The Greater Hero: Poirot or Hercules?

By Rob Cain  

To take the Ten labors of Hercules and write a Poirot story for each is an ambitious task.  Comparing the rotund, mustached slow-moving private detective who flexes his “little grey cells” more often than his leg muscles seems an odd comparison.  .  Agatha Christies first published this book back in 1939, and though it is of a time of ladies, gentlemen, and afternoon teas on the veranda, it still has an attraction to the modern audience.  Just refer to Kenneth Branagh’s success with Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.  Christie’s legacy has been repeated multiple times in various decades.  British Television has produced multiple versions of her work for decades.  Christie has something to say no matter what the decade.  It has been adapted to the modern era, remained as an ode to the golden age of detective writing, or it can be used to make a commentary on the classical age. 

The foreword of her book brings an interesting insight into Poirot’s research into classical mythology.  He ordered his trusty secretary Miss Lemon, to write him up a briefing paper and it seems the Belgium detective came to the same conclusion that I have come to over the years. 

While growing up, and while reading more about the character Hercules, I have become disillusioned with the God Hercules.    This for me is illustrated by a conversation I had with ‘N’ when she asked me why I spoke so disparagingly about everyone’s favorite hero.  “Well, he did kill his wife and children.”  She then gave me a look and simply responded in a clipped series of words that sounded like, “Oh, I-did-not-know-that.” Each word was said with emphasize as in another way of saying: “Got it.”

Here are a few lines from the book.

“Tell me,” he [Dr, Burton] said, “Why Hercule?”

Poirot then responds:  “What I understand you to mean that in physical appearance I do not resemble a Hercules?”

Dr. Burton’s eyes swept over Hercule Poirot, over his small neat person attired in striped trousers, correct black jacket and natty bowtie, swept up from his patent leather shoes to his egg shaped head and the immense moustache that adorned his lip. 

 It is from there that Poirot decides to undergo his own ten labors.  He has read Miss. Lemon’s report. He says,”These gods and goddesses – they seem to have as many aliases as a modern criminal.  Indeed, they seemed to be definitely criminal types.  Drink, Debauchery, incest, rape, loots, homicide and chicanery – enough to keep a juge d’ Instruction [judge of inquiry] constantly busy .”

Dr. Burton makes a comment that Poirot’s does not like:  “Yours is not the labors of Hercules.”

Poirot disagrees and sets himself 10 detective cases to solve in the realm of the 10 labors of the mythological strongman.

This is great fiction, and worth the time to find a copy.  However, it leaves me with some disturbing thoughts. 

What was this ‘Gods behaving badly’ supposed to teach the Greeks and Romans?   

Poirot’s observations of the antics of the Greek and Roman Gods are almost like being a member of the Roy Family in the HBO’s TV show Succession.  The Roy’s are powerful, rich, and can make us mere mortals (who don’t earn as much as they do) pay for being in their sphere of influence.  Even the Gods, Kendall, Roman Shiv, Greg and Tom, run about trying to escape the wrath of their Father Roy Logan (in this case a good characterization of an ill-tempered Zeus).  Being a Roy at least you get to live to the next day for another round of torture.   What about us mortals?  We get cast down from Mount Olympus in a massive layoff, or as a waiter (in a crappy job anyway) is fired for accidently pouring wine on Roy Logan’s sleeve.       

Roman mythology may be that.  A celestial lesson that life is shit, because the gods are shit.  You know that saying, “Shit rolls downhill”? 

Maybe it’s rolling down from Mount Olympus.

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