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Hercules, Natural Law, & an Augustinian Sense of Virtue

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

In chapter 13 of Disney & the Moral Imagination (the second book in our duology on Disney & Apologetics), John Weitzel analyzes Disney’s retelling of Hercules, arguing that this polytheistic narrative bespeaks the conviction of a grand moral order lying above the Greek Pantheon. With a particular interest in cosmology (origins of the universe), he considers how the Hercules myth entails a preliminary state of chaos; an established order; and, beginning with the story of Hercules, a plan to overthrow that order and to release chaos once more. He presses the point that it is ultimately the Fates, not the gods, who have power over order in the Herculean universe, and he compares this ultimate sense of order to Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cosmologies involving a sense of natural law. Additionally, he argues that Hercules’s actions reveal more of an Augustinian sense of virtue, as opposed to a Homeric or Aristotelian vision, and Hercules ultimately aims for Platonic and Christian conceptions of love.

"Hercules... gains a deeper value for self-sacrifice, a willingness to give up his own desires, even his life, for the benefit of another."
"Hercules takes place at a particular time and in a particular space, when the gods and humans often interacted with each other. Throughout the movie, Hercules grows in knowledge about himself and even learns to love himself enough to care about others, which is charity. He shifts from love of self, to desire for relationship with his divine father, to love of honor, and finally love of other. He begins to see more than his own selfish ambition; he starts to see the world through the eyes of others. At the end of the movie, he stands ready to move from the role of hero as self-serving to a leadership role in his community. He sees Zeus’s love for him and his own love for Megara as a parallel to how he should love his neighbor as himself."
"Just as Augustine saw Plato, so the viewer can see Hercules had a deep longing for true virtue, wisdom, and relationship with his creator. Hercules grows in virtue and relationship throughout the film, but he still needs to work on wisdom. Aquinas might say that he has found God’s true nature through the natural law but only needs the revealed truth. He has only begun to understand that to live for others is the call of God. Hercules has fortitude and learns charity. At the end of the movie, he finally begins to live virtuously. That is, he begins to participate in the eternal law."


This post is meant simply to offer a glimpse into our Disney & Apologetics project. Excerpts alone, however, cannot stand for an entire chapter, nor can they stand as representative for all the other ideas to be explored and arguments to be made in this 500-pp, two-volume work. There is much more to ponder within these pages! If you want to think more carefully about morality, about using the formative artifacts of pop-culture to approach Christian apologetics, and about the connections between imagination, aesthetics, and theology, buy this book! You can see what others say about it here and here.


John L. Weitzel is currently completing a PhD in Humanities (ABD) from Faulkner University. Additionally, he holds an MA in Theology, an MS in Counseling, and a BA in Psychology. He has taught at Marymount California University, Cypress College, and El Camino College. His research interests include pre-modern philosophy (especially Augustine) and philosophy/psychology of personhood. He resides in Harbor City, CA, with his wife and three sons.

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