Hercules, one of the most well-known characters of Greek and Roman mythology, who is also known as Heracles has settled in cultures all over the world as a symbol of power. His role in mythology is also a symbol of stubbornness and even a bit of recklessness as a half-man, half-god who tries to achieve more than what he was meant to be.
The birth of Hercules is one of the most well-known stories of Greek and Roman mythology which of both are well known around Anatolia. The beauty of Alcmene who was the daughter of Electryon, the king of Mycenae and wife of Amphitryon, was legendary. Known for his fondness for such women, Zeus definitely wanted to be with Alcmene. Zeus could never get close to the woman. However, there was no power to stop the god of gods if he really wanted something and especially a woman! Zeus finally slept with Alcmene disguised as her husband Amphitryon. Everything was revealed when the birth of Hercules happened.
Despite being seen as the champion and protector of the weak, Hercules’ personal troubles had just begun at birth. Hera sent two witches to prevent childbirth, but they were tricked by one of Alcmene’s servants and sent to another room. Hera then sent two snakes to kill Hercules in his cradle, but Hercules strangled them both even he was an infant.
Hera nursed him from her own breast until the baby Hercules bit her nipple. At this point, Hera pushed the baby and poured her milk into the night sky, forming the Milky Way Galaxy. He then gave the baby back to Athena and told Athena to take care of the baby herself. The goddess Athena involuntarily gave him more strength and power as she nursed the child from her own breast.
Hercules was then brought to Amphitryon’s palace. Here he was taught wrestling, horseback riding, fencing, archery, lyre playing, singing, and chariot riding by the best teachers. Hercules was still unaware of his own strength, and one day, during an argument, he hit and killed Linus, the music teacher, with a lyre. Thereupon, Hercules was assigned to look after the flocks of sheep to avoid trouble.
One day he heard that the army of Thebes had been defeated by the Minian gang, and he thought it was unacceptable. With the Theban warrior group he led, he defeated the Minians and restored order in Thebes. Wanting to show his gratitude, the king of Thebes, Creon, married his daughter Megara to Hercules. At this point in the story, Hercules was a young, successful hero who is married and has three powerful sons. Hera could not bear the situation; angering Hercules, causing him to kill his children (and, in some versions, even Megara as well).
Overcoming his madness, Hercules desperately sought advice from Apollo’s priestess in Delphi. The nun advised him to move to Tiryns and serve King Eurystheus for twelve years. What made Hercules the most important of the Greek heroes became the “twelve tasks” set by Eurytheus.
The Twelve Tasks Of Hercules
- The first mission was to slay the Nemean Lion, the impenetrable-skinned beast that terrorized the whole of Greece. Hercules beat the lion to death with his club, then put on its skin to render himself invulnerable against any melee weapon.
- The second task was to slay the Dragon of Lerna, a dragon-like snake with nine heads that spawns new ones as they are cut off. While Hercules was cutting off their heads, he burned the wounds to prevent new heads from growing again.
- For his third mission, Hercules was sent to capture the Ceryneia deer, known for its golden horns and bronze feet. This animal was sacred to Artemis, so Heracles had to be careful while catching it without killing it. He lightly wounded the deer, but to avoid the goddess’s wrath, he blamed Eurytheus.
- The fourth mission was the capture of the Erymanthian Boar. When the hero caught him in a net and brought him back, Eurystheus was so frightened that he hid in a jar not to confront the animal.
- For his fifth mission, Hercules was sent to clean the Stables of Augias, son of Helios, the Sun god. The stables of Augias’ herd had never been cleaned. Heracles completed the task by changing the courses of the rivers to run through the stables.
- The sixth mission led the Hercules to the man-eating, iron-clawed, fearsome Birds of Stymphalos. Hercules frightened them with the bronze shield given by Athena, Hercules pulled them out of their hiding places in the trees and shot them one by one with his arrows.
- The seventh mission took Hercules to Crete to capture the famous white Cretan Bull of Minos who was a half man half bull monster. Heracles brought the bull to Eurytheus, and eventually, when the bull was released, it went to Marathon fields, where Theseus found it and eventually sacrificed it.
- For the eighth mission, Hercules was sent to Thrace to capture the flesh-eating Horses of Diomedes. Hercules killed their owner, King Diomedes, and fed the horses with his corpse. Then he brought the flock back to Tiryns.
- Hercules’ ninth mission took the hero to Anatolia to find the Belt of Hippolyte who was the queen of the Amazons. Hercules killed the queen and took back the belt with magical powers.
- The tenth mission was Geryoneus’ Herds. Geryoneus was a three-bodied monster that lived in the Hesperides, near Spain. With the help of the giant Eurytion and the two-headed dog Orthus, he was herding the famous herd of red cattle. Hercules should have taken over the herd. He killed Geryoneus and his assistants, captured the flock, and returned with the flock to Tiryns.
- For the eleventh mission, Hercules again went west, this time in search of the Apples of the Hesperides who were the three daughters of Night. These golden apples grew on a tree guarded by the serpent Ladon. It was Gaia herself who gave these apples to Hera as a wedding gift when she married Zeus. Gaia had placed them in the garden of the Hesperides. There are various interpretations of how Heracles accomplished this task. The most popular one describes how Heracles, with Athena’s help, held the earth off his back for a while Atlas picked the apples. Some writers also say that on the way to or from the Hesperides, he stopped by the Caucasus Mountain and saved Prometheus from the eternal torture arranged by Zeus.
- Hercules’ twelfth mission is essentially to descend into the Underworld and encounter death itself; It is the culmination of the hero’s adventure. The hero was commanded to capture Hades’ three-headed dog, Cerberus. Heracles sought help from Hermes and Athena in order to achieve his most difficult task. After descending into the Underworld from a cave in Laconia, Hades told him that if he could be captured without weapons, he could take the dog. Hercules was able to wrestle Cerberos and took him to Eurytheus.
Hercules eventually died by poisoning with a shirt soaked in the blood of the centaur (half man, half horse) Nessos. But even death could not contain this hero. As his body was burned in a great cremation fire, he ascended to the sky, where he made peace with Hera. Hera gave her daughter Hebe to Heracles for marriage.