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The Muses of Hercules: The Perfect Bridge Between an Ancient Story and a Modern Audience

There has never been an animated feature so far out of its way to divert the audience’s attention as much as Hercules did in 1997. It seems they chose to focus on Ancient Greece as opposed to an adaptation of another fairy tale and changed their tune from a fairy tale to a myth, telling the story of a man who was born as a god and attempted to reverse his fortune by becoming a true hero and returning to his rightful place. In the movie, he is aided by the satyr Philoctetes (Danny DeVito) and pursued by the vengeful Hades (James Woods) as he strives to prove himself worthy of being one of the gods once more.

A lot of the charm of this particular product comes from the adaptive choices made by the Disney Dream Factory to transform what could have been a gruesome and dark legend into a much more kid-friendly and enjoyable production as part of their Dream Factory series. As part of various versions of Hercules’ story, there is a story in which he murdered his children in a bid to protect them. Interestingly, Disney did not choose to put that part of the movie on screen for whatever reason. In some versions of the story, it has also been said that he killed Megara at one point. Spoilers aren’t relevant at this point since it’s been 2,500 years since the book was published.

The strenuous effort put into adapting the story from its source material led to a much lighter and more charming tone than the original story. This is because most of the humor in the story came from inside jokes about Greek and Roman mythology, with occasional reminders of how dark those mythologies could be. I have previously written about how Thebes is called “The Big Olive,” like “The Big Apple,” and how the story of Narcissus tells about a young man who was so good-looking that he fell in love with his reflection in the water and wasted away to death, unable to stop staring at it. Megara and Hercules attended a play at one point about Oedipus. 

Oedipus is famous for accidentally murdering his father and marrying his mother, which leads him to become king. There was a lot of tone-down or joke-making with the darker source material, but one of the most inspiring choices made by Disney was transforming the Muses into a gospel choir, which might have been the most inspired choice they ever made. There are nine Muses in Greek mythology and legend. Each of these is supposed to be associated with a specific art form. However, as a whole, their function within the Greek Pantheon is to serve as inspiration for mortals to create art, music, and literature through their creative imagination. 

Even our word “music” has its etymological roots in the word “Muse.” It is through the adaptation of this cultural touchstone of the Greeks that the story of Hercules was able to make its most brilliant choice. It has always been an issue for filmmakers to adapt any story, especially an old one, such as the legend of Hercules. As a result, they must put it in terms that an audience can understand. There is no doubt that Easter eggs and inside jokes make movies more fun. However, if they dominate the narrative, they are unlikely to appeal to a general audience or be relatable. 

In terms of the Muses, it is fair to say that only a few theatergoers will be able to comprehend the importance of the goddesses to ancient Greek culture. Disney’s portrayal of the Muses in this film puts the characters on a more relatable footing. This is precisely what the movie did for the audience, bridging the gap between the ancient symbols and the context of today’s audiences. There is something extraordinary about how the Muses are depicted in Hercules, in which the Greek Muses are combined with the modern context of a film. 

They play a dual role in the movie in that, in addition to serving a modern purpose, it fulfills an ancient purpose: the Greek Muses were divine patrons of the arts, music, and storytelling, and in this movie, they play a similar role. Secondly, their presence also serves as a fun inside joke since they act as a sort of “Greek Chorus,” which was a common element of ancient Greek stage plays and performed as a collective voice that interacted with the story, its characters, and the audience in a fun way. Furthermore, they work well in the role of a movie-based narrative, following the story as it unfolds.

This is why, ironically, the introduction of the Muses into the story is played to interrupt the story’s narrative voice (in the form of a cameo from Charlton Heston) in the first place. A satirical rendition of the trope of highbrow narration appears in the film’s opening scene, which depicts the trope of highbrow narration in a satirical way. The topic of heroism is contemplated in this rendition, along with what makes a true hero and what characterizes them. Thus, a musical and entertaining narrative voice takes over due to the Muses interrupting the film due to their involvement in the movie. 

It turns out, ironically enough, that what they end up doing is the same thing that they intended: they serve as a narrative voice to a story that is about what it means to be considered a true hero and what actions one must take if one wishes to attain such a status. While the Muses present the story in a different and completely different way, and the movie itself is a far cry from the ancient myth, they also tell a story that has the same themes as those that the original narrator presented in his authentic narration. 

One cannot argue that the ‘Gospel Choir’ Muses are by far the greatest achievement of the film; they provide the soundtrack with a captivating, refreshing, entertaining soundscape that invokes for a modern audience the associations of energetic religious music in a style that elicits an enthusiastic response from audiences. From “The Gospel Truth” to “Zero to Hero,” there isn’t a time when you can’t get lost in the passion that permeates this music. The style of the adaptation has been chosen in such a way as to convey the essence of the achievement that made the transformation possible in the first place. 

It is common for people to view the culture of an ancient past as far too distant and unrelatable for many people. It is easy for them to be left unmoved, feeling that it is far too distant to be relatable to them. In the rhythm and music of a gospel choir in full swing, the adaptive choice captures for a modern audience not only a feeling that would not be so different from the affection and inspiration that ancient Greek culture once drew from the Muses but also a feeling similar to what ancient Greek culture personally felt. Though thousands of years separate the movie from the myth, the Muses of Hercules produces a connection between the two stories as it captures the image meant to be inspired by the Muses in the tale.


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