In literature, he appears in our earliest Greek epic and lyric poetry, is reinvented for the tragic and comic stage, and later finds his way into such unlikely areas as philosophical writing and love poetry. In art, his exploits are amongst the earliest identifiable mythological scenes, and his easily-recognisable figure with lionskin and club was a familiar sight throughout antiquity in sculpture, vase-painting and other media. He was held up as an ancestor and role-model for both Greek and Roman rulers, and widely worshipped as a god, his unusual status as a hero-god being reinforced by the story of his apotheosis.
Often referred to by his Roman name Hercules, he has continued to fascinate writers and artists right up to the present day. Covering both Greek and Roman material, the book highlights areas of consensus and dissent, indicating avenues for further study on both details and broader issues.
The Life of Hercules in Myth & Legend
Hercules known in Greek as Heracles or Herakles is one of the best-known heroes in Greek and Roman mythology. His life was not easy—he endured many trials and completed many daunting tasks—but the reward for his suffering was a promise that he would live forever among the gods at Mount Olympus.
Hercules had a complicated family tree. According to legend, his father was Zeus, ruler of all the gods on Mount Olympus and all the mortals on earth, and his mother was Alcmene, the granddaughter of the hero Perseus. Hercules had enemies even before he was born.
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First, she used her supernatural powers to prevent the baby Hercules from becoming the ruler of Mycenae. Then, after Hercules was born, Hera sent two snakes to kill him in his crib. The infant Hercules was unusually strong and fearless, however, and he strangled the snakes before they could strangle him. But Hera kept up her dirty tricks.
abicanlo.ga When her stepson was a young adult, she cast a kind of spell on him that drove him temporarily insane and caused him to murder his beloved wife and their two children. Once Hercules completed every one of the labors, Apollo declared, he would be absolved of his guilt and achieve immortality.
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The Nemean Lion First, Apollo sent Hercules to the hills of Nemea to kill a lion that was terrorizing the people of the region. Some storytellers say that Zeus had fathered this magical beast as well. Hercules trapped the lion in its cave and strangled it. The Lernaean Hydra Second, Hercules traveled to the city of Lerna to slay the nine-headed Hydra—a poisonous, snake-like creature who lived underwater, guarding the entrance to the Underworld.
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For this task, Hercules had the help of his nephew Iolaus. This way, the pair kept the heads from growing back. The Golden HindNext, Hercules set off to capture the sacred pet of the goddess Diana: a red deer, or hind, with golden antlers and bronze hooves. Eurystheus had chosen this task for his rival because he believed that Diana would kill anyone she caught trying to steal her pet; however, once Hercules explained his situation to the goddess, she allowed him to go on his way without punishment.
The Erymanthean Boar Fourth, Hercules used a giant net to snare the terrifying, man-eating wild boar of Mount Erymanthus. However, Hercules completed the job easily, flooding the barn by diverting two nearby rivers. Hercules used these tools to frighten the birds away. Hercules drove the bull back to Eurystheus, who released it into the streets of Marathon.
He brought them to Eurystheus, who dedicated the horses to Hera and set them free. At first, the queen welcomed Hercules and agreed to give him the belt without a fight. However, the troublemaking Hera disguised herself as an Amazon warrior and spread a rumor that Hercules intended to kidnap the queen. The Cattle of Geryon For his 10th labor, Hercules was dispatched nearly to Africa to steal the cattle of the three-headed, six-legged monster Geryon.
Once again, Hera did all she could to prevent the hero from succeeding, but eventually he returned to Mycenae with the cows. This task was difficult—Hercules needed the help of the mortal Prometheus and the god Atlas to pull it off—but the hero eventually managed to run away with the apples.
Cerberus For his final challenge, Hercules traveled to Hades to kidnap Cerberus, the vicious three-headed dog that guarded its gates. Hercules managed to capture Cerberus by using his superhuman strength to wrestle the monster to the ground. Afterward, the dog returned unharmed to his post at the entrance to the Underworld.
Later in his life, Hercules had a number of other adventures—rescuing the princess of Troy, battling for control of Mount Olympus—but none were as taxing, or as significant, as the labors had been.