The tale of Heracles first begins with Electryon, who was the son of Perseus and king of both Tiryns and Mycenae. Electryon had a beautiful daughter named Alcmene who was given in marriage to her cousin King Amphitryon of Troezen. It seems that one day as Electryon's sons were busy tending to their father's cattle, a band of Taphian pirates attached and ruthlessly killed eight of Alcmene's brothers. Wanting to avenge the death of his sons, the king gathered up his army. Before leaving on his campaign, he appointed Amphitryon to act as regent in his place. During Electryon's absence, news came that the stolen cattle were being held by the king of Elis and would not be returned unless a high ransom price was paid. Amphitryon met the murderers' costly demands and then sent word to his father-in-law that the missing herds had been found.
Electryon returned home only to find that Amphitryon insisted he be reimbursed for the ransom fee. An argument ensued between the two men, and in a fit of anger Amphitryon picked up a hammer and hurled it at one of the nearby cows.
Unfortunately for Amphitryon, instead of hitting the animal, the weapon accidently struck Electryon upon the head with such force that it instantly brought about his death. Sthenelus, the brother of Electryon, took possession of the throne and without hesitation banished Amphitryon from Tiryns.
Alcmene fled with her husband to the city of Thebes where the two found shelter under the protection of King Creon. To add to Amphitryon's woes, Alcmene refused to share her bed with him until the death of her brothers had been vindicated. Knowing that retaliation was his only chance for a happy marriage, Amphitryon banded together an army and rode out to seek his revenge.
With Amphitryon safely out of the picture, Zeus crept down from Olympus and made his way to Alcmene's bedchamber. Disguised as Amphitryon, he assured the grieving woman that the cries of her murdered brothers had once and for all been silenced. Believing that Zeus was indeed her husband, Alcmene welcomed the god to spend the night in her bed. As fate may have it, the real Amphitryon won a victory for himself in the Taphian Islands and arrived home the very next day. Eager to share an afternoon of love with his wife, the jubliant champion hurried to Alcmene's room only to find her worn out and tired from her previous night with Zeus. As Amphitryon told his tale of triumph, Alcmene listened with little enthusiam.
She could not understand why he was repeating the same words he spoke to her the night before. Sensing that something was odd about his wife's behavior, Amphitryon summoned the seer Teiresias to the palace where the details of Zeus' secret meeting were openly revealed. Before long Alcmene realized she had become pregnant with twins, one being of divine blood and the other a mortal.
One day Zeus could be heard boasting loudly through the halls of Olympus that he had fathered a child destined to be called Heracles (which means glory of Hera), and who would someday rule over the house of Perseus.
The news of her husband's disloyalty filled Hera with anger. She demanded that Zeus swear an oath that any prince born to the house of Perseus before nightfall would be proclaimed king. Desperately wanting to avoid a confrontation with his contentious wife, Zeus hastily agreed and pledged the sacred vow. In an instant Hera dispatched her daughter Eileithyia, a goddess of childbirth to Thebes where Alcmene's labor had entered into its seventh day.
In order to delay the birth of the twins, Eileithyia sat firmly atop her altar, symbolically keeping her legs tightly crossed and her arms and fingers entwined. Hera herself speedily traveled to Tiryns where she brought about the premature birth of King Sthenelus' son Eurystheus, thus allowing the crown of Tiryns to fall smoothly into his hands.
Alcmene's worried attendants were just about to give up hope when one woman named Galanthis cried out "The babies have arrived!" causing Eileithyia to unwrap her limbs and jump to her feet. Before the goddess realized she had been tricked, her spell was broken and Heracles and his brother Iphicles were born.
Proud of her victory over Eileithyia, Galanthius turned and let out a hearty laugh, but unfortunately for her the jubilance was short lived. She was at once transformed into a weasel and forever condemned to bear her young through her mouth. This ancient misconception came about due to the weasel's habit of transporting their offspring by way of mouth.
There have been different accounts as to what happened next in the life of baby Heracles. Some say that in order to avoid Hera's fury, Alcmene exposed the newborn in a field where he was promptly found by Athena and returned to his mother. Another version tells us that Zeus quietly entered into Hera's bedchamber and placed the boy to the breast of the sleeping goddess. When the child accidently bit her, Hera awoke and inadvertently spilled her milk and brought about the formation of the Milky Way. This only deepened the angry goddess's hatred, compelling her to send a pair of poisonous snakes to the crib where the twins lay sleeping. Iphicles screamed in terror, but Heracles bravely snatched each viper by the throat and squeezed until their lifeless bodies hung limply from his hands.
Heracles received his education from many renowned men and his legacy quickly spread throughout the land. Amphitryon taught him to drive a chariot, the thief Autolycus trained him in wrestling, while king Eurytus of Oechalia introduced him to the bow and arrow. Heracles was also coached in music by Linus, the brother of Orpheus , but when a lesson turned sour he broke the instrument over Linus' head, killing him on the spot.
It so happened that as Heracles was returning from Mount Cithaeron he came upon a group of heralds from the Minyan city of Orchomenus. The couriers were on their way to Thebes to collect an annual tribute owed to their king Erginus. Finding this to be unjust, Heracles removed the ears, nose and hands from the messengers and hung them around their necks before sending them back to Orchomenus.
Outraged, Erginus assembled the Minyan army and marched against Thebes, vowing to leave the city in ruins if Heracles was not immediately handed over to him. Feeling he stood little chance of winning a battle against the Minyans, King Creon was ready to follow through and meet their demands.
Refusing to surrender, Heracles rallied together the young men of Thebes and proceeded to remove all the weaponry that had been previously offered in the city's temples. The men then dressed themselves in the rusted armor of their ancestors and went out to face their enemies.
Heracles and his companions trapped their adversaries in a narrow passageway. Though accounts vary as to whether Erginus was killed, the Minyans were defeated and from that day forward the city of Orchomenus was required to pay a double tribute to Thebes. In order to show his gratitude, King Creon offered Heracles the hand of his eldest daughter Megara in marriage. The news of the young hero's accomplishments did not sit well with Hera, and driven by envy and spite, the goddess sent a harrowing madness to possess both his body and mind. Heracles committed his first act of violence by attacking the sons of his brother Iphicles.
Though Iolaus was fortunate enough to escape his powerful blows, the others were taken down and murdered in the onslaught. Still crazed out of his mind, Heracles proceeded to slaughter his own children and by some accounts also his wife Megara. When he was finished, he removed all of the bodies and threw them into a blazing fire.
When Heracles recoverd from his delirium, his soul was filled with despair. Exiling himself from Thebes, he returned to Thespiae where he was purified of his crimes by King Thespius. He then journeyed to Delphi to consult with the oracle of Apollo.
The priestess proclaimed that in order to cleanse himself of his misdeeds, Heracles would have to reside in Tiryns and serve King Eurytheus for twelve years. During that time, he would be required to fulfill whatever labours that the king would command of him. If he was successful in carrying out these tasks at the end of the twelve years, he would then be granted immortality. These words did not rest easy with Heracles, as the hero detested the idea of playing servant to a coward like Eurytheus. To add to his indignation, Heracles resented having to serve the man who occupied the throne that should have been his own.
For the truth was that had it not been for Hera's meddling, Heracles would be recognized as the king of all Greece. Nevertheless, the hero swallowed his pride and agreed to perform any duties Eurytheus assigned to him.
When Heracles reached Tiryns, the first labour assigned to him by Eurytheus was to kill the Nemean lion, a monstrous beast who roamed the town's mountainous areas. There are different accounts of its birth, some claiming it to be the offspring of Orthrus and Echidne, while others allege it to have been the child of the moon goddess Selene.
It is said that after giving birth to the lion, Selene placed him in a double-mouthed cave located two miles outside of the city of Nemea. When the local people failed to fulfill a sacrifice to the goddess, she turned the beast loose to ravage the land. Before arriving at Nemea, Heracles stopped at Cleonae where he met a local laborer named Molorchus.
Molorchus, who never before encountered a man like Heracles, wanted to pay tribute to his noble houseguest, but he was told by the hero to wait for thirty days. "If at the end of the given time I have not returned, then offer me a hero's dues" Heracles stated, "But if I return before the month has passed, then we will both offer sacrifices to Zeus the Savior."
Heracles reached the city of Nemea by midday, but found the streets to be lifeless and empty. He continued on to Mount Tretus, where he encountered the lion as it was returning home after a morning kill. Heracles pulled back his bow and fired a train of arrows at the beast, but to his surprise all bounced harmlessly off without even causing the slightest graze to its skin.
He then brought down his massive sword upon the creature, only to have it bend in half at the touch of its thick pelt. Finally Heracles brandished his club and hammered a mighty blow into the side of the animal's head. With only a slight ringing in its ears the weary lion yawned and lazily strolled towards the entrance of the cave.
Seeing that his weapons were of little use, Heracles tied a net across one of the cave's openings and then carefully slipped through the other. He grasped the unsuspecting lion in his arms and squeezed tightly until the beast was finally choked to death.
With the carcass heaved across his shoulders, Heracles made his way back to Cleonae where he and Molorchus both offered up thanks to Zeus. He then went into the woods and cut himself a new club before traveling back to Mycenae, ready to present Eurystheus with his prize. Amazed and intimidated by the hero's return, Eurystheus forbade Heracles from entering the city, insisting that henceforth he leave his spoils outside the main gates.
Heracles flayed the lion by using its own razor sharp claws as cutting instruments. Saving the pelt for himself, he employed it as an invincible coat of armor while donning the head as a helmet. Eurystheus ordered his blacksmiths to forge a brazen urn, which he had promptly buried beneath the earth. From that day forward, at the first sign of Heracles' approach, the cowardly king would climb into his newly made fortress and send his orders to the hero by way of herald.
The next labour assigned to Heracles was to kill a monster known as the Lernaean Hydra. This dreadful child of Typhon and Echidne was said to have been raised by Hera specifically to bring danger to Heracles. The hydra was a frightful creature, having for itself the body of a dog from which grew eight, nine or by some accounts fifty snake-like necks. Each neck supported a menacing head from which it released its toxic breath. The center head was deemed by all to be immortal. Heracles arrived in Learna along with his nephew Iolaus, who had been hired to act as the hero's charioteer. As they entered the city, the pair were greeted by the goddess Athena who kindly pointed out the path leading to the monster's lair. Hoping to force the hydra from his protective hollow, Heracles began his assault by taunting the beast with flaming arrows. Holding his breath to avoid being poisoned by the deadly fumes, Heracles lunged forward and firmly grabbed hold of his enemy.
At once the hydra wrapped itself tightly around the hero's legs causing him to trip and fall to the ground. Heracles vigorously swung his club, but for every head he crushed, two or three more grew back in its place.
Just then an enormous crab clambered from the swamp and began nipping at Heracles' foot. The hero stomped at the massive shell as he frantically called out to Iolaus for help. Iolaus cleverly set fire to one corner of the grove while Heracles proceeded to sequentially remove the hydra's heads with his sword. Iolcus then used the blazing branches to sear each neck wound shut thus preventing the beast from growing a new head.
Heracles then lopped off the immortal head, and while it was still hissing buried it underneath a heavy rock found on the road to Elaeus. He then disembowled the carcass, taking time to carefully dip each of his arrows into the gall. Heracles knew even the slightest prick suffered by one of these venomous darts would prove to be fatal to any enemy.
To show her appreciation for the crab's services, Hera placed him in the sky as the constellation Cancer. Heracles returned triumphantly to Mycenae but because he received help from Iolaus, Eurystheus refused to honor this as one of his labours.
For his third labour, Heracles was ordered to travel to Oenoe and capture alive the Ceryneian hind, a golden horned deer or stag that was sacred to the goddess Artemis. As a child, Artemis saw five hinds twice the size of bulls grazing near the river Anaurus. The agile goddess was able to catch four of them but the fifth escaped into the Ceryneian hills. Heracles actively pursued the creature for one full year before she finally came to rest on Mount Artemisium. When the parched animal went to quench her thirst in the river Ladon, Heracles pulled his bow and pinned her front legs together with an arrow. He then carefully laid her motionless body across his shoulders and made his way back to Mycenae.
Artemis met up with the hero and denounced him for mistreating one of her divine beasts. Heracles begged for forgiveness, explaining that if anyone were to be held accountable it should be Eurystheus, for he was the one who gave the order. The goddess accepted his apology and allowed him to continue on to Mycenae.
Heracles was sent back to Arcadia where for his fourth labour he was ordered to capture alive the Erymanthian boar. This was a ferocious beast which roamed the slopes of Mount Erymanthus, terrorizing the inhabitants and laying waste to the town. As Heracles was making his journey to Erymanthus, he stopped in Pholoe where he was entertained by a friendly centaur named Pholus.
To read more about this please have a look at my page dedicated to Chiron . Heracles continued to chase the boar to the river Erymanthus where he found it hiding in a nearby thicket. After making some loud noises, Heracles drove the beast into a snowdrift and then jumped upon its back. He then secured the boar with chains and once again carried his prize back to Mycenae.
When Heracles reached the market place he heard news of Jason's upcoming voyage to Colchis. Without waiting for further words from Eurystheus, the anxious hero left the boar on the side of the road and went off to join the expedition.
Though there are various accounts of this story, the most accepted version is that Heracles accompanied by Hylas, an attractive young man who was both his squire and lover, initially set sail aboard the Argo. The Argonauts wanted to make Heracles their captain, but he refused and deferred the position back to Jason. When the ship stopped in Mysia, Heracles went into the woods to cut himself a new oar and he sent Hylas to draw some water from a nearby stream.
As Hylas leaned over the edge, the nymphs residing in the spring saw his beauty and instantly fell in love with him. Wanting the youth for themselves, the maidens pulled him deep into the stream and he was never seen again.
Heracles refused to give up his search for the youth and after some time the Argonauts had no choice but to sail without him. Realizing all his efforts were in vain, the distraught hero gave up the hunt and once again returned to his labours.
For his fifth labour, Heracles was allotted the task of thoroughly cleaning out the Augean stables. It seems that King Augeas of Elis possessed more cattle and sheep than any other man thorought the whole of Greece. The stables where they were housed had not been tended to for years and therefore quite a mess. The stench spread like a vile pestilence across the Peloponnese, and the pastures were so laden with waste that they could no longer be tilled for grain.
Heracles made a deal with Augeas promising to have the stables completely clean by nightfall, if in return the king would award him with one tenth of his cattle.
Finding this gesture to be quite amusing, Augeas summoned his son Phyleus to act as a witness to Heracles' proposal. The hero pledged his oath and Augeias followed suit, promising to keep up his end of the bargain.
Heracles broke open the wall that enclosed the stable yard and allowed the Alpheius and the Peneius (by some accounts the Menius) rivers to rush inside and wash away all of the debris. The waters then moved on to the sheep yards and finally into the valley pastures.
When the task was completed, Augeas refused to pay up, claiming that because Heracles was performing under the direction of Eurystheus the agreement was never binding. To add insult to injury, Eurystheus refused to honor this as one of the twelve labours, stating that Heracles had been hired by Augeas to do the job.
For his sixth labour, Heracles was instructed to return to Arcadia and drive away the Stymphalian birds. It seems that a huge flock of birds sacred to the god Ares had been frightened by wolves on the Orchomenan Road, and decided to take refuge at the Stymphalian Marsh. These birds had brazen wings, beaks, and claws and were said to be man-eaters. Finding the bevy to be too numerous to chase away with arrows, Heracles stood on the bank of the marsh and evaluated his situation. Suddenly, Athena appeared before the hero and handed him a brass rattle that had been forged by the god Hephaestus.
Heracles shook the rattle and filled the air with such blaring sounds that the birds flew away in terror. As the swarm passed overhead, Heracles took aim and shot down many of them. The survivors were left to make their way back to the Black Sea and settle on the Isle of Ares. These birds were later found by the Argonauts while on their quest for the golden fleece.
Heracles' next undertaking was to subdue and capture the Cretan Bull, a massive beast who had been creating havoc across the island. Along with its tremendous size, this creature also had the ability to belch scorching blazes of fire, leaving any path he traveled blistered and burnt. Some believe this was the same bull Zeus sent to carry away Europa , while others see it as the bull who sired the Minotaur on Minos' wife Pasiphae. Eager to conclude the matter, King Minos readily offered Heracles his help with catching the animal. But because he wanted to avoid any more trouble with Eurytheus, the hero elected to complete the task on his own.
After a bitter struggle, Heracles defeated the beast and once again carried his trophy back to Mycenae. Eurystheus received the bull and dedicated it to Hera before setting it free.
Not wanting to bring glory to Heracles, the goddess dismissed the creature and sent him running through Sparta, Arcadia and Marathon until Theseus transported him to Athens, where he was sacrificed to the goddess Athena.
For his next labour Heracles was commissioned to capture the bloodthirsty mares of King Diomedes of Thrace. Diomedes, who was known to be the son of Ares and Cyrene ruled over a war-like group called the Bristones. His famous stables were located in the city of Tirida. Inside he kept four savage mares who were regularly fed with the flesh of his unsuspecting guests. Together with a band of volunteers, Heracles boarded ship and set sail for Thrace. As he passed through Thessaly, the hero decided to stop in the city of Pherae and call on his friend King Almetus. Upon entering the palace Heracles was surprised to find the king in deep mourning. Not wanting to sadden his guest, Admetus pretended the deceased was only a servant, but after some cavorting about the fortress, Heracles discovered that the departed was in fact was the king's wife Alcestis. Heracles at once rushed into the queen's tomb and struggled with Thanatos, preventing him from carrying her down to hades.
Alcestis was then returned to her husband and Heracles continued on his way to Thrace. When he arrived in Tirida, Heracles overpowered Diomedes's stablemen and quickly led the mares down towards the sea.
There he left them in the care of his attendent Abderus, while he went off to fight the pursuing Bristones. Heracles struck Diomedes with his club and drug his senseless body down to the water. He then placed the villain on the sand where he was voraciously devoured by his own beasts.
Sadly Abderus also became a part of the mares' grisly feast, for upon his return Heracles found the boy's half-eaten body resting near the shore. With their hunger finally satisfied, the horses were safely ushered back to Mycenae where Eurystheus dedicated them to Hera. The goddess chose to turn them loose on Mount Olympus where they were eventually destroyed by wild beasts.
In order to please his daughter Admete, Eurystheus ordered Heracles to retrieve the girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons. The Amazons were a tribe of female warriors who lived on the shores of the Thermodon River. Because these women were known to be brutal and fierce, Heracles gathered a capable crew to accompany him on his voyage. Arriving at the Amazon capitol of Themiscyra, Heracles and his men were met by Hippolyte who peacefully boarded their ship. Because she found the hero to be very attractive, Hippolyte alluringly offered the hero her belt as a gift of love. Refusing to allow Heracles to collect his prize so easily, Hera quickly donned the dress of an Amazon and deviously informed her colleagues that their queen was being kidnapped.
Armed and ready for combat, the women rushed the ship in hopes of rescuing their beloved queen. Believing that Hippolyte had betrayed him, Heracles slew her along with the other Amazon leaders. He then made off with the covetous girdle which Eurystheus proudly presented to his daughter.
To fulfill his tenth labour, Heracles was told to capture the cattle of Geryon, a giant who had been born with three heads, six hands and three bodies joined together at the waist. His cattle were famous for their beauty and spent their time grazing under the watchful eye of the herdsman Eurytion and his two-headed dog Orthrus. Heracles began his journey by way of Libya, but when the heat became too much for him, he pulled his bow and fired an arrow directly at the passing chariot of the sun. When Helios became angry Heracles sheepishly apologized, blaming his bad behavior on the sweltering temperature. As a symbol of goodwill the sun god entrusted Heracles with a golden goblet fashioned in the shape of a waterlily. This made a wonderful sailing vessel and in no time the hero was on his way to Erytheia. Heracles made his way up the coast of Spain until he reached Mount Abas. As he stood listening for sounds of the approaching cattle, Orthrus snuck up behind him and took him by surprise.
Eurytion, joined in on the attack but their moment of glory was short, for Heracles wielded his powerful club, killing both enemies with one blow.
This would have ended Heracles task had it not have been for Menoetes who was nearby busily tending to Hades' cattle. He ran to Geryon informing him that a thief was making away with his herds. The giant came running after Heracles who once again relied on his trusty bow for protecetion.
He took aim and fired at his pursuer, piercing through all three of his bodies with a single arrow. When Hera tried to come to Geryon's assistance, she too was wounded. The goddess immediately fled back to Mount Olympus leaving the giant to die by the side of the river Anthemus. Heracles then sailed to Tartessus where he returned his boat to Helios and with Geryon's cattle by his side, headed home on foot.
Heracles encountered many obstacles on his journey home. After traveling down the entire coast of Italy, the tired hero came across a particularly inviting bed of grass and decided to lay his head down for a rest. In a nearby cave lived a repulsive three-headed shepherd who was the son of Hephaestus and Medusa. Cacus, known for puffing flames through each of his three mouths brought immense terror to the Aventine Forest. It was said that after killing his victims, the giant would then decorate his home with their body parts, hanging arms and skulls from the ceiling and scattering heaps of bones across the earthen floor. As Heracles slept Cacus stole two of his best bulls and four of his finest heifers, and drug them backwards by their tails into his hollow. When the first rays of sun appeared in the sky, the hero awoke and immediately noticed that some of his cattle were missing. Just when he was about to leave without them, Heracles heard a muffled groan coming from the direction of one of the caves. The entrance was sealed with a colassal boulder, but Heracles cast it aside as though it were no more than a pebble. Appalled by his surroundings, Heracles grabbed Cacus and beat him about his face and head until he was dead. When all was over, the local people gratefully honored the hero for delivering them from the torment of such a dangerous thief and murderer.
In order to complete his eleventh labour, Heracles was required to bring to Eurystheus the golden apples of the Hesperides. Not knowing the exact location of the garden, the hero sought the help of Nereus , a shape shifting sea deity who had been blessed with phophetic powers. Heracles traveled to the banks of the River Po where he found the old man lying fast asleep. He wrapped his strong arms around him and refused to let go until the god disclosed the secret of capturing the sacred fruit. Nereus tried to escape the strong man's grasp by changing into many different shapes, but it was no use. Realizing the futility of the situation, the old man finally gave in and advised Heracles not to pick the apples himself but to instead send the Titan Atlas in his place. After listening to Heracles' predicament, Atlas appeared more than happy to help. Without hesitation he transferred the weight of the heavens onto Heracles' shoulders and walked off towards the garden fully enjoying his new found freedom.
A short time passed before Atlas returned, carrying with him a basket filled with the treasured fruits. Not wanting to resume his punishment, the cunning Titan offered to deliver the apples to Eurystheus himself, if Heracles would agree to stand in his place for a few months longer. Heracles, who was warned by Nereus against accepting any offers made to him by the Titan, agreed to accept the proposal if only he were allowed to place a pad atop his head to ease the discomfort.
Atlas casually placed the apples on the ground before repositioning himself beneath the weight of the heavens. Instantly Heracles picked up the fruit and went on his way, once again leaving the Titan a slave to his own fate.
Heracles traveled back to Mycenae and awarded Eurystheus the beautiful fruit of gold. Knowing it was improper to keep the sacred apples, the king promptly passed them onto Hera, who gave them to Athena, who in turn placed them back in the care of the Hesperides.
While traveling through Libya, Heracles came upon the empire of King Antaeus, a giant of a man who was the son of Poseidon and Gaia. The king was known for his profound strength, which he sustained by coming into contact with his mother the Earth. It was customary for strangers, upon arriving at the home of Antaeus to participate in wrestling matches with their host. It was a useless battle for the challengers, for if and when the giant was to be thrown to the ground his strength was immediately renewed as soon as he touched the earth. This allowed him to return to the match twice as strong as before, thus making him the champion of every game.
To celebrate his success, Antaeus would then murder his opponents and use their skulls to line the roof of his father Poseidon's house. The giant finally met his death during a battle with the wandering Heracles.
Realizing that Antaeus grew stronger each time he was thrown, the clever hero lifted him high above the ground in a great hug, all the while squeezing the behemoth's body until he was left lifeless and broken.
Heracles was also responsible for the death of Busiris, the brother of Antaeus. It was during the time when Busiris reigned as the King of Egypt that the land was struck with a serious drought and famine. In order to put an end to the suffering, Busiris sought the advice a Cyprian seer named Phrasius. He told Busiris that the land would be saved only if he were to sacrifice a stranger every year in honor of Zeus.
The king did not lose any time, for he immediately had the augar swept away and placed upon the altar of the lord of Olympus. This continued with other chance guests until Heracles arrived and willingly allowed the priests to prepare him to be the next sacrificial victim. Just as Busiris raised his axe high above the head of the shackled hero, Heracles broke through his bonds and slew the king, his son and all the attending priests.
Out of all the tasks assigned to Heracles, the last would prove to be the most difficult. Eurystheus commanded that the hero descend into the Hades and kidnap Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of the underworld. In order to prepare himself for this challenging feat, Heracles traveled to Eleusis where he aspired to take part in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Because admittance into the Mysteries was reserved exclusively for Athenians, Theseus suggested that Heracles allow himself to be adopted by a Greek named Pylius. As it was prohibited for any man with blood on his hands to view the Mysteries, Heracles next step was to be purified for the murder of the centaurs. Once he was absolved of his crimes, he found himself unjustly barred from entering into the Greater Mysteries, for Eumolpus, the founder of the rites refused to honor the hero's adoption. Because Heracles was still considered to be a foreigner, the Lesser Mysteries were created specifically to allow him to participate.
Once cleansed, he traveled to Laconian Taenarum, where under the guidance of Athena and Hermes he made his descent into Tartarus. Without delay, Charon ferried the frowning hero across the river Styx into the grimly lit realm of Hades.
When Heracles disembarked upon the shores of the dead, the near-by shades quickly dashed away, all that is but Meleager and the Gorgon Medusa, who firmly stood their ground. Heracles pulled his sword before the Gorgon, but Hermes reminded him that the creature was only an apparition and posed him no danger.
Shortly past the gates of Tartarus, Heracles happened upon his friends Theseus and Peirithous. As punishment for attempting to carry off Queen Persephone, Hades had the unfortunate pair bound to the chairs of forgetfulness.
Both men stretched out their arms pleading to the approaching hero. Heracles was able to pry Theseus free but when he placed his hands upon Peirithous the ground began to shake violently and the hero had no choice but to leave the ill-fated man behind.
Heracles next approached the area where Ascalaphus lay imprisioned under a giant rock. The hero lifted the boulder thus releasing the gardner from his agonizing confinement. As an act of kindness, he then slaughtered one of Hades' cattle, offering the warm blood to the thirsty ghosts.
The herdsman Menoetes rushed to defend the animals but Heracles caught him in his mighty grip and squeezed until the sounds of his cracking ribs filled the air. Menoetes would have surely been killed had Persephone not intervened, begging the hero to let him go. Heracles stood before the throne of Hades and demanded Cerberus be turned over into his custody. Hades solemnly explained that Heracles was free to do so as long as he could remove the dog without relying on the use of weapons. Protected by the thick skin of his lion pelt, Heracles grasped Cerberus by the throat and squeezed until the beast no longer resisted. With Athena as his escort, he then carried Cerberus back over the river Styx into the light of the upperworld. Heracles traveled back to Mycenae and presented the hound to Eurystheus. The king admired the beast from a safe distance and then immediately ordered Heracles to return him to his rightful home.
After completing his twelve labours, Heracles did not return directly to Thebes. He instead traveled to Oechalia where King Eurytus was offering his daughter Iole to the first man who could prove himself a better archer than he or any of his sons. Though Eurytus was skilled with the bow and arrow, Heracles easily won the contest and was eagar to collect his prize. Remembering that in a fit of madness Heracles had murdered his own children, the king refused to relinquish Iole over to him. Despite numerous pleas from his eldest son Iphitus, Eurytus declined to honor his promise. Heracles reluctantly left Oechalia by not before vowing to return and seek revenge for the injustice done to him. Then it came to be that Eurytus had been robbed of some of his mares. While the king blamed Heracles for the theft, Iphitus once again came to the hero's defense. The young man followed the animal's tracks which ultimately led him in the direction of Tiryns. This began to leave a question of doubt in Iphitus' mind, for he knew the accused hero had great ties to the city and could very well be avenging his father's insult.
Though the shadow of suspicion was starting to surround Heracles, the man actually responsible for pirating the missing creatures was the acclaimed thief Autolycus. After making off with the mares, Autolycus magically changed their appearance and sold them to the unsuspecting Heracles.
When Iphitus came face to face with the hero, he concealed any thoughts of mistrust and merely inquired about the missing horses. Unable to match his own beasts with the description of those stolen from Eurytus, Heracles promised to help Iphitus locate the missing mares if the young man would first consent to be his dinner guest.
After a lavish meal, Heracles led Iphitus to the top of the highest tower in Tiryns and bade him to scan the city for the missing horses. As Iphicles looked out across the land, Heracles, knowing that he was being suspected of the theft, angerly cast the young man down to his death.
As punishment for his actions, Heracles was cursed with a terrible disease. Though the hero went through the rites of purification at Amyclae, the mysterious sickness did not leave him. In desperation, he returned to Delphi with hopes of finding his relief in the words of the oracle. But when he arrived the priestess refused to speak to him and in an outburst of fury, Heracles stole her tripod and threatened to destroy Delphi. Apollo tried to intervene but Heracles would not back down. The battle raged on until Zeus ended their fighting by casting a thunderbolt between the two of them.
The Pythia predicted that Heracles be cured only if he agreed to sell himself into slavery for three years and then offer his selling price to the sons of Iphitus. Feeling that he had no other recourse available, the hero agreed and was sold to Omphale, the queen of Lydia.
While being in her charge Heracles performed many acts of strength and bravery, but was also known to occasionally don women's clothing to please his mistress. At the end of his service Heracles was freed and as foretold was cured of his disease.
As he was returning to Greece he found the body of Icarus which had come to rest upon the island of Doliche. Heracles buried the body and renamed the isle Icaria in honor of the boy.
Heracles now set out to seek revenge on all those who had wronged him in the past. After fighting battles in Troy, Pylus and Sparta, the hero left Arcadia and took up residence in Calydon, where he fell in love with King Oeneus's daughter Deianeira. Though he desired to marry her, Heracles soon found out that he was only one of many suitors interested in wedding the princess. His chief rival was the river god Achelous. The two began to wrestle for the maiden but as soon as Heracles threw Achelous on his back the god turned into a speckled serpent and slithered away.
Showing no fear, Heracles leaned forward to grasp the reptile's throat but the god suddenly changed into a bull and charged after the hero. Heracles gingerly stepped aside before taking hold of the beast's horns and throwing him firmly to the ground. Achelous fell with such force that his right horn snapped off in Heracles' hand.
After his marriage to Deianeira, Heracles marched with the Calydonians against their northern enemies the Thesprotians. After winning a victory he returned again to Calydon but soon became involved in a dreadful accident. It seems that during the course of a banquet the hero became enraged with a young cupbearer who accidently splashed water on his legs instead of his hands. Heracles boxed the boys ears and not realizing the power of his own strength tragically killed him.
Though the hero was exonerated of the crime he chose to follow the ancient law and exile himself from the land of Calydon. Taking Deianeira and their son Hyllus with him, Heracles then headed for Trachis and to the home of Amphitryon's nephew Ceyx.
When they came to the river Evenus,the centaur Nessus kindly offered to ferry the hero and his family across the water. Heracles refused the ride for himself but hired Nessus to escort his new bride to the other side. Heracles lowered himself into the water and slowly headed for the opposing shore. But instead of following suit, Nessus, while holding Deianeira tightly in his arms turned and dashed off in the opposite direction. He then threw the screaming young woman down in the tall grass and tried to ravish her. When Heracles heard Deianeira cries for help he pulled his bow and mortally wounded the impassioned centaur.
As Nessus lay dying, he removed the arrow from his side, and while feigning remorse whispered to Deianeria that he knew the secret to a powerful love charm which would forever keep her husband faithful.
Deianeira listened intently as she was told to to take a bit of the centaur's semen and mix it with some olive oil and few drops of his blood. "For if ever the day comes," Nessus said "That you question your husband's loyalty, secretly anoint one of his tunics with this mixture and he will resist any temptation offered to him."
Deianeira, unaware that she had been tricked sealed the ingredients in a jar and hid them from her husband's sight. For the truth was, the blood of Nessus had been infected with the deadly venom of the Hydra found on the tip of Heracles' arrow.
It seems that Heracles never forgave King Eurytus for denying him the hand of his daughter Iole. Leaving Deianeira behind in Trachis, the hero gathered up a band of men and marched on the city of Oechalia. Though the king and his sons fought a brave fight, Heracles triumphed and took Iole back with him as his concubine. After building an alter to his father Zeus, Heracles sent his herald ahead to Trachis to retrieve a fresh tunic for him to wear during the sacrifices. Hearing of her husband's newest conquest Deianeira remembered to first smear the shirt with her secret love potion before sending it on its way. Heracles put on the garment but when he began to place his offerings on the flames, the heat caused the Hydra's venom to melt into the blood of Nessus. The hero let out a wail of agony as the poison began to eat away his flesh. Calling out to his son Hyllus, Heracles begged to be taken to a quiet place to die. He was taken Mount Oeta, where Hyllus built a giant pyre for the hero to lay upon.
As the flames rose, they quickly burnt away all that was mortal in Heracles. Moments later a cloud surrounded the pyre and after a tremendous flash of lightning the cloud floated away leaving nary a trace of the dead hero.
Heracles at last ascended onto Olympus, achieving the immortality promised to him so long ago. To add to his good fortune, Hera had finally decided to accept the hero into her family, even allowing him to marry her daughter Hebe. As for Deianeira, the news of Heracles death so filled her with guilt that the grieving wife took to her room and hung herself.
Medea's Lair Of Greek Mythology © 1999-2015.