Hercules (Greek: Heracles/Herakles) Basics:
Hercules was Apollo and Dionysus ' half-brother through their father Zeus. Disguised as Amphitryon, Zeus paid a conjugal visit to Amphitryon's wife, Hercules' mother, the Mycenaean princess Alcmene. Hercules and his twin, mortal, half-brother Iphicles, son of Alcmene and the real Amphitryon, were in their cradle when a pair of snakes visited them. Hercules happily strangled the snakes, possibly sent by Hera or Amphitryon. This inaugurated an extraordinary career that included the well-known 12 labors Hercules performed for his cousin Eurystheus.
Here are more of Hercules' feats with which you should be familiar.
Hercules was talented in many areas. Castor of the Dioscuri
taught him to fence, Autolycus
taught him to wrestle, King Eurytus of Oechalia in Thessaly taught him archery, and Orpheus
' brother Linus, son of Apollo or Urania, taught him to play the lyre. [Apollodorus
Cadmus is usually attributed with introducing letters into Greece, but Linus taught Hercules, and the not very academically inclined Hercules broke a chair over Linus' head and killed him. Elsewhere, Cadmus is credited with killing Linus for the honor of introducing writing to Greece. [Source: Kerenyi, Heroes of the Greeks]
Hercules and the Daughters of Thespius:
King Thespius had 50 daughters and wanted Hercules to impregnate them all. Hercules, who went hunting with King Thespius each day, was unaware that each night's woman was different (although he may not have cared), and so he impregnated 49 or 50 of them. The women gave birth to 51 sons who are said to have colonized Sardinia.
Hercules and the Minyans or How He Acquired His First Wife:
The Minyans were exacting a heavy tribute from Thebes -- the usually cited birthplace of the hero -- while it was ruled by King Creon. Hercules encountered the Minyan ambassadors en route to Thebes and cut off their ears and noses, made them wear their bits as necklaces, and sent them back home. The Minyans sent retaliatory a military force, but Hercules defeated it and freed Thebes from the tribute.
Creon rewarded him with his daughter, Megara, for his wife.
The Augean Stables Reprised, With Dishonor:
King Augeas had refused to pay Hercules for cleaning his stables during the 12 Labors, so Hercules led a force against Augeas and his twin nephews. Hercules contracted a disease and asked for a truce, but the twins knew it was too good an opportunity to miss. They continued to try to annihilate Hercules' forces. When the Isthmian Games were about to begin, the twins set out for them, but by this time, Hercules was on the mend. After dishonorably attacking and killing them, Hercules went to Elis where he installed Augeas' son, Phyleus, on the throne in place of his treacherous father.
' tragedy Hercules Furens
is one of the sources for the madness of Hercules. The story, like most of those involving Hercules, has confusing and contradictory details, but in essence, Hercules, returning from the Underworld in some confusion, mistook his own sons, ones he had with Creon's daughter Megara, for those of Eurystheus. Hercules killed them and would have continued his murderous rampage had Athena
not lifted the (Hera
-sent) madness or ate
. Many consider the 12 Labors Hercules performed for Eurystheus
his atonement. Hercules may have married Megara to his nephew Iolaus before leaving Thebes forever.
Hercules' Fight With Apollo:
Iphitus was the son of Apollo's grandson Eurytus, who was the father of the beautiful Iole. In Book 21 of the Odyssey
, Odysseus obtains the bow of Apollo when he helps in the hunt for Eurytus' mares. Another part of the story is that when Iphitus came to Hercules looking for the missing dozen mares, Hercules welcomed him as a guest, but then hurled him to his death from a tower. This was another dishonorable murder for which Hercules needed to atone. The provocation may have been that Eurytus denied him the prize of his daughter, Iole, that Hercules had won in a bow-shooting contest.
Possibly in search of atonement, Hercules arrived at the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, where as a murderer he was denied sanctuary. Hercules took the opportunity to steal the tripod
and cauldron of Apollo's priestess.
Apollo came after him and was joined by his sister, Artemis. On Hercules' side, Athena joined the fight. It took Zeus and his thunderbolts to put an end to the fighting, but Hercules still hadn't made atonement for his act of murder.
On a related note, Apollo and Hercules both confronted Laomedon, an early king of Troy who refused to pay either Apollo or Hercules.
Hercules and Omphale:
For atonement Hercules was to endure a similar term to the one Apollo had served with Admetus
sold Hercules as a slave to the Lydian queen Omphale
. In addition to getting her pregnant and tales of transvestism, the story of the Cercopes and the Black-bottomed Hercules
comes from this period.
Omphale (or Hermes) also set Hercules to work for a treacherous robber named Syleus. With wanton vandalism Hercules demolished the thief's property, killed him, and married his daughter, Xenodike.
Hercules' Last Mortal Wife Deianeira:
The final phase of Hercules' mortal life involves his wife Deianeira, daughter of Dionysus (or King Oineus) and Althaia.
When Hercules was taking his bride home, the centaur Nessus was to ferry her across the Euenos River. The details are varied, but Hercules shot Nessus with poisoned arrows when he heard the screaming of his bride being ravaged by the centaur. The centaur persuaded Deianeira to fill her water jug with blood from his wound, assuring her it would be a potent love potion when next Hercules' eye started to wander. Instead of being a love potion, it was a potent poison. When Deianeira thought Hercules was losing interest, preferring Iole to herself, she sent him a robe drenched in the centaur's blood. As soon as Hercules put it on his skin burned intolerably.
Hercules wanted to die, but was having trouble finding someone to set his funeral pyre alight so he could self-immolate. Finally, Philoctetes or his father agreed and received Hercules' bow and arrows as a thanks offering. These turned out to be essential weapons required by the Greeks to win the Trojan War. As Hercules burned, he was taken to the gods and goddesses where he gained full immortality and Hera's daughter Hebe for his final wife.