The Strongest Man in History: myths and legends Edition
Like the idea of seeing some of the world’s biggest, hardest, mountain-iest men take on historical strength challenges that would make He-Man wince? Well then happy birthday, because that’s precisely what you’ll be getting with The Strongest Man in History. The brand new series follows four strongmen as they travel the world to compete not just against each other, but also against their illustrious predecessors from long ago.
One of the group is British champ Eddie Hall, who won the 2017 World’s Strongest Man title and could very probably deadlift your entire family at once. Indeed, he and his three fellow competition veterans are the closest thing we have to the ancient strongmen of yore.
Which begs the question – just who are the mightiest man-beasts ever to exist in myths, legends and folklore? Brace yourself for this lot…
Blessed with superhuman powers and long, lustrous, shampoo-advert hair, Samson was a kind of God-powered Jason Mamoa. Which is a terrifying concept, when you think about it. A cocky, muscle-bound womaniser and show-off, Samson was basically the Bible’s very own gym bro, juiced up to the gills with holy steroids (or the spirit of the Lord, if you want to put it less blasphemously).
Just how hard was Samson? Well, he was once set upon by a lion and, as the Bible puts it, 'he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat' (because we’ve all torn apart the occasional young goat, right?).
He later took on his arch-enemies, the Philistines, by massacring more than 1,000 of them while armed only with the jawbone of a donkey. Which is such a conspicuously silly weapon, he probably chose it just to add insult to injury.
Samson famously lost his powers when his beloved Delilah, secretly working for the Philistines, lopped off his locks, which were his antennae to God. However, Samson’s hair did grow back, as hair tends to do (unless you’re on standard, non-holy steroids, in which case… it might not). The re-strengthened Samson then got revenge on the Philistines in the most fantastically furious and Hulk-like way imaginable: he pushed down the pillars of their religious temple, causing it to cave in and kill loads of them, along with himself.
Or Hercules, if you want to get all Roman about it. This iconic strongman was what bodybuilders today might describe as 'genetically gifted' – ie, his dad was Zeus. And he certainly didn’t waste any time demonstrating his powers – as an infant, Heracles strangled a pair of poisonous snakes to death in his crib, playing with them as if they were stuffed toys from a baby shower.
Heracles is most renowned for his 'Twelve Labours', which were acts of penance he carried out after murdering his own wife and children (he’d been driven mad by a vindictive goddess, so let’s not hold it against him).
The labours included the Samson-like slaying of a mighty lion (clearly, dispatching lions was a core requirement for legendary strongmen, the mythic equivalent of not skipping leg day). He also had to clear out some stables, which doesn’t sound like a big deal until you consider they contained 1,000 cows and enough dung to fertilise Mars.
When he wasn’t wading around knee-deep in poo, Heracles also faced down a giant named Antaeus, who was invulnerable as long as he was in contact with the earth. Heracles’ solution? Pick the giant up right off the ground and crush him to death in a bear hug, like some psychotically out-of-control WWE wrestler. And all without a protein shake in sight.
The facts are pretty bare when it comes to Goliath, but we do know he was so big and frightening that he’s served as a trite metaphor for vast, seemingly unstoppable adversaries ever since. One of the Philistines (the same lot Samson slaughtered with that chunk of donkey), Goliath was the giant, looming terror of the Israelites before the diminutive David stepped up to take him on.
David versus Goliath was a real case of… well, David versus Goliath. A seemingly impossible attempt by the underdog to vanquish a vast foe. After a quite impressive amount of pre-fight trash talk (Goliath: 'Come here and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and to the wild animals!', David: 'I come against you with the Lord!'), they had at it.
Yes, David won the fight. But that shouldn’t detract from Goliath’s strongman credentials. After all, he was a literal giant who had stuck fear into the hearts of the Israelites. Plus he only lost because David decided to smite him with a stone, and being on the receiving end of a hard smiting is really very painful, as anyone who’s ever been smote will know.
Orm Storolfsson’s a bit of an odd one out, because he definitely, actually existed (probably). Not only was he a strongman, but he was a Viking strongman, which automatically makes him at least three times more intimidating than any standard big-biceped badass.
But we need to manage expectations here. Being a real human being rather than a Greek superhero or Biblical behemoth, Storolfsson didn’t go around beating up lions and eviscerating entire armies without breaking a sweat. No, his claim to fame is less magical and firmly rooted in reality. Putting it simply, he put a 10-metre, 650 kg ship’s mast on his back, with over 50 men struggling to raise it to his shoulders. He then managed to walk three steps before it broke his back.
This, admittedly, sounds more foolhardy than awesome, like a scene from a particularly grisly 'Worst ever gym fails' YouTube video. And yet it was enough to make Storolfsson a legend. It even inspired modern-day superhuman Hafthor Björnsson, aka The Mountain from Game of Thrones, to have a go at the same challenge.
In 2015, the TV star smashed the 1,000-year-old record by carrying a 650 kg log for five steps – a whole two steps more than the Viking. And he didn’t obliterate his own spine by doing so. Bonus.