Hecules And His Labors Essay, Research Paper
The Story of Hercules
With Greek Mythology a common subject in today s modern classrooms, understanding the characters and ideas behind it is important. Mythology is made up of many different concepts, including powerful gods, weak humans, great heroes, horrific monsters, and even a little magic. Each story in Greek Mythology can be tied to another, each having some of the common stated characteristics. The stories interweave to give one massive collection of tales of powerful gods and brave mortals fighting great monsters where sex, betrayal, and murder all come into play. Hercules is one such character that fits the description of a Greek Mythological hero. The half-man half-god sun of Zeus, Hercules is considered to be the greatest hero of all Greek Mythology. The story of Hercules and his twelve accomplished labors is greater than the story of any other hero of Greek Mythology. (Rouse 55)
Hercules was the child of Zeus and Alcmena, the princess of Thebes. Zeus seventh wife, Hera, was extremely jealous of Zeus new son. At the time of his birth, Zeus swore that the next child born would rule the great city of Mycenae. Hera plotted against Alcmena s soon to be born son by having Ilithyia, a childbirth coordinator halt the birth of Zeus. Ilithyia forced Alcmena to sit with her legs crossed until Eurystheus, Zeus older cousin, was born. (Pinsent 94) Eurystheus would now become the new ruler. Hera was still not satisfied. One night, she sent two serpents into the crib of Hercules and his twin brother Iphicles. Hera thought for sure the snakes would kill Hercules, but she was wrong. Hercules killed both serpents single handedly. Upon hearing this, the city s blind prophet then reported I swear that many a Greek woman as she cards the wool that eventide shall sing of this your son and you who bore him. He shall be the hero of all mankind. (Hamilton 163)
With Eurystheus the new ruler of Mycenae, Hercules was powerless. He was forced to live by the ways of his tyrant cousin. During this time, Hercules grew strong in many ways. He was faced with the decision of taking the hard road of Virtue, or the short, seemingly easy route of Vise. He chose to take the road of Virtue and grew to be strong mentally and physically. (Rouse 57) His journey brought him unsurpassed talents with the bow and arrow, wrestling, and boxing. During this time, Hercules killed the great lion of Cithaeron. He wore the skin of the lion as a cloak to show his strength. From there, he traveled to fight the Minyans, a near by city that was had the town of Thebes under tribute. He crushed their army and was greatly rewarded with Megara, the King of Thebes daughter. His new wife brought him three children. Hera once again became extremely jealous and struck Hercules with madness. During this time, Hercules killed his new family, and then decided the best way to redeem his self was to be under the rule of Eurystheus. He now became his servant, and had to do the labors presented before him. (Hamilton 163)
His first labor was to kill the great lion of Peloponnese, known as Nemean. The lion s skin was too strong to be penetrated by any sword or arrow, so Hercules beat the lion to death. (Pinsent 95)
For his second labor, Hercules was required to kill the Lernaean hydra, a multi-headed monster. The monster was hard to defeat because it was said that once one head was chopped off, two more would grow back in its place. He called upon the help of his nephew, Iolaus to help with this battle. Hercules would chop off the heads, while Iolaus would burn the open wounds shut so no heads would come through. Together, they easily defeated the monster. (Hamilton 164)
For his third labor, Hercules had to capture the Cerynitian Hind. It was a beautiful deer with gold horns. Hercules could not kill it, but managed to bring it to Eurystheus after a year of hunting it.
For his next labor, Eurystheus made Hercules clean out the stables of King Augeas in a single day. Augeas possessed vast herds of cattle, which had deposited their manure in such quantity over the years that a thick aroma hung over the entire Peloponnesus. Instead of employing a shovel and a basket as Eurystheus imagined, Hercules diverted two rivers through the stable yard and got the job done without a problem. But because he had demanded payment of Augeas, Eurystheus refused to count this as a Labor.
The task of driving away the Stymphalian birds was next. The people of Stymphalus did not like the birds due to the large number of them. Being the skilled archer he was, he quickly shot them down and the people were happy once again. (Hamilton 164)
The seventh labor was to defeat the powerful Minotaur from the city of Crete The bull was given to Minos from Poseidon as a gift. Hercules wrestled the great half-man half-bull to the ground and shipped him back to Eurystheus. (Hamilton 164)
Next Hercules was instructed to bring Eurystheus the mares of Diomedes. These horses dined on the flesh of travelers who made the mistake of accepting Diomedes’ hospitality. Hercules pacified the beasts by feeding them their own master. Hercules then rounded them up and herded them down to sea, where he embarked them for Tiryns. Once he had shown them to Eurystheus, he released them. Wild animals on Mount Olympus eventually ate them.
The ninth Labor took Hercules to the land of the Amazons, to retrieve the belt of their queen for Eurystheus’ daughter. The Amazons were a race of warrior women, great archers who had invented the art of fighting from horseback. Hercules recruited a number of heroes to accompany him on this expedition. The Amazon queen, Hippolyte, willingly gave Hercules her belt, but Hera was not about to let the hero get off so easily. The goddess stirred up the Amazons with a rumor that the Greeks had captured their queen, and a great battle ensued and Hercules made off with the belt. (Rose 210)
Hercules was now instructed to steal a herd of great cattle from a monster known as Geryon. He had three heads and three separate bodies from the waist down. His watchdog, Orthrus, had only two heads. The hound Orthrus rushed at Hercules as he was making off with the cattle, and the hero killed him with a single blow from the wooden club, which he customarily carried. Geryon was killed as well, and Hercules drove the herd back to Greece. (Rouse 63)
For the eleventh labor, Hercules was instructed to take the wonderful apples of Hera s garden. Ladon, a multi-headed dragon, and a large wall guarded the apples. In order to succeed in getting the apples, Hercules was told that he needed to enlist in the help of Atlas, one of the first generation Gods. Hercules first defeated the monster, and then held up the heavens for Atlas while he climbed the great wall to get the apples. Upon his return, Hercules tricked Atlas back into holding up the heavens. (Rouse 64)
As his final Labor, Hercules was instructed to bring the hellhound Cerberus up from Hades, the kingdom of the dead. The first barrier to the soul’s journey beyond the grave was the most famous river of the Underworld, the Styx. Here the newly dead congregated as insubstantial shades, mere wraiths of their former selves, awaiting passage in the ferryboat of Charon the Boatman. Charon wouldn’t take anyone across unless they met two conditions. Firstly, they had to pay a bribe in the form of a coin under the corpse’s tongue. And secondly, they had to be dead. Hercules met neither condition. But Hercules simply stared so fiercely that Charon meekly conveyed him across the Styx. The greater challenge was Cerberus. Cerberus had razor teeth, three heads, a venomous snake for a tail and another swarm of snakes growing out of his back. These lashed at Hercules while Cerberus lunged for a bite on Hercules throat. Fortunately, the hero was wearing his trusty lion’s skin, which was impenetrable by anything short of a thunderbolt from Zeus. Hercules eventually choked Cerberus into submission and dragged him to Tiryns, where he received due credit for this final Labor. (Hamilton 165)
After the 12 labors of Eurystheus, Hercules still did not feel he cleaned his self well enough for the murder of his sons and his wife. He continued to battle many monsters, until he met his fate. It was poisonous Hydra venom from his second labor that eventually brought about his demise. He had allowed a centaur to ferry his new wife Deianara across a river, and the centaur had attacked her on the other side. Hercules killed him with an arrow, but before he died the he told Deinara to keep some of his blood for a love potion. Deinara used some on Hercules’ tunic to keep him faithful; little realizing that it had been poisoned with Hydra venom from the arrow. Hercules donned the tunic and died in agony. (Pinsent 100)
Hercules was the only hero to become a full-fledged god upon his demise, but even in his case there was his mortal aspect to be dealt with. By virtue of his spectacular achievements, even by heroic standards, he was given a home on Mount Olympus and a goddess for a wife. But part of him had come not from his father Zeus but from his mortal mother Alcmene, and that part was sent to the Underworld. As a phantasm it eternally roams the Elysian Fields in the company of other heroes. (Hamilton 172)
Hercules was the greatest Greek hero from Mythological tales. His combination of strength, will and courage enabled him to stand before every challenge he faced. There was never a time when Hercules backed down. Although beaten down by the accidental death of his family, Hercules continued to fight on. Truly a great hero, Hercules stands mountains above the rest.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York: New American Library, 1969.
Pinsent, John. Greek Mythology. London: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1969.
Rose, H.J. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1959.
Rouse, W.H.D. Gods, Heroes and Men of Ancient Greece: Mythology s Great Tales of Valor and Romance. New York: New American Library, 1957.