The Strong Man or The Kneeling Man
The Brighter Stars of Hercules
The Birth of Hercules
Hercules was one of the sons produced by Zeus in his many love affairs. Hercules became immortal when Zeus put the infant at the breast of his divine spouse Hera as she slept. It was a sneaky deal. Having suckled the divine milk of the goddess, Hercules became immortal, but ever after he was dogged by the enmity of the goddess, who was irate at the infidelity of her husband Zeus.
The Revenge of Hera
Hera worked to make the life of Hercules a living hell. Since he had become one of the immortals, she could not kill him, but she could make his life miserable. At one point Hera cast a spell on Hercules, such that he fell into a fit of madness and uncontrollable rage. Hercules was immensely tall and strong and skilled with weapons, so that in his madness no one could oppose or control him. Blithering in madness, he slaughtered his children.
Upon coming to himself, Hercules was stricken by grief and remorse at what he had done and appealed to the Oracle at Delphi as to what he could do to atone for the tragedy. The answer he received was that he must serve King Eurystheus of Mycenae for twelve years. It was in fact from the Oracle at this time that Hercules received his name, which is written as "Heracles" in Greek, meaning 'glory of Hera'.
The Labors of Hercules
The tasks that the King set for Hercules, became known as the Twelve Labors of Hercules.
- to kill the Nemean Lion.
Hercules did this and took the impenetrable hide of the Lion as his cloak. The Lion itself is memorialized as the constellation of Leo.
- to slay the many-headed Hydra.
Hercules did this and thereafter used the blood of the Hydra to poison the tips of his arrows. The constellation of Cancer represents the Crab sent by Hera to distract Hercules in his battle with the Hydra.
- to catch the Ceryneian hind.
This was a fabulous deer with golden horns and brass hooves that belonged to the goddess Artemis.
- to snare the boar of Erymanthus.
This was a monstrous animal that laid ruin to the vineyards of Arcadia.
- to clean out the dung-filled stables of King Augeias of Ellis.
- to disperse the monstrous Stymphalian birds.
The birdsinfested the lake near the town of Stymphalus in Arcadia. The birds were huge man-eating creatures with claws and beaks of brass. They shot their feathers out like arrows.
- to capture the fire-breathing bull.
The bull was ravaging the island of Crete.
- to capture the flesh-eating horses of King Diomedes of Thrace.
- to capture the belt of Hippolyte.
This was the magnificient belt belonging to the Queen of the Amazons in Cappadocia.
- to steal the cattle of Geryon.
Geryon a monster with three bodies, who ruled in a land far to the west. On the way to accomplish this task Hercules set up the rocks at the Strait of Gibraltar, which became known as the Pillars of Hercules.
- to steal the golden apples of the Hesperides.
The apples had been presented as a wedding present to Hera. The dragon that had guarded the apples is represented in the sky as the constellation of Draco.
- to fetch the monstrous dog Cereberus from the underworld.
The underworld was the realm of the dead ruled by the God of the Underworld, Hades. The loathsome dog had three heads. Its back was covered with snakes, and it had the tail of a dragon.
The Tragic New Marriage of Hercules
After his labors Hercules married Deianeira, the daughter of King Oeneus. The couple did not live happily ever after, though. One day in their travels Hercules and Deianeira had to cross a river swollen by floods. Hercules swam across but left his wife to be ferried across by a centaur boatman, who attempted to rape Deianeira. Hercules then shot the centaur with one of the arrows poisoned with the Hydra's blood.
The dying centaur extracted his revenge by offering Deianeira his blood, promising that it would act as a love ointment to keep her husband faithful to
One day Deianeira began to suspect that Hercules was interested in another woman. So she gave Hercules a shirt on which she had spread some of the dying centaur's blood. Of course the blood was poison, since it was mixed with the blood of the Hydra, which had coated the arrow that struck the centaur down.
The Death of Hercules
When Hercules put on the shirt the poisoned blood began to do its work, burning Hercules' flesh to the bone. Hercules could not die. So he built himself a funeral pyre. He spread his lionskin cloak on the pyre and lay down on it. The flames burned up the mortal part of him, while the immortal part ascended to Mount Olympus, where Zeus set him among the stars.