Hercules Conquers Atlantis: In Defense of Neo-Mythologism

Martin M. Winkler

George Mason University

Italian muscleman epics set in antiquity have come in for a fair share of scorn from classicists and film critics. But not all Herculean labors are alike. In particular, the films of Vittorio Cottafavi deserve a reappraisal. Cottafavi coined the term "neo-mythologism" to account for the free renditions of classical myths in popular culture. His Ercole alla conquista d'Atlantide (1961), loosely based on a novel by French Academician Pierre Benoit, is a prime example. The film works on two levels. It delivers the pleasures of spectacle by featuring the cinema's greatest Hercules, an elegant set design derived from classical and pre-classical art and architecture, and the most stupendous chariot ever driven on screen. But Cottafavi also makes serious points about contemporary history: the Holocaust and the atomic age. His Hercules is one of us. He exemplifies the modernity of ancient myth.


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