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Most Metal Deaths in Greek Mythology

Having just finished friend Alyx J. Shaw's surreal, metal novel Gryphons, I have lately found myself susceptible to certain vicious plot bunnies better suited to Metalocalypse than Greek mythology. However, I think Dethklok would probably approve of this catalog of Most Metal Deaths in Greek Myth:

  • Antinous: Most arrogant and mean-spirited of Penelope's 108 suitors, he's the first to die when Odysseus shoots him in the throat with his great bow.

  • Polydektes: King of Seriphos. Turned to stone by Perseus wielding Medusa's head.

  • Hippolytus: Son of Theseus and Antiope. Cursed by his father, caught in an overturned chariot, and dragged to death by his own team of horses.

  • Tydeus: Father of Diomedes, one of the original Seven Against Thebes.  Died munching on the brains of his opponent, Melanippus.

  • Pelias: Usurper king of Iolkos, uncle of Jason.  Cut to pieces by his own daughters at the suggestion of Medea, who tricked him into thinking being hacked up and thrown into a magic cauldron would magically restore his youth.

  • Pentheus: Torn to pieces by the madwomen of Thebes, including his own mother and aunts.

  • Glauke and Creon: This princess of Thebes and her father burn to death after a jilted, furious Medea sends her a poisoned robe. Why Medea didn't just send a lethal tunic to Jason instead boggles the mind. I guess she thought killing the kids was sufficient.

  • Minos: Scalded to death in a bath by the daughters of King Cocalus, in a trap set by Daedalus.

  • Pandarus: Renowed archer of Troy during the Trojan War.  Killed by Diomedes via a spear through the nose that severs his tongue. Basically, every single battlefield kill in the Iliad belongs on this list.

  • Agamemnon: Getting cut to pieces in your bathtub by the mother of the daughter you sacrificed and her new lover/your creepy, estranged, incestuous cousin is a pretty nasty way to go. Sensing a pattern here with asshole kings getting punctured in bathtubs by angry women? The Greeks knew a good motif when they saw it.

  • Cassandra: Princess of Troy taken as a concubine by Agamemnon.  Foresees her own terrible demise, but walks into the palace of Mycenae to be gruesomely slaughtered, anyway.

  • Clytemnestra: Killed by her own kids to avenge their father's murder.

  • Thyestes' three sons: Killed by their uncle Atreus, chopped into bits, cooked into a stew, and served to their dad. Can we just agree that most of the House of Atreus belongs on this list?

  • Orpheus: Torn to pieces by maenads in Thrace. His severed head lives on as an oracle.

  • Patroklos: Companion of Achilles, killed fighting the Trojans disguised as Achilles.  Racks up the highest body count during this one rampage than any other hero in the Iliad; he kills 27 named Trojans, and 27 unnamed ones. Tries to scale the walls of Troy three times and almost succeeds; it takes Apollo himself to stop this killing machine

  • Herakles: In agony, his skin burning and peeling off, this ultimate Greek badass gets on his own funeral pyre and has his companion Philoctetes light it up.

There are probably some deaths I missed. Also, some deaths that might seem metal aren't really. Theseus getting shoved off a cliff or Achilles getting hit in the heel: not really that metal.

Greek Heroes and Hollywood Fail

The current Hercules film featuring Dwayne Johnson is that rarity in Hollywood: a genuinely good movie about Greek mythology, even though it debunks the myth it's set around. January's Legend of Hercules was a dud, as was 2011's Immortals and the Clash of the Titans reboot.

Part of the problem is the difference between the ancient Greek hero and the modern idea of a hero.  Modern-day heroes are ideally selfless and self-effacing in the Judeo-Christian tradition; they're usually ordinary people who perform with class and distinction in extraordinary circumstances.  Athletes, too, are often considered heroes, though they should more properly be defined as role models.  By contrast, the ancient Greek hero was most often the fruit of the union between a mortal and god, or a man favored by a god/goddess who could perform feats beyond the capabilities of ordinary men.  Greek heroes were not modest.  Far from it, they boasted of their deeds as a form of ancient PR.  They killed monsters and took on enemies not out of altruism but to enrich themselves and amass kleos, or personal glory.

Greek heroes also killed and preyed upon those around them.  Herakles was temperamental and violent, and the world's first House Guest From Hell.  Odysseus got all his men killed first because he decided to pillage elsewhere after the Trojan War, and underestimated his would-be victims, and then because in a foolish, boastful mood he antagonized Poseidon.  Theseus deserted the lovely Ariadne after she saved him from a gruesome death in the Labyrinth (and presumably after he had his way with her).  Perseus turned to stone pretty much anyone who pissed him off, including Andromeda's fiance, his great-uncle Proitus, and practically everyone on Seriphos not named Danae or Dictys.  Jason dumped Medea for a younger woman.  Achilles withdrew from the Trojan War to sulk in his tent over a personal insult while thousands of Greeks and his own boyfriend paid the price.  Bellerophon's head grew so large with hubris that he tried to fly to Olympus.

Greek heroes, in short, were assholes who would find themselves on Death Row if they were alive today.

There were also local heroes with hero cults: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Pelops, Orestes, Oedipus (at Athens, not Thebes), Orpheus, Amphiaraus, Diomedes, Erechtheus, etc.

Aside from the fact that most of the Greek heroes were unrepentant assholes, most of them don't have happy endings.  Theseus forgot (or did he?) to switch the sails of his ship from black to white, thereby causing his father Aegeus to commit suicide by throwing himself off the Athenian Acropolis.  Odysseus might have rescued his wife and property from 108 unscrupulous suitors, but had to flee Ithaca shortly thereafter because the families of the suitors wanted revenge.  Agamemnon was a Class A asshole who killed his own daughter, pissed off his wife, and was murdered in his bathtub by said wife.  Orestes killed his mother and went crazy.  Bellerophon was thrown by Pegasus and ended up a blind, crippled hermit.  Herakles was shot by a poisoned arrow and immolated himself to escape the pain. Perseus was killed by a rival kinsman.  Diomedes was driven out by his unfaithful wife and her lover.  Jason's rejected wife Medea killed their kids, and he died when a bulkhead from the rotting Argo fell on him.

So you see what I mean in terms of translating the Greek myths into Hollywood blockbusters.  When it's done, as in the case of Hercules, the hero has to be whitewashed, the authentic part of his ancient Greek heritage retooled to suit modern audiences.  The various versions of the Clash of the Titans films center around the Perseus-Andromeda romance, leaving out the unpleasant business of Perseus impetuously killing anything or anyone other than Medusa and the Kraken, Cetus the sea monster.  Odysseus gets his happy ending with Penelope because the film versions of his legend end short of the last books of The Odyssey.  Theseus has never had a truly faithful version of his story told because neither Hollywood writers nor moviegoers can reconcile his actions after he kills the Minotaur.  Achilles comes across as a whiny, homicidal diva.  Bellerophon is irredeemable.  Jason deserves his fate because, frankly, you do NOT dump a woman like Medea.  Agamemnon is nowadays cast as a power-grabbing villain versus the OTP of Helen and Paris.  Even Menelaus gets the villain/abusive husband treatment, never mind that in Homer he's a perfectly nice guy, if a second-rate warrior.

So while the success of Hercules might encourage more Hollywood films featuring Greek heroes, don't expect them to hew very closely to the legends that spawned them.

Hercules 2014 Film Review

Okay, I actually caved, got up off my butt and paid $8.00 to see a movie in the theater.  I rarely go to the movies. Too pricey, nothing I really want to see, and I'm at the age where I've turned into Huey Lewis's principal from Back to the Future.  Remember him?  With the immortal movie line: "You kids are just too darn loud?"  Yeah, that's me in a movie theater.  However, I've heard some excellent buzz about Dwayne Johnson's turn at Hercules Herakles, and decided what the Hades.

Having cleared that up, onto the review.

Happiness factor: 10/10
Wearing silly, satiated grin upon leaving theater: 10/10

Yes, I'm a Greek mythology purist.  But yes, I liked loved this movie.  It delivers exactly what it promises.  Lots of action, some laughs, a charismatic hero, and everybody giving it all they've got.  I suspect that has something to do with the fact that it's based on Steve Moore's graphic novel series Hercules: The Thracian Wars, meaning an actual writer wrote the story and not a committee of Hollywood executives for whom the art of storytelling has been reduced to mere demographics.

The film operates on the premise that Hercules's Labors are bullshit, and has a lot of fun questioning the veracity of the legend as expounded upon by Hercules's nephew, slick-tongued storyteller Iolaus (Reese Ritchie).  The opening montage of Labors is complimented by a bookend graphic novel-style montage in the closing credits showing exactly how Hercules performed those feats.  Hint: there was teamwork involved.

I had no quibbles with the casting.  Ian McShane gets some zingers in as seer of Argos Amphiarius.  Rufus Sewell rocks Odysseus's grandfather Autolycus (played in the 1990s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys by Bruce Campbell, for those of you old enough to remember), although for me Sewell will always be bad-ass Agamemnon from 2003's otherwise anemic TV miniseries Helen of Troy.  John Hurt chews up the screen as Cotys.  And Joseph Fiennes completely sells his campy turn as King Eurystheus.

Tydeus, alas, eats no brains in this feature, but does get in a good finger-licking of blood from a rotting head.  Atalanta did not annoy me at all, when I rather expected her as the token female sidekick to get on my nerves.  But that bow of hers must be made of titanium to withstand some of the stunts she executes with it.

Okay, some of the battle maneuvers are anachronistic--the Thracian army manages a Roman-style testudo to repel a hail of flaming arrows--but who cares?  I was stoked at the design of the helmets.  Bronze Age style complete with curving crests! Maybe some Corinthian helmets got into the production, but it bothered me a heck of a lot less than did Achilles' helmet in 2004's Troy.  The chariots were used well.

In short, the film takes every dollar its budget allowed and put it on the screen.  The CGI is bright and seamless.  The cinematography is great.  If that's not actually Thrace/Macedonia, it sure looks like it.

So, Greek mythology geeks, set aside your purism and go see this flick.  Even though its premise involves debunking a classical Greek myth, it's nevertheless the best Greek mythology film Hollywood has made in years.

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