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Hercules’ Other Lovers

Hercules and Hylas

By Joe Palmer

Last week there was a lot of internet buzz when at the memorial for Hercules in  Hercules: Fall Of An Avenger #1 it was heavily inferred that Hercules (and later confirmed by the writer) had at one time hooked up with Northstar, following through on the hero’s love of young men so often stripped from average recounts of Greek myths. While it’s pointless to post the panels now after other blogs and news sites have (you can look here), Hercules had plenty of other eromenoi, as the Greeks called male lovers, to talk about.

Where to begin?

Wikipedia seems a good place but numerous links in some of its articles are sometimes distracting.If you’re like me, I sometimes find myself clicking on links to new entries before having read the one I looked up. Instead, the World History of Male Love website seems a better place. It’s articles are concise and well-written, and there’s the bonus of learning about stories of male love in other cultures.

Plutarch, the ancient Greek writer among other things, wrote that Hercules had more eromenoi than the god Apollo, an apparently impressive feat since Apollo was reputedly quite fond of young men.

Hercules is said to have considered Iolaos and Hylas as his favorites. Iolaos, also youthful cousin to Hercules, accompanied the demi-god ashis charioteer on many of his Twelve Labors. Their mutual adoration inspired real lovers to pledge themselves at his tomb while the Thebans worshipped him together with Hercules and held yearly contests like the Olympics, the Iolaeia, in his honor.

Hercules next greatest beloved was the curly, blond haired Hylas, son of King Thiodamas. As legend goes, Hercules was plodding along one day in the backward land of Dryopia when he encountered the king (being very unkingly working in the field). The two of them had a misunderstanding, and Hercules, feeling insulted, killed Thiodamas. Apparently the Dryopians’ quality of life wasn’t great, and rather than risk more bloodshed they offered Hylas to Hercules. It was a win-win situation. Hylas got a boyfriend, Hercules a weapons bearer and a lover, and the Dryopians a new ruler. The pair became inseparable, and they joined the adventure when Jason was gathering an army to gain the golden fleece. Tragically, the Fates had another plan for Hylas and he was seduced by the water-nymph Dryope who became entranced by his beauty. Hercules and Polyphemos searched all night for Hylas, but it was for nothing as he’d joined Dryope in her underwater cave.

Other men said to have beloved of Hercules include: Abderus; Iphitus; Admetus, who assisted in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar; Adonis; Corythus; Nestor, a fellow argonaut and later King of Pylos; Philoctetes who inherited Hercules’s bow and arrows; Nireus; Jason, leader of the Argonauts; Stychius, and Phrynx.

The seeming pre-occupation with youths in ancient Greek myths and social relationships may seem unsettling. Bear in mind that the average lifespan was likely much shorter because of factors like war, infections, bad water, and for women, dying in child birth. Neither is it so different from our contemporary romanticized ideas of young men becoming soldiers. Today we just tell ourselves stories with slightly different ideas because of the predominance of Christianity. Just think how different the world might be today if past cultures’ ideas and practices of sexuality had never been suppressed or erased because of religious dogma.

Information in this short piece is compiled from the following article. Please read it for further information about Hercules and bookmark it for stories of other Greek gods and from other cultures.

Editorial Board, World History of Male Love, “Greek Mythology”, The Many Loves of Hercules, 1999

You might also want to check out “Lovers’ Legends, the Gay Greek Myths. Restored and retold by Andew Calimach.”

April 10, 2010
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