here: three of the volumes were published in 2020; a fourth is to follow in 2022.
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.