Heracles (Latin: Hercules) was the son of the god Zeus and Alcmene and was the greatest of the Greek heroes . His name means "Glory of Hera", which is ironic considering that Hera, Zeus's wife, relentlessly tormented Heracles throughout his life, even driving him crazy at one point.

His gift was fabulous strength; he strangled two serpents in his cradle (sent by Hera, wouldn't you know), and killed a lion before manhood. When Hera eventually drove him mad, in his lunacy he killed his own children and his brother's, mistaking them for attacking enemies. He was so grieved upon recovery that he exiled himself and consulted the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. The Pythoness, which is what the oracle was called, told him that before he would be forgiven he must first perform twelve Labors for mean King Eurystheus. These Labors included:

1) Kill the lion of Nemea.

2) Kill the nine-headed Hydra.

3) Capture the Arcadian Stag.

4) Kill the wild boar of Erymanthus.

5) Clean the Augean stables.

6) Kill the carnivorous birds of Stymphalis.

7) Capture the wild bull of Crete.

8) Capture the man-eating mares of Diomedes.

9) Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons.

10) Capture the oxen of Geryon.

11) Take the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides.

12) Bring Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades, to the surface world.

After performing these deeds, Heracles was now free to return to Thebes and marry Deianira. Later the centaur Nessus tried to abduct Deianira and a furious Heracles shot him with a poisoned arrow. The dying Nessus told Deianira to keep his blood, as it would always preserve Heracles' love. When Deianira later feared she was being supplanted by Iole, Deianira sent Heracles a garment soaked in Nessus' blood. It poisoned Heracles, who suffered greatly before finally mounting a funeral pyre, to kill himself. That's when Zeus finally took pity on his heroic son and sent his eagle to bring Hercules to Olympus. There he was endowed with immortality after death and lived with the gods as one of the Olympians, taking Hebe as his wife.


HERCULES (Heracles / Herakles) was the son of Jupiter and Alcmena. As Juno (Hera) was always hostile to the offspring of her husband by mortal mothers, she declared war against Hercules from his birth. She sent two serpents to destroy him as he lay in his cradle, but the precocious infant strangled them with his own hands. He was, however, by the arts of Juno rendered subject to Eurystheus and compelled to perform all his commands.

Eurystheus enjoined upon him a succession of desperate adventures, which are called the "Twelve Labours of Hercules." The first was the fight with the Nemean lion. The valley of Nemea was infested by a terrible lion. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the skin of this monster. After using in vain his club and arrows against the lion, Hercules strangled the animal with his hands. He returned carrying the dead lion on his shoulders; but Eurystheus was so frightened at the sight of it and at this proof of the prodigious strength of the hero, that he ordered him to deliver the account of his exploits in future outside the town.

His next labour was the slaughter of the Hydra. This monster ravaged the country of Argos, and dwelt in a swamp near the well of Amymone. This well had been discovered by Amymone when the country was suffering from drought, and the story was that Neptune (Poseidon), who loved her, had permitted her to touch the rock with his trident, and a spring of three outlets burst forth. Here the Hydra took up his position, and Hercules was sent to destroy him. The Hydra had nine heads, of which the middle one was immortal. Hercules struck off its heads with his club, but in the place of the head knocked off, two new ones grew forth each time. At length with the assistance of his faithful servant Iolaus, he burned away the heads of the Hydra, and buried the ninth or immortal one under a huge rock.

Another labour was the cleaning of the Augean stables. Augeas, king of Elis, had a herd of three thousand oxen, whose stalls had not been cleansed for thirty years. Hercules brought the rivers Alpheus and Peneus through them, and cleansed them thoroughly in one day.

His next labour was of a more delicate kind. Admeta, the daughter of Eurystheus, longed to obtain the girdle of the queen of the Amazons, and Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go and get it. The Amazons were a nation of women. They were very warlike and held several flourishing cities. It was their custom to bring up only the female children; the boys were either sent away to the neighbouring nations or put to death.

Hercules was accompanied by a number of volunteers, and after various adventures at last reached the country of the Amazons. Hippolyta (Hippolyte), the queen, received him kindly, and consented to yield him her girdle, but Juno (Hera), taking the form of an Amazon, went and persuaded the rest that the strangers were carrying off their queen. They instantly armed and came in great numbers down to the ship. Hercules, thinking that Hippolyta, had acted treacherously, slew her, and taking her girdle made sail homewards.

Another task enjoined him was to bring to Eurystheus the oxen of Geryon, a monster with three bodies, who dwelt in the island of Erytheia (the red), so called because it lay at the west, under the rays of the setting sun. This description is thought to apply to Spain, of which Geryon was king. After traversing various countries, Hercules reached at length the frontiers of Libya and Europe, where he raised the two mountains of Calpe and Abyla, as monuments of his progress, or, according to another account, rent one mountain into two and left half on each side, forming the straits of Gibraltar, the two mountains being called the Pillars of Hercules. The oxen were guarded by the giant Eurytion and his two-headed dog, but Hercules killed the giant and his dog and brought away the oxen in safety to Eurystheus.

The most difficult labour of all was getting the golden apples of the Hesperides, for Hercules did not know where to find them. These were the apples which Juno had received at her wedding from the goddess of the Earth (Gaia), and which she had intrusted to the keeping of the daughters of Hesperus, assisted by a watchful dragon. After various adventures Hercules arrived at Mount Atlas in Africa. Atlas was one of the Titans who had warred against the gods, and after they were subdued, Atlas was condemned to bear on his shoulders the weight of the heavens. He was the father of the Hesperides, and Hercules thought might, if any one could, find the apples and bring them to him. But how to send Atlas away from his post, or bear up the heavens while he was gone? Hercules took the burden on his own shoulders, and sent Atlas to seek the apples. He returned with them, and though somewhat reluctantly, took his burden upon his shoulders again, and let Hercules return with the apples to Eurystheus.

Milton, in his "Comus," makes the Hesperides the daughters of Hesperus and niece of Atlas:

"...amidst the gardens fair
Of Hesperus and his daughters three,
That sing about the golden tree."





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