Heracles (/ˈhɛrəkliːz/ herr-ə-kleez; Ancient Greek: Ἡρακλῆς, Hēraklēs, from Hēra, "Hera"), born Alcaeus (Ἀλκαῖος, Alkaios) or Alcides (Ἀλκείδης, Alkeidēs), is a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson and half-brother (as they are both sired by the god Zeus) of Perseus. He was the greatest of the Greek heroes, a paragon of masculinity, the ancestor of royal clans who claimed to be Heracleidae (Ἡρακλεῖδαι) and a champion of the Olympian order against chthonic monsters. In Rome and the modern West, he is known as Hercules, with whom the later Roman emperors, in particular Commodus and Maximian, often identified themselves. The Romans adopted the Greek version of his life and works essentially unchanged, but added anecdotal detail of their own, some of it linking the hero with the geography of the Central Mediterranean. Details of his cult were adapted to Rome as well.
Extraordinary strength, courage, ingenuity, and sexual prowess with both males and females were among the characteristics commonly attributed to him. Heracles used his wits on several occasions when his strength did not suffice, such as when laboring for the king Augeas of Elis, wrestling the giant Antaeus, or tricking Atlas into taking the sky back onto his shoulders. Together with Hermes he was the patron and protector of gymnasia and palaestrae. His iconographic attributes are the lion skin and the club. These qualities did not prevent him from being regarded as a playful figure who used games to relax from his labors and played a great deal with children. By conquering dangerous archaic forces he is said to have "made the world safe for mankind" and to be its benefactor. Heracles was an extremely passionate and emotional individual, capable of doing both great deeds for his friends (such as wrestling with Thanatos on behalf of Prince Admetus, who had regaled Heracles with his hospitality, or restoring his friend Tyndareus to the throne of Sparta after he was overthrown) and being a terrible enemy who would wreak horrible vengeance on those who crossed him, as Augeas, Neleus and Laomedon all found out to their cost.
Heracles who was born Alcaeus was not a normal child, even as a baby. One day, he and his brother, Iphicles were put to sleep, Hera sent two poisonous snakes to kill Heracles (though there is a less accepted theory that his step-father Amphitryon sent them in order to find out which if either was his son). That evening the snakes came into the room where Iphicles & Heracles slept. Alcmene was awakened by screams from the children's the room. Alcemene woke Amphitryon who promptly grabbed his sword and shield. Amphitryon and Alcemene rushed in and found Iphicles cowering in the corner crying while Heracles was gleefully shaking the dead and limp bodies of the snakes which Heracles had managed to strangle to death in the time that it had taken Amphitryon to grab a sword & shield and rush to the nursery.
Since his birth, Heracles was hunted by Hera's fury. Her revenge came to a climax after Heracles' marriage. One day, Hera made Heracles go into a blind frenzy, inflicting chaos on all those around him. But those people were his wife and children. After recovering from the rage, he was shocked to find his family dead at his feet. The people around could not bear the knowledge of Heracles act and told him. Crying for his loved ones, and calling himself a murderer, Theseus king of Athens came forth from the crowd, offered the demigod his hand and told to come with him to Athens. At first, Heracles refused to touch the hand, since according to the Greek belief, a man who touches the blood of a murdered one is also responsible for the act. After Theseus insisted, Heracles agreed. At Athens, Heracles sought out the oracle, which told Heracles that if he wishes to be pure again, he must punish himself. Heracles agreed, and turned to his uncle, Eurystheus, who was a cruel, insidious man. Eurystheus took the offer and gave Heracles what was later known as The Twelve Labors.
Heracles was married to Deianeira. Long after their marriage, one day the centaur Nessus offered to ferry them across a wide river that they had to cross. Nessus set off with Deianeira first, but tried to abduct her. When Heracles realized the centaur's real intention, Heracles chased after him and shot him with an arrow which was poisoned with Hydra's blood. Before he died, Nessus told Deianeira to take some of his blood and semen and treasured it, since it was a very powerful medicine and: if she ever thought Heracles was being unfaithful, the centaur told her, the mixture would prevent him from betraying him. Deianeira kept the vial of blood and semen.
Many years after that incident she heard rumors that Heracles had fallen in love with another woman. She smeared some of the mixture on a robe and sent it to Heracles by a servant named Leechas. When doing so, some of the mixture was spilled on the floor and when the sun rays fell on it, it begun to burn. Because of this Deianeira begun to suspect Nessus's advice and decided to send another servant to fetch Leechas back before he could hand over the soaked robe to Heracles. She was too late. Heracles has already put on the robe and when he did so the blood still poisoned from the same arrow used by Hercules, burnt into his flesh. When he jumped into a nearby river in hope of extinguishing the fire, it only made it worse. When he tried to rip off the robe from his body his organs were also ripped off with it.
Furiously, Heracles caught Leechas and tossed him into the sea. After that he told his friend Philoctetis to build him a pyre on the mountain Oata. He was burnt to death on the pyre. Before dying, Heracles offered his bow and arrows as a token of gratitude to Philoctetis. His father Zeus then turned him into a god. Deianeira, after hearing what she had caused, committed suicide.
After his death, through Zeus' apotheosis, Heracles was brought to Mount Olympus and made a god (God of Physical Strength). At this point Hera finally overcame her jealousy and offered Heracles her daughter Hebe's hand in marriage.
|Gods and Goddesses of Greek mythology|
|Classical deities||Aphrodite • Apollo • Ares • Artemis • Athena • Demeter • Dionysus • Hephaestus • Hera • Hermes • Poseidon • Zeus|
|Other deities||Asclepius • Eros • Hades • Hebe • Heracles • Hestia • Pan • Persephone|
|Greek mythology articles|
|Deities||Aphrodite • Apollo • Ares • Artemis • Athena • Demeter • Dionysus • Hephaestus • Hera • Hermes • Poseidon • Zeus|
|Heroes||Abderus • Bellerophon • Daedalus • Diomedes • Achilles • Cadmus • Heracles • Perseus • Odysseus • Orpheus • Theseus • Jason • Argonauts|
|Groups||Demigod • God • Titans • Graeae • Gorgons • Protogenoi|
|Creatures and monsters||Chimera • Centaur • Charybdis • Cyclops • Ceryneian Hind • Cretan Bull • Empusa • Erinyes • Erymanthian Boar • Minotaur • Typhon • Medusa • Makhai • Lernaean Hydra • Pegasus • More...|
|Titans||Atlas • Coeus • Crius • Cronus • Epimetheus • Gaia • Helios • Iapetos • Pallas • Perses • Prometheus • Oceanus • Hyperion • Rhea • Styx|
|Locations||Mount Olympus • Tartaros|
|Topics||Titanomachy • Overthrowing of Ouranus|
|Greek heroes in Greek mythology|
|Heracles • Theseus • Perseus • Odysseus • Oedipus • Orpheus • Jason and the Argonauts • Nestor • Atalanta • Cadmus • Hector • Memnon • Achilles • Daedalus • Bellerophon • Deucalion • Peleus • Castor and Pollux • Palamedes • Diomedes • Meleager • Telamon • Ajax • Philoctetes • Laertes|