A Brief History
Hercules: Hercules, also known as Herakles or Heracles, was the son of Zeus and Alcmene. Born with great strength and bravery, Hercules was forced to use his skills to outsmart Hera, the wife of Zeus, as she hated him for the affair her husband had with Alcmene. After Hercules married Megara of Thebes, Hera inflicted him with madness causing him to murder his two children and, some sources say, his wife. As a result of his actions Hercules was sent to work for Eurystheus, his enemy, and was forced to take on the famous "12 Labours of Hercules." They were as follows:
- Killing the Nemean Lion - Hercules first task was to kill the fierce Nemean lion and bring back its skin to Eurystheus. After doing so Hercules was given the skin as a cloak because it was impenetrable.
- Killing the Learnaean Hydra - The Learnaean Hydra was a 9 headed water serpent with poisonous venom. After 2 heads grew back for every 1 cut off by Hercules, he, with the help of his nephew Iolaus, burned the stumps and placed the 1 immortal head under a rock to defeat it.
- Capturing the Ceryneian Hind - The Ceryneian Hind was a deer with golden antlers, bronze hooves and incredible speed. Hercules finally caught the hind by shooting her with an arrow but was approached by Apollo and his twin Artemis, the owner of the hind. Artemis chose to forgive Hercules for his act after he explained his task and healed the hind to set him on his way.
- Capturing the Erymanthian Boar - Advised by a centaur, Hercules was able to retrieve the boar by driving him into the snow and capturing him in a net.
- Cleaning the Augean Stables - King Augean was extremely rich and owned thousands of animals that lived in his stable. Ordered to complete this task in 1 day, Hercules rerouted two nearby rivers to wash through the stables and clean up the mess.
- Driving Away the Stymphalian Birds - Hercules' next mission was to drive away the man-eating Stymphalian Birds. To do so Hercules was aided by Athena who gave him the krotala, "noise-making clappers." After using the krotala to frighten the birds Hercules shot them with arrows to complete Eurystheus' task.
- Capturing the Cretan Bull - When King Minos of Crete promised Poseidon he would sacrifice whatever animal was sent to him, the sea god sent a bull. Minos thought this bull was too beautiful to kill and instead sacrificed another bull in its place. Furious, Poseidon made Minos' wife fall in love with the bull and together they created a creature called the Minotaur. When assigned to the task Hercules easily captured the bull, sending it back to Eurystheus. Eurystheus then freed the bull, causing havoc on all of Mycenae until Theseus, another hero, destroyed the bull and later traveled to Crete to kill the Minotaur it had fathered.
- Rounding up the Mares of Diomedes - After traveling to Thrace Hercules had to battle Diomedes to retrieve the horses he was to deliver to Eurystheus. However, unaware these were flesh-eating horses, Hercules left them in the care of his good friend Aberdus who was killed. After feeding Diomedes to the mares to tame them, Hercules delivered the horses to Eurystheus who ordered them to Mt. Olympus as a sacrifice to Zeus. Zeus was unpleased by this offering and sent wild animals to destroy the mares.
- Fetching the Girdle of Hippolyte - The Girdle desired by Eurystheus was owned by Hippolyte, queen of the amazons. When Hercules arrived on her land Hippolyte came to meet him and his sailors. Intrigued by Hercules, Hippolyte promised to give him her belt. However Hera disguised herself as an amazon, saying Hercules had come to steal the queen. The amazons then attacked, causing Hercules to kill Hippolyte before he departed as he thought it was her who betrayed him.
- Herding the Cattle of Geryon - Geryon was a monster born from Medusa who had many heads and three sets of legs. After battling his herder and guard dog, Hercules defeated Geryon with his bow and arrow. The most difficult part of this task was delivering the cattle to Eurystheus; some animals were stolen by Cacus and set free by Hera, making this task very difficult to complete.
- Retrieving the Apples of Hesperides - To fetch the golden apples of Hesperides Hercules was wisely instructed to ask Atlas, a titan responsible for holding up the heavens, to retrieve them because of his relation to the nymphs. Happy to be relieved of his duty, Atlas retrieved the apples; however, he was not pleased about resuming his role and offered to transport the apples back to Eurystheus. Aware of his trap, Hercules agreed but asked Atlas to momentarily relieve him of the heavens while he fixed his cloak. When Atlas took heaven back onto his shoulders Hercules picked up the apples and traveled back to Mycenae.
- Capturing Cerberus - The last and most dangerous task of Hercules was to capture and bring to Eurystheus the Cerberus, the 3 headed guard dog of the underworld. Hercules had to first meet Eleusis and become a member of the Eleusian Mysteries to gain knowledge of how to enter and leave the underworld. When he met Hades, Hercules asked to take Cerberus to Eurystheus. Hades agreed as long as Hercules could overpower the animal using nothing but his own strength. After doing so and returning to Mycenae, Hercules was asked to return the dog to Hades before being freed from Eurystheus and completing his 12 tasks.
After completing his 12 labours Hercules went on many adventures such as joining the Argonauts to search for the Golden Fleece and battling Death to save a friend, Alcestis. In his later life Hercules married Deianira, the woman partly responsible for his death. It was after she suspected he was having an affair with a woman, Iole, that Deianira gave Hercules a shirt soaked in the blood of Nessus. Nessus, a centaur killed by Hercules, told Deianira that if she gave him this shirt he would again become infatuated with her. However, Nessus knew that any man to put on this shirt would be killed as the blood contained poison. As Hercules had completed the 12 tasks and was made immortal, when he put on the shirt he rose up to Mt. Olympus to live with Zeus and the other gods.
Information has been taken from Wikipedia.com and Perseus.tufts.edu. For a more thorough description of Hercules or for other versions of this story, please visit these sites.