Heracles (Hercules) Explained
|Birth of Heracles|
|Madness of Heracles|
|Twelve Labours of Heracles|
|Death of Iphitus|
|War of the Giants|
|Wars in Peloponnesus|
|Living in Trachis|
|Death of Heracles|
|Among the Gods|
|Heracles (Ἡρακλἣς) was the mightiest and most famous of the Greek heroes. Heracles was the son of Zeus and Alcmene. The Romans identified him as Hercules. In fact modern scholars preferred to use his Latin name than the original Greek name. His name (Hercules) became synonymous for prodigious strength, courage, or size, eg. Herculean.
In the Etruscan mythology, his name was Hercle. Instead of being a son of a mortal woman Alcmene, both of his parents were immortal. He was the son of Tin or Tinia and of Uni. Tin was identified with the Roman Jupiter or the Greek Zeus, while Uni was Tin’s wife and consort, who happened to be the Etruscan equivalent of the Roman Juno or the Greek Hera.
His deeds were fabulous for the courage and strength, which he displayed in performing them. His strength and courage, while he was performing the Twelve Labours and aiding the gods in their war against the Giants, had earned him immortality and lived among the gods at Olympus.
Yet, his strength would also cause him trouble, especially when he experienced one of his sudden and extremely frightening outbursts of rage that could have tragic consequences to those who happened to be near him. Though after the rage had passed, he showed a great deal of remorse and guilt that he would humbly submit to any punishment inflicted upon him. Yet, no hero submitted to so many punishments. He would even submit to punishment that most heroes would find too degrading, such as cleaning stable or serving as slave to a queen, who made him wear effeminate dress. Without his consent no one would have been able to punish him.
His stepmother, Hera, had always made Zeus’ other lovers and children suffered for her husband’s infidelities, but none were persecuted more at the hand of the goddess than Heracles.
Later writers tend to show Heracles in a more unflattering and comical light, yet his name and his deeds had being immortalised through timeless myths.
|Alcmene (Ἀλκμόνη) was the daughter of Electryon, king of Tiryns, and Anaxo. She married Amphitryon (Ἀμφιτρόων), son of Alcaeüs (Alcaeus).
According to the Shield of Heracles, Electryon’s death was no accident; Amphitryon had violently killed the king, because he was angry over some oxen.
While Apollodorus says that Electryon’s death was an accident. Taphians had raided the cattle from Electryon’s pastures. Electryon’s nine sons went to retrieve the stolen cows, but the sons of Electryon and the sons of Taphius killed one another in a battle. Electryon went on an expedition with Amphitryon to avenge his sons’ death and recapture his cattle. Electryon had made Amphitryon promise not to have sex with his new wife until they returned from the expedition.
They had recovered the cattle from the Teleboans, when a bull had suddenly charged at the king and his newly married son-in-law, Amphitryon. Amphitryon tried to defend himself, swung his heavy club at the bull, but the weapon rebounded off the horn, hitting the king in the head. According to Shield of Heracles, Hesiod says that it was no accident. Apparently Electryon and Amphitryon had an argument over some oxen.
Sthenelus took advantage of his brother’s death, seized power and exiled his nephew Amphitryon. Alcmene and her half-brother Licymnius fled with Amphitryon to Thebes.
At this time, Creon was king of Thebes, after the death of Laius. Creon purified Amphitryon for the killing the king and gave his daughter Perimede in marriage to Licymnius. According to Pausanias, Amphitryon and Alcmene lived near the Electran Gate, one of the seven gates of Thebes.
Alcmene remained faithful of her brothers’ memory by refusing to lay with her husband until he avenged them against Taphian pirates. With Creon’s aid, Amphitryon successfully led a campaign against the Taphians, but before his return, Zeus visited Alcmene in her husband’s form and shared her bed.
Upon Amphitryon’s return, slept with Alcmene, but discovered that she was no longer a virgin. The Theban seer Teiresias cleared up the mystery, that she was visited by a god and not to blame for losing her virginity prematurely.
Nine months after Zeus’ visit, Zeus boasted that a day had come where a child would be born with his lineage that would rule the land around him. The goddess Hera’s implacable hatred for all of Zeus’ children had fathered on mortal women, made him swear that it would be so.
No sooner Zeus had sworn this vow, Hera arranged with her daughter Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, to delay the delivery of Alcmene. Eileithyia sat outside of the room where Alcmene was in labour. By sitting with her legs cross and fingers intertwined, Eileithyia prevented Alcmene from pushing the babies out of her womb, for seven agonizing days.
Hera saw to that Sthenelus’ son Eurystheus was born before Heracles. Eurystheus was born prematurely. Therefore, Eurystheus would be king of Mycenae and Tiryns, Zeus was furious at Hera, but could not revoke his vow.
Alcmene might have died in childbirth had not an attendant Galanthis tricked Eileithyia that the child have been delivered, surprising the goddess from holding back the delivery. Galanthis paid a high price for loyalty to Alcmene, when she tricked the goddess of childbirth. Eileithyia transformed Galanthis into a weasel. Alcmene bore twins, Heracles (Ἡρακλἣς) and Iphicles (Ἴφικλης); the second was a son of Alcmene by Amphitryon.
Alcaeüs was the name given to Heracles at birth (Heracles was named after his grandfather; Heracles didn’t change his name until he went to Delphi for the first time).
According to Pausanias, the room that Alcmene gave birth to Heracles was called Alcmene’s Chamber. His version about the hero’s birth was slightly different to the usual account. Pausanias says that Hera had sent the Witches to delay or prevent Alcmene from giving birth, not Eileithyia. Also, it was Historis, Teiresias’ daughter, who tricked the Witches, not Alcmene’s servant Galanthis.
Having failed to prevent the birth, the goddess sent two snakes to kill the infants in their crib. Iphicles screamed in terror, but Heracles strangled both snakes, one in each hand. Amphitryon realised that Iphicles was his child, but Heracles belonged to the god. Other writers say that Amphitryon himself send the snakes to the infants’ room to identify which child belong to the god.
According to Diodorus Siculus, Alcmene fearing Hera’s wrath, abandoned her infant in the woods. Athena rescued the infant and brought the baby to Hera. Athena managed to persuade or dupe Hera into nursing the infant. Hera allowed the baby (Heracles) to suckle on one of her breasts, until the child bit very hard on her nipple. The goddess pushed the baby away from her nipple, spilling her milk across the heaven, forming the Milky Way. (So that was how this galaxy was created!)
The goddess told Athena to give the baby back to her mother to nurse. Athena returned child back to Alcmene, telling the mother to rear her own child. The irony of this situation is that Hera had actually saved her hated stepson’s life by breast feeding him from her own breast.
|At some point of his young life, his name was changed from Alcaeus to Heracles (Ἡρακλἣς), which means Glory of Hera. The name means that he would obtain glory through Hera’s enmity.
Many famous men were involved with his education. Amphitryon taught Heracles how to drive a chariot and Castor trained him in fencing. While the thief Autolycus, the son of Hermes, taught him how to wrestle, while another son of Hermes, Harpalycus of Phanotè, trained him in boxing. Eurytus, king of Oechalia, taught him archery. and Linus, son of the Muse Calliope or Urania, taught Heracles music. According to Theocritus, it was Eumolpus, son of Philammon, who taught the young hero play the lyre, as well as how to sing.
Teaching him music had end up in disaster, when his teacher, Linus struck the youth for his poor attention to music lessons. Heracles retaliated by striking him in the head with the lyre, killing Linus instantly. Heracles was acquitted of murder, but Amphitryon sends him to tend sheep on the farm in the countryside near Thespiae, to keep him out of trouble.
Here, at the foot of Mount Cithaeron, he killed a lion without weapon that were killing flocks of Thespius, king of Thespiae. The king was so impressed by his feat that Thespius entertained the youth as his guest for fifty nights. Each night Thespius would send one of his fifty daughters to the hero’s room. Other writers say that he slept with all the king’s daughters in a single night. Only one of Thespius’ daughters refused to sleep with Heracles. Two of the girls bore twins to Heracles, and Heracles had total of fifty-one sons. After Heracles’ death, these sons migrated to the island of Sardinia.
|It would not make sense unless you read why Heracles had to perform his Twelve Labours. The Madness of Heracles was the origin of Heracles’ great adventures that earned him a place among the immortal gods at Olympus.|
|Madness of Heracles|
|Heracles heard news about the Minyan army from Orchomenus had defeated and disarmed the Theban army. Heracles led a group of Theban youths, armed with old weapons from a temple. Heracles defeated the Minyan army, killing Erginus, king of Orchomenus.
Creon, king of Thebes gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to the hero who had saved Thebes from slavery. Megara bore him three sons: Therimachus, Deicoon and Creontiades.
The marriage did not last long. The goddess Hera had inflicted Heracles with sudden fit of madness, causing him murder his own children. Some writers claimed that he had also killed his wife Megara as well.
According to Pausanias (quoting from Stesichoros of Himera), Heracles would have killed his stepfather, Amphitryon as well, but Athena intervened by knocking Heracles unconscious, with a stone; a stone known as the Sober stone.
When he returned to his senses, he suffered from great sorrow and remorse. The king and the Theban citizens were unwilling to punish the hero, so Heracles exiled himself from Thebes. Thespius purified him for the murder. In Euripides’ tragedy called the Madness of Heracles, the young hero would have committed suicide, but his cousin and friend, Theseus, persuaded Heracles that suicide would be cowardly act. Theseus took the Heracles to Athens where he was purified for his crime.
Heracles still saw the need to expiate his grave crime or sin, so he went to Delphi to consult with the oracle. The oracle of Delphi told him that he need to serve his cousin, Eurystheus, king of Tiryns and Mycenae, who would devised ten labours (later twelve), as his punishment for his crime of murdering his own family.
I believed that it was in Delphi that he received a new name – Heracles, meaning “Glory of Hera”. His name at birth – Alcaeüs – was never used again in his lifetime.
|The first labour required Heracles to kill the Nemean Lion. The lion was invulnerable to all weapons, being offspring of the monsters Orthus and Echidna.
Heracles stayed at Cleonai with a labourer by the name of Molorchus, before heading out to Nemea. Molorchus wished to be an altar to Heracles, and sacrifice to the young hero. Heracles advised Molorchus to sacrifice to Zeus, if he completed his first mission within thirty days, otherwise Molorchus should sacrifice to him as a hero.
Heracles trapped the lion in a cave near Nemea. Since all the weapons were ineffective against the lion, Heracles decided to tackle the beast, unarmed. After an intense struggle, Heracles strangled the lion with his bare hand. Heracles skinned the lion and used the pelt or hide as a cloak.
Molorchus was about to sacrifice to Heracles as a hero, when the hero arrived with the lion’s hide. Molorchus changed his dedication, so the labourer sacrificed to Zeus.
(It was said that Eurystheus was frightened by Heracles’ appearance in lion cloak that the cowardly king hid in bronze jar. Eurystheus ordered Heracles to present all completed task outside the city gate in the future. However this incident was more likely to happen at the Four Labour.)
|The second labour, Heracles had to kill the Hydra that lived by a spring near Lerna, Argolis.
The Hydra was a creature had many heads. The number of heads varied depending on the authors. Usually there were nine heads. One of the heads was immortal. The other heads were more deadly: when the head was cut off, two heads would grow in its place.
Heracles also had to fight off a giant crab sent by Hera. Heracles had to kill the crab first before he could face the Hydra. Hera rewarded the crab for its service, by placing the crab in a constellation, known as Cancer.
With the help of his nephew and companion, Iolaüs (Iolaus, ´Ιολαος), whenever Heracles cut off one of its head, Iolaüs would use the burning brand to cauterize the neck, to prevent some more heads to sprout out.
The immortal head was more easily to dispose. Heracles then buried the immortal head under a huge boulder. The venom from the Hydra was universally fatal to any victim. Heracles coated Hydra’s blood on to his arrows. (This venom would later cause his own death.)
Eurystheus, however, refused to count this labour because he had help from Iolaüs. Heracles was required to do an extra labour.
|The third labour, he needed to fetch the Cerynitian hind that lived at Oinoe or the forest of Cerynitia, and was sacred to the goddess Artemis. The Cerynitian hind had golden antlers and brazen hooves.
The Pleiad Taÿgete had given the hind to Artemis, in return for trying to hide her from Zeus, even though Artemis was unsuccessful. Artemis had changed her to a doe with golden horns.
The Alexandrian poet, Callimachus, give us a different description about the Cerynitian Hind. In the Hymn to Artemis, the still young goddess found five hinds at the banks of Anaurus, below the Parrhasian hills. Artemis marvelled at the size of these deer, larger than bulls and with golden horns on their heads. Artemis managed to capture four of them, which yoked them to pull her golden chariot. The fifth hind escaped the forest of Cerynitia, where it became known as the Cerynitian Hind, sacred to the goddess.
According to the poet Pindar (in Olympian III), the Cerynitian hind was indeed Taÿgete, where Heracles chased all the way north. Here, Heracles came upon the land of Hyperboreans, where he found himself in the lovely grove of olive trees. The hero liked the trees so much that he brought them back with him, planting the olive trees around the race course in Olympia.
This labour should have been easy, but it took Heracles over a year to capture the hind. Heracles brought down the hind with an arrow aimed at its hoof, without killing the creature.
As Heracles was returning to Tiryns with the hind, Artemis spotted the hero carrying off her favourite animal. Artemis would have attacked the hero, but Heracles explained to the angry goddess of his task: how he had not wanted to harm the creature. Heracles brought the Cerynitian hind to Tiryns, alive and unharmed, at the goddess’ request.
|The fourth labour, Heracles needed to fetch Erymanthian Boar. On this trip, he visited a Centaur, named Pholus, who lived in Mount Pholoë (Pholoe), which was named after the Centaur. Pholus had some wine with odour to attract the boar. Unfortunately this wine attracted the other Centaurs around the mountain.
The angry Centaurs attacked Heracles. Heracles had to kill some of the Centaurs and drove the rest of them away. Heracles would later meet two Centaurs, later in his life – Eurytion and Nessus. His host, Pholus, accidentally dropped the poisoned arrow on his hoof and died. Another friendly Centaur named Cheiron also died. Cheiron was another of Heracles’ friend. Cheiron was a wise Centaur who taught many heroes hunting and combat skills, including Jason and Achilles. Heracles accidentally wounded Cheiron. Cheiron being immortal couldn’t die, but he suffered great agony from the Hydra’s venom. Cheiron later gave up his immortality to the Titan, Prometheus and went to Hades.
Later, Heracles captured the boar and delivered it alive to Eurystheus. Eurystheus was such a coward that he hid inside a bronze jar. Heracles released it at Eurystheus’ request. Eurystheus ordered Heracles that he would show him his successes of his labours on the other side of the city wall.
According to Apollonius and few other writers, hearing news that Jason gathering a crew to fetch the Golden Fleece, Heracles joined the Argonauts. During this adventure, a tribe of six-armed, earthborn giants, known as the Gegenees, attacked the ship, near Bear Mountain. Heracles killed several the Gegenees. But the hero was later abandoned at Mysia, while he searched for his missing squire and lover, Hylas.
In a different version, written by the historian Diodorus Siculus, Heracles was the main hero in the Quest, not Jason. Several other heroes played more important parts in the Quest than Jason. Jason’s only contribution to the Quest is having the ship built for their voyage to Colchis and bringing Medea back to Iolcus with him, because he had promised to marry the Colchian sorceress.
After the Quest (Diodorus’ version), Heracles was said to established the Olympian Games in honour of Zeus, for their homecoming. Heracles had also suggested that any hero should not among themselves and to come to the aid of a former Argonaut, who needed help. This contradicts most myths, where Heracles had killed Calais and Zetes, who had abandoned him in Mysia.
The mythographer generally outlined Apollonius’ epic, but also had other sources that differed from Apollonius’ account. In one source from Herodotus, Apollodorus wrote that Heracles couldn’t participate in the adventure, because the hero was serving Omphale as slave at the time. While according to his source from Pherecydes and from The Marriage of Ceyx, a fragmented poem attributed to Hesiod, the Argonauts abandoned Heracles near Aphetae in Magnesia, not in Mysia.
Again, Apollodorus quoted from Demaratus that Heracles sailed all the way to Colchis and back, but in another source, from Dionysius that Heracles was the captain of the Argonauts.
The mention of Heracles being abandoned at Aphetae, raises the question that Apollonius’ version about Hylas was actually a later tradition.
|Angry at Heracles for running off seeking new adventure with the Argonauts, Eurystheus decided that the fifth labour would be the most humiliating of his tasks: cleaning the Augeian stables in single day.
Augeias was the king of Elis and owned the largest herd of cattle. Heracles wanted a tenth of the cattle as payment for cleaning the stable. Augeia readily agreed, not believing that it was possible to so in a single day.
The task was enormous, because of the number of stalls of the stable, as well as the sheer size of building. Heracles completed this task by diverting the water on the rivers Alpheius and Peneius to flow the stable.
Augeias, however, refused to honour his bargain, because the king had found out that the hero was performing one of the labours for Eurystheus. Only Phyleus, Augeias’ eldest son, supported Heracles, asking his father to not break his promise to the hero. Augeias angrily banished son from Elis. Phyleus left the city Elis, and settled in Dulichium.
Angry at being cheated of his payment that was promised to him, Heracles vowed to make war upon Elis, when he is released from his services with Eurystheus. Augeias realising he had made powerful enemy, allied himself with the general Amarynceus and the Moliones, Augeias’ nephews. See the Wars in the Peloponnesus.
Again, Eurystheus refused to count this as a labour. Eurystheus told Heracles, he must do any labour without payment. Therefore, Heracles had to do another extra task.
Dexamenus, king of Olenus (in Arcadia or Achaea?), entertained Heracles as his guest. While he was at court in Olenus, the Centaur Eurytion tried to force Mnesimache, daughter of Dexamenus, to marry him. Heracles repaid his host, by killing Eurytion.
|The sixth labour, Heracles was required to chase away Stymphalian Birds that were ravaging the countryside around the lake called Stymphalus, in north-eastern Arcadia.
The Stymphalian birds were so numerous that Heracles was at loss on how to drive the birds away. He knew that he would not have enough arrows and javelins to kill all the birds.
Athena, again, came to his aid, and gave a rattle that should frighten the birds into flight.
Heracles used the rattle to make loud noise from the mountain that frightened the birds into flight. Heracles shot down a number of birds, before driving the rest away.
They may have been the same birds that infested the barren island, sacred to Ares. The Argonauts encountered these birds, where Oileus was wounded by one of the deadly feathers. Amphidamas of Arcadia, had remembered how Heracles drove away the Stymphalian Birds, with loud noises.
|The seventh labour, Heracles needed to fetch the Cretan Bull, the bull that belonged to Minos, king of Crete. This bull was sacred to Poseidon, and had the ability to walk and run on the surface of the sea.
When Minos had gained the bull from Poseidon, but refused to sacrifice the bull to the sea god. To punish Minos for his broken promise, Poseidon caused Pasiphaë, daughter of Helius, to fall in love with beast. So the Cretan Bull had fathered upon Pasiphaë, the monster Minotaur.
Embarrassed from the offspring and union between his wife and the bull, Minos no longer wanted the Cretan Bull. So Heracles had Minos’ consent to take the bull. The only problem was that the bull would not go aboard a ship.
So Heracles rode on its back, while the bull crossed the sea, from Cnossus, in Crete, all the way back to Greece.
Heracles released the bull after showing the creature to Eurystheus. The Cretan bull left the Peloponessus, and roamed all the way to Marathon, in Attica. The Cretan bull then became known as Marathonian bull.
The Marathonian bull continued to ravage the country on the plain of Marathon, until Theseus killed the bull.
|The eighth labour was to fetch flesh-eating mares of Diomedes. Diomedes (Διομήδης) was the king of the Bistones, in Thrace, who feeds human flesh to his horses. Heracles threw Diomedes to the mares, which they killed and ate the king.
There was a youth named Abderus, who was a son of Hermes. He was a squire (and possibly lover) to Heracles. Heracles set Abderus to guard the mares. When Heracles had returned, he found that the mares had devoured the youth. Heracles built a Thracian city called Abdera, named after Abderus.
Admetus (Ἄδμητος) was the king of Pherae and husband of Alcestis (Ἄλκηστις), daughter of Pelias.
When the sun god Apollo had to serve Admetus for one year as his servant, Admetus had treated the god well, because Admetus was known for being the most pious ruler in Greece. Apollo was been punishment for killing a Cyclop who made thunderbolt for Zeus. Apollo had killed the Cyclops because Zeus had killed his son, Asclepius (see Asclepius).
Due to his kindness, Apollo helped Admetus in winning Alcestis’ hand in marriage, where he successfully harnessed wild animals, a lion and a wild boar, to a chariot; it was a task set by Pelias.
Apollo also rewarded him by telling that his death would come soon. Admetus could avoid his fate, if he could find someone willing to die in his place. None of his advisors or subjects were willing to die for him. Neither of his aged parents, because they value their lives.
Alcestis, daughter of Pelias, realising how much her husband wanted to live, told him that she was willing to die in his place, because of her love for Admetus.
I’m not sure if Heracles was journeying north or coming back home with the mares, when Heracles decided to visit Admetus in Thessaly. Heracles was unaware that Alcestis would die that night. Admetus allowed Heracles to enjoy feast, while Admetus was secretly mourning for his wife in the other room.
When Heracles realised he had been enjoying himself during funeral of his friend’s wife; Heracles went to the tomb and wrestled with Thanatos (“Death”), while the god was trying to carry Alcestis’ shade away from the tomb. Heracles overpowered Thanatos, until the god of death gave up Alcestis. Heracles happily restored Alcestis to her husband.
According to Apollodorus, this took place after Heracles was a suitor to Iole, daughter of Eurytus and won the archery contest, but before Heracles killed Eurytus’ son, Iphitus (see Death of Iphitus). However, Heracles fought Hades, not Thanatos, in this version.
Apollodorus also mentioned a different version, where Heracles was not involved with Admetus and Alcestis at all. The goddess Kore (Persephone) taking pity on Admetus and Alcestis, sent her back to her husband.
|The ninth labour required him to go to Amazons land to fetch Hippolyte’s belt, for Eurystheus’ daughter, Admeta or Admete. Heracles either went there alone or with the heroes Theseus and Telamon (Τελαμών).
The Amazon queen, named Hippolyte (Ἱππολύτη), ruled in the city of Themiscyra on the mouth of the River Thermodon. The belt had belonged to Ares, and symbolised the power of leadership.
The Queen warmly received Heracles, but Hera stirred the Amazons against Heracles. Disguised as an Amazon warrior, Hera spread rumour that Heracles had come to abduct their queen. The Amazons armed themselves and attacked Heracles’ ship. Thinking that Hippolyte was secretly plotting against him, Heracles killed the queen and took her belt.
According to some writings, Antiope (Melanippe), the sister of Hippolyte, fell in love with Theseus. Antiope betrayed the Amazons and the city of Themiscyra. Antiope helped Heracles and his followers to fight his way out of the Amazon country. Others say that Theseus had abducted Antiope.
According to another different version by Apollonius, where Heracles killed no one in this venture. Heracles had ambushed and captured Melanippe (Antiope) sister of Hippolyte. Heracles only released Melanippe, when Hippolyte paid Heracles a ransom – her girdle.
On his return home, he found a Trojan princess, Hesione, about to be sacrifice to a sea monster, sent by Poseidon and Apollo. Heracles agreed to save Laomedon’s daughter in return for the king’s immortal horses or the gold vine as his reward. But after killing the monster, Laomedon refused to pay. Again, Heracles vowed vengeance upon another king. He would return later with an army to destroy Laomedon. See Heracles’ war upon Troy.
According to Diodorus Siculus, Heracles rescued Hesione on his journey towards Colchis, with Jason and the Argonauts. See Argonauts, Diodorus’ Version.
As he continued his journey home, Polygonus & Telegonus, the two sons of Proteus challenged Heracles into a wrestling match. Heracles killed the two brothers.
|The tenth labour, Heracles was required to fetch cattle of Geryon. Geryon (Γηρυονεύς) was the king of Erytheia (Cadiz), in Spain.
The cattle were guarded by Geryon’s herdsman and the two-headed hounded, called Orthus (Ὄρθρος).
The journey was uneventful, until he reached the Strait of Gibraltar. Heracles began piling rocks on the European side and African sides of the straits. The erection of these rocks became known as the Pillars of Hercules.
The work was long and hard, so Heracles became overheated from the sun. Heracles pointed his arrow at the sun, threatening to shoot the sun. Helius, the god of the sun, was far from offended by the impetuous hero. In fact, Helius so admired the hero’s boldness that the sun-god gave Heracles the Sun-cup made of gold. This gold cup was large enough for Heracles to sail past the Pillars of Hercules and into the Atlantic Ocean.
(According to Diodorus Siculus, the hero Heracles completely destroyed a race of woman warriors, called the Gorgons (similar to the Amazons), in Libya. His great grandfather, Perseus had earlier defeated the Gorgons and killed their queen, Medusa.)
Arriving at Erytheia, Heracles had to kill the herdsman, Eurytion and the two-headed hound Orthus with his club, near the peak of Mount Abas. Menoetes, herdsman of Hades, witnessed all this, and went to Geryon with news of Heracles raiding his cattle. Geryon, who had three heads, was also killed when he pursued the hero to River Anthemus. Heracles then tried to make his home.
Passing through Abderia, the south of Spain, Heracles then entered the land of the Ligurians. Near Massalia (modern Marseille), Ialebion and Dercynus, the sons of Poseidon, who wanted to steal the cattle, attacked him. Heracles killed them, but he was wounded, fighting the Ligurian army. Zeus sends a shower of stone, which Heracles used to pelt his enemies.
The giant Cacus also stole some of the cattle in Italy. Heracles had to leave the rest of cattle behind, to search for the missing cattle and kill Cacus.
At Rhegion, one of his bulls left the other cattle, jumped and swam across the Strait of Messina. Heracles asked the locals if they seen the missing bull, and they told him where it had gone off. The locals referred to the bull as italus, so Heracles called the entire Italian peninsula, Italy. The missing bull was the finest of the stock, so Heracles left the rest of cattle behind to fetch the one in Sicily.
When he found the bull, he found them among the herd of a notorious boxer named Eryx (Ἔρυξ), in Eryx, Sicily. According to Apollonius Rhodius, Eryx was a son of the Argonaut Butes and Aphrodite, or according to Apollodorus, a son of Poseidon. Eyrx had the habit of challenging a traveller into boxing match in which would kill his opponent. Eryx would only agree to return the bull to the hero, if Heracles could defeat him in a boxing match. Eryx, however, was no match for Heracles and was killed during their bout.
Heracles recovered his bull and returned to the other cattle. New problem arose, upon reaching Greece. Hera sent gadfly that stung the cattle, dispersing them out in all direction, but most of the cattle fled to the Thracian mountains. Heracles was forced to pursue, and have managed to recover some of the cattle. Those left behind became wild. He brought the rest to Eurystheus, who offered sacrifice to Hera.
There is another person stole and hid the cattle from Heracles. According to a 1st century BC Greek poet, Parthenius, the Celts were descendants of Heracles.
As Heracles travelled back to Greece with the cattle of Geryon, Celtine, daughter of Bretannus, saw and fell in love with the hero. One day, she hid the cattle, and would not tell Heracles their whereabout until he made love to her. Heracles slept with her, and Celtine became the mother of Celtus, ancestors of the Celts.
Diodorus Siculus also recorded the same myth about the origin of the Celts, except that Diodorus didn’t give name to the maiden whom Heracles slept with. The only description we are given is that she was from Alesia, and her son was named Galates or Gaul. Greek and Roman authors have frequently interchange Celts with Gauls and Galatae.
|The eleventh labour, Heracles had to fetch the golden apples of Hesperides. The Hesperides (“Daughters of the Evening Star”) were the daughters of the Titan Atlas and Hesperis (Evening Star). How many daughters there were, really depend on the authors. Some say three, four or seven. They cared for the grove of trees that bore the golden fruits. The trees were guarded by a serpent or dragon with a hundred heads, known as Ladon, offspring of Typhon and Echidna.
On his journey, at Caucasus Mountains, he killed the Caucasian Eagle that fed on Prometheus’ liver and freed the Titan from his bond. Prometheus told him that the tree and apples were guarded by Ladon, a dragon or serpent. The Titan advised him to let his brother Atlas to fetch the apples, to avoid Ladon.
He then continued his journey south, travelling through Phoenica and Palestine. Heracles killed Busiris, king of Egypt, who was sacrificing foreign travellers. Some says that Heracles also killed Emathion, king of Arabia, son of Eos and Tithonus, and brother of Memnon.
In Libya, Heracles wrestled and killed Antaeüs (Antaeus), the son of Poseidon and Gaea, who remained invincible as long as he has contact with earth. Antaeüs would often let his opponent to throw him on the ground, only to spring up, even stronger than before. Heracles had to keep Antaeüs off the ground before crushing his opponent to death.
Finally he arrived where the Titan Atlas bore the weight of heaven on his shoulder. Heracles asked Atlas where the fruit were. Atlas told the hero that he would fetch the golden apples for him, if Heracles would carry the heaven on his shoulder. Heracles agreed and carrying the sky for Atlas.
Atlas returned with apples but did not want to bear the burden of heaven on his shoulders, and told the hero he will take the apples to Eurystheus for the hero, trapping Heracles – to bear the burden of heaven.
But Heracles was by far clever than the Titan. Heracles cunningly told Atlas that he was willing to carry the heaven, provided that the Titan would hold the heaven for a moment. Heracles told the Titan he wished to roll his lion cloak as a cushion for his shoulders. So while Atlas was holding the sky once again, Heracles walked away with apples.
In another version of the story, Heracles actually went into the garden of the Hesperides and killed Ladon.
According to Apollonius of Rhodes, the Argonauts were running short out of water. At the garden, the nymphs directed the Argonauts to where a spring sprouted from a boulder. Heracles had kicked the boulder, which split in half and fresh water gushed out from underneath the rock. Heracles had unknowingly saved his former comrades, the Argonauts, from dehydration.)
After showing the apples to Eurystheus in Tiryns, Heracles gave the apples to Athena, who returned them to garden of Hesperides, since they really belonged to Hera.
|The twelfth labour, Heracles needed to go to Hades and fetch the Cerberus. Cerberus was the three-headed hound with snake’s head at the end of its tail. The dreaded hound guarded the gates of Hades, to keep the dead in the Underworld. Cerberus was an offspring of Typhon and Echidna.
To enter the world of dead, Heracles had to undergo the Mysteries rites, performed by Eumoplus at Eleusis. The rite was to purify Heracles for the murder of the centaurs. According to the Diodorus Sicilus, it was the goddess Demeter herself who performed the purification. Heracles then has to travel to Tainaron in Laconia, where there was an entrance to the Underworld.
Heracles met Hermes, who offered to guide him into the Underworld. Most of the shades (souls) fled from Heracles, all except the hero Meleager and the Gorgon Medusa. Heracles would have attack Medusa with his sword, but Hermes reassured the hero that the Gorgon was harmless here.
Heracles also rescued his friend and cousin Theseus, by pulling him off the Chair of Forgetfulness. Hades had set a trap for Theseus and his friend, Peirithoüs, when they planned to abduct Persephone, Hades’ consort. Heracles could not save Peirithoüs; Heracles had to leave Peirithoüs behind.
He wrestled with Menoetes, the cowherd of the Hades’ cattle, when Heracles killed one of the cows. Heracles had wanted to use the cow’s blood to talk to the dead. Menoetes’ ribs could be heard cracking between Heracles’ arms. Heracles would have killed Menoetes had Persephone not asked the hero to spare her husband’s cowherd.
With Hades’ permission, Heracles was allowed to take Cerberus, provided that he did so without the use of weapon. Heracles had to wrestle and drag the hound to the world of the living, and to Tiryns before Eurystheus. Eurystheus terrified by the hell-hound and seeing his cousin complete all his tasks, gave one last command to the hero: to send the hound back to the Underworld.
|Having performed all twelve labours Heracles was now free from any more obligations to Eurystheus. He was left to his own device. Eurytus (Εὐρυτίων), king of Oechalia, was offering his daughter’s hand in marriage (Iole, Ἰόλη), if one of the suitors could defeat him or his sons in the archery contest. While Heracles was receiving education, Eurytus had taught archery to the young Heracles, which the king was soon to regret.
Heracles won the competition, but Eurytus refused to give his daughter away. Eurytus was afraid that Heracles might kill her daughter as the hero had killed his sons in madness. To make matter worse, some of his cattle were stolen by Autolycus, the master thief, but Eurytus had accused Heracles of the theft.
Heracles left Oechalia in anger, while Eurytus’ son, Iphitus (Ἰφιτος) tried to persuade his father that the hero had won Iole’s hand fairly. Eurytus banished his own son from his kingdom. Iphitus went to talk Heracles out of waging a war against his father, but Heracles again, possibly struck by madness, caused by Hera, murdered Iphitus in Tiryns.
(According to Homer, Eurytus died young, when he challenged Apollo into an archery contest. Eurytus lost to Apollo and the god killed him for challenging him. Also Iphitus was alive and gave his father’s bow to the hero Odysseus. Later, Iphitus was killed by Heracles who took Iphitus’ horses.)
He tried to get Neleus, king of Pylus and then later Hippocoön (Hippocoon), king of Sparta, to purify him for the murder of Iphitus, but both kings refused. These two kings became his mortal enemies.
A terrible disease then struck Heracles. He sought advice from Xenocleia, the current Pythia of Delphi, to help cure his disease, but she refused to give advice.
Heracles angrily took the tripod and told her he will set up his own oracle. Apollo came to his priestess’ aid and would have fought Heracles, had not Zeus separated the two with a thunderbolt.
Heracles just wanted advice from the oracle, not a fight with Apollo. While Apollo felt admiration for Heracles’ boldness, the god ordered his priestess to response to the hero’s request. The oracle told Heracles, he must sell himself as a slave, as punishment for the murder and a cure for his disease.
Hermes made the arrangement to sell Heracles. Heracles was sold to Omphale (Ὀμφάλη), daughter of Iardanes and queen of Lydia. Omphale had become queen, after the death of her husband, Tmolus. All the gold from the transaction was given to Eurytus as compensation for the murder of the king’s son, though Eurytus refused to accept it.
She made him dressed in women clothing and doing needlework with the other ladies. However, Apollodorus never wrote anything about the hero being made to wear women clothing; it was only found in Roman sources, like Statius’ Achilleid, and Ovid’s Heroides and Fasti.
According to Fasti, Faunas, a woodland god and follower of Pan and Dionysus, tried to rape Omphale. He entered the chamber at night, and felt woman’s silken garment. Faunas was astonished to feel hairy bottoms, when he lift what he thought was queen’s garment. Before he could penetrate the supposed queen, Heracles immediately woke and pushed Faunas very hard that the god couldn’t get up. When Heracles and Omphale could see the intruder in the light, they laughed at the embarrassed god. It was for this reason, he wanted all his followers to come to his rites, naked.
She freed the hero after three years of slavery, after a number of services.
Heracles captured and killed the Cercopes at Ephesus. The Cercopes were said be dwarfish monkey-like or ape-like men. They were renown for their knavery. According to a short fragmented poem, named after them, The Cercopes. Their names were Passalus and Acmon, and they were the sons of Oceanus and Theia. Theia was a daughter of Memnon, an unknown figure. Theia warned her troublesome sons to avoid Blackbottom. They were captured in Thessaly, by Heracles. He had tied, and hanging upside-down on a pole, which Heracles was carrying over his shoulder. From this angle, they could see this person was the one their mother warned them about – Blackbottom. They laughed and joke about Heracles’ hairy bottoms. Far from being offended, Heracles released them. Zeus would later turn them into stone, because they were trying to deceive the god.
At Aulis, Syleus and his daughter, Xenodice, forced travellers to hoe Syleus’ vineyard; the hero killed both father and daughter. He also captured and razed the city, Itoni. And lastly, according to Hyginus in Poetic Astronomia, Heracles killed a giant serpent for Omphale that inhabited the river Sagaris and killing Lydians near the water.
Heracles was said to have renamed the island of Doliche to Icaria, after finding the body of Icarus, a son of Daedalus. Daedalus was Athenian inventor, formerly in the services of Minos, king of Crete.
Queen Omphale married Heracles and had a son named Lamus. Heracles left Lydia shortly after this, to continue his adventures.
|Once freed from slavery to Omphale, Heracles gathered an army to capture Troy and was joined by the hero, Telamon, son of Aeacus. At this time, Telamon was expecting a baby from his wife, Eeriboea. Heracles prayed to his father that Telamon’s son would be brave. Zeus sent an eagle, as a sign of accepting his prayer. Telamon named his son, Aias (Ajax), after the eagle (aietos). Aias became one of the leading warriors who fought at the Trojan War.
Laomedon had refused to pay him, when Heracles rescued Hesione from the sea monster. Heracles had vowed vengeance. Poseidon and Apollo having to build the wall around much of Troy, making it quite impregnable. The only weakness to the wall were section built by Aeacus, Telamon’ father. It was most likely that Telamon knew where the weakness is.
Landing in Troy with eighteen ships, they set about attacking Troy. It was Telamon who broke through wall (the part built by his father), leading the attack against Trojans. Heracles felt insulted and jealous, that Telamon would breach the wall before him.
The hero would have killed his lieutenant, had Telamon not had the foresight to stop fighting and started piling stones. When the hero asked what Telamon was doing, Telamon replied that he was building an altar to Heracles. Heracles forgot his anger, since Telamon had flattered his vanity.
Laomedon and all his sons but the youngest, Podarces (Priam), were killed in the fighting. Heracles allowed Hesione to ransomed only one of the captives. Hesione ransomed Podarces by giving up one of her veil. Hesione was given to Telamon as a concubine, while Podarces stayed behind in Troy, succeeded his father, and changed his name to Priam.
(According to Diodorus Siculus, Heracles’ war at Troy was set on his return journey from Colchis, during the Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. See Argonauts, Diodorus’ Version.)
As Heracles sailed with his ships to return home, Hera sent a violent storm that left Heracles stranded in Cos. This action angered her husband so much, that Zeus had Hera bound by the wrist, hanging from the heights of Olympus.
The Coans thought the Greeks were pirates so they attacked them. The Greek took the city. Heracles killed their king Eurypylus, but the Coan champion, Chalcodon, wounded the hero. Zeus rescued and spirited his son safely away, where Heracles was healed of his wounds.
|While the god healed him, he was brought to Phlegra, in Thrace (some say in Sicily), where the gods were warring against the Giants (Gigantes), and sprawned by blood of the castrated Uranus that fell to the earth (Gaea). In order to defeat the Giants, the gods, required by the oracle, the help of a mortal hero.
Heracles killed Alcyoneus by shooting the giant with his lethal arrow, before dragging its body outside of Pallene, where the giant was mortal. Apollo and Heracles each shot one eye of Ephialtes, with their arrows.
Athena killed Pallas and flayed the giant, using its hide for her shield. Athena also killed Enceladus, who had fled west. She crushed Enceladus by throwing the island of Sicily on top of him. Poseidon did the same thing to Polybotes, crushing the giant with the island of Nisyrus.
With Zeus’ help, Heracles even killed Porphyrion, who tried to rape Hera; the same goddess who had incessantly persecuted him evens before his birth.
The twelve labours Heracles had performed and aiding the gods in this war, Heracles had earned his place among the gods in Olympus.
|Returning to Greece, Heracles attacked Augeias (Αὐγείας), the king of Elis, with his army from Tiryns. Earlier, Augeias had refused to honour his agreement and pay the promised fee to the hero, during Heracles’ fifth labour, so the hero had vowed to capture Elis. See the Fifth Labour of Heracles.
But Heracles’ army suffered a defeat at the hand of Augeias’ allies, Amarynceus and the Moliones (Μολιοίδαι), (Siamese) twin sons of Actor. Heracles may have lost the battle, because he was ill at the time. Heracles’ half-brother, Iphicles, may have died in this war or else Iphicles was killed in the war against Sparta.
Heracles returned to Tiryns to raise a new army, only to be banished by his weak cousin Eurystheus, because the king thought and feared that Heracles was raising an army against him. Heracles settled in Pheneüs (Pheneus), Arcadia.
Later, during the Isthmian games, Heracles ambushed and killed the Moliones. Augeias could not defend his kingdom on the second invasion, when Heracles raised a new army in Arcadia, possibly killing the king.
Heracles then set the exiled son of Augeias, named Phyleus, to the throne of Elis. According to Apollodorus, Heracles was also said to have established the Olympic Games, though the founder was usually said to be Heracles the Dactyl from Mount Ida, Crete. Heracles set a shrine for the Olympian gods, as well as a smaller shrine to Pelops, who was his great-grandfather.
Heracles killed eleven of the twelve sons of Neleus, as well as the king himself. Heracles encountered Periclymenus (Περικλύμενος), eldest son of Neleus (Νηλεύς). Periclymenus was given the ability by his grandfather (Poseidon), to change his shape. Periclymenus attacked Heracles as lion, snake and bee. When Periclymenus changed himself into the form of an eagle, Heracles finally shot him down with his arrow.
The youngest and only surviving son of Neleus, Nestor, because he was staying in Gerenia during the war; Nestor became the new king of Pylus.
Heracles then turned his attention to Hippocoön (Hippocoon, Ἱπποκόων). Hippocoön had also refused to purify him for Iphitus’ murder. Hippocoön also killed Oeonus, a cousin of Heracles, who accidentally kicked the king’s dog. Hippocoön had usurped the throne from his brother, Tyndareüs (Tyndareus), who was now residing in Calydon. (See the genealogical tree of the House of Sparta)
Heracles enlisted the aid of Cepheus (Κηφεύς), the king of Tegea, promising his protection in case of attack. During his stay in Tegea, he ravished the Cepheus’ sister, Auge (Αὔγη), who bore the hero a son, Telephus (Τήλεφος). (See the genealogical tree of the House of Arcadia)
In the battle that followed, Cepheus and his sons were killed, as well as Heracles’ half brother, Iphicles. Heracles himself was wounded, but he killed Hippocoön and all of his sons, and restored Tyndareüs to the throne of Sparta.
Heracles had his brother’s body brought to the city of Pheneus, where Iphicles was worshipped as a hero.
|Heracles then stayed in court of King Oeneus in Calydon; he fell in love with Deïaneira (Deianeira or Δηιάνειρα), the king’s daughter.
Deïaneira was the sister of the hero, Meleager. When Heracles went to the Underworld to fetch Cerebus (12 labour), he met the shade of Meleager, one of two ghosts who didn’t fear Heracles’ presence. Heracles and Meleager were former companions, who had sailed with Jason. Heracles promised the shade Meleager that he would marry Deïaneira.
Deïaneira had many suitors, but none of them would want to compete against the hero, except the river-god Acheloüs (Achelous). Heracles had to fight one of his rivals, the river-god Acheloüs (Achelous), also a suitor of Deïaneira. Neither god nor hero would back down on wanting to marry the Calydonian princess. Acheloüs would not back down to a mortal rival; otherwise he would be disgraced as a coward. So they fought one another in a wrestling match.
The god has the ability to change his shape, and during the wrestling match, Acheloüs had changed himself into a man with head of a bull (minotaur), and then snake. With each transformation, Heracles overcame Acheloüs. Finding that he losing the contest to a mortal, the river-god changed himself into a bull. Heracles defeated Acheloüs when he broke the horn from the god’s head.
Acheloüs surrendered to Heracles, in return for getting his broken horn back. Acheloüs exchanged this with the horn of Amaltheia that was filled with endless supply of fruit and drink of all sorts, which was known as Cornucopia (Horn of Plenty).
Heracles then married Deïaneira. (See genealogical tree of the House of Calydon)
While living in Calydon, Heracles helped Oeneus in his wars against their neighbours. Heracles took the city of Ephyra in Thesprotia (part of Epirus). King Phylas had a daughter, named Astyoche, whom the hero slept with. Astyoche bored the hero a son named Tlepolemus.
It was said that at this time, Heracles had sent three of his sons from the daughters of King Thespius to the city of Thebes, seven were to remain in Thespiae with their grandfather (Thespius), but the rest (40) migrated to the island of Sardinia.
Returning to Calydon, a victory banquet was held in honour of the hero. Heracles accidentally killed the king’s cupbearer and young relative, named Eunomus, the son of Architeles.
Though the king and the father forgave the hero, because it was an accident, Heracles could not forgive himself. Since, Oeneus was unwilling to punish the hero, so Heracles took matter into his own hands, and decided to go into exile, leaving Calydon with his wife.
During their journey, they encountered a Centaur named Nessus, who offered to ferry Deïaneira across the river of Evenus. As Deïaneira reached the other side of the river on Centaur’s back, he tried to rape her. Heracles was still in the middle of the river, when he heard his wife’s scream.
Heracles shot down Nessus with his poisoned arrow. As Nessus, lay there dying, the Centaur told Deïaneira to use his blood as love potion on Heracles, so that he would never leave her. Deïaneira knowing that Heracles liked to seduce beautiful maiden, collected the Centaur’s blood, unaware that the blood was contaminated with the Hydra’s deadly venom.
|Heracles and Deïaneira (Deianeira) moved to Trachis, where he befriended Ceyx, the king of Trachis. They had four sons: Hyllus, Glenus, Ctesippus and Odites.
Here, Heracles aided Ceyx against the king’s neighbours. Heracles killed the Dryopian king, Laogoras, and drove his people from Doris. He also defeated the Lapiths and killed their king, Coronus, son of the Lapith hero Caeneus.
On his way home with Iolaus to Trachis, they encountered Cycnus, son of Ares and Pelopia, blocked the road in Itonus (in Phthiotis). Cycnus, who like his father, delighted in challenging travellers in single combat, before killing them. Heracles killed Cycnus in combat.
Ares was overcome with grief over his son, the war god attacked Heracles. Heracles, for the second time, seriously wounded Ares. His sons and constant companions in war, Deimus (Fear) and Phobus (Panic), took Ares in their chariot and returned to Olympus to be healed.
In Ormenium, a city of Magnesia, Heracles also killed the king Amyntor, who refused to allow Heracles travelled through his land. Heracles seduced Astydameia or Deïdameia, Amyntor’s daughter, who bore him a son, named Ctesippus.
|His last adventure began, when he went to war against Eurytus, whom he never forgave for refusing him his daughter Iole (Ἰόλη), whom he had won fairly in archery contest. Leaving Deïaneira (Deianeira or Δηιάνειρα) in Trachis, he raised an army and defeated Eurytus, taking Iole as his concubine.
Heracles may have killed Eurytus and his sons in the war, but according to Homer, Apollo killed Eurytus, when the king challenged the god in an archery contest. Eurytus’ son Iphitus gave the bow to Odysseus. Odysseus had used this very bow to kill Penelope’s suitors in the palace.
Observing rites of sacrifice for the victory in war, he sent his herald Lichas to get a fresh tunic at home. Deïaneira realising that Heracles may discard her in favour of Iole as his wife, Deïaneira smeared Nessus’ supposed love charm on to his tunic.
When Heracles put the tunic on, the Hydra’s venom began searing his skin and flesh. In agony, he tore it off, killing the innocent Lichas, who gave him the shirt. Dying, Heracles returned home to Trachis. Learning what she had done to her husband, Deïaneira killed herself.
Building a pyre for himself on Mount Oeta, Heracles asked his son Hyllus to set it alight. But neither his son, nor other mourners would do so, until either Poeas or his son Philoctetes, set the fire to pyre. He rewarded him with his powerful bow, which would later be used by Philoctetes, in the Trojan War. Lightning struck the pyre and when the fire died down; the mourners could not find the great hero’s remains.
|According to Pausanias, it was Athena who brought Heracles from the funeral pyre at Mount Oeta to Olympus, home of the gods.
Heracles became a god, living in Olympus, because he had performed the twelve labours and aiding the gods in their war against the Giants. Since he saved Hera from being rape by the giant Porphyrion, Hera had little choice but to reconcile with Heracles. Hera allowed the hero to marry her daughter, Hebe, goddess of youth, and Heracles became father of Alexiares and Anicetus.
When Iolaüs (Iolaus) defended Heracles’ children (Heraclids) against Eurystheus’ persecution, Heracles and Hebe helped Iolaüs to win the battle. To read some more about Heracles’ children, see Heraclids.
Heracles had also visited Philoctetes and persuaded the archer to rejoin the Greeks forces in the war against Troy. Philoctetes, at first, was reluctant, because Odysseus and Agamemnon were responsible for abandoning him on the island of Lemnos, when he was bitten by snake. For nine years, he had lived on the island, alone, and bitterly resented those who had left him behind. Odysseus had gone back to bring him back, because Heracles had given the bow to him, before he died. The Greek seer, Calchas had foretold that Troy can never be taken without the bow of Heracles. Philoctetes would have shot down and kill Odysseus, had the god Heracles not intervened. (See Fall of Troy, about Philoctetes).
When Odysseus went to the Underworld, Heracles was the last shade to speak to him. While his immortal soul went to Olympus, his mortal half went to the Underworld. He was also placed amongst the stars in the sky as a constellation Engonasin (“Kneeler”, but this constellation is now called Hercules).
The cloak from the lion’s pelt he had always wore, helped to identify Heracles in the classical art, with the hood over his head. He was normally depicted carrying either his club or bow and arrows.