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Myth of Hercules

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Hercules in Greek mythology

Hercules in Greek mythology (in the ancient Hellenic "Heracles") was an ancient mythical hero, regarded as the greatest of the Greek heroes. Born in Thebes,was the son of Zeus and Alcmene (means "strength"), a descendant of Perseus.
His mother Alcmene was married to king of Thebes,Amphitryon with whom fled to Thebes because Amphitryon had accidentally murdered Ilektryona (father of Alcmene and son of Perseus). Zeus took the form of Amphitryon and slept with Alcmene. Even before the birth of Hercules, Zeus announced to the gods that, a descendant of Perseus will be born by Alcmene ,who will reign on the throne of blinds.

Birth of Hercules

When Hercules was born, Hera, wife of Zeus, which was jealous for his infidelities, he sent in his crib two snakes, but the infant strangled the snakes.

Names of Hercules in Greek mythology

His names are as various as his functions. In his youth, i.e. in Thebes, where the story of his youth is laid, he was called also Alcaeus (' the strong '), from which is derived his epithet Alcides. His principal name, which is probably of Argive origin, it has not yet been possible to explain with certainty. The second part, cules, belongs, like the fuller form /cXetros, to /cAeo? ('fame');but whether or not the first part is connected with Hera,, the protecting goddess of Argos, who imposed upon him his labors, cannot be positively decided.While he was worshiped especially by the Boeotians,Dorians, and Thessalians (as, indeed, it was with the Boeotians that all hero worship in its full development appeared first), yet from the earliest times in Athens, Marathon, and Leontini, he enjoyed divine honors as Alexikakos (' defender from evil '), and Kallinikos (' glorious victor ').

 In later times he was regarded as the chief representative of the wrestling art and therefore also as the founder of the Olympian games ; and his statue appeared everywhere in the gymnasiums and adjacent baths, so that he became by such association the god of all warm baths and other healing waters or springs. On account of his clearing the highways of enemies, he appears also as the god that escorts travelers (Hegemonies). He is often attended by his protectress Athena, more rarely also by Hermes and Apollo.He was hated by Hera, just as were all the sons of Zeus borned from other wives. Therefore, since Zeus had decreed the dominion over Argos to the next descendant of Perseus who should be born, Hera delayed the birth of Hercules until his cousin Eurystheus had seen the light of day in Mycenae, and had thus become ruler of Argos, and liege lord of Hercules. Evidently, however, Tiryns was regarded as the birthplace of Hercules ; for the distant Thebes, though spoken of in the Iliad as his home, never can have stood in such a dependent relation to Mycenae
as would be implied by the legend just mentioned.

Life of Hercules 

While yet in his cradle Hercules strangled two serpents
which Hera had dispatched against him. After he had slain with the lyre his teacher Linus, who had chastised him, Amphitryon sent him to tend flocks upon Mount Cithaeron, where he killed a powerful lion. When his father had fallen in battle against the Orchomenians,Creon, the last of the Sparta, became king of Thebes, and to Hercules was given his daughter Megara as a wife.In a fit of madness, which Hera decreed upon him, he killed his three children with bow and arrows. On his recovery he was compelled in expiation of his crime to enter the service of Eurystheus, who laid upon him a series of difficult labors, the order of which varies in different versions of the myth. The collection of legends describing these labors forms the connecting link between the Theban-Boeotian and the Argive-Dorian Hercules myths. The latter of these two series of myths seems to embrace the labors in their oldest form.According to this version Hercules had his abode in Tiryns, south of Mycenae, to which, indeed, the story of his birth points. He fought at Tiryns, as he had done on Cithaeron, with a powerful lion, which lived on Mount Apesas, between Nemea and Mycenae. After this he wore the skin of this lion, flung over the upper part of his body, as a characteristic dress. Accompanied by his friend and charioteer, lolaus, he went against the Hydra, a nine-headed water serpent in the marshy springs of Lerna, south of Argos. In place of every one of the monster's heads that was struck off
two new ones grew, until lolaus set the neighboring woods on fire and burned out the wounds (i.e. dried up the springs). The last immortal head Hercules covered it with a block of stone. Then he moistened the tips of his arrows with the venom of the monster.From Mount Erymanthus in Arcadia, from whose snow-covered summit a wild mountain stream of the same name rushes down, a wild boar (a symbol of this stream) was laying waste the fields of Psophis. Hercules pursued him up into the glaciers, and brought him in chains to Eurystheus, who in terror hid in a cask. On Mount Pholoe, which is near Erymanthus, he lodged with the Centaur Fholus, who was named after the mountain and was a counterpart of Chiron, who dwelt on the Thessalian Pelion. As Hercules was being there regaled with the wine which belonged to all the Centaurs in common, he fell into a quarrel with them, and finally killed most of them with his arrows. Pholus and Chiron perished also by carelessly wounding themselves with some of the arrows. Then, after Hercules, still operating in Arcadia, had caught the hind of Cerynea and  driven out the storm birds whose nests were
 the lake of Stymphalus, birds that shot out their feathers like arrows, his native land of Argolis was insured against all dangers.The scenes of the following expeditions were farther away.  Upon an Elean local legend rests the story of the cleansing of the stables of king Augeas (< the beaming one ?), of Elis. Though three thousand cattle had been kept there, the cleansing must be completed in a single day. This feat, according to the tradition, Hercules accomplished by conducting the river Menios (' moon river ') through the place. But upon a metope of the temple of Olympian Zeus, the only extant representation in art of this adventure, he is represented as using a long broom. Augeas promised Hercules for his labor a tenth part of his herds, but did not keep his word ;wherefore he and all his champions were afterwards slain by Hercules after a stubborn resistance.

Perhaps there is some connection between this last legend and that  (usually put in the tenth place
in the series) of the robbery of the cattle of the giant Geryones (' roarer '), who likewise ruled in the far west
on the island Erythea ('red land '). In order to ride over Oceanus, Hercules compelled Helios to lend him
his sun skiff ; then he killed the three-bodied giant with his arrows. When returning, he overpowered the firebreathing giant Cacus on the site of the future city of Rome, who had stolen from him and hidden in a cave a part of the cattle of Geryones which he had carried off. In Sicily, moreover, he defeated Eryx, a mighty boxer and wrestler, the representative of the mountain of the same name.The seventh adventure, the binding of the Cretan bull, and  the ninth, the fight with the Amazons, the girdle of whose queen, Hippolyte, he is said to have demanded on a commission of Eurystheus, are perhaps borrowed from the legends of Theseus, who accomplished similar acts; but since Hercules's battle with the Amazons appeared in works of art somewhat earlier than that of Theseus, the reverse process, namely that of a transfer from Hercules to Theseus, is not impossible.As his eighth task, Hercules received the command to fetch the horses of the Thracian king Diomedes. Diomedes dwelt in the far north, and his horses were fed on human flesh. This task was accomplished after throwing the cruel king before his own horses.
His last two adventures are closely connected with each other, both representing how Hercules, at the
end of his life, laboriously obtained immortality by his journeys into the lower world and into the garden of the gods. These ideas, to be smre, were afterwards, with the union of the Argive and the Thessalian-Oetaean legends, supplanted by the myth that he destroyed himself by fire.On the way to the garden of the Hesperides (' western '), who guarded the golden apples of rejuvenation, and dwelt where the edge of the western sky is gilded by the setting sun, he throttled the giant Antaeus, lifting him up from the Earth, his mother, who was constantly supplying him with new strength. Then he slew king Buslris in Egypt, who cruelly sacrificed all strangers cast upon the coast of his country. In the name Busiris certainly lurks that of the Egyptian god Osiris. Finally, after liberating Prometheus, who had been chained on Caucasus by Zeus, he came to Atlas, who bore the heavens upon his shoulders (as every mountain apparently does). Hercules begged him to pluck three apples from the tree of the Hesperides. Meanwhile he himself took Atlas's place in bearing up the heavens, or, in his own person went into the garden of the gods and slew the dragon that guarded the tree.The bringing up of the hellhound Cerberus from the lower world was put last, on the ground of its being the most difficult labor. Evidently it had been forgotten that the fetching of the apples that bestow eternal youth out of the land imagined to be in the extreme west properly signified the reception of Hercules among the gods. This latter thought was certainly represented in the later idea (which likewise probably belongs to the Argive legend) of the marriage of Hercules with Hebe ('bloom of youth'). She was the daughter and counterpartof Hera (who by this time had been appeased), while the Italian legend unites its Hercules with. Juno herself.Hercules went down into the lower world at the promontory Taenarum, freed Theseus from his imprisonment, chained Cerberus, and came up with them at Troezen or Hermione.Another, perhaps an older, form of the same legend is apparently to be seen in the story, mentioned as early
as the Iliad, of the expedition of Hercules against Pylus ('gate' of the lower world), during which he wounded
with three-pointed arrows his inveterate enemy Hera, and also Hades, the rider of the lower world. After the completion of the labors imposed upon him by Eurystheus, the servitude of Hercules came to an end. The application of the number twelve to his labors seems, however, not to have been definitely made until about
480 B.C.The third principal group of the Hercules myths is formed by the expeditions located in Thessaly and on Oeta. To this group originally belonged also his sacking Oechalia, and his servitude to Omphale. Hercules sued for the hand of lole, the daughter of the mighty archer Eurytus, who ruled in Thessaliaii Oechalia. But though he defeated her father in an archery contest, she was refused him. A short time thereafter, in revenge, he hurled her brother Iphitus down from a precipice,although he was staying as the friend and guest of Hercules; and later he also took the city, and carried lole with, him as a captive. To be absolved from this bloodguiltiness, he went to Delphi; but Apollo delayed his answer. Then Hercules seized the holy tripod, to carry it away ; the strife thus kindled was stopped by the interposition of a lightning flash from Zeus. Hercules was now told by the oracle that he could be ransomed from his guilt only by a three years' servitude.Hermes therefore sold him to Omphale, who was in later times commonly regarded as queen of the Lydians and as ancestress of the Lydian kings ; probably, however, she is only the eponymous heroine of a city Omphalium, which is believed to have existed in early times on the border between Thessaly and Epirus. For in her service he scourged the Itonians, i.e., of course, the inhabitants of the Thessalian Itonus, where he also fought with the mighty Cycnus. He punished likewise the sly thieves, whose home was near Thermopylae, the Cercopes, and also Syleus (< robber') on Pelion. But Lamios (or Lamus), the son of Hercules and Omphale, is merely the eponym of the city Lamia, situated not far north of Trachis. Perhaps it was not till after the home of the legend was transferred to Lydia that the poetic addition to the story was made that Hercules clothed himself as a maidservant and worked with the distaff, while Omphale adorned herself with his lion's skin and his club.Directly connected with these legends, and, as their field of action is in the neighboring Aetolia, probably allied in origin, is Hercules's wooing of Deianira (' husband-destroyer '). She was .the daughter of king Oeneus in Calydon, a country abounding in vines, where, to gain possession of her, Hercules (probably as the representative of civilization) was forced to fight with the wild
river god Achelotis. The latter appears sometimes as a natural river, again as a bull, and still again as a man
with a bull's head. Not until Hercules breaks off one of his horns does he acknowledge himself conquered, and offers, in order to recover it, to give in exchange the horn of the she-goat Amalthea, i.e. the horn of plenty, from which issues a stream of nourishment and blessing. Yet this horn properly belongs to Hercules himself as the dispenser of fruitfulness, in which capacity he was much worshiped, especially in the country. A counterpart of the battle with the river god is furnished by the wrestling match (usually introduced in connection with the Hesperides adventure) with Hallos Geron, the old man of the sea, who afterwards is called Nereus or Triton.On his journey back to Trachis Hercules killed the Centaur Nessus (this being a counterpart of his battle with the Centaurs on Mount Pholoe), who attempted to offer violence to De'ianira while carrying her on his back across the ford of the river Evenus. The dying Centaur advised her to catch up and take with her the blood streaming from his wound, saying that it would act as a love charm. Some time later, hearing that after the capture of Oechalia Hercules had made the beautiful lole his prisoner, De'ianira rubbed this blood upon a garment and sent it by Lichas to her husband on his way home. Hercules had scarcely put it on before the poison of Nessus pierced through his body. In fury at his torment he flung Lichas into the sea, but could not remove the garment, which clung to his limbs and tore the flesh off with it. De'ianira killed herself in pure desperation; but Hercules charged his son Hyllus to marry lole, mounted a funeral pyre erected on the summit of Mount Oeta, and by the gift of his bow and arrows persuaded Poeas, the father of Philoctetes, or, according to another account, Philoctetes himself, to apply the torch. Amid thunder and lightning he ascended to heaven, being thus purified by fire, and became one of the gods. According to a passage in the Iliad there existed in some places the belief that Hercules, in obedience to a decree of fate, and in consequence of the wrath of Hera, actually died and was staying in the lower world. The same view really prevails in the Odyssey also ; but in the latter poem the idea of a later elaborator, who was striving to reconcile the myths, caused only the ghost of Hercules to appear.Taking him all in all, Hercules in the later period was the ideal type of a valiant, noble Dorian man ; and in many parts of these legends he may be the exact representative of the Dorian race (which reverenced him especially) in its migrations and battles. Yet since many other features of his mythical history cause him to be recognized as an old sun god, we may perhaps assume that, like the gods of the Iliad, he first appeared in battle fighting for his worshipers, and then gradually became, from the protecting deity, the representative of the race, and at the same time the type of the Dorian warrior.The oldest image with the form of which we are well acquainted connected with the worship of Hercules is that of Erythrae, where he, like other heroes, acted as a god of healing by means of oracular dreams. According to coins upon which this image is imitated, Hercules
was there represented as standing upon a boat, without the lion's skin, a club in his right hand, which was raised ; in his left, a spear (or stick ). In other very old representations also he is nude; later he appears
wearing complete armor and a short tight-fitting cloak. At length, somewhere about 600 B.C., the type with the lion's skin, beginning in Cyprus and Rhodes, came to predominate, probably under the influence of Phoenician models, in imitation of Melkart, the sun god and king of Tyre, with whom Hercules was later identified in many respects. His hair and beard are usually closely cut; it is very rare that he appears without a beard in works of the older period. After the beginning of the fourth century B.C. he is again regularly represented entirely nude ; he carries the lion's skin on his left arm, his club in his right hand. Praxiteles gives him a deeply sorrowful expression ; Lysippus, the attitude of motion, especially at the hips. To the latter sculptor is doubtless to be traced the general type of the weary Hercules resting ; the special form of this, however, preserved in the so-called Tarnese Hercules' in Naples, was of later origin. In the representations of his deeds, Hercules usually in earlier works, as in the story of the Iliad, carries a bow as his weapon; more rarely, and indeed principally in works of Ionian origin, the club ; in those originating in the Peloponnesus, the sword, which, according to the Odyssey, he carried in addition to his bow.

As part of his labors, Hercules killed the Nemean lion, killed the Hydra, rapidly caught the deer Kyrenia killed Erymanthio Boar, cleaning the stables of Augeas, killed the Stymphalian Laying, caught the wild bull of Crete, stole wild horses of Diomedes, took her belt Hippolyta, brought oxen of Geryon to Eurystheus, grabbed the apples of the Hesperides, and finally brought Cerberus from Hades.
Apart from their labors, Hercules held and other mythical feats.
He took part in the expedition of the Argonauts and liberated Isioni, daughter of the Trojan king Laomedon, from a sea monster. Not, however, continued to the end the campaign.
In Libya defeated the giant Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Gaia, who was very strong, because taking power by tapping into the Earth, the body of his mother. Hercules, understanding what was his strength, lifted him in the air with mighty arms and smothered him without difficulty.
After this feat, Hercules, tired, went to sleep. Then the pygmies, a people dwarf the chained and nailed to the earth. When Hercules awoke, jumped up and grabbing them in the handful, wrap them all in the pelt of the Nemean lion wearing.

Hercules catches the deer Kyrenia. Attic black-figure amphora ca 530-520 BC
Heracles freed even Prometheus, whom Zeus had tied the Caucasus to punish him because he gave the people the secret of fire.
He brought Alcestis from Hades, having fought with the Grim Reaper and freed her. The Alcestis was the wife of the king of Feres Admitou, which, to save her husband, was to die instead of him. Heracles happened to pass in those days the bears went to visit his friend the king. Learning the great calamity that had found the palace, ran, and anticipating the Grim Reaper, fought with him and brought to life again the beautiful Alcestis.
Hercules killed, even to lift people from tyranny, the bloodthirsty tyrant of Egypt Vousiri.
Theseus freed from prison Molossian king of Epirus.
The last feat of Hercules was killing the centaur Nessus, who tried to steal the hero's woman, the beautiful Deianeira.

Continue reading about:The Labours of Hercules


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