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Ancient Portrayals of Heracles(Heracles/Hercules Graphics)

Ancient story of Heracles


I. Youthful deeds(childhood)


Heracles(Greek for "Glory to Hera"), was the son of Zeus and the mortal, Alcmene in the town of Thebes(some versions in Mycenae). However Alcmene's husband, Amphitryon, became Heracles' father figure, even after they realized Zeus' deceitful adultery with Alcmene. Zeus' wife, Hera, was enraged by his liaison with Alcmene. However, Hera was powerless to take her anger out upon Zeus, so she took it out upon Heracles. Even at birth she sent two snakes to kill Heracles. Heracles' twin brother, Iphicles, who completely mortal unlike his demigod brother, was scared. However Heracles grabbed both of the snakes and squeezed them to death. Thus Hera became Heracles' nemesis.


1. Education


There are various versions of Heracles' eduction. However he was always trained by various teachers to learn various skills and knowledge. Generally this is what is said of Heracles' education: Autolycus, father of Odysseus and son of Hermes, taught Heracles the art of wrestling. Eurytus, greatest of the contemporary archers, taught Heracles the use of the string and bow. Castor showed him how to wrestle in bodily armor. Linus instructed him on how to play the lyre. Heracles quickly became an expert in most of the arts, yet (in all versions)Linus was frustrated wtih his lack of progress in playing the lyre. Heracles became enraged and killed Linus. Heracles was tried for murder, but found innocent on a claim of self-defense.1


2. Daughters of Thespius


Amphitryon banished Heracles from Thebes, and grew in exile to become a tall, powerful man on the slopes of Mt. Cithaeron(in southwestern Boeotia). He defeated everyone at javelin throwing and at the art of shooting bows. At the age of 18 Heracles hunted an enormous lion(the European lion is now extinct.), which was destroying the flocks of Thespius, king of Thespiae. Thespius wanted to have grandchildren by Heracles, when he saw Heracles' incredible strength. Each night he would send one of his fifty daughters to have intercourse with Heracles and they had 50 sons, one son each by him. Another version stated, that King Thespius got Heracles drunk and Heracles had sex with all fifty daughters in one evening. Heracles eventually killed the lion.


3. Eginus and the Minyans(Thebes war-or Heracles vs. Minyans)

Heracles eventually returned to Thebes, and found it was paying tribute of 100 cattle each year to Erginus, king of the Minyans. Heracles attacked a group of heralds from the Minyans, and cut off their ears, noses and hands. He then tied them around their necks and told them to take those for tribute to Erginus. Erginus mad war on Thebes, but Heracles defeated them with his fellow Thebans after arming them with weapons from temples(The Minyans had disarmed the Thebans after the previous war.). Erginus was killed and the Minyans were forced to pay double the previous tribute to the Thebans.


II. Mariage, Madness and Expiation: The twelve Labors of Heracles


1. Heracles made mad by Hera


Heracles had married Megara, daughter of Creon, the new king of Thebes. They had children. As to how many accounts differ.2 Heracles, according to Plutarch, killed Pyraechmus, king of the Euboeans, who allied themselves with the Minyans. He orderred Pyraechmus' body to be torn in two by colts and exposed unburied beside the river Heracleius. However Hera became enraged and placed a spell of a madness upon Heracles and manipulated Heracles.(There are other versions as to why Hera made Heracles mad, but the results were the same.)


2. Twelve Labors


After murdering his wife and children Heracles went to Delphi to learn what he must do to atone for his deeds. The oracle replied that he must leave Thebes and travel to Tiryns', his parents' home. He was to serve his cousin, Eurystheus, king of Mycenae and Tiryns and perform twelve labors on Eurystheus' behalf. Eurystheus was to decide what those Twelve Labors were to be.


1. The Nemean Lion

2. The Lernaean Hydra

3. The Ceryneian Deer

4. The Erymanthian Boar

5. The Augean Stables

6. The Stymphalian Birds

7. The Cretan Bull

8. The Horses of Diomedes

9. The Girdle of Hippolyta

10. The Cattle of Geryon

11. The Apples of Hesperides

12. Cerberus


III. Heracles violates "xenia" or "guest-friendship" and is punished again.


1. After the Twelve Labors Heracles was released from Eurystheus' servitude. Heracles went through various adventures and battles. Heracles wanted to marry again and sought the hand of Iolë, daughter of Eurytus, king of Oechalia in Euboea. Eurytus refused to permit it, and Heracles left in anger. Heracles stole or Autolycus stole mares from Eurytus on his behalf. Eurytus' son, Iphitus, refused to believe that Heracles committed such a crime and went to Tiryns to speak with Heracles. Heracles pushed Iphitus off a cliff. He had thus violated, "xenia" or "guest-friendship," whereby one never for any reason harms a host or guest.3


2. Heracles went to the oracle at Delphi, who refused to answer Heracles' pleas for advice on repentence for his crimes. The Pythia was angry over Heracles twice accursed and blood-polluted. Heracles became enraged and broke into the temple. He stole the Pythia's holy tripod, and declared that he would make his own oracle. Apollo went to Heracles and grabbed the tripod and a tug of war ensued between Heracles and Apollo until Zeus separated them with a thunderbolt.


3. Apollo agreed the purify Heracles on two conditions: 1) he must serve a woman for three years as her slave. 2) He must give everything he earned to Eurytus as blood money. Heracles was sold to Omphalë, queen of Lydia. She like Heracles physique and thought that he would make a great lover.

After three years Heracles was freed from slavery and went on various adventures and settle old scores against various rivals.


IV. Death of Heracles(to Mt. Olympus)

In his youth Zeus warned his son, Heracles, that no living being would kill him, but rather a dead being. Heracles married his last wife, Deianira(man-killer). They were to cross the river Evenus together to go to the city of Trachis northwest of Thermopylae as a vacation. To cross the river Evenus a traveller would have to get a ride from Nessus, the Centaur, on his back. Nessus took Deianira first, but in the middle of the river he tried to rape Deianira. Heracles shot Nessus with a poison arrow. Nessus fell to shore, but his dying words were to Deianira, that if she were to mix the Hyrda blood and his semen, it would make a very powerful love potion. Heracles and Deianira had left Trachis, and after battling against Eurytus of Oechalia(He fought to get his daughter, Iolë, as a prize.) he decided to make a sacrfice for Zeus. He sent a messenger, Lichas, across the strait to Trachis to bring a clean cloak for the sacrifice.

Deianira had put the poisonous potion, which Nessus said was a love potion onto a cloak, and gave it to Lichas. She told him, that with such a cloak on, Heracles would never cease to love her. Lichas took the cloak and gave it to Heracles, who then put it on. Heracles then began to die an agonizing death. In anger he threw Lichas off of a cliff. He told Hyllus, his general, to marry Iolë. He dragged himself to the top of Mt. Oeta and set up an enormous funeral pyre. Philoctetes lit the pyre, when no one else would, and Heracles gave him his bow before he died.

End Notes

1. Powell, Barry. Classical Myth. Prentice-Hall, inc. 1995. Pg. 442.

2. Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. Complete edition. Penguin, Classics. 1960. 462.

3. Powell, Barry. pg. 460.