What is this myth I'm misremembering?
April 25, 2013 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Is it Hercules? Ulysses? Odysseus or some other old mythic dude? What's the myth where he (whoever he is) has to fight a terrible creature, and it keeps changing shape. The key to triumph has something to do with the fact that he's strong enough (physically or mentally) to hold on through all these changes? Is this ringing a bell? What myth am I misremembering?
posted by BlahLaLa to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's in the Odyssey as a story, related by Menelaus to Telemachus, about Proteus

posted by Sparx at 5:36 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hercules had to fight a shape-shifter as part of his 11th labor, so he could find out where the Hesperides (with the golden apples) were. Is that what you're thinking of?
posted by Stephanie Duy at 5:38 PM on April 25, 2013

This is also part of the Tam Lin story, where Janet has to hold on to Tam Lin as he shape shifts to free him from the Faerie Queen.
posted by yasaman at 5:44 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah, you're thinking of Proteus.
posted by rustcellar at 5:57 PM on April 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks - it was definitely a mish-mosh memory between that moment in Hercules, and Proteus.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:15 PM on April 25, 2013

You can also find stories like this in made-up mythologies, it's part of the "monomyth," as Joseph Campbell called it. It's a really interesting theory, because it explains why so many mythologies seem to have highly similar stories. But for this one, if you look in, say, The Lord of the Rings, you have a couple different instances. One, Beren fights Sauron as he changes shapes, and two, when Huan the hound fought the hellbeast [although I can't remember that name off the top of my head].

I know that I've also heard stories of the "fighting a changeling enemy" in the various Star Wars/Star Trek universes, as well as in somewhat obscure mythologies in ancient First Nations lore. If you're interested, I would suggest reading The Myth of the Hero as a starting point. It's pretty neat, because it connects all [well, okay, most!] of the world's mythologies and talks about the different stages and elements and how they impact/are impacted by the cultures around them.
posted by gloraelin at 6:30 PM on April 25, 2013

It's also part of the stock 'wizards' duel'.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:28 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

FYI, tropes in fairy tales are true, but the "monomyth" is basically a total load of shit, academically speaking, and you will not be able to find a single anthropologist or folklorist that takes it seriously.
posted by smoke at 12:38 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A variation of this appears in Pus in Boots, where instead of hanging on due to strength, he tricks the ogre into assuming the shape of a mouse and then eats him.
posted by Hactar at 9:45 AM on April 26, 2013

In the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage", Captain Pike wraps his hands aroun the neck of the Talosian who keeps changing into various horrifying monsters. Pike wins by resisting the illusion. But yes, it's a version of Proteus.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 6:37 PM on April 26, 2013

Proteus, and also Peleus and Thetis.
posted by stuck on an island at 3:20 AM on April 30, 2013

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