Article by Gareth Wigmore
Additional Writing by Michaela Upton
is not the sort of ology that one comes across every day. The word means
“doctrines concerning the last things” and its usage is somewhat confusing.
It is connected to life after death, but we’ll leave that subject for another
time and use this feature to discuss the other matter that it is concerned with,
which is the end of the world.
final book of the Bible, Revelation, concerns the time when Christ shall
come again to rid the world of the terror and anarchy that dominates it, and
usher in a new world in which the Church will triumph and rule. The early
Christians thought that the Roman world around them was so appalling that Christ
would surely return in their lifetimes, and were rather disappointed when this
turned out not to be the case.
signs of the impending apocalypse are clear, despite being predicted too eagerly
by the first Christians. In Chapter 24 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “And
ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all
these things must come to pass... nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom
against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes,
in divers places.” What’s more, Jesus goes on to add, “And then shall many
be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another...
Immediately... shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
and the stars shall fall from heaven”.
is, of course, a standard pattern of ideas about the end of the world: normal
society breaks down, the sun disappears from view and the earth is ravaged with
disaster. It is especially like the Norse myth of Ragnarok (see boxout). So,
we’ve got something to look forward to, then – especially as there have been
plenty of predictions of the end of the world to coincide with the millennium
that is about to fall upon us.
passing of millennia are associated with the end of the world – and therefore
with the start of a new world – probably because they mark a symbolic ending,
a point when we can begin again with a thousand sets of New Year’s
resolutions. Also, chapter 20 of Revelation confusingly uses the word
“millennium” to measure out several different periods in the process of the
world’s ending. So the 1,000th anniversary of Christ’s birth became a
significant date for Christians, and when the earth carried on quite happily
into a second millennium anno domini, the year 2000 took on similar
now it’s here. This year, we’ve all heard plenty about the end of the world.
One interpretation of an especially vague prediction by the 16th Century prophet
Nostradamus caught the attention of many in July. It suggested that a “great
king of terror” would descend from the skies and that war would “reign
happily”. Combined with another unfounded interpretation of a Nostradamus
prediction, this led to many suggestions that the apocalypse was on its way, and
doom-mongers tied all this up with the total eclipse that Britain witnessed in
early August. Interestingly, this contradicts Nostradamus, who foresees events
until 3797AD. Fortunately, the summer passed without any hitches; no one
descended from the skies at all (unless Nostradamus was a bit out and was
predicting something about John F. Kennedy Jr) and the end was definitely not
the summer out of the way – let’s see if we can survive the winter! The
frightening thing about some prophecies is the way in which they become almost
self-fulfilling. If you know that you’re clumsy, you’re more likely to be
nervous when you pick up a precious object; if you’re nervous, you’re more
likely to drop it. The idea of some sort of global catastrophe in 1999 is
ingrained in our culture in sources as diverse as Space: 1999 and the
song by Prince.
it seems as though humanity will live up to the hype. The millennium bug is an
undeniable reality, and no one really knows how it will affect us. Our
comfortable lives of personal computers and mobile phones is seriously in
jeopardy, at least in the short term. I can live with that, but I rest less
easily at night when I think about the vulnerable computer chips in every
nuclear weapon and power station in the world. There are some poor and
disorganised nuclear powers – some nuclear devices even went missing during
the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Fimbul Winter of Norse
legend--never-ending blizzards with the sun utterly blocked out--sounds all too
like a nuclear winter for comfort.
of the striking things about many eschatological myths is that they are not
literally about the end of the world. The emphasis is generally on rebirth and
the world’s being cleansed so that a new start can be made. The most obvious
example of this is the story of Noah’s flood, which everyone knows from the
first book of the Bible, Genesis. In
it, God is displeased with mankind and decides to wipe His creation out, but
warns the virtuous Noah so that he can put himself, his family and a pair of
each animal into an ark that will survive the great flood.
most people are unaware that there are similar flood legends in almost all the
ancient mythologies. In fact, flood myths are so prominent and widespread that
they are surely derived from one common source, an actual disaster that must
have seemed like the end of the world, and which wiped out an enormous part of
the earth’s population.
Greek counterpart to Noah is Deucalion, who survived a deluge caused by Zeus
when his father, the Titan Prometheus, warned him to build an ark. Though the
stories have some differences – Deucalion and his wife are the sole
survivors and do not save any animals – the link between the two is made
explicit by the fact that both Noah and Deucalion are credited with the
invention of wine.
Titans in mythology could also be classed as being the end of one era and the
beginning of the next, an era which is ruled over by the Olympians. This subject
is touched upon in the Xena: Warrior Princess episode The Titans.
When Gabrielle unwittingly releases three of their number from their prison in
Tartarus they immediately set about retaking the world that was taken from them
by Zeus and the other gods. This idea is reiterated during the episode The
Deliverer; when Ares reminds us of the Olympians triumph over their
predecessors as he warns Xena about the imminent arrival of Dahak. This
establishes the idea of an end of the world saga, created by the shows
producers, by comparing it to an already existing myth.
the Dahak arc continued to unfold in both shows, with episodes such as Gabrielle's
Hope, Maternal Instincts and Sacrifice in Xena and
Armageddon, Faith, Descent and Redemption in Hercules our
heroes came closer to the world as they knew it ending. With each passing story
we were once again reminded of the death and destruction that Dahak would bring,
how the blood of innocents would wash the land, the pantheon of gods would fall
and the new world of Dahak would be born.
Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh has its own flood myth, with Utnapishtim
in the role of Noah. As well as this, there are similar Indian and Chinese
legends. The Chinese one puts a twist on it: its hero, Yu the Great, saves China
from flooding by inventing water outlets that allow the land to be reclaimed.
That should remind fans of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys of the
hero’s fifth labour, which was to clean the cattle dung out of the stables of
Augieas, and which was accomplished by altering the flow of a couple of rivers.
Gilgamesh of the Hercules series would become a servant to Dahak and help
the god to manifest himself physically into this world after his failed attempt
in Sacrifice. After Hercules defeats Gilgamesh and watches as Iolaus die,
the son of Zeus would then have to watch as his best friend, now joined with
Dahak, sets about achieving his ambition of taking over the world. As Iolaus/Dahak
begins to build an army of followers it would seen that the end is in site, but
the strength of friendship between Hercules and Iolaus finally wins out and
Dahak's evil is banished from this world.
seems though the shows writers are unable to stay away from this idea and the
finale of the fifth season of Hercules would once again have our dynamic
duo fighting against an Armageddon. This time, in Revelations, it comes
in the form of Archangel Michael and the Four Riders of the Apocalypse. As the
four plagues are sent upon mankind Hercules, along with the resurrected Iolaus
and a reluctant but frustrated Ares, do everything within their powers to save
the world. Once again it is a selfless act on the part of Hercules, refusing to
allow Death to take Iolaus from him again, that gives Michael the proof that
mankind is worth saving.
the outset of these two shows the producers have always stated that the
evolution of the series was to portray the downfall of the gods. This may not
take place in a cataclysmic battle between good and evil, heaven and hell or
mortal and immortal but with the simple choice that mankind must make for
itself. Both Hercules and Xena have never depended upon any of the gods for
help, choosing to look to themselves, and having faith in themselves to succeed.
100th episode of Xena, Seeds of Faith, begins as the title
suggests to sow the seeds of the changing faiths and beliefs in our characters.
Eli ponders that mankind does indeed have the power to take their destiny into
their own hands, taking power away from the gods and giving it to the mortals.
The fourth season episode Déjà vu All Over Again, set in modern day
American shows us a God of War who is rendered powerless, stating that not being
worshipped will do that to you. From this we can presume that Xena, Gabrielle
and Eli were successful in showing others the way forward and in effect causing
their own end of a world scenario, but instead of resistance this time the end
is welcomed, with the promise of a new beginning.
Norse myth of the end of the world is the basis for a two-parter in the fifth
season of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. With its usual cheeky
disrespect for legends of any sort, Hercules uses this myth, known as
Ragnarok, entirely to its own ends, taking what it needs to make a cracking
story and leaving everything else behind.
first sign of the impending Ragnarok is the death of the god Balder, which is
shown in the first of the two episodes, Norse by Norsevest. Balder is
supposedly impervious to all weapons, but his mischievous brother, Loki the
trickster-god, brings about his death. In the episode, Loki tricks Hercules into
pricking Balder with a tiny dart that has been poisoned so that it will kill
even a god. This is a re-telling of
what happens in the myth, except that it is the blind god Hodur who is tricked
into slaying Balder. Norse by Norsevest goes on to show Thor the
thunder-god being defeated by the half-mortal Hercules in battle, the second
sign that the Ragnarok is near, but this has no parallel in myth.
series’ third sign of Ragnarok – the blinding of Odin that is shown in the
second episode, Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge – does not bear any
relation to the real myth either. Ragnarok was really to be heralded by dreadful
winters, culminating in a permanent one that rejoiced in the name of the Fimbul
Winter, during which the fabric of society would be pushed to breaking point:
fathers, sons and brothers would kill one another, communities would collapse
and all vows would be forgotten. Monsters imprisoned in the bowels of the earth,
including Loki and his children the wolf Fenris and the serpent Jormungand,
would be let loose to attack Asgard, the home of the gods. In Hercules,
Loki regularly changes shape to become a wolf, though Fenris and Jormungand are
was to be the end of the world, but, like the flood myths, it was just the end
of the world as we know it. The old order of the Norse gods would die in its
struggle with the freed monsters, but a new order would rise in its place. Some
gods and men would survive Ragnarok and the new world would not be troubled by
the ancient evil that had destroyed itself in its attack on Asgard.