The Greek hero Heracles was son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmena, who the god seduced in the shape of her husband Amphitryon, king of Thebes. He also had a twin brother, Iphicles, who was one night younger then him and was the natural son of Amphitryon.
His constant persecutor was Hera, who crazed with jealousy of her husbands liaison with Heracles’ mother caused the hero many troubles. While Heracles was just a baby in the cradle, she sent two snakes which the child strangled, one in each hand. She also made him insane for a while, which made him murder his children with Megara.
Besides these Hera induced frenzies, Heracles was a very brutal character. He killed his music teacher with his lyre in a fit of anger. When he was only eighteen he killed a lion on the mountain Kithairon which decimated the herds of Amphitryon , and for the rest of his life he would carry its skin.
When he was still a child, his adoptive father Amphitryon taught him to drive a chariot, Rhadamanthys enriched his knowledge, Linos taught him music, Autolycus, the son of Hermes taught him to fight and Kastor taught him the use of weapons.
According another legend, Hercules was sitting at a crossroads and he saw two beautiful girls passing, the one was the Evil and the other was the Virtue. Virtue suggested him to follow a narrow and difficult path full of sharp stones and thorns, which will be crossed with difficulty, but in the end he would win the love and recognition. The evil one suggested him to follow the easy path, wide and straight where he will enjoy life and wealth, but he would be commit iniquities and injustices. Hercules eventually followed the path of Virtue that gave him glory and recognition for his good deeds.
Heracles was one of the most popular heroes of Greek mythology, and his many feats were constantly retold in art and literature. All over Greece he was worshipped as either a god or a hero. He was the protector of athletics and according to one myth he was the founder of the Olympic Games. He was believed to ward off evil.
There are many stories about Heracles. Thanks to him the gods defeated the giants, since they could only beat them if a mortal would fight with them. As a youth he defeated the enemies of Thebes, and as a reward king Creon of Thebes gave him his daughter Megara. His constant follower was Iolaus,
who was also his nephew.
The most famous stories about Heracles are about his twelve labours. Ready to commit suicide after killing his sons, he was told not to do so by the oracle in Delphi and to purify himself by serving his cousin king Eurystheus of Mycenae and to do whatever the king told him.
The first labour was to kill the Nemean lion, which he did with his bare hands. This frightened the king so much that he would not let Heracles inside Mycenae walls, the hero had to show his trophy outside the walls.
The second labour was to fight the Hydra, an immortal monster with nine heads. If a head was cut off, two new would grow out in its place. Heracles defeated the Hydra with the help of his friend Iolaus. Each time a head would be cut off, Iolaus burnt the neck with fire, and so no new heads could grow out. When all the heads were off they buried the monster under a pile of stones. Heracles dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s blood, making them lethal.
The third labour was the capture of the the deer of Kyrenia, which had feet of brass and horns of gold, he chased it for a whole year and brought it alive to Eurystheus in Mycenae.
The fourth labour was the capture of a terrible wild boar which lived on the mountain Erymanthos in North Arcadia.
The fifth labour was to clean king Augeias’ stable in Elia on the Peloponnese. The stable was huge and full of dung, and Heracles cleaned it by leading two rivers into it.
The sixth labour was to kill the monster birds at Stymphalos (Stymphalia) in North Arcadia, which he did with the help of Athena.
The seventh labour was to capture the Cretan bull, which either was the father of the Minotaur or the bull that had taken Europa on its back. Heracles brought it to Mycenae, but let it go, and it wandered off to Attica where Theseus later had to fight it.
The eight labour was to capture king Diomedes of Trace’s man eating horses. Heracles killed the king and captured the horses, and founded the city Abdera.
The ninth labour was to get the girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. He either defeated her or she gave it to him willingly.
The tenth labour was to bring back the herd of the giant Eurytion on the island Erytheia. On his way to this western place by Oceanos, he made a passage through the Atlas mountains, setting up the pillars of Heracles – today’s Gibraltar. He made it to the island in the cup of the sungod, and killed Eurytion and his dog Orthros. The herd he brought with him back to Greece.
The eleventh labour was to bring back the golden apples of the Hesperides. According to one version he killed the dragon that guarded the apples and took them. According to another he went to Atlas, the father of the Hesperides. Heracles took the sky on his shoulders while Atlas went to get the apples, but when he returned he did not want to take over the burden of the sky again. Heracles then told him to hold the sky only for a short moment while he put a pillow on his shoulders, and so tricked Atlas into taking his position again.
The twelfth, and final, labour was to bring back the three headed dog Cerberus, which guarded Hades, which he did. Cerberus was son of Typhon and Echidna, who had brothers the two headed Orthrus, the dog of Geryon and the Hydra.
After these labours Heracles had made his penance, and he married Deianeira, whose father was Poseidon’s son Antaeus. When Heracles killed the centaur Nessus for attacking his wife, the dying centaur told Deianeira to save some of his blood and dip a tunic in it. If she ever needed to secure Heracles’s love all she had to do was to make him wear the tunic.
When Heracles later wore it the centaur’s blood turned out to be poison, and he could not get it off, slowly poisoning him to death and causing him great pain. Heracles then climbed the funeral pyre and was deified, marrying Hebe on Mt. Olympus.
There are many more stories about Hercules. He was one of the Argonauts for short while, during the campaign he liberated Isioni , the daughter of King Laomedon by a sea monster. However, he did not follow the end of the campaign because he was too heavy and the Argo, the ship of the Argonauts, could not withstand his weight. In another legend he defeated the giant Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Gaia, who was very strong and took power by pressing the Earth, which was the body of his mother. Hercules, understanding the cause of his power defeated him without difficulty by lifting him into the air. He defeated many monsters and peoples and the adventures he went through are innumerable. As a demigod ascended to Olympus on a chariot, which was driven by Athena and accompanied by Apollo playing the lyre. In Olympia, Heracles had dedicated an altar to Zeus.
The goddess Athena on many occasions expressed her favour towards him. Heracles often used Nereus help, who gave him the goblet of the sun to cross the ocean, and showed him the path to be followed in order to to reach the garden of the Hesperides.
Heracles also had the following epithets:
Alexicacus, Buraicus, Charops, Cynagidas, Index, Macistus, Melampygos, Menytes, Misogynis, Rhinocolustes.