Hercules is famous for the accomplishment of his twelve 12 great tasks or labors commonly known as the '12 labors of Hercules'.
Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Heracles
Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek hero Heracles. The Romans were experts at assimilating many elements of other societies into their culture, including the mythology and gods of the Greeks and some of the other nations that they conquered. There are therefore many similarities between Roman mythology and Greek mythology where only the names change as illustrated in the myth about Hercules (Roman) and Heracles (Greek).
Background to the Hercules Mythology - The Myths surrounding the Classical Hero
Classical Mythology tells the story, myth or legend of the great classical hero of the Greeks and the Romans. Hercules was a divine hero and according to the myth he was the son of the god Zeus (the King of the Gods - Roman name Jupiter) and Alcmene. Alcmene was the beautiful daughter of Electryon, who was the son of Perseus and the King of Mycenae. The god Zeus visited Alcmene, disguised as a Theban general called Amphitryon, and Hercules was conceived. Amphitryon became the foster father of the child.
Hercules Mythology - The Fury of Hera
The wife of Zeus (Hera in Greek and Juno was the Roman name) was furious that he had been unfaithful. Not only that Zeus had put put the infant to suckle milk at the breast of Hera as she slept which ensured that Hercules became one of the immortals. Hera wanted to take her revenge on the child of the illicit union but she was not able to kill him because he was one of the immortals. Instead Hera decided to make the life of Hercules a living hell. Hera first sent two serpents to kill him as he lay in his crib. But due to his great physical strength the child throttled a snake in each hand and was found by his nurse playing with their limp bodies as if they were toys. The child was originally given the name Alcides by his parents but was later renamed Heracles (Hercules) in an unsuccessful attempt to mollify Hera. She intended to wreak her revenge in the years to come.
Hercules Mythology - The Murder of Linus
Meanwhile, the child grew into a young man, possessing great strength. There was a famous story that Hercules killed a lion with his bare hands and as a trophy he wore the skin of the lion as a cloak and its head as a helmet. The young man was also taught about art, poetry and music. Linus, the son of the god Apollo, taught music to Orpheus and Hercules. But Hercules killed him with Linus's own lyre after Linus reprimanded him for making errors. His foster father, Amphitryon, ordered Hercules to leave court to tend cattle on a mountain as a punishment for his crime.
Hercules Mythology - Hercules meets Pleasure and Virtue
Whilst working on thee simple tasks of a shepherd he was visited by two nymphs. Nymphs were higher beings than humans but not immortal like a god. The names of the nymphs were Pleasure and Virtue. The nymphs offered him a choice between a pleasant, easy life or a hard but glorious life. Hercules chose glory and left the mountain to seek his fortune in Thebes.
Hercules Mythology - Hera takes her revenge
Hercules played a huge part in defeating the enemies of Thebes by single handed combat. The ruler of Thebes, King Creon, offered his daughter, Megara, in marriage as a reward. Hercules married Megara and they had two children, a boy and a girl. In a fit of madness, induced by the vengeful goddess Hera, Hercules killed his own children. When he realised that he has perpetrated this terrible deed he stricken by grief and remorse and appealed to the Oracle at Delphi as to what he could do to atone for the tragedy.
Hercules Mythology - Hera takes her revenge
The Oracle at Delphi told him that he must serve his enemy, King Eurystheus of Mycenae, for 12, twelve years. The Oracle was guided by Hera who also influenced King Eurystheus. The king devised a severe penance which involved Hercules completing the most difficult tasks imaginable. The tasks that the King set for him, became known as the Twelve Labors of Hercules in classical mythology.
Hercules Mythology - Ten original tasks became the 12 Labors of Hercules
King Eurystheus first set ten labors for Hercules. When he completed all of the tasks successfully Eurystheus claimed that the cleansing of the Augean stables and the killing of the Lernaean Hydra were not done by himself. Hercules was therefore set two further tasks bringing the total number of tasks up to twelve. Thus they were called the 12 Labors of Hercules.
Hercules Mythology - The 12 Labors of Hercules
The Hercules mythology continues for the 12 years of his penance when Hercules (Heracles) embarked on his 12 labors. Not all the classical authors gave the labors in the same order. The order of the 12 labors detailed are according to Apollodorus of Athens (c180 BC - c120 BC). The 12 Labors of Hercules are described as follows:
Kill the Nemean lion and bring back its skin
Destroy the Lernean hydra
Capture alive the Erymanthian boar
Capture alive the Ceryneian stag
Kill the Stymphalian birds
Clean the Augean stables
Bring the Cretan bull alive into Peloponnesus
Obtain the horses of Diomedes
Steal the girdle of Hippolyta
Herd the cattle of Geryon
Obtain the apples of Hesperides
Details of all the tasks and how the hero surmounted all the obstacles and completed the 12 Labors of Hercules are described in the following link:
12 Labors of Hercules
Hercules Mythology - The Death of Hercules
The Hercules mythology ends with the dramatic death of Hercules. He had married Deianira, whom he won from the river god Achelous. Travelling to Tiryns a centaur, called Nessus, offers to help Deianeira across a fast flowing river while Hercules swims across. The centaur tries to steal Deianara away while he is still in the water. Hercules shoots Nessus with his arrows dipped in the poisonous blood of the Lernaean Hydra. The dying centaur told Deianira to take some of his poisoned blood which he tells her is a powerful love charm. Deianira later believes that Hercules has fallen in love with the Princess Iole and sends him a tunic dipped in the poisoned blood. Hercules puts on the poisoned tunic and the pain is so great that he kills himself on a funeral pyre. After his death he is taken by the gods to Mount Olympus where he marries the goddess of youth.