Herakles is one of the earliest heroes known to man, and one of the earliest of Greek myth. His stories have been passed down at least since the Dark Ages, before the Classical period of Ancient Greece. Mentioned as early as Homer's Odysseus, his tales were likely known long before then. Many have suggested that motifs of his explodes fall inline with old regional stories from the Near East; leading some scholars to ponder him having been passed down from older tales from the Middle East.
Story of Herakles
Herakles was originally born Alcaeus, to the union of Alcmene, whom Zeus courted by shapeshifting into her husband to romance her. Driving fury into Hera, his wife, she commits numerous acts against the unborn infant. Such as, kstopping the goddess of childbirth, Ilithyia, to prevent him from being born, his own mother lift him in the wild, knowing that the son of Zeus would only bring her problems in the future. Yet, he would be discovered by Athena and brought to an unknowing Hera, who would take in the parentless child and breastfeed him. However, after bring pain to the goddess by sucking too strongly, she pushed him away. An even that would happen to spray her divine milk across the heavens, causing the birth of the Milky Way, it would also give the baby supernatural abilities.
But, Athena would take the child back to Alcmene to be raised. She would named him Herakles in an unsuccessful attempt to appease Hera. The goddess would send two snakes into his chambers, one night; only for him to strangle them both. Astonished his parents sent for a seer, who proposed that he would vanquish numerous monsters.
Herakles would grow up tending cattle in the mountains until he was visited by Vice and Virtue, who would ask him if he would rather live a pleasantly humble, easy life or a glorious but severe life. To which, he chose the later. He would eventually marry a Theban princess named Megara and have two children. However, after Hera drives him mad with rage, he would murder his family. Stricken with grief upon realizing what he had done, he goes to visit a Oracle of Delphi for wisdom on what he should do. And, cohered by Hera herself, instructs him that he must serve his cousin, King Eurystheus for ten years and perform any task required of him.
The Twelve Labours of Herakles
Slay the Nemean Lion: Heracles defeated a lion that was attacking the city of Nemea with his bare hands. After he succeeded he wore the skin as a cloak to demonstrate his power over the opponent he had defeated.
Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra: A fire-breathing monster with multiple serpent heads that when one head was cut off, two would grow in its place. It lived in a swamp near Lerna. Hera had sent it in hope it would destroy Heracles' home city because she thought it was invincible. With help from his nephew Iolaus, he defeated the monster and dipped his arrows in its poisoned blood, thus envenomizing them.
Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis: Not to kill, but to catch, this monster. A different, but still difficult, task for a hero. It cost time but, having chased it for a year, Heracles wore out the Hind and presented it alive to Eurystheus.
Capture the Erymanthian Boar: A fearsome marauding boar on the loose. Eurystheus set Heracles the Labour of catching it, and bringing it to Mycenae. Again, a time-consuming task, but the tireless hero found the beast, captured it, and brought it to its final spot. Patience is the heroic quality in the third and fourth Labours.
Clean the Augean stables in a single day: The Augean stables were the home of 3,000 cattle with poisoned faeces which Augeas had been given by his father Helios. Heracles was given the near impossible task of cleaning the stables of the diseased faeces. He accomplished it by digging ditches on both sides of the stables, moving them into the ditches, and then diverting the rivers Alpheios and Peneios to wash the ditches clean.
Slay the Stymphalian Birds: These aggressive man-eating birds were terrorizing a forest near Lake Stymphalia in northern Arcadia. Heracles scared them with a rattle given to him by Athena, to frighten them into flight away from the forest, allowing him to shoot many of them with his bow and arrow and bring back this proof of his success to Eurystheus.
Capture the Cretan Bull: The harmful bull, father of the Minotaur, was laying waste to the lands round Knossos on Crete. It embodied the rage of Poseidon at having his gift (the Bull) to Minos diverted from the intention to sacrifice it to himself. Heracles captured it, and carried it on his shoulders to Eurystheus in Tiryns. Eurystheus released it, when it wandered to Marathon which it then terrorized, until killed by Theseus.
Steal the Mares of Diomedes:Stealing the horses from Diomedes' stables that had been trained by their owner to feed on human flesh was his next challenge. Heracles' task was to capture them and hand them over to Eurystheus. He accomplished this task by feeding King Diomedes to the animals before binding their mouths shut.
Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons: Hippolyta was an Amazon queen and she had a girdle given to her by her father. Heracles had to retrieve the girdle and return it to Eurystheus. He and his band of companions received a rough welcome because, ordered by Hera, the Amazons were supposed to attack them; however, against all odds, Heracles completed the task and secured the girdle for Eurystheus.
Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon: The next challenge was to capture the herd guarded by a two-headed dog called Orthrus, the herdsman Erytion and the owner, Geryon; a giant with three heads and six arms. He killed the first two with his club and the third with a poisoned arrow. Heracles then herded the cattle and, with difficulty, took them to Eurytheus.
Steal the golden apples of the Hesperides: These sacred fruits were protected by Hera who had set Ladon, a fearsome hundred-headed dragon as the guardian. Heracles had to first find where the garden was; he asked Nereus for help. He came across Prometheus on his journey. Heracles shot the eagle eating at his liver, and in return he helped Heracles with knowledge that his brother would know where the garden was. His brother Atlas offered him help with the apples if he would hold up the heavens while he was gone. Atlas tricked him and did not return. Heracles returned the trickery and managed to get Atlas taking the burden of the heavens once again, and returned the apples to Mycenae.
Capture and bring back Cerberus: His last labour and undoubtedly the riskiest. Eurystheus was so frustrated that Heracles was completing all the tasks that he had given him that he imposed one he believed to be impossible: Heracles had to go down into the underworld of Hades and capture the ferocious three-headed dog Cerberus who guarded the gates. He used the souls to help convince Hades to hand over the dog. He agreed to give him the dog if he used no weapons to obtain him. Heracles succeeded and took the creature back to Mycenae, causing Eurystheus to be fearful of the power and strength of this hero.
Death of Herakles
After many other exploits and adventures, Herakles marries Deianira. Once, while crossing a wild river into Tiryns, a centaur named Nessus offeres to help her cross, as Herakles swam. However, he tries to steal her away. Angry, Herakles would shoot him with one of his poisonous arrows, killing him. But, not before he could convince Deianira that his blood was a love potion, that would excite the love of her husband. So, he gave her his blood-soaked tunic.
Some time later, after rumors tell her that she had a rival for Herakles' love, she would remember the words of Nessus, and go to the tunic. She would have the tunic delivered to him. To which, the poisoned blood would burn through his skin, and into his bone. Bring pain so grave, he would uproot trees and build a funeral pyre and commit suicide. However, as his mortal half burned, his immortal half rose to Olympus and became a god at last.
One of mankind’s first heroes of the people. This figure of myth was believed at one time to have been very much a real individual, so much so that there was a powerful political force in the ancient world who claimed their authority from being the descendents of Herakles.
So of course he has been in numerous forms in various comics, television programs, and films. As such, Hercules has so many unique and distinct versions dating from the 1950's & 60's sword and sandal movies starring the likes of bodybuilders Steve Reeves, Reg Park, Alan Steel, Mark Forrest, Mickey Hargitay, to Lou Ferrigno in the 80s to comic incarnations such as the Marvel Comics version, the DC Comics version and even the Hercules adaptation from Disney.
NAME: Alcaeus Palamon or Alcides (name at birth); Herakles "Glorious Gift of Hera," name given to him by his mother when, at the age of 8 months, he strangled two snakes sent to his crib by Hera; Hercules (Roman name)
BIRTH/DEATH: Conceived Feb 10 during an eclipse. Born ether Oct. 31 or Nov. 4th, 1286 B.C.E. Died Aug. 12, 1226 or 1223 B.C.E.
SYMBOLS: War club, Lion skin cloak, bow & arrow, His own naked self.
AREA OF CONTROL: Personification of Strength, courage, endurance, triumph though adversity and the masculine ideal. Guardian of the Gate to Olympus, and along with Hermes, God of travelers, also had numerous healing springs dedicated to him.
USUAL IMAGE: Huge Muscular figure, usually shown bearded, sometimes not, wearing the skin of a the Nemean lion, and carrying either a club or a bow and arrows.
Numerous statues and images found on coins and pottery from ancient Greece, Rome & even Egypt.
However according to archeologist John Romer, if you want a good idea of the image of Hercules in the Roman mind, look at the early images of Jesus Christ. The theory being that the early Roman Church, not being able to deal with the idea of a dark skinned Semitic Messiah, used the image they were most comfortable with, the image of Hercules.
HOLY BOOKS: Imagines. Philostratus the Elder / Metamorphose & Fasti. Ovid / The Library II. Apollodorus / Fabulae. Hyginus / Memorabilia. Xenophon / Aeneid. Virgil / Trachiniai. Sophocles.
HOLY DAYS: Heraclia (Heraklia) August 12 - 13 (some areas till the 19th) once every four years on the anniversary of his death.
PLACE OF WORSHIP: Temples
RELATIVES: Zeus (father), Alkmene (mother), Amphitryon (stepfather), Iphicles, (half brother), Megara (1st wife), Deianira (2nd wife), Hebe (3rd wife & half sister, Goddess of Youth), many sons & daughters (over 50) who grew to such fame in their own right that they and their children were referred to as the Herakleidai, also Alexander the Great claimed to be one of his descendents, Queen Omphale (Owner for three years.)
FORM OF WORSHIP: Animal sacrifices, bonfires, prayer. It's to be noted in the Aesop fable, when the man's wagon is stuck in the mud and he prays to God to get him out and the answer is that God helps those who help themselves, the god being referred to is Herakles.
SYNODEITIES: Gilgamesh (Babylonian,) Samson (Hebrew,) Thor (Norse,) Oghma (Gaulish,) Cu Chulainn (Celtic,) King Arthur (Arthurian,) Jesus Christ (Judo-Christianity,) Kal-El (Pop Culture.)
DETAILS: When most people think about Herakles, or to use his Romanized name Hercules, they imagine a big, muscular man who beats the crap out of monsters and throws other guys wearing gladiator armor and sandals around all over the landscape.
True he did fight a lot of monsters, however to the ancients there was a lot more to him.
In fact he may have been one of the most widely worshiped gods of the ancient Greco-Roman world, his popularity was so great that recent finds have discovered Egyptian temples where he is worshiped along with Horus, Isis and the other Egyptian Gods & Goddesses.
It's thought that Hercules may have been the deification of the chiefs and shaman of pre-civilized Greece.
If that is true it seems that as his myth grew it grew to also become the embodiment of masculine destiny, which may explain why his main enemy was a goddess.
Hercules is also one of a group of heroes, popular in their cultures, who are a combination of the unattainable higher `Other', and the earth who decides to side with the earth part of his makeup and become a god of the people.
Other such beings can be found in many different/separate mythologies/religions. Some examples are Thor, born of the mysterious sky god Odin and Jord the Earth, Cu Chulainn fathered by the god Lugh and a human woman or for that matter Jesus Christ from the frightful vengeful Y.V.H.V. and Mary.
A god for those finding themselves part, willingly or not, of a growing patriarchy, where they are expected to take the part of deities, while knowing themselves to be all to much wholly just a human of the earth.
Hence the popularity of such man-gods as Hercules, who given the choice of two goddesses; one offering the path of pleasure and vice while the other offers a life of struggle and virtue, picks the difficult path; that of struggle and virtue. Another very appealing example of Hercules' character is demonstrated when he comes upon the plight of Prometheus, a Titan whom was bound to a rock where an eagle would come and feast on his liver every day, Hercules feels compassion for Prometheus and frees him from this torture. What's most unbelievable is that Zeus allows it! This showed Hercules' kind and compassionate side and proved him to be one of the few gods to actually go against the gods by helping others they have condemned and actually have it mean something, takes the time to side with the human side of things and free him from his torture.
Most mythology based depictions of Hercules in comics, cartoons and movies depict him basically as he is shown in the more mainstream (safer) versions of his myth, being sure to leave out his non-heroic temper tantrums where he actually killed his wife and several offspring.
Blue Ribbon Comics however took the unique approach of showing him in modern times wearing a suit and tie, but still Hercules and from time to time called to Olympus by Zeus (whom they drew looking oddly like Ming from Flash Gordon) and sent off to fight modern problems, but with a theme from his old myth, so that his old labor of defeating the many headed Hydra is compared to him fighting the Mob, or his battles with Amazons in the past and a new female super-villain.