Birth of Heracles
Heracles was more commonly known as Hercules in Roman mythology. Like many greek heroes, he was a son of Zeus by a mortal woman. Alcemene, the daughter of King Electryon of Argos, married her cousin Amphitryon. Zeus impersonated Amphitryon and slept with Alcemene who conceived hero.
When he was born, Zeus's consort Hera was fiercely jealous. The goddess sent two poisonous serpents with flaming eyes to destroy the baby. Yet the mightly infant seized one in each hand and easily strangled the serpents.
Training a Hero
Zeus wanted a son who would have the strength and skills to become not only a hero among men, but an ally and agent of the gods as well. So he arranged for Heracles to receive training in warfare and the finer arts from some of the best teachers on earth. Having received the best training, he was then outfitted for warfare by six Olympian benefactors.
- Zeus, offered an unbreakable shield forged by Hephaestus, the god and patron of blacksmiths and artisans
- Athena provided a helmet and coat of arms
- Apollo gave him a bow and a quiver of eagle-feathered arrows.
- Hermes presented him with a sword
- Hephaestus provided him a golden breastplate and brass buskins (protective footwear)
- Poseidon, the creator of horses, entrsuted him with a magnificient team of horses
Heracles was now ready to become the greatest hero of the ancient world. Yet, the road would be long and arduous.
Marriage, Madness and Murder
Heracles married Megara, eldest daughter of Creon, king of Thebes. She was a gift from the king who rewarded the hero when he help defended Thebes from a group of invading Minyans. But Hera was still hostile against him and droved him temporarily mad. He killed his children and perhaps Megara as well thinking they were wild beasts or enemies of Thebes.
The 12 Labors
When he came to his senses, Heracles exiled himself from Thebes. He travelled to Delphi to consult the oracle how best to atone for his crime. The Pythia, priestess of the oracles, instructed him to go to Tiryns and perform any 10 labors devised by King Eurystheus. The number would grew to 12 when Eurystheus nitpicked about whether Heracles had personally completed 2 of the labors assigned to him.
The 12 labors are as follows:
- Nemean Lion . The Nemean lion has an invulnerable skin that could not be pierced with either stone or metal. When Heracles found the beast and found his weapons useless, he sealed one entrance of of the lion's two-mouthed cave. He entered the other unarmed and choked it to death with his mighty hands.
- Lernaen Hydra . The Hydra was a water snake, a child of the monsters Typhon and Echidna, whom may have conceived the Sphinx and Nemean Lion as well. The beast had many heads, one immortal, and a poisonous breath. Heracles had a friend Iolaus who help him in this battle. Afther Heracles chopped off one head, Iolaus burn each new wound with burning branches before it could regnerate. He then slew the beast by chopping off its immortal head and burying it under a rock. Eurystheus refused to ackowledge this as one labor since Heracles had the help of a friend.
- Erymanthian Boar . Heracles trapped the vicious boar in deep snow on Mount Erymantheus, captured it with chains, and brought him back alvie.
- Ceryneian Hind . This deer had golden antlers and brass hoffs, and was sacred to Artemis, the goddess of hunting. It was finally captured after a year.
- Stymphalian Birds . These man eating birds had claws, beaks, and wings of bronze. The voracious birds kill both men and beasts by showering them with bronze feathers and their poisonous excrement. Athena lent Heracles a pair of bronze castanets to help him. The noise of the clanging castanets firghtened the birds who flew into the air. He shot many of them while the others fled.
- Stables of Augeas . Heracles was assigned to clean the stables which was not cleaned for 30 years. He diverted two rivers, Alpheus and Perneus, to wash away the filth in a day. Eurystheus refused to credit this as one labor since Heracles wanted a reward from Augeas for cleaning the stables.
- Cretan Bull . The Cretan bull was the father of the Minotaur By Pasiphae, wife of King Minos. It spit flames and was destroying the crops and orchards of Crete. It was captured after a lengthy struggle.
- Four man-eating mares of King Diomedes . The son of Ares, Diomedes fed his savage mares of living human flesh of his naive guests. Heracles stoled the horses, harnessed it on Dimodes chariots and drove them back to Tiryns.
- Golden Girdle . The golden girdle was a belt used to carry sword was worn by Hippolyta, queen of Amazons. The queen gave him the belt willingly but Hera warned the others and the amazon warriors attacked his ship but could not defeat him.
- Geryon Cattle . Geryon was a monster with three upper bodies and owned a herd of beautiful red cattle. They were guarded by Eurytion, a son of Ares, and the two-headed dog Orthus, a another monstrous child of Typhon and Echidna. Heracles defeated both with his club and shot an arrow through the three bodies of Geryon.
- Golden Apples of Hesprides . The golden apples is from a tree in the Garden of Hesperides, where Gaia had given her daughter Hera on her wedding day. The tree was tended by nymphs known as Hesprides and guarded by a vicious hundred-headed dragon, Ladon. Over the garden towered Titan Atlas, who bore the heavy burden of holding up the sky. Heracles shot an arrow to kill Ladon. After which he offered to relieve the Titan Atlas in return for plucking the fruits for him. After Atlas returned with the fruits, he did not want to take up the burden again. Heracles tricked him by saying he need just a minuted to place a cushion to his head. Atlas fell for it and Heralces quickly sped off.
- Cerberus . The last task was to bring Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades, up from the Underworld. Hades allowed Heracles to do what he wanted after he knew his reasons. Heracles subdued the beast by wrapping his mightly arms around its throat, and brought it up to Eurystheus. The king quickly told him to return it to Hades.
Death and Immortality
After many other adventures, Heracles finally married Deianira, the daughter of Kind Oeneus. She was later tricked by the Centaur Nessus and killed Heracles with a shirt soaked in the Centaur's blood, which was poisoned by the hero's own arrows (dipped with the Hydra's blood). Heracles then took his place among the gods on Olympus.