Cosplaying Hercules

Heracles on a black-figure pot, photograph by Jastrow via Wikimedia (Currently Louvre; c. 520 BCE; pottery)
Heracles on a black-figure pot, photograph by Jastrow via Wikimedia (Currently Louvre; c. 520 BCE; pottery)

Cosplay may seem like a recent invention, but the ancient Greeks and Romans weren’t above dressing up like their favorite heroes. The Greek hero Heracles (better known to us by his Roman name “Hercules”) was easily recognizable with his lion-skin cloak and rough wooden club. While we don’t know that anyone actually did walk around dressed up like Heracles, a few works of art show that Greeks and Romans certainly imagined doing so.

One example is theatrical, from Aristophanes’ comedy The Frogs. The play is about Dionysus getting fed up with the contemporary theatre and deciding to go down to Hades to bring back one of the great tragic playwrights from the past. Being a bit of a coward, Dionysus dresses up like the brave Heracles by putting a lion skin over his luxurious yellow robe and carrying a club while wearing an actor’s high boots, just to keep his spirits up. For extra comedy, Dionysus, dressed as Heracles, goes to visit the actual Heracles at the start of the play for advice on his adventure. Here’s what happens when Dionysus, accompanied by his smart-ass slave Xanthias, knocks on the hero’s door:

Heracles: Who banged the door? Someone pounded it like a centaur. Tell me who it is. (He opens the door and falls over laughing.)

Dionysus: I say, Xanthias!

Xanthais: What is it?

Dionysus: Didn’t you notice?

Xanthias: Huh? What?

Dionysus: How afraid I made him!

Xanthias: Afraid you’ve gone mad, more like!

Heracles: Oh, by Demeter, I can’t stop laughing! I’ll bite my tongue, but still I can’t help it!

Dionysus: Oh, pull yourself together. I’ve got something to ask you.

Heracles: I can’t stifle this laughter, though, at the sight of that lion skin over your saffron gown. Whose idea was this, the club and the high heels at once?

Aristophanes, The Frogs 38-46

(My own translation)

Commodus as Hercules, photograph by Sailko via Wikimedia (Currently Musei Capitolini, Rome; late 2nd c. CE; marble)

Over in the Roman world, the emperor Commodus decided he was not content with traditional portrait sculptures and had himself portrayed dressed up as Hercules. Here he is wearing the lion skin, carrying the club in one hand and the apples of the Hesperides (from one of the hero’s twelve labors) in the other. For an emperor who was obsessed with his public image, adopting the guise of a popular hero like Hercules made sense.

Just like we can recognize our modern heroes by their symbols and distinguishing attributes—an S on the chest and a curl of hair for Superman, a bow and a mockingjay pin for Katniss Everdeen—people of the past knew their heroes in the same way.

In Character is an occasional feature looking at some of our favorite characters from written works and media to see what drives them, what makes them work, and what makes us love them so much.

Who’s That Guy?

In the course of my life, I’ve become aware that I experience mild face blindness. It’s nothing I’ve ever been diagnosed with and it isn’t severe enough for me to seek any kind treatment for, I just know that, compared with other people, I have trouble recognizing faces that I haven’t seen a lot of. I mostly identify people by their hair, their clothing and movements, and, especially, their voices. In day-to-day life it’s not much of a problem. (Learning a hundred new students every semester is a challenge, but I have the advantage of getting to take attendance at the start of every class.) When it bothers me the most is in entertainment.

When there are multiple characters with similar appearances, I tend to get them mixed up. (Especially middle-aged white men, since they’re all over the place.) I also have trouble recognizing people we’ve seen before in different settings.

160505buckyFor example, there’s a moment in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when the Winter Soldier’s mask comes off revealing that it’s the Captain’s best friend and fellow soldier Bucky Barnes. It’s a powerful moment and a shocking reveal, but the first time I saw the movie, I had no idea who that guy was. Even having seen the first Captain America movie, and having Bucky reintroduced via the museum exhibit/infodump earlier in Winter Soldier, I didn’t know who I was looking at on screen. As the movie went on, it became clear to me that the Winter Soldier was someone Captain Rogers knew from his past, an old friend, but I still couldn’t connect the character with Bucky. (Cap said his name, but it went by too fast for me to catch.) It wasn’t until I rewatched the movie on DVD that I finally realized who the Winter Soldier was. Even today, looking at the two characters on screen, I can’t visually tell that they’re the same person.

It’s an odd way to watch movies and television, knowing that there is information up there on the screen that I can’t interpret. I’m lucky to have a co-geek to turn to and ask: “Who is that guy?” One of the many pleasures of being married to someone who loves nerdy stuff as much as I do!

We’re off to see Captain America: Civil War on opening night tonight. It looks like there’s going to be a lot of familiar faces in this movie. I might even recognize some of them.

Images: Bucky Barnes via tvtropes; Winter Soldier via playbuzz

In Character is an occasional feature looking at some of our favorite characters from written works and media to see what drives them, what makes them work, and what makes us love them so much.

Favorite Characters: Star Trek Edition

Favorite Star Trek characters. Go!

Star Trek (Original Series)

Spock,_2267Erik: Mr. Spock. Hands down, Spock. When I first discovered the original Star Trek in afternoon reruns, I was in elementary school, the shy, quiet kid who spent recess reading and didn’t understand the social rules hat other kids lived by. I identified with Spock so hard. After growing up on cartoons that always stigmatized the smart characters as snooty, unsympathetic Brainy Smurf types, Spock was proof that being the thoughtful, unemotional observer of humanity could be awesome, too.


Eppu: This is a tough one. I don’t think I really have one. In general, I’m more drawn to the supporting characters in stories than the main character / protagonist, and ST:TOS is most definitely one of those cases. I find Kirk intolerable and McCoy a little too emotional for my preference, but the rest of the core cast offers more qualities I like: Spock’s cool head and nuggets of extremely dry humor; Uhura’s patience and dedication; Sulu’s enjoyment of life; Checkov’s nonchalance and ability to roll with the punches; Scotty’s inventiveness and flexibility in the face of an unrelenting barrage of technical problems.

The Next Generation

Picard2379Erik: Captain Picard. I’ll admit, it’s mostly Patrick Stewart’s acting chops that make the character for me, but I love Picard’s gravitas, his cool head in a crisis, and his humanity. I came of age with Next Generation, in the post-Cold-War world that believed in hope and human progress, and despite what we have lived through in the last few decades, I still carry some of that optimism with me. Picard’s compassion and level-headedness are the solid ground on which the moral universe of Next Generation rests.

Memory Alpha GuinanEppu: Guinan! She stares in the face of her people’s diaspora and stays serene, but is not shy about pulling out the rifle stashed behind the bar when needed. Even if she was written as a supporting cast member, Guinan gets some brilliant moments of character development, like when she begins to question her black-or-white attitude to the Borg in the season 5 episode I Borg. Also, Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is fa-bu-lous. Every scene where Patrick Stewart and Goldberg appear together, no matter how simple, is golden.

Deep Space Nine

JadziaDax2374Erik: Jadzia Dax. Specifically the later-seasons’ Jadzia Dax: not the ethereal above-it-all beauty of the first season, but the wise-cracking, tongo-playing, bat’leth-slinging, unflappable smart-ass and scientist extraordinaire that she developed into by the third. Not that I’m much for practicing Klingon martial arts or playing Ferengi card games into the wee hours, but I love the self-possession with which she does everything. She reminds me of some of the great professors I had in college, the ones who loved teaching their subjects, did it with passion and commitment, and didn’t much care what anyone outside the classroom thought of them.

Eppu: Doctor Bashir. We rarely get to see such a full personal growth arc as we see with Bashir. When he arrived to the station, he was so wet behind the ears his whole being basically emanated green. To follow him from firmly planting his foot in his mouth in those early episodes, to his worshipful puppy-love towards Dax, to his growing confidence in his position and friendships, to adjusting to the fact that his much-appreciated intellectual abilities were grafted onto him in an illegal procedure and not in-born, to maturing into a confident, capable officer, supportive and loyal to his friends, is a delight. I also love Bashir’s relationship with Garak, and how the spy-turned-tailor educates our man Bashir about the larger world beyond the Federation.


Tuvok2377Erik: Tuvok. Tim Russ did a masterful job taking up the Vulcan mantle from Leonard Nimoy. While many actors cast as Vulcans come off as robotic or bored, Russ’s Tuvok showed us that self-control can be just as interesting as unbridled passion. As someone who isn’t often emotionally expressive, it’s nice to see a similar character on screen (and without the presumption that he is damaged or needs to “loosen up.”)



Eppu: Chakotay. He embodies quiet get-it-done effectiveness and deep emotions without being abrasive. Respectful towards and supportive of – even if not always in complete agreement with – Captain Janeway through thick and thin. It’s also very refreshing that no romance was artificially forced into the relationship between Janeway and Chakotay: they just slowly became and remained friends.


Erik: I don’t have one. The show never really worked for me, which is too bad, because I love the concept and some of the details. I kind of wish whoever owns the franchise now would stuff Enterprise into the memory black hole and start over from the basic concept of humanity’s first interstellar exploration and the founding of the Federation instead of the soulless reboot movies we’re getting.

Eppu: Never saw all of it, and I don’t remember it well. As much as I can have a favorite character, it’s a three-way tie between Hoshi Sato, T’Pol, and Tucker.

Mashup Eppu Enterprise Favorites

Who are your favorites and why? Share in the comments!

Images: Spock via Memory Alpha. Picard via Memory Alpha. Guinan via Memory Alpha. Jadzia Dax via Memory Alpha. Julian Bashir via TrekCore. Tuvok via Memory Alpha. Chakotay via Memory Alpha. Hoshi Sato via Memory Alpha. T’Pol via Memory Alpha. Tucker via Memory Alpha

Creative Differences is an occasional feature in which we discuss a topic or question that we both find interesting. Hear from both of us about whatever’s on our minds.

World of Warcraft Class Theme Music

Some years ago, back on the old WoW Insider which is no more, there was once a fun post suggesting theme songs for the various character classes. As a classical music fan, I’ve tried to come up with a classical version of the same. Here are my suggestions.

Warrior – Bartok, Hungarian Suite “Bear Dance”

The warrior is an iconic archetype in role-playing games and the World of Warcraft version is much like its ancestors: a heavily-armed fighter who charges into the midst of battle. Bartok’s “Bear Dance” may sound more like a druid thing, but the music carries a feel of martial power fitting to a warrior.

“Bear Dance” via P. András

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The Black Widow Movie We Have

I know I’m not alone in wanting a Black Widow movie, but it seems pretty clear that we’re not getting one. Marvel films have been announced out to 2019 and there’s nothing in sight with our favorite red-headed assassin in the lead. So, since we’re not getting the Black widow movie we want, we will have to make do with the Black Widow movie we have. Here’s what we’ve got:

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