What Is A Myth?
A myth is a purely fictional story that has been passed on for generations, usually involving supernatural persons, actions or events. Hercules (also called Herakles), is one of the strongest and most celebrated mythical heroes. These myths were made up thousands of years ago and have acquired more details as they have been passed down. The story of Hercules is one of a man who was so strong and courageous, whose deeds were so mighty, and who so endured all the hardships that were given to him, that when he died, Hercules was brought up to Mount Olympus to live with the gods.
Birth of a Hero
The legacy of Hercules began when Zeus, the chief god, fell in love with a mortal woman named Alcmene. When Alcmene?s husband, Amphitryon, was away, Zeus made her pregnant. This made the goddess Hera so angry that she tried to prevent the baby from being born. When Alcmene gave birth to the baby, she named him Herakles (Romans pronounced it “Hercules”). The name Herakles means “glorious gift of Hera”. This made Hera even angrier. When Hercules was an infant, Hera sent two serpents to destroy him in his cradle. However, Hercules strangled them, one in each hand, before they could bite him.
When Hercules grew up and had become a great warrior, he married a young woman named Megara. They had two children together and lived very happily. However, things didn?t turn out as they do in the movie. One day, Hera sent a fit of madness to Hercules that put him into so great a rage, that he murdered his wife and both children. When Hercules regained his senses and realized what he had done, he asked the god Apollo to rid him of his sins. Apollo commanded that Hercules do certain tasks as punishment for his wrongs, so that evil might be cleansed from his spirit.
Apollo was a god of prophecy and the Greeks believed that Apollo knew what would happen in the future, and that he could advise people how to act. Hercules hurried to the temple where Apollo gave such advice. It was in the town of Delphi and was called the Delphic oracle. Apollo told Hercules that in order to purify himself for the spilling of his family?s blood, he had to perform 10 heroic labors (this number would soon be increased to 12). Even worse, Hercules had to perform these labors for his cousin, King Eurystheus. Eurystheus was the king of Tiryns and had a reputation for being mean. Hercules knew the king would give him a hard time. For 12 years Hercules would have to perform these labors.
The 12 Labors Of Hercules
THE NEMEAN LION When Hercules arrived at the palace of King Eurystheus, his first task was to bring the king the skin of a lion which terrorized the hills around Nemea. When Hercules arrived at Nemea, he tracked the lion to a cave with 2 entrances. His arrows were useless against the beast. Hercules decided to block one of the doorways and then approach the fierce lion through the other. Grasping the lion in his mighty arms, Hercules held it tightly until the lion choked to death. Hercules then returned to Mycenae, carrying the dead lion in his arms. King Eurystheus was amazed that Hercules was able to accomplish this task. From this point on, the king became afraid of Hercules and forbade him from entering the city. The king also began sending his commands through a herald, refusing to see the hero face to face.
THE LERNEAN HYDRA The second labor of Hercules was to kill the Lernean Hydra. The creature lived in the swampy waters near the city of Lerna. Once in a while, the serpent would rise from the murky waters and terrorize the countryside. This serpent had nine heads, one of which was immortal, and attacked it?s victims with poisonous venom.
When Hercules set off to hunt this nine headed serpent, he brought his trusty nephew Iolaus with him. They eventually reached Lerna and found the lair of the hydra. The clever Hercules first lured the creature from its den with flaming arrows. Once the serpent emerged, Hercules attacked it. The hydra, however, had other ideas. It wound one of its coils around Hercules? foot, making it impossible for him to escape. To make matters worse, each time Hercules smashed one of the hydra?s heads with his club, 2 more grew in its place. Hercules found himself struggling and immediately called on Iolaus to help him defeat this monster. Hercules again began bashing the hydra?s heads, but this time Iolaus held a torch to each head to prevent the head from growing back. After Hercules and Iolaus had destroyed eight of the serpents heads, Hercules chopped off the ninth and buried it at the side of a road. Then, for good measure, placed a heavy rock over the spot he had buried it. When Hercules returned, King Eurystheus was not impressed. He said that since Iolaus had helped him accomplish this task, it should not count as one of the ten labors. This didn?t seem to matter much to anyone else, for ancient authors and historians still give Hercules credit for this task.
THE HIND OF CERYNEIA DIANA?S PET DEER For the third labor, Hercules was to bring Eurystheus the Hind of Ceryneia. A hind is simply a female red deer. Ceryneia is a town in Greece, about fifty miles from Eurystheus? palace in Mycenae. So what was so special about this deer? Well, this deer had golden horns and hoofs of bronze. Not only that, the deer was sacred to the goddess of hunting and the moon, Diana. This meant that Hercules couldn?t hurt the deer, for he didn?t want another goddess angry at him. Hercules set out after the deer and hunted it for a whole year. When the deer had become weary from the chase, she stopped to rest on a mountain called Artemisius. Realizing the deer was about to get away, Hercules shot at the deer and caught her. He then put the deer on his shoulders and made his way back to Mycenae. On his way, he was met by Diana and Apollo. Diana was upset that Hercules tried to kill her sacred animal. Hercules told Diana the truth about how he had to obey the oracle and fulfill these tasks. Diana then let go of her anger and healed the deer?s wounds. Hercules then carried the deer alive to Mycenae.
THE ERYMANTHIAN BOAR For the fourth labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the Erymanthian boar alive. A boar is a huge, wild pig with a bad temper, and tusks growing out of its mouth. This boar lived on a mountain called Erymanthus. Every day the boar would come down from his cave and attack people and animals, meanwhile destroying everything in it?s path.
On his way to hunt the boar, Hercules stopped to visit his friend Pholus, who was a centaur. Pholus gave Hercules some wine and let him rest. The other centaurs, however, were angry that Hercules was drinking their wine. He drove away the centaurs who tried to attack him with his arrows. He chased after them for 20 miles. While he was gone, Pholus accidentally dropped one of Hercules? poisonous arrows on his foot and died. Hercules buried his friend and proceed to hunt the boar.
He found the boar by listening for its snorting and stomping. Hercules shouted out loudly to the boar, frightening it. It hid in a thicket and then ran to a patch of snow. Eventually, Hercules captured the wild boar in a net, and carried it all the way back to Mycenae. When he returned, Eurystheus was again amazed and frightened by Hercules? powers.
THE AUGEAN STABLES The fifth labor Eurystheus ordered Hercules to complete was to clean King Augea?s stables. Hercules knew this job would mean getting dirty and smelly. Eurystheus made this task even harder by ordering Hercules to clean up after the cattle in a single day! King Augeas owned more cattle than anyone in Greece. He was very rich and had many herds of cows, bulls, goats, sheep and horses.
Hercules went to King Augeas, and without saying anything about Eurystheus, said that he would clean out the stables in one day, if Augeas would give him a tenth of his fine cattle. King Augeas accepted this proposal, thinking it was impossible. Hercules brought Augeas?s son to watch. First, Hercules made 2 openings, one in wall of the cattle-yard where the stables were, and the other, in the wall on the opposite side of the yard. Next, he dug a large trench from the stable to a river that flowed nearby. The rivers rushed through the stables, flushing them out, and all the mess flowed out the hole in the wall on the opposite side of the yard. When Hercules returned to inform King Eurystheus that he had completed the task, the king said that this labor didn?t count because he was paid for having done the work.
THE STYMPHALIAN BIRDS For his sixth labor, Eurystheus tried to think up something difficult for Hercules. He decided that Hercules would have to drive away an enormous flock of birds that gathered at a lake near the town of Stymphalos.
Arriving at the lake, which was deep in the woods, Hercules had no idea how to drive such a huge flock of birds from a lake. The goddess Athena came to his aid, providing a pair of bronze krotala, noise-making clappers similar to castanets. They had been made by an immortal craftsman, Hephaistos, the god of forge.
There are many legends of the Stymphalian birds. Some say that they were vicious man-eaters whose beaks could pierce through any armor made of bronze or iron. However, no one really knows what kind of birds Hercules encountered, only that there were a lot of them.
THE CRETAN BULL This labor was definitely the easiest for Hercules, capturing the Cretan bull. First for a little background on the bull. King Minos, of Crete, supposedly promised Poseidon that he would sacrifice anything the god sent him in order to prove his claim to the throne. Poseidon sent him a bull, but Minos thought it was too beautiful to kill, so King Minos sacrificed another bull instead. This angered Poseidon, so he made the bull rampage all over Crete.
When Hercules arrived in Crete, he easily wrestled down the bull and drove it back to Mycenae. There, he presented the bull to King Eurystheus, who just let the bull go. The bull then wandered all over Greece, terrorizing people, and ended up in Marathon, a city near Athens. The Cretan bull was later killed by an Athenian hero named Theseus.
THE MAN-EATING HORSES OF DIOMEDES After Hercules had captured the Cretan bull, Eurystheus sent him to get the man-eating mares of Diomedes, the king of a Thracian tribe called the Bistones. According to legend, Hercules sailed with a band of volunteers across the Aegean to Bistonia. Once there, he and his companions overpowered the grooms who were tending the horses, and drove them to the sea. By the time they had gotten there, the Bistones had realized what had happened, and sent a band of soldiers to recapture the horses. Hercules entrusted a young man named Abderos to watch over the horses while Hercules was fighting. Unfortunately, the mares got the better of young Abderos and killed him. Meanwhile, Hercules fought the Bistones, killed Diomedes, and made the rest flee. He returned to King Eurystheus with the mares, and again the king let the animals go. The horses wandered around until they eventually came upon Mt. Olympus, where they were eaten by wild beasts.
HIPPOLYTE?S BELT For his ninth labor, Hercules was to ring Eurystheus the belt of Hippolyte. This was no ordinary belt and no ordinary warrior. Hippolyte was queen of the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors. The Amazons lived apart from men, and if they ever gave birth to children, they only kept the females and taught them to be warriors like themselves.
Queen Hippolyte had one special piece of armor. It was a leather belt that had been given to her by Ares, the war god. She wore this belt across her chest and used it carry her sword and spear. Eurystheus wanted this belt for a present to give his daughter. Hercules again had company on this mission, for it would have been impossible to face the whole Amazon army by himself.
When they finally reached the land of the Amazons they were greeted by Hippolyte herself. Hercules told her why he had come and why he needed her belt, and she had promised to give it to him. But the goddess Hera had other ideas. Disguised as an Amazon warrior, she went up and down the army saying to each woman that the strangers who had arrived were going to carry off the queen.
The warriors attacked, and a great battle begun. Hercules killed Hippolyte and took her belt, but remained to fight the rest of the Amazons. When they had finally won the battle, Hercules returned to Mycenae with the belt and gave it to Eurystheus.
THE CATTLE OF GERYON To accomplish his tenth labor, Hercules had to travel to the end of the world in order to bring Eurystheus the cattle of the monster Geryon. Geryon came from a history of monsters dating back to Medusa. He had 3 heads and 3 sets of legs, all joined at the waist. Geryon lived on an island called Erythia, which was near the boundary of Europe and Libya. On this island, Geryon kept a herd of red cattle guarded by Orthus, a two-headed hound. After a long and tiresome journey, Hercules reached the island of Erythia. Upon arrival, Hercules was attacked by Orthus, but killed him easily. As Hercules was escaping with the cattle, Geryon attacked him. Hercules fought him and then killed him with his arrows. After stealing the cattle, Hercules ran into problems in getting them home. He had fought with 2 of Poseidon?s sons and then had the herd scatter all over Europe because of Hera. After regrouping the entire herd, he headed for King Eurystheus and gave him the herd, which he sacrificed to Hera.
THE APPLES OF HESPERIDES It had been 8 years and 1 month since Hercules had begun performing these labors. Due to the 2 labors that didn?t count, Hercules had to do 2 more. His eleventh labor was to bring Eurystheus the golden apple which belonged to Zeus. These apples were kept in a secret garden at the northern edge of the world and were guarded by 2 monsters that Hercules would never be able to defeat. Even worse, Hercules didn?t know where the garden was. He journeyed through Libya, Egypt, Arabia and Asia., having many adventures along the way. He seized the sea-god, Nereus, and forced him to tell the location of the garden. Then he met Prometheus, who he saved from a horrible fate, and was told that in order to retrieve the apples, he would have to send Atlas after them. Atlas had to hold up the sky and agreed to fetch the apples for Hercules if he would hold up the sky. So Atlas eventually returned with the apples while Hercules had the weight of the Earth literally on his shoulders. He then tricked Atlas into holding up the sky again, and escaped with the apples, leaving Atlas unable to move. Hercules carried them back to Eurystheus, but because they belonged to the gods, he had to return them to Athena, who placed them back in the garden.
CERBERUS His twelfth and final labor was the most dangerous; he had to go to the Underworld and kidnap the beast called Cerberus. Cerberus was a vicious beast that guarded the entrance and kept the living from entering the world of the dead. According to legend, Cerberus was a mixture of creatures: he had three heads of wild dogs, a tail of a serpent, and heads of snakes all over his back.
On his way to the Underworld, Hercules encountered monsters, heroes, and ghosts. He found Hades and asked for Cerberus. Hades replied that he could take Cerberus only if he could overpower the beast with nothing but his brute strength. So Hercules and Cerberus met. Hercules flung his arms around the beast and eventually forced him into submission. He took Cerberus to Eurystheus, and then returned Cerberus safely back to Hades.
Finally, Hercules was free from his labors and his spirit was cleansed. He could now go on about his life after serving King Eurystheus for 12 years.
The Death Of Hercules
Hercules got married a second time, to the beautiful Deianira. When Hercules had returned from one of his adventures, she gave him a welcome home present. This was a cloak which she had woven herself. Deianira had a magic balm which a centaur had given to her. The centaur told her that whoever put on the balm would love her forever. However, the balm really contained a caustic poison. She put the balm on Hercules? cloak, hoping he would love her forever.
When Hercules put on the cloak, his body immediately began to burn with extreme pain. He tried to pull the cloak off, but the pain kept increasing until he could no longer take it. In agony, he asked his friends to build a huge pile of wood on the top of Mount Oeta. This would be his final resting place. He laid himself upon the wood and asked his friends to light it. He began to burn alive, but was now out of his misery. Zeus said to Hera that Hercules had suffered enough, and Hera agreed. Athena was sent to retrieve Hercules from the pyre and to bring him back to Mount Olympus on her chariot. There, Hercules was to spend his life, as a god.
1. Compton?s Interactive Encyclopedia (1996) for Windows 95
2. Webster?s Concise Encyclopedia for Windows 3.1 or 95
Table Of Contents
1. What Is A Myth? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
2. Birth Of A Hero . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
3. The 12 Labors Of Hercules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3-8
4. The Death Of Hercules . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
5. Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10