History >> Ancient Greece
Hercules was the greatest of the mythological Greek heroes. He was famous for his incredible strength, courage, and intelligence. Hercules is actually his Roman name. The Greeks called him Heracles.
Birth of Hercules
Statue of Heracles
Photo by Ducksters
Hercules was a demigod. This means that he was half god, half human. His father was Zeus, king of the gods, and his mother was Alcmene, a beautiful human princess.
Even as a baby Hercules was very strong. When the goddess Hera, Zeus' wife, found out about Hercules, she wanted to kill him. She snuck two large snakes into his crib. However, baby Hercules grabbed the snakes by the neck and strangled them with his bare hands!
Hercules mother, Alcmene, tried to raise him like a regular kid. He went to school like mortal children, learning subject like math, reading, and writing. However, one day he got mad and hit his music teacher on the head with his lyre and killed him by accident.
Hercules went to live in the hills where he worked as a cattle herder. He enjoyed the outdoors. One day, when Hercules was eighteen years old, a massive lion attacked his herd. Hercules killed the lion with his bare hands.
Hercules is Tricked
Hercules married a princess named Megara. They had a family and were living a happy life. This made the goddess Hera angry. She tricked Hercules into thinking his family was a bunch of snakes. Hercules killed the snakes only to realize they were his wife and kids. He was very sad and riddled with guilt.
Oracle of Delphi
Hercules wanted to get rid of his guilt. He went to get advice from the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle told Hercules that he must serve King Eurystheus for 10 years and do any task the king asked of him. If he did this, he would be forgiven and wouldn't feel guilty any more. The tasks the king gave him are called the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
The Twelve Labors of Hercules
Each of the Twelve Labors of Hercules is a story and adventure all to itself. The king did not like Hercules and wanted him to fail. Each time he made the tasks more and more difficult. The final task even involved traveling to the Underworld and bringing back the fierce three-headed guardian Cerberus.
- Slay the Lion of Nemea
- Slay the Lernean Hydra
- Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis
- Capture the Boar of Erymanthia
- Clean the entire Augean stables in one day
- Slay the Stymphalian Birds
- Capture the Bull of Crete
- Steal the Mares of Diomedes
- Get the girdle from the Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta
- Take the cattle from the monster Geryon
- Steal apples from the Hesperides
- Bring back the three-headed dog Cerberus from the Underworld
Hercules not only used his strength and courage to accomplish the twelve labors, but he also used his intelligence. For example, when stealing the apples from the Hesperides, the daughters of Atlas, Hercules got Atlas to get the apples for him. He agreed to hold up the world for Atlas while Atlas got the apples. Then, when Atlas tried to go back on the deal, Hercules had to trick Atlas to once again take the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Another example of Hercules using his brain was when he was tasked with cleaning the Augean stables in a day. There were over 3,000 cows in the stables. There was no way he could clean them by hand in a day. So Hercules built a dam and caused a river to flow through the stables. They were cleaned out in no time.
Hercules went on a number of other adventures throughout Greek mythology. He was a hero who helped people and fought monsters. He continuously had to deal with the goddess Hera trying to trick him and get him into trouble. In the end, Hercules died when his wife was tricked into poisoning him. However, Zeus saved him and his immortal half went to Olympus to become a god.
Interesting Facts about Hercules
- Hercules was originally only supposed to do ten labors, but the king said that the Augean stables and the slaying of the hydra didn't count. This was because his nephew Iolaus helped him kill the hydra and he took payment for cleaning out the stables.
- Walt Disney made a feature film called Hercules in 1997.
- The story of the Hercules and the Hesperides is part of the popular book The Titan's Curse from the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan.
- Hercules wore the pelt of the Lion of Nemea as a cloak. It was impervious to weapons and made him even more powerful.
- He joined the Argonauts on their search for the Golden Fleece. He also helped the gods in fighting the Giants.
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