Hercules, Thor, and Christ, three names which seem unlikely to appear together within the same sentence. While their are some clear and obvious differences between each of these figures, it is the similarities which thread between them that are far more interesting than they more obvious ways in which they are different.
There are some striking parallels that one through each of them, which will be explored and discussed here.
The one element that is of key importance to all three of them, is a shared balanced between divinity and humanity. This is something that plays a crucial part in each of thier stories and in who they are, and shapes around their myths and how they are perceived by others. Each of them in their own unique ways have come to be heros of the people, those who stand up for the common man and offer some hope and aide both directly as well as through the symbolism of what they represent. They are all popular idols, meaning, embraced by the everyday person. Champions of the struggle of everyday man. Yet the one thing which allows each of them to achieve this goal is they are all also touched by divinity and have that little something extra which exalts them above mortal man.
Now in this regard Hercules and Christ share the most in common between their stories. Both share a God father and a mortal mother, though it came about in very different ways. Both Hercules and Christ, were born upon earth, and as men and because of their birth, set through trails and tribulations upon earth. They both share something of mortality and both end up having their lives guided by the divine powers which helped sire them. Ultimate they both must sacrifice the ability to live as man, and have the simple joys and happiness of men for a greater divine cause.
In the case of Christ he was put upon earth to fulfill a prophcy, to spread the word of God, and thus in the end die for the sake of man. Because of this he was bound to remain “pure” and chaste, and he was destined to be a prophet.
In the case of Hercules, he was driven by his jealous stepmother Hera, the wife of Zeus, who sought to avenge Zeus’ infidelity upon his demigod son. While Christ was denied the ability to ever have a family, Hercules had his family stolen from him, and knew from then he could never risk having one again.
So while living among men, they both had to live isolated from man as well and had to suffer in ways beyond men, while still sharing in earthly struggles which men could relate to. Niether one of them was given true choice over their own lives.
In the case of Thor there is a slight difference. He was a god and lived within the realm of the gods, and yet, sharing in humanity was a very important part of him and who he was, and his role among the people. In spite of the fact that he was a god, he was still relatable to man because he was suciptiable to the same difficulties and struggles as men were. Like men he was at the mercy of the elements of the earth, and like men he could be tricked and deceived.
There is one important myth laid out with the purpose of highlighting this “human” aspect of Thor. He was deceived by an Ogre King who sought to humiliate Thor and thus presented to Thor three tasks which were impossible to complete.
The first task was that Thor was given a horn of ale and told to drink to the bottom of it. Well being a very manly Norse god, Thor thought, no problem. He could easily drink a horn of ale. So he takes it and starts to drink, and drink, and drink, yet never reaches the bottom untill he must finally admit defeat, feeling pretty low about this.
He is then given his second task, he must lift up the paw of the ogre’s great cat. Well Thor is the god of strength, no one is stronger than he is. He marches up to the cat, and struggles against it, but can barely manage to life the paw off the ground, and is pretty upset that he the mighty Thor could not even pick up a cat.
At the thrid task, the ogre plays at feeling sorry for Thor and offers to give him and easy challenge now, since he did so poorly on the first, and presents his grandmother and tells Thor he must wrestle the old woman. Well Thor is a great warrior who does battle against fearsome giants, he can defeat an old man. He goes to fight the woman and she throws him onto the ground.
Well that was it, Thor was crushed, when the Ogre King reveals to him how he had been tricked. The horn in which he was to drink from was tapped into the ocean, and no man could swallow the ocean.
The cat whose paw he could not lift was really the Midgard serpent which is wrapped around the world, so no one could lift up the whole world.
And the old woman Thor had to wrestle with was old age, which no man can defeat.
So this shows that though Thor is a god, he has the same weaknesses and struggles that men do, and throughout many of his myths, and his battles against the Midgard Serpent, his arch nemsisies the elements often come into play to hinder him.
Another important factor that runs similar in each of these figures is they all in some way act to do a service for man kind and to help better the world for man. They all have some duty, function, task, which they must do that benifits mankind.
In the case of Christ, he has his miracles which he performs. He turns the water into wine at the wedding, he walks upon water to save the boat of fishermen, he heals the sick with a touch of his hands, resurrects Lazarus from the dead. One of the things which does make Christ stand out the most from these other figures, is the Christians do counter Pagan myth by making a much more humble and passive hero, opposed to the warrior heroes, Christ does act out of a pure selflessness in the things he does which does vary from Hercules in his own works, but the message and concept behind them remain the same.
Hercules has the 12 Labors which has to perform, but as hinted at above, for him these tasks have a double motive, they not only work to benefit mankind but he also must complete them as a form of penance. When Hercules first attempted to live as normal men do, Hera drove him mad, and made him believe his family were his enemies and so he slayed them in the night. While what he did was not his fault, that does not change the fact that he has what Greeks called the “blood guilt” and thus he must try and purify his soul, and through these labors he hopes to do so.
The Labors of Hercules do work as a benefit to man in a duel way, for one thing, for many of his tasks he must conquer over fearsome man eating savage monsters which have been terrorizing people and so he makes the world safer for man by dominating over these blood thirsty creatures. But he also offers a lesson and symbolic message to man. He stands up to confront his fears and demons, and he never gives up no matter how impossible the task before him appears to be, he always finds the way to persevere against it. In addition not only does he use his courage, and physical prowess but often he must also use his wit to help him through. Hercules becomes an icon for the everyday man. As men in their daily life must struggle, Hercules also must struggle, and if Hercules can do the seemingly impossible, so man can conquer his own difficulties.
Thor also works in the service of the protection of man, for one of his class sole purposes as a god is defeating this horrible giants which if it were not for Thor, they would be set loose upon the world and wreak havoc among men.
And in the Viking culture in which the sea, and sailing plays such an important role within their lifestyle, Thor helps protect men at sea from the terrors of the Midgard Serpent.
An interesting way that does reflect a greater similarity between Thor and Christ in a way that Hercules lacks, is through the importance of talismans. The cross has become an almost universal symbol for Christ, it is worn both in honor of Christ and his suffering for man as well as a symbol of protection for the people, almost all Christians bare the symbol of the cross.
In the case of Thor, his greatest weapon, his hammer, was a symbol that came to be worn by all of Thor’s worshippers. Medallions baring the symbol of Thor’s hammer were numerous. And the same as with the cross, at the time, everyone knew the symbol of Thor’s hammer, knew what it was and what it represented. It was worn both in worship as well as for personal protection.
The final key factor in all of this, is that ultimately all three figures in the end become Martyr’s for their cause.
Of corse in the case of Christ, he is in the end crucifed upon the cross to die for the sins of man, and thus returns back to his heavenly father once more.
Hercules has a very similar experience as this in his own death. He is ultimate called up to the heavens by his father Zeus. After he manages to complete his 12 Labors at long last, Zeus decides that he has finally suffered enough, and Hera had her fun, but he steps in to finally alieve Hercules of his suffering and ultimately purify him and cleanse the blood upon his hands. Hercules builds up a great funeral pyre on which he stands and Zeus pulls the soul of Hercules up into Olympus, and ultimately makes Hercules a god and spares him hence forth from all mortal sufferings and struggles so he can live the rest of eternity in bliss and peace.
In the case of Thor, at the coming of Ragnarok, a myth with strong similarities to the book of Revelations (but that is a story for another day) Thor has his final and last battle with the Midgard serpent. They finally get to face off with one another without any interruptions or interferences, and as Thor strikes a mighty blow to kill the serpent, from the wound drips his deadly venom onto Thor, and thus they both fall. Thor gives his own life in his last act to protect the world and mankind and fells his arch rival.