Greek and Roman Myths, Heroes, and Legends in TV and Movies
Children’s books, movies, games and even curriculum are often centered around fabled characters with roots in ancient times. The mythological genre offers exposure to world cultures, history, literature and art, while modern pop culture has inspired more interest than ever in all things magical. In this series Myths, Heroes, and Legends, we examine various categories of our favorite movie adaptations in this area and how they enhance and inspire your child’s learning. In this post, we cover:
Greek and Roman Myths, Heroes, and Legends
Disney’s Hercules, rated G (1997)
Disney’s Hercules follows the adventures of the title character who, after being turned mortal, is fated to live on Earth until he can prove himself worthy of returning to Mount Olympus. Greek and Roman mythology consider Hercules to be a multifaceted character, famous for his strength, whose multitude of adventures allow for vast interpretations when depicting the god in books and film. Although the attributes associated with the gods and goddesses depicted in the Disney rendition are consistent with common myth, significant idiosyncrasies are contradictory. Appearances by gods on Mount Olympus can be appreciated, especially Hermes who, although his cameo is brief, provides accurate descriptions of other gods. In addition, Hercules’ “Twelve Labors” are loosely depicted through his defeat of several monsters, including the Lernaean Hydra and its immortal heads. However, while Hera is accurately depicted as the wife of Zeus, Hercules’ mother was actually a mortal named Alcmena.
While I wouldn’t use Disney’s rendition of Hercules to write any school reports, the gods presented provide a foundation for further learning as well as tons of entertaining anecdotes.
The Odyssey, rated PG-13 (1997)
Homer’s Odyssey was developed into a two part miniseries that aired on NBC in May of 1997. The action packed film is a fair portrayal of Odysseus, his participation in the Trojan War, and his constant struggles while journeying back to his wife and son in Ithaca. Many (but not all) of Odysseus’ trials are illustrated in the TV movie; from defeating the Cyclopes, to his experience in the underworld, to being unable to reciprocate Calypso’s affections.
The attention paid to Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, and a few minor variances throughout Odysseus’ labors, are some of the few deviations from the original work. Overall, NBS’s adaptation is a fun and educational way to experience Homer’s epic poem.
Clash of the Titans, rated PG-13 (2010)
The 2010 film, Clash of the Titans is very loosely based on the Greek legend of Perseus, son of Danae and Zeus. While major themes are congruent to ancient myth, accurate details are forgone in exchange for overly dramatic fight scenes and special effects. While legend confirms that Perseus and his mother were rescued after being forced into a chest and set afloat in the sea after an oracle foretold that Perseus would kill Acrisius (his grandfather and king of Argos), similarities lessen as the film unfolds.
In both Greek legend and Clash of the Titans, Perseus is tasked to kill Medusa. Although our hero manages to slay the Gorgon in both myth and movie, Medusa’s description, as well as the events that led to her beheading, differs. Although details are dissimilar to the ancient tale, the mercy of the gods, and Hollywood, allow Perseus to get the girl, Andromeda, both on and off screen.
While we are introduced to many gods who are common throughout Greek mythology, the scale tips away from educational value and more toward entertainment in the case of Clash of the Titans.
Troy, rated R (2004)
Although Troy is an entertaining film to watch whether you are familiar with the Odyssey or not, it is especially interesting to view it as an extension of Odysseus’ sojourn. While Hollywood’s influence is unavoidable, the main themes, characters, and auspices, remain true to Homer’s Iliad (the ancient Greek poem that relates the story of the decade-long Trojan War). As depicted in the Iliad, Achilles, fighting for the Greeks, is arrogant and constantly shows disdain toward Agamemnon, his king.
The prophecy from the Iliad that foretells Achilles’ death is expanded upon in the film when Thetis, Achilles’ mother, predicts to Achilles that if he doesn’t fight, his children will remember him and love him but after they die, he will be forgotten. However, if he fights in Troy, he will die but the world will remember his name. Wanting his name to live forever, even if he cannot, Achilles fights and kills Hector, leader of the Trojans, whose brother Paris, in turn, shoots the arrow that fatally injures Achilles.
Nothing plot altering is presented in Troy and much can be learned about the Trojan War. However, I find the most beneficial lesson comes from watching both Troy and the Odyssey and analyzing the juxtaposition between who you are rooting for. It is an important life lesson- remembering that there are multiple sides to every story.
Have these adaptations inspired you to go back to the original sources of these myths, heroes, and legends? Have you seen the influence of Greek and Roman mythology throughout your school’s curriculum or required/suggested reading list? Please share what you think about these modern portrayals of ancient myth or where else you’ve witnessed the influence of Greek or Roman parables.
Sarah Mills is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. She mentored and instructed kindergarten through high school-aged students throughout her college years and eventually went on to live and work in Yosemite National Park for a stint. Reading, writing, adventuring, and anything Harry Potter are some of Sarah’s favorite go-to activities.