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Greek Myths - Article Review - Heracles and the Master of Animals

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In his article, "Heracles and the Master of Animals," Walter Burkert attempts to connect the many tales pertaining to Heracles. Throughout all of ancient mythology, many stories of Heracles exist that tell of his various accomplishments and characteristics. Many of these stories circle around the twelve labors of Heracles, which tell of deeds performed by Heracles. A central theme is present in each account told of Heracles, which is a strong focus on his experiences that have shaped him into the mythical man that he is. Therefore, Burkert in his article is attempting to connect the many stories of Heracles and produce one master detailed description of Heracles.

Throughout his article, Burkert argues that both the character and theme of the Heracles stories found in ancient Greek texts overlap in many other mythical stories. According to Burkert all these myths from both other areas of the ancient world, as well as, later time periods all seem to include a figure much like Heracles. One such story takes place in ancient Mesopotamia, where a hero by the name of Ninurta or Ningirsu who battle and "overcome several bestial adversaries" This type of myth parallels directly with the myths of Heracles. This type of myth analysis is the backbone of Burkert's argument and is the style, which he follows throughout his article.

Burkert claims that one idea gives the Heracles myths their coherence. This idea is that Heracles is not concerned with succeeding in battles over man, but rather over animals. Burkert states, "Heracles, is basically, not a heroic figure in a Homeric sense: he is not a warrior fighting warriors, he is mainly concerned with animals, just as he is a savage clad in a skin; and his main job is to tame and bring back animals which are eaten by man" That is to say that Heracles is undertaking a feet not attempted by any other in mythology. Heracles' victories over some of the most feared animals portray him as a valiant and brave warrior.

The arguments that Burkert has presented in his article have led him to the notion that Heracles is a popular character throughout mythology. This type of interpretation allows the student of myth a unique method to be utilized to gain a better understanding of myths and to interpret them in various ways. In stories told in varying parts of the ancient world and different time periods, characters resembling Heracles in many ways appear and lend a level of credibility to the telling of these tales. Through his close interpretation of Heracles, Burkert is able to portray an accurate image of Heracles. Burkert states, "a symbol of such hope, a message transmitted by the tale of how to overcome a crisis by breaking through the frontiers of confined existence to the Beyond" Therefore, Heracles has remained a symbol of overcoming crisis and breaking the barriers of confined existence.

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