Herakles: Premiere Party
Herakles was the result of a dalliance between the Greek God Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene.
Zeus disguised himself as Alcmeneís husband Amphitryon home early from the war and made love to her. Amphitryon came home later that night and again made love to her, resulting in Alcmene being pregnant with two children.
Iphicles was Amphitryonís son and a mortal, while Herakles was Zeusí son and a demi-god.
Hera, Zeusí wife hated her husbandís infidelity, but as he was the ruler of the Gods she could not take her anger out on him personally, so as a result it was the proofs of these illicit affairs that bore the brunt of her anger.
A few months after he was born, Hera sent a pair of serpents to kill Herakles as he lay in his cot. Herakles throttled a snake in each hand and was found by his nurse playing with their limp bodies as if they were a childís toy.
As a youth, while tending cattle on a mountain, he was visited by two nymphs Ė Pleasure and Virtue Ė and was offered a choice between a pleasant and easy life or a severe but glorious one. Herakles chose the latter, and was set on the path of his destiny.
Herakles married Megara, daughter of King Creon of Thebes. They had three children together, and lived happily, until Hera interfered. She drove him into a fit of madness during which he killed his children and almost killed Megara.
Memories of what he had done were so painful that he could not bear the sight of his wife from then on, so gave her in marriage to his cousin Iolaus and fled to the Oracle of Delphi seeking penance.
Unbeknownst to Herakles, the Oracle was guided by Hera, and he was directed to serve King Eurystheus of Tiryns for 12 years and do his bidding. This brought to a head the conflict between Zeus and Hera for control of the Olympians once the old order was finally defeated, as Eurystheus was Heraís champion and Herakles was Zeusí.
Eurystheus originally gave Herakles 10 labours to perform, however two of the original labours were deemed to have been invalid because Herakles received help from Iolaus in one and Herakles was actually paid for the work in another, so an extra two labours were added.
The final 12 labours were:
- To kill the Nemean Lion and bring back itís skin. The Nemean Lion had
terrorized the land around Nemea and had a skin so thick that it could not be
penetrated by weapons. To kill the Lion Herakles eventually thrust his arm down
itís throat and strangled it from the inside.
Herakles then spent hours trying to skin the creature to no avail. Eventually the Goddess Athena, disguised as an old crone, helped Hercules realise that the best tools for skinning the lion was the lions own claws.
Heracles wore the impenetrable hide as his armour from then on. King Eurystheus was so frightened by the fearsome sight that was Herakles, that hid in a large bronze jar, and from that moment forth communicated all his instructions to Herakles via a herald.
- To defeat the Lernaean Hydra. Lairing near Lake Lerna, the Hydra would grow two
heads every time a head was cut off, making the many-headed beast seemingly impossible
Realising that he could not defeat the hydra this way he had Iolaus use a burning firebrand to sear the open wounds shut before the hydra had a chance to grow itís new heads, thereby defeating it.
- To capture the one remaining Ceryneian Hind and bring it to Eurystheus. When the
goddess Artemis was young she found five giant female deer, called hinds, grazing
Thessaly. She captured four of them to draw her chariot, but the fifth proved to swift
even for her and escaped. She declared the remaining hind was sacred to her, from that
Herakles chased the hind on foot for a year before finally capturing it when it stopped for a drink.
As he was bringing the hind to Eurystheus, he was met on the road by Artemis and her twin Apollo. Herakles begged forgiveness for capturing her sacred animal, but explained that he must do it as part of his penance. Artemis forgave him, as long as he promised to return the hind.
Upon bringing the hind to Eurystheus, he was told that it was to become part of the King's menagerie. Herakles knew that he had to return the hind as he had promised, so he agreed to hand it over on the condition that Eurystheus himself came out and took it from him. The King came out, but the moment Herakles let the hind go, it sprinted back to her mistress, and Herakles left saying that Eurystheus had not been quick enough.
- To capture the Erymanthian Boar. Herakles asked a friend, Chiron, a centaur, for
advice on capturing the boar. Chironís advice was to drive the boar into thick snow to
slow it down and to distract it, making the capture easy without having to injure the
When Herakles presented to boar to Eurystheus, he was so frightened by it that he again hid in the jar and begged Herakles to get rid of the beast.
- To clean the Augean stables in a single day. Eurystheus had hoped that this task
would degrade Herakles in the eyes of the people. The livestock were a divine gift to
Augeas, and as such were immune from disease. This meant that cleaning the stables had
never been a major priority, and as a result had never been done.
Augeas, King of Elis, promised Herakles a tenth of the cattle if he managed the impossible task. As a result he was irate when Herakles succeeded by simply rerouting the Alpheus and Peneus rivers through the stables, quickly cleaning them.
He refused to honour the agreement he had made with Herakles, so Herakles killed him and placed Phyleus, Augeasí son, on the Throne.
- Ridding the land of the Stymphalian Birds. These man eating birds had claws of brass
and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims. Pets of the god Ares,
they had destroyed large tracts of countryside and seemed to be impossible to remove due
to the darkness of the forest they nested in
The goddess Athena and god Hephaestus forged for Herakles huge bronze clappers, which made so much noise that it scared the birds into flight. Once airborne Herakles was able to shoot down many with arrows, and the rest left, never to return.
- To capture the Cretan Bull. Herakles sailed to Crete and King Minos gladly gave
permission to take the bull away as it had been wreaking havoc on Crete. Herakles
strangled the bull to unconsciousness and had it quickly transported back to Athens.
Eurystheus had intended to sacrifice the bull to Hera, however she refused the sacrifice because it reflected glory on Herakles who had captured it. The bull was released, and wandered into Marathon where it became known as the Marathonian Bull.
- To capture the Mares of Diomedes. The Mares were four wild, man-eating horses that
belonged to the giant Diomedes, king of Thrace. Taking with him a number of his friends,
he was able to quickly steal the horses.
However, Herakles was not aware of the horses true nature, and when Diomedes caught up with them, he left one of his friends, Abderus, in charge of the Mares while he fought Diomedes. Abderus was quickly eaten by the Mares, and in anger Herakles force fed them their master.
This act permanently calmed the Mares, and he was able to bring them to Eurystheus quickly who dedicated them to Hera, thought not until he had founded the town of Abdera next to his friends tomb.
- To obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, at the request of
Eurystheusí daughter Admete. Hippolyta fell in love with Herakles and gladly gave up
her girdle to him, however Hera spread rumours amongst the Amazons that Herakles was
there to kidnap their Queen, and attacked Athens in retaliation.
Still being in mourning, Herakles did not accept her advances, and gave her in marriage to another friend, Theseus.
- To obtain the Cattle of Geryon. Geryon was a fearsome Titan who dwelt on the island
of Erytheia. The Titan had a single pair of legs that split into three bodies at the
waist, each topped with itís own head. He owned a two headed hound named Orthrus,
brother to Cerberus.
When Herakles landed on the island, he was immediately attacked by Orthrus. However, the hound was dispatched with a single blow of his massive olive-wood club. Geryonís herdsman came to help out, but was killed in the same way.
Geryon sprang into action, wielding three spears, carrying three shields and wearing three helmets. Herakles took him out with a single arrow that had been dipped in the blood of the Lernaean Hydra and pierced all three of Geryonís bodies.
Herakles was beset by troubles as he herded the red cattle back to Athens. The fire-breathing monster Cacus stole 8 of the cattle while Herakles slept by getting them to walk backwards so they would leave no tracks. As Herakles went to leave the next morning, the cattle called out to each other, and he was able to determine what had happened, and find and retrieve the cattle after killing Cacus.
As they were approaching Athens, Hera sent a gadfly to bite the cattle so as to irritate and scatter them. It took almost a year to retrieve them, and then Hera flooded the final river he was to cross, preventing Herakles from taking the cattle across. Herakles solved the problem by tossing stones into the river, making a ford that they were able to cross.
The cattle were sacrificed to Hera once they reached Athens.
- To steal some of the Apples of Immortality in the Garden of the Hesperides. The
garden was Heraís orchard in the west which contained at the centre a single tree that
had grown from the fruited branches given to Hera from Gaia as her wedding present.
Protected by the Hesperides, the three Nymphs of Night and also Ladon, the never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon, the task was considered too dangerous for even Herakles to attempt.
So instead he tricked the Titan Atlas (who was related to the Hersperides, and thus safe) to obtain some of the apples for him by offering to hold up the heavens for a while.
Having obtained the apples, Atlas decided that he didnít want to return to his task of holding up the heavens, so was intending to deliver the apples for Herakles and not come back, but Herakles managed to trick Atlas into taking back the heavens while Herakles adjusted his cloak into a more comfortable position. Herakles then took the apples and returned home.
- To capture Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades. Herakles travelled to
Tanaerum and found an entrance to the underworld, and with the help of Athena and
Hermes was able to pass the obstacles in his way and gain passage. Herakles presented
himself to Hades and Persephone, and ask permission to take Cerberus.
Permission was given, but only as long as the beast was not harmed. Herakles easily wrestled the dog into submission and dragged him out of the underworld, again with Athena and Hermesí help.
Eurystheus was so terrified of the beast that again he hid in a jar rather than face Cerberus.
After atoning for the slaying of his children, Herakles wandered the ancient lands, fighting many more monsters, and overcoming many challenges.
However, it was one of his wives that caused his eventual death.
Deianeira was the daughter of Oeneus, King of Calydon. She was betrothed to Achelous, a fearsome river god with whom she wanted to have nothing to do with. Herakles defeated Achelous on her behalf, and took her as his bride.
A short time after their marriage, Herakles and Deianeira were travelling through the wilderness and came across the river Euenos. While Herakles was able to cross on his own, his wife was unable, however the centaur Nessus carried travellers across the river for a fee.
As Nessus was ferrying Deianeira across, he tried to rape her, and was shot with an arrow shot by Herakles from the river bank. The arrow, dipped in the blood of the Lernaean Hydra, killed Nessus, but as he lay dying he got his revenge. He told Deianeira that a mixture of his semen and blood applied to Heraklesí clothes would ensure he would love her forever. Deianeira believed him, and kept a bit of the potion on her.
Years later she believed that Herakles had fallen in love with another, and smeared the mixture on his famous hide shirt. When Herakles put the shirt on, his skin was burned due to the toxic nature of the blood, and tried to pull it off. However the shirt had joined itself with him, and he was unable to remove it, meaning the burning would not fade.
Herakles chose a voluntary death, rather than face the agony of the burning for the rest of his life, and he lay himself on his funeral pyre which was lit by none other than his cousin Iolaus.
However, Herakles did not die in the funeral pyre. Instead, that part of him that was mortal was burnt away, leaving only the god to remain. Zeus gathered his son, and took the new god to Olympus, where he became the God Protector of Man, and God of Heroic Endeavours.