This chapter will examine Hercules’ exemplary role in Voltaire’s writings. Firstly in his ‘private’ correspondence, particularly in the 1750s and 1760s, Voltaire uses Hercules as a symbol of the struggles he and his fellow free-thinkers face in trying to overcome religious intolerance and superstition: Voltaire compares himself and others to Hercules, battling the Lernaean hydra of anti-enlightened thought. Secondly, in his more public polemical writings Voltaire uses Hercules as part of his strategy of undermining the authority of religious tradition and Biblical narrative: for example, he presents Hercules alongside Christ as two figures to whom divinity has been falsely attributed, and he sees in the stories of Samson and Jonah, as well as in resurrection accounts, re-tellings of ancient myth. Voltaire, the new Hercules, sets the ancient Hercules at the very heart of his Enlightenment project.
The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 9