The Real Journey of "Hercules"

 

To begin with, "Hercules" is the incorrect name for the Greek hero; "Heracles" is how the Achaeans referred to him. Although often confused, Hercules is the discount Latin replica. However, the proliferation of Hercules: Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess television series have gravely distorted myth from downright fiction. [Incidentally, there was no such character as Xena, or her obnoxious, asinine little nymphet friend Gabrielle either. In fact, for all the imbecile fans out there, Gabrielle isn't even a Greek name.]

Roman HeraclesAlso erroneous is Heracles's representation as some muscle-bound, Kevin Sorbo he-man. That particular depiction is pure Roman invention [see right]. The Greeks viewed their hero as an every-day Joe and not necessarily with bulging biceps and pecs you could fly with. Heracles strength was from divine powers and did not reflect in his physical appearance.

There are other misconceptions that you will notice as I further relate the true adventures of Heracles...see if you notice them. And if you do, well, good for you. You aren't the susceptible fool most people are. 

Birth of a Hero

Both Thebes and Argos claim Heracles as its child. Thebes is the most widely accepted, but there are reasons to believe that Argos was his birthplace. Regardless, Zeus desired to rear a champion for both gods and mortals and decided that Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon, would be the honorable mother.   Whilst Amphitryon was away at war, Zeus lay with Alcmene in Amphitryon’s guise, making one night last as long as three. Amphitryon returned, and naturally wanted to spend time with his wife. Of course, Alcmene was a tad surprised but nevertheless obliged. As a result, twins were born: Heracles to Zeus and Iphicles to Amphitryon.

Although she is portrayed as the “evil stepmother” on television, Hera was not necessarily corrupt.  She  was, however,  understandingly outraged that Zeus has sired yet another bastard son. She plotted, but fell asleep. As she dozed, Hermes placed the babe on Hera’s breast. The rambunctious child awoke Hera, and she shoved him aside, her milk splattering across the heavens [which eventually became the Milky Way]. Zeus was pleased; Heracles had been nursed by a goddess, and eventually would become immortal.  In vengeance, Hera spitefully sent two serpents down to the twins’ cradle. Iphicles bellowed in terror, but Heracles was curious and grabbed each snake by each hand and strangled them to death.

Early Adventures

After this incident, Amphitryon became suspicious about the child and consulted the blind seer Tiresias. Tiresias revealed that Heracles was the son of Zeus and was destined to be a champion. Amphitryon then brought up the child with care, hiring the best tutors and athletic trainers for the boys.  Heracles developed a love for the outdoors by helping his father with farmwork, and it was with the work his strength grew.

Heracles grew, and his first real test of strength was when he was summoned to kill the lion of Mount Kithaeron. The beast had been ravaging the herds of Amphitryon, and Heracles had little problem disposing of the monster.  He skinned the lion, and some say it was the pelt that he is constantly portrayed in [others believe it was the Nemean lion's hide which he wore]. Whilst he was away, the city of Thebes became entrenched in a war with Orchomenus; Heracles immediately armed the Thebans with spoils from the temples. As soon as victory was assured, Heracles flooded Orchomenus's crops. Athena observed Heracles shrewdness and bravery and thus became an ally for life. Neither she nor Heracles could save Amphitryon, however, who lost his life in battle.

 The king of Thebes, Creon, bestowed his daughter Megara as his wife; Iphicles was given her younger sister. Both brothers produced numerous children, among them Iphichles's son Iolaus, who eventually became Heracles 'understudy' and best friend. They had many early adventures together, among them the Calydonian boar hunt and voyage with the Argonauts, which was cut short as Heracles’s squire, Hylas, was taken by a river goddess.

Hera was well aware of Heracles’s growing abilities and decided it was time to again start scheming. She afflicted Heracles with a sudden madness, which caused him to attack Iolaus, who luckily escaped. Heracles began shooting arrows at imaginary beasts; when the madness lifted he discovered he had killed his children and two of Iphicles. Horrified, Heracles secluded himself from any human contact and begged the king of Thespiae for purification. He then consulted an oracle for atonement and was instructed that he was to service the king of Argos, Eurystheus. The result was the famous Labors of Heracles.

The Labors

Will add details soon....

  1. The Nemean Lion
  2. The Hydra
  3. The Erymanthian Boar
  4. The Ceryneia Hind
  5. The Stymphalian Birds
  6. The Augean Stables
  7. The Cretan Bull
  8. The Horses of Diomedes
  9. The Amazon Girdle
  10. The Cattle of Geryon
  11. Cerberus
  12. The Apples of the Hesperides

Slave Again

Heracles returned to Thebes. He separated from Megara [or, according to Euripedes, killed her in his madness] and decided to seek a new wife. Eurytus of Oechalia was looking for a husband for his daughter Iole, but the potential suitor had to shoot better than he. Heracles did just that, and Eurytus accused him of cheating. Disgruntled, Heracles departed, vowing revenge.

In the meantime, Eurytus discovered some of his horses had been stolen and assumed Heracles as the thief. The real culprit had sold them to an unbeknowest Heracles. Eurytus's son, Iphitus, refused to believe that Heracles was at guilt and set off to prove the point. Heracles invited him to dine at his house, but Iphitus accidently let it slip the reason for his visit. Enraged at being accused, Heracles killed him, which is an unforgivable crime in Greece: murdering a guest in your own home. He had not even a madness to blame.

He went to Delphi to consult the Pythoness, but she refused to speak with the heathen. Angered, Heracles threatened her and seized the tripod. She called upon Apollo. Apollo confronted Heracles, who attacked the god, and Zeus was forced to use a thunderbolt to separate his sons.  The king of gods declared that once again Heracles be enslaved as punishment and purification for murdering Iphitus and desecrating Apollo's shrine. This time his servitude was to Queen Omphale of Lydia. Omphale was impressed with the strong, handsome man, and one can hardly call his duties to her "arduous".

Exploits in Troy

The king of Troy, Laomedon, had enraged Poseidon, who sent a sea monster to terrorize the kingdom. Consulting an oracle, Laomedon was horrified to discover he needed to sacrifice his daughter Hesione in order rid his kingdom of the beast.  Heracles found the girl chained to a rock, and quickly freed her.  He then offered Laomedon to slay the monster in exchange for two wonderful mares, which had been presents from Zeus when he abducted Ganymede. Laomedon agreed, and Heracles, with the help from Athene, killed the monster. [The Trojans, in the meantime, had built a high earthwork along the shore that stood steadfast, even during the ensuing Trojan War.]

Laomedon was grateful but rescinded on the agreement. He tried to trick Heracles with two ordinary horses. Podarces, the king's son, loudly protested, but Laomedon bade him away. Heracles was not deceived, and marched back to Greece for an army and revenge. Laomedon was defeated and all in his family, save Hesione and Podarces, was killed. Podarces inherited the kingdom and changed his name to Priam, "the redeemed".

Deianira and Death

Heracles decided it was time to settle and chose another wife. He sought Deianira, daughter of the king of Calydon. He fought the river god Achelous for her hand and easily disposed of his rival. Heracles and Deianira lived in peace in Calydon, but one day Heracles accidently killed a cupbearer, and the two were forced to flee to Trachis.

Nessus's attempt to rape DeianiraOne their way they had to cross a high river. Heracles could easily swim across and carry his wife, but she would still get wet, and she being the prude she was certainly didn't like that. The centaur Nessus observed the two and offered to carry Deianira on his back. Heracles agreed and started swimming. Nessus then grabbed Deianira and galloped away, intending to rape her. Upon reaching the other side of the river, Heracles quickly shot at the centaur and hit Nessus in the heart.  As Heracles swam back to retrieve his wife, the dying centaur whispered to Deianira a secret: take  some of Nessus’s blood and semen and keep it in case it appeared Heracles stopped loving her. Anoint the mixture on Heracles’s shirt and no rival would ever possess him. Deianira, knowing Heracles was, after all, a typical male, quickly drained the mixture in a small oil jar and rejoined her husband.

In Trachis Heracles was again confronted with King Eurytus of Oechalia.  An oracle had told Heracles that war with the king would be his last great adventure and a serene life would follow. Anxious, Heracles attacked Oechalia and killled everyone except the princess Iole, whom he was previously promised as a wife. He sent the girl to Deianira, who was naturally suspicious of Heracles’s intentions. He had asked Deianira for a fresh wardrobe to be sent for him, and, remembering Nessus’s secret, anointed his shirt with the centaur’s mixture.

The mixture, however, had been tainted with Heracles’s arrow, which had been dipped in the hydra’s venomous blood and was therefore a lethal poison. As soon as Heracles dressed he was overwhelmed with flames. He called upon his son Hyllus and his favorite Iolaus; Hyllus promised to marry Iole and Iolaus was determined to initiate the worship of his uncle. The distraught Deianira, realizing what she had done, hung herself.

Zeus blasted the funeral pyre and reclaimed his son for Olympus. Heracles, now an immortal, was reconciled with Hera and given her daughter Hebe, goddess of youth, as a wife. His name, “glory of Hera”, reconstituted his relationship with her.