Hercules (myth)

   Hercules, one of the heroes of classical mythology. He was the son of the divine Zeus and mortal Alcmene. Hera, wife of Zeus, was, of course, of­fended, and declared war against Hercules from his birth. She sent two serpents to destroy him in his cradle, but the child strangled them with his hands. Hera, how­ever, contrived to render Hercules subject to his cousin Eurystheus whose commands he was required to execute. This cousin assigned him what are known as the twelve labors of Hercules. They were:

1. The strangling of the Nemean lion.
2. The killing of the Lernean hydra, a nine-headed serpent.
3. The capture of the Arcadian stag, with gold­en horns and brazen feet.
4. The capture of the Erymanthian boar, by phasing it in the deep snow until it was tired.
5. The cleaning of the Augean stables, where 3,000 oxen had been kept for thirty years. He turned on the water of two rivers and swept the stables clean.
6. The slaughter of the Stymphalian birds. They fed on human flesh. These he shot with his bow and arrows.
7. The capture of the Cretan bull.
8. The capture of the man-eating mares of Diomedes.
9. The securing of the girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons.
10. The fetching of the red oxen of Geryon.
11. The procuring of the golden apples of the Hesperides.
12. The bringing to the upper world of Cer­berus, the watch-dog of Hades.

   Finally, after performing his wondrous deeds, Hercules married Dejanira and set­tled down in peace. After several years Dejanira became jealous. She sent Hercu­les a garment saturated with poison, believ­ing it to be a love charm. Hercules suf­fered intense agony from the poison. The wife in her remorse committed suicide. Hercules in grief caused a funeral pile to be placed in Mt. Oeta. He lay down with his head resting on his club and drew his lion's skin over him. He gave his bow and arrow to a friend, Philoctetes, and asked him to apply the funeral torch. The flames spread. Hercules maintained an unchang­ing countenance. When the mortal half in­herited from his mother had been burned, Zeus enveloped him in a cloud and took him to heaven in a chariot. Hera, now reconciled to her husband's son, received him into her family, and gave him her daughter Hebe in marriage.

   Hercules is the most celebrated hero of the early Greek legends. He appears in all the most important myths of the time preceding the Trojan War. He is the Greek ideal of human perfection, not phys­ical perfection alone—but that perfection which combines the highest qualities of mind and body. One story relates that in his youth the two goddesses, Virtue and Pleasure, appeared to him where two roads met and each besought his favor. At the time Hercules was suffering from the op­pression of his master Eurystheus, and was very unhappy. He longed to follow Pleas­ure, but chose Virtue, and remained faithful to her counsels. Many temples were built to the honor of Hercules and he was wor­shiped as a god. He was a favorite sub­ject for artist and sculptor.