The Greek Heraeus (Greek Ἡρακλῆς, lit. “glory to Hera”) is a character of Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene (wife of Amphitrion). He was born in Thebes, showed extraordinary physical strength and courage from birth, but had to obey his relative Eurystheus because of Hera”s hostility. In his youth Heracles ensured his hometown”s victory over Ergin. In a fit of madness he killed his own sons and was therefore forced to go into the service of Eurystheus. At his command Heracles accomplished twelve feats: he defeated the Nemean lion and the Lernaean hydra, captured the Cerinean deer and the Erymanthus boar, killed the Stymphalian birds, cleared the Augean stables, tamed the Cretan bull, seized Diomedes” horses, the belt of Hippolyta and the cows of Herion, led Cerberus from the netherworld to Eurystheus and brought the apples of Hesperides. These feats, which have become the most famous part of Hercules” biography, took place throughout the world known to the Greeks and beyond. In accomplishing them, the son of Zeus surpassed all other heroes in strength and courage and actually equated himself with the gods. Heracles performed many other glorious deeds: he took part in the Argonauts” campaign, destroyed Troy, freed Prometheus, led Alceste out of the kingdom of the dead, erected “Hercules” pillars” on the western part of the world and took part in the battle with giants. Because of the murder of Iphitheus, he had to spend several years in slavery to Queen Lydia Omphala. Returning to Greece, Hercules settled in Aetolia, the homeland of his second wife Dejanira, but after another accidental murder he went into exile in Trachin. Because of the cunning of the centaur Nessus and the carelessness of his wife he climbed the funeral pyre alive and was later exalted to Olympus and numbered among the gods, but his mortal shadow was doomed to wander in the realm of the dead.

The Greeks worshipped Heracles both as a god and as a hero, and this cult was very popular; the kings of Sparta, Macedonia, Hellenistic Egypt and representatives of many aristocratic families of the ancient world were considered descendants of Heracles. From the time of the Early Republic the hero was also honored in Rome under the name Hercules. In Western culture Hercules became the greatest mythological hero, the personification of physical strength and self-control, a symbol of political domination and the victory of civilization over barbarism. His grandiose exploits and tragic destiny became the source of subjects for many artists and sculptors of antiquity. Hercules acts in the tragedies of Sophocles “Trachinians”, Euripides “Hercules” and “Alquesta”, in many other ancient plays, the texts of which are lost, in the works of poets and mythographers. “The Church Fathers used the image to criticize paganism. In the Middle Ages interest in Hercules diminished, but with the beginning of the Renaissance the stories associated with this hero regained popularity. Especially often they were used by painters and composers of the New Age. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Hercules became one of the most popular characters of mass culture.

Origin and emergence

Heracles” mother Alcmene, according to Greek myths, belonged to the family of the Perseids. She was the daughter of Electrion, king of Mycenae, and consequently the granddaughter of Perseus, and through her mother Lysidica she descended from Pelops. Alcmene became the wife of her cousin Amphitrion, another Perseid, king of Tirynthus in Argolis, who had been forced into exile and lived in Thebes under the protection of Creonte. One day, when this hero was at war with the Teleboys, Zeus took his form and came to Alcmene. But the sources underline that the god was not driven by lust, as it was with all the other mortal women; the goal of Zeus was to conceive the greatest hero who would be “the abomination of misfortune” to men. He came to this conception through several successive marriages: first to Io, who gave birth to Epaphos, then to Danae, a descendant of Io, who gave birth to Perseus, and finally to Alkmena, a descendant of Danae, so that the bogatyr strength of the future hero was accumulated during twelve generations. Zeus took the form of Alcmene”s husband in order not to resort to violence, and later on he no longer made earthly women his mistresses. According to late antique authors, the god prolonged the night of love twice or nine times, and according to the most common version, three times: he needed a long time to conceive a hero who would surpass all others in power. Amphitryon, who returned home a day or two later, realized what had happened. According to Pseudo-Giginus, he no longer shared a bed with his wife so as not to make Zeus jealous, but most sources say that Alcmene became pregnant by two men at once, a god and a mortal man.

When Alcmene was about to be delivered, Zeus announced to the other Olympians that the Perseid born on that day would become the supreme king. The jealous Hera took advantage of this to plot against the god”s future son. She ordered her daughter Ilithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to delay the birth of Alcmene and to hasten the birth of Nikippa, the wife of another Perseid, Sfenel, king of Mycenae (he was an uncle to Alkmene and her husband). As a result, Nikippa gave birth early. Her premature son named Eurystheus was now to receive the promised power, while Amphitrion”s wife was only able to give birth thanks to the cunning of her maid, Hystoris. This woman announced to the pharmacids (sorceresses) who were sitting at Alcmene”s door that her mistress had already been delivered. These, deceived, left, and Alcmene immediately gave birth to two twin boys, one by her husband and one by Zeus. The first was named Iphicles; the second, Alcide, after his nominal grandfather in the male line. According to Ferecidus, Amphitryon, in order to see which of the newborns was his, let two huge snakes into their bed. Iphicles was frightened and cried, and Alcide grabbed the snakes with both hands and strangled them. Thus it became clear that Alcidus was the son of Zeus. Another version of the myth, more recent, claimed that the serpents were sent by Hera to kill the children, who were then only eight months old. The soothsayer Tiresias, seeing what had happened, declared that Alcide would perform great feats when he grew up.

Zeus had to confirm his word: in his adult life Alcide was destined to obey his cousin Eurystheus. However, according to Diodorus of Sicily, Zeus specified that by performing twelve feats for Eurystheus, his son would gain immortality. Later, Hera, succumbing either to Artemis” persuasion or Zeus” deception, agreed to breastfeed little Alcide. However, the baby squeezed the nipple too hard, and the goddess threw it away. A splash of milk formed the Milky Way in the sky.

Early Years

Heracles” childhood and early adolescence are mainly reported in late antique sources. According to some sources, Amphitrion died early, and the twins were brought up by their mother”s second husband Radamanthus. According to others, Alcid lived on Mount Pelion under the care of the wise centaur Chiron. According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, Amphitryon had time to educate Alcidus and Iphilus: he taught the boys to drive a chariot, Castor, whom he invited, to fight in full armor, Autolycus (according to Theocritus, Harpalicus) to fight, Eurytes (according to Callimachus, Scythian Teutar) to shoot with an arrow, Lin to play the lyre. Lin once beat Alcide, and the latter killed him on the spot with a blow of his lyre. The court acquitted the boy because he “retaliated by striking an unjust blow”, but Amphitryon, frightened by Alcide”s strength and temper, sent him away to the wooded mountain of Cytheron. There, in the company of shepherds, the hero spent his early youth. Even then he stood out among the others for his height, strength, and courage.

The episode known as “Hercules” Choice” refers to this period in the hero”s life. Vice and virtue, taking the form of two young and beautiful women, appeared before the young man and asked him to choose his future – either an easy road of pleasures or a thorny path of work and exploits. He chose the latter.

When Alcidus was eighteen years old, he went to the city of Thespias to fight a lion that was attacking the herds. A local king named Thespius welcomed the hero for fifty days. Every night he sent one of his fifty daughters to his guest, and each of them later gave birth to a son. According to an alternative version, Alcide shared a bed with all the Thespians in one night. After that, he killed the Cepheronian lion. The skin of the animal became a permanent part of Alcide”s clothing, and the lion”s head became his helmet.

On his way back from the hunt, the hero met the ambassadors of Ergin, king of the Minii, who were on their way to Thebes for tribute. Alcides brutally massacred them: he cut off their hands, ears and noses, hung it all around their necks and declared that this was the only tribute that Ergin would receive. The latter immediately moved on Thebes in war. Alcides, at the head of an army, defeated the enemy and killed Erginus (King Creonte of Thebes, to thank Alcides, gave him his daughter Megara as his wife. The hero had children – in different sources from three to eight. He lived happily, but Hera, still hostile, sent him one day into a fit of madness. Not realising what he was doing, Alcide threw all his children and Iphicles” two sons into the fire. He also wanted to kill his wife, his third nephew, Iolaus, and his brother, but those present managed to hold him back.

When Alcides recovered, he took it very hard: he did not leave his house for a long time, and his family and friends tried to comfort him. Finally, Alcides decided to go to Delphi to ask Apollo for advice. There the pythia announced to him that he should go to Tirynthos and enter the service of Eurystheus, and for the first time she called him Hercules (“the glorious Hero”). The hero was very reluctant to serve a man who was clearly inferior to him in valor, but in the end he was forced to submit. There is also a version of the reverse sequence of events: when Heracles heard that he had to obey Eurystheus, he “fell into a state of terrible despondency” and, in a fit of madness imposed by the goddess, killed his sons and nephews. In any case, he had to go to his kinsman and henceforth do his bidding.

Twelve feats

In the service of Eurystheus Heracles performed twelve feats (Greek ἔργα, “deeds” or πόνοι, “labors” or “burdens”), which became a central part of his mythological biography. According to one version of the myth, the pythia originally had ten feats in mind, but two of them were not counted by Eurystheus, so Hercules had to perform two more. All twelve were first listed, apparently, by Pisander of Rhodes in the poem “Herculeia” (7th century B.C.), and those ancient authors whose works have survived have varied the order of the feats. According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, the hero accomplished the first ten in eight years and one month (a hundred months in the ancient Greek calendar), and all twelve in twelve years.

According to the unanimous opinion of all mythographers, the first feat of Heracles was the victory over the huge lion, which devastated the whole region of Nemea and Cleon in Argolida (Eurystheus ordered the hero to kill the beast and skin it. Judging by the pictorial sources, a unified tradition telling of this feat did not take shape at once. On the paintings of Peloponnesian vases of the 7th century BC Heracles kills a lion with a club, on the Chalcidian and Ionic vases of later times – with a sword, on the images of the 6th century BC he smothers the animal with his bare hands. From a certain point it was believed that the skin of this beast was invulnerable to iron, bronze or stone. Accordingly Heracles tried to shoot it with his bow, but the arrows did not do the lion any harm. Then Heracles stunned the lion with his club and strangled it on the spot, or it fled into the cave, and the hero followed it, having previously blocked the second exit with stones, and strangled the beast right in its lair.

Heracles carried the carcass of the lion on his shoulders to Mycenae. Eurystheus was so frightened of the slain beast that he forbade the hero to enter the city in the future and ordered him to show his prey in front of the gates. Henceforth the king communicated with Heracles only through the herald Copeius. When a relative was in the vicinity, Eurystheus hid from him in a bronze pythos embedded in the ground.

Heracles, using the lion”s claws or teeth instead of a knife, skinned the carcass. According to one version of mythological tradition, it was the Nemean lion, not the Cytheronian lion, that became the permanent garment and the essential attribute of this hero.

Now Eurystheus ordered Heracles to kill the hydra, a monster with a dog”s body and serpent heads, one of the offspring of the Achidna and Typhon, which kept the Lerna region south of Argos in fear. The hydra would crawl out of the swamp onto the plain and steal livestock; its breath was so poisonous that it killed all living things. According to pictorial sources, the monster had from two to twelve heads, while literary sources speak of nine, fifty, or even one hundred heads, one of which, according to Pseudo-Apollodorus, was immortal. Pausanias was sure that all this was fiction, but agreed that the Lernaean monster exceeded all other hydras in size and was poisonous.

Heracles arrived at the marshes of Lernaeus in a chariot driven by his nephew Iolaus. With burning arrows he forced the hydra out of its lair and fought it while holding his breath. With his club the hero smashed the heads of the monster (In addition, Hercules was attacked by a huge cancer sent by Hercules and bit his leg. Hercules killed the crawfish. Nevertheless, realizing that he could not deal with the hydra alone, he summoned Iolaus. He set fire to a nearby grove and began cauterizing the hydra”s wounds with his heads, so that new heads would no longer grow. Heracles cut off the last head, the immortal one, with his sword, buried it and pinned it down with a huge stone. He soaked his arrows in the bile of the slain hydra; henceforth any wound inflicted by such an arrow was fatal.

The hero”s efforts were in vain: Eurystheus did not credit this feat because Heracles did not accomplish it alone.

Pseudo-Apollodorus calls the capture of the Cerinean fallow deer the third feat of Heracles (according to other mythographers, this feat was the fourth). The doe, dedicated to Artemis, was remarkably fast; it had golden horns and copper hooves. This time Heracles” task was especially difficult because Eurystheus wanted to get the beast alive. For a whole year the hero pursued the doe, reaching in his wanderings the country of the Hyperboreans in the far north; finally he overtook it on the border of Argolida and Arcadia. Ancient authors describe the capture of the animal variously: Heracles either caught it with a net, caught it asleep under a tree, or exhausted it with a continuous pursuit, or wounded it with an arrow to its front legs so that it could not run further, but did not lose a single drop of blood.

Carrying the doe to Mycenae, Heracles met Artemis and Apollo. The gods rebuked him for such attitude to the sacred animal, but the hero referred to the order of Eurystheus and thus softened their anger. There are images in which Heracles and Apollo fight next to a bound doe; this may indicate another version of the myth, unrecorded in the literature, in which Heracles had to defend his prey.

After receiving the Cerinean doe, Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring alive the huge boar, which lived on the slopes of Mount Erimanthus on the border of Arcadia and Elyda and devastated the neighborhood of the city of Psophis; according to other authors, capturing the boar was the third feat and preceded the pursuit of the doe.

On his way to Erimanthus, Heracles visited his friend the centaur Tholus. According to one version of the myth, Tholus unsealed a pythos of wine for his guest, left by Dionysus especially for such an occasion; according to another, Heracles opened a barrel of wine, which the centaurs possessed together. Either way, the smell of the drink attracted the other centaurs, who attacked Fola”s house with huge stones, clubs, torches, and axes. The master hid in fear, and Hercules took the fight. The mother of centaurs, the goddess of clouds, Nephela, came to the aid of her children: she shed a downpour, which made it hard for Heracles to stand on the wet floor and made the bowstring wet. The hero defeated and killed many centaurs anyway, and turned the rest to flight. With an accidental shot he wounded his friend Chiron, who was immortal but suffered pain, and so in the end chose to descend into Hades. Foul was another victim: while examining one of the arrows soaked in the bile of the Lernaean hydra, he accidentally dropped it and injured himself. Hercules buried his friend and then continued his journey.

On the slopes of Erimanthus the hero found the wild boar, chased it out of the thicket with a cry and chased it for a long time until he drove it into the deep snow. There Heracles jumped on the back of the beast and tied it up; on his shoulders he carried the boar to Eurystheus. Thus the hero brilliantly accomplished the difficult task of defeating the dangerous animal without killing it.

The fifth feat of Heracles, according to Pseudo-Apollodorus, was the cleaning of the stables of King Aetius of Aelis (in Pseudo-Hyginus and Diodorus it is the sixth feat, in Ausonius and Servius it is the seventh). Augeus owned huge herds of cattle given to him by his father, Helios. His stables had accumulated a huge amount of manure, and Eurystheus sent Heracles to clean it all up in order to humiliate him with his dirty work. But Heracles found a way out. Without telling Augeus of Eurystheus” order, he agreed with him that he would clean it up for a fee and asked for a tenth of all the cattle (according to one version mentioned by Pausanias, a part of the kingdom). The latter, not believing such a thing was possible, agreed. Then Heracles dismantled one of the walls of the stables, diverted water from the nearby rivers, Alpheus and Peneus, and it washed away the manure. According to Pausanias” version, Heracles reversed the flow of the Menius River.

When the work was done, Augeus refused to pay, reasoning either that the stables had been cleared by trick or that Heracles was following his king”s orders and, accordingly, should not receive a reward. Eurystheus, in turn, refused to credit the feat because of the agreement to pay.

On his way back home from Elyda, Heracles had another encounter with centaurs. He was in the Achaean city of Olen, when the centaur Eurithion tried to rape the daughter of the local king Dexamen (according to an alternative version, it was forced marriage). Dexamen asked Hercules for help, and he killed Eurithion.

The sixth feat of Heracles according to Pseudo-Apollodorus and the fifth according to other authors is the victory over the Stymphalian birds. These birds with metallic feathers, beaks and claws (different sources say iron, copper or bronze) were dedicated to Ares. They lived on the Stymphalian swamp in Arcadia, spoiled the crops in the surrounding area with their poisonous droppings, killed humans and ate their meat. At first Heracles found himself in a difficulty: there were so many birds and he could not enter the swamp. Then Athena gave him rattles made by Hephaestus (according to Diodorus, Heracles made these rattles himself). The noise caused all the birds to rise in the air, and Heracles was able to shoot them with his bow. According to another version, many were able to fly to an island in the Pontus of Euxine, where the Argonauts later encountered them.

The fields of Crete in those days were ravaged by a huge and ferocious bull. According to one version, it was the same animal that kidnapped Europa for Zeus; according to another, it was the one that Poseidon sent to Minos for sacrifice and that became the father of the Minotaur. Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring the bull alive to Mycenae; this was the seventh feat according to Pseudo-Apollodorus, Pseudo-Hyginus and Diodorus of Sicily and the eighth according to Ausonius. The hero arrived in Crete, obtained permission from Minos, found the bull, and tamed it. Then Heracles crossed the sea on his horse and brought the animal to Mycenae. Eurystheus let the bull go. He later (according to one version) trampled the fields in Attica near Marathon.

Having received the bull, Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring him the horses of Diomedes, king of the Thracian tribe of Bistons. These horses, Podargus, Lampon, Xanthus and Dinus, tied to the stall with brass chains, fed on the meat of strangers who had no luck to get into Diomede”s possession. Heracles and several companions set sail for Thrace. Further events are described in different ways. According to Euripides, Heracles found the horses in a field, harnessed them and brought them to Mycenae. Pseudo-Apollodorus writes that Heracles killed the guards of the stables and led the horses to the ship, but Diomedes and his army gave chase and a battle ensued in which the Bistons were defeated and their king was killed. According to Diodorus of Sicily, Diomedes was captured in the battle, and Heracles fed him to the horses. Finally, Strabo reports that Heracles, convinced of the numerical superiority of the bistons, found another way to fight. The people of Diomedes lived in the plain around the city of Tyrida, which was below sea level; Heracles dug a canal, and the sea water flooded the land of the Bistonians, so that Lake Biston was formed in place of the plain. The Thracians were then defeated.

During this campaign Heracles” lover Abder died, mauled by cannibalistic horses. At the place of his death or on his grave Heracles founded the city of Abdera.

According to Euripides, Heracles performed another memorable deed on his way to Thrace. In the Thessalian city of Thera, he learned that the wife of the local king Admeta Alcestis had just died, giving her life to save her husband. On the dead woman”s grave, the hero waited for the demon of death and defeated him in a battle (another version says he descended into the realm of the dead). Hercules then returned the living Alcestis to her husband”s house.

To perform the next feat, the ninth according to Pseudo-Apollodorus, Pseudo-Hyginus and Diodorus, or the sixth according to Ausonius, Heracles had to go to the Pontus of Euxine. Eurystheus ordered him to bring the golden girdle of Ares, which had belonged to Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons, to Mycenae for the queen Admeta. In this campaign Heracles was accompanied by Iolaus, the Aacid brothers Peleus and Telamon, and, according to one version, by Theseus. The heroes sailed to Themyscira, the capital of the Amazons; Hippolyta, falling in love with Heracles, offered him the belt as a gift, but Hera instilled confidence in the other Amazons that the strangers wanted to kidnap the queen. The Amazons attacked Heracles” ship. He, suspecting treachery, killed Hippolyta and then repelled the attack. According to other versions, the hero defeated Hippolyta in single combat, or Theseus captured the queen and gave her belt to Hercules.

In the same campaign Heracles killed the four sons of Minos on the island of Paros, helped the Paphlagonians to defeat the Bebricks, and helped the Mariandians to defeat the Mycians and Phrygians. At Troy he saved Princess Hesiona from the sea monster, at Thassos he subdued the local Thracians and gave the island to the sons of Androgyus. On his return Heracles gave the girdle of Hippolyta to Eurystheus and dedicated the rest of his booty to Apollo at Delphi.

Now Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring to Mycenae the cows of Geryon, the giant who lived on the island of Erythia (Erithea) in the ocean in the far west. This was the tenth feat according to most sources and the eighth according to Servius. On the way, reaching Tartessus, Hercules put up two stone stelae (another version says that he parted the land there and thus created a strait that connected the Inland Sea with the ocean. Since the setting sun burned him with its rays, Heracles took aim with his bow at Helios himself, and out of respect for the fearless hero he gave him a golden cup to travel across the ocean. In this cup Heracles swam to Erithia. He shot Herion with a bow, loaded his cows onto his ship, and returned to Spain, after which he returned the cup to Helios. From there Heracles drove the herd overland. In Liguria he killed the two sons of Poseidon who were trying to take the cows, and in Latium he killed Caca who had stolen four cows and four heifers. One of the bulls escaped from the herd and crossed over to Sicily, but Heracles found him and killed the king of the Aelites, Erice, who did not want to give up the fugitive.

In Thrace, the herd was divided because of a horsefly sent by Hercules. Some of the cows scattered and gradually became feral, while Heracles drove the rest to Mycenae. According to one version of the myth, on his way he also had to visit Scythia, where he got into a marriage with a half-woman, a half-mesquite, who gave birth to sons – the ancestors of all subsequent Scythians.

After receiving Herion”s cows, Eurystheus announced to Hercules that he had two more feats to perform. The king wanted to get hold of the fruit from the golden apple tree that grew in a magical garden on the outskirts of the oikumene, near where the titan Atlantus held the firmament in his arms. The tree belonged to Hera, and on her behalf the apple tree was cared for by Hesperides, the daughters of Atlanteus, and Ladon the serpent. Heracles did not know where this orchard was located. So the first thing he did, on the advice of the river nymphs, was to go to the wise elder Nereus, who lived on the shore of the Eridanus River. The hero caught the old man asleep, grabbed him and tied him up, although he took on various disguises in his attempts to free himself. Nereus had to tell him where the Hesperides lived; in addition, he gave Hercules valuable advice not to go to the magic garden himself, but to send Atlantean there. According to an alternative version, this advice was given by Prometheus.

Hercules got to the magical garden and asked Atlantean for help. He was willing to help on the condition that Heracles would hold up the sky for him, but he was afraid of Ladon. So Hercules shot the serpent with an arrow shot over the fence and put his shoulders under the heavenly vault. The Atlantean plucked the apples. But the titan did not want to carry the heavy burden again, so he said he would take the apples to Eurystheus himself. Heracles pretended to agree, but asked to hold the sky just a little, so that he could put a pillow on his shoulders. Atlantean believed him. Hercules, however, as soon as he was free of the weight, picked up the apples from the grass where the titan had placed them and walked away, laughing at Atlantean”s naivety.

The hero”s way back was through Libya. There Heracles met Antaeus, a giant, son of Gaia, who was challenging and killing all strangers in a wrestling contest. Every touch of Antaeus on the ground gave him strength; Heracles, realizing what was the matter, lifted the giant into the air and strangled him. Later the hero found himself in Egypt, where the cruel Busiris ruled. Every traveler there was sacrificed to Zeus, but Heracles broke his chains and killed the king. Then he reached the Caucasus, to one of whose peaks Prometheus was chained, punished by the gods for giving fire to men. Hercules shot an eagle pecking Prometheus” liver with his bow (according to an alternative version, all these events took place on the way to the Hesperides). In Greece, the hero gave the apples to Eurystheus, but he did not dare to keep them, and Athena returned the fruit to the Hesperides.

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Pseudo-Hyginus and Ausonius call this feat of Heracles the eleventh, Servius the tenth (and last), Diodorus of Sicily the twelfth.

According to Pseudo-Apollodorus, Pseudo-Hyginus and Ausonius, Heracles” last feat was a campaign to the underworld (for Diodorus it was the eleventh feat). Eurystheus ordered the hero to bring Cerberus to Mycenae, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades. Beforehand Heracles had undergone initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries (for this he was formally adopted by an Athenian named Pilius). He descended into the realm of the dead, according to various sources, at Cape Tenar in Laconica, at Coronea in Boeotia. Heracles was accompanied by Athena and Hermes, who encouraged the hero who was tired from his exploits. The frightened Charon did not charge Heracles for the transport across the Styx; the shadows of the dead, seeing him, scattered in fear with the exception of Medusa Gorgon and Meleager. Heracles wanted to strike Medusa with his sword, but Hermes reminded the hero that it was only a shadow. Heracles spoke to Meleager as a friend and promised to marry his sister Dejanira.

At the entrance to the underworld, Hercules saw Theseus and his friend Piriphoeus stuck to a rock. A few years before, these heroes had tried to kidnap Hades” wife Persephone and were punished for it. The friends stretched out their hands to Hercules begging for help; he was able to tear Theseus away from the rock, but with Piriphoi, according to most sources, he did not succeed: Hades and Persephone did not want to forgive this hero. Hercules” efforts caused the whole earth to shake, but Piriphos remained stuck to the rock. As a result, he remained in the realm of the dead forever. However, Diodorus of Sicily reports that Heracles freed and brought both friends back to the world of the living; there was also a version according to which both remained in Hades forever.

Hades allowed Heracles to take Cerberus, provided the hero could handle the three-headed dog with his bare hands. Heracles began to strangle Cerberus; he tried to sting him with his snake tail, but in the end he had to obey. In the same way the hero led Cerberus to land and brought him to Mycenae. Eurystheus immediately ordered that the monster be returned to Hades.

Participation in the Voyage of the Argonauts

An important place in the mythological biography of Heracles is held by the episode related to the voyage of the Argonauts to Colchis to get the golden fleece. According to the version of Herodorus, this voyage began when Heracles was a slave of Omphale, and therefore the hero could not take part in it; however, most sources mention him as one of Jason”s companions, together with his brother Iphicles and his nephew Iolaus. According to Apollonius of Rhodes, Heracles arrived at the harbor of Pagacea immediately after capturing the Erymanthus boar. It was Heracles who the Argonauts wanted to make their leader, but he refused in favor of Jason (only Dionysius Scythobrachion states that the son of Zeus led the campaign). When the Argo”s anchorage on Lemnos was delayed because of the beautiful Lemnian women, Heracles (according to one version of the myth) insisted on continuing the journey.

However, Heracles was not destined to reach Colchis. According to the most ancient version of the myth, as recounted by Hesiod and Herodotus, he went ashore at the Afetian rocks, because the ship could not bear his inhuman weight. According to Apollonius (Valerius Flaccus and Theocritus, author of the Orphic Argonautica, agree with this version), Heracles” beloved Gilas, who went to get drinking water, disappeared during his stay off the coast of Mysia; while the hero was looking for him, the Argonauts sailed away, because the winged brothers Boreades – Zeth and Calaide insisted on it. For this Heracles later killed the Boreads and placed a huge stone on their grave.

Theocritus states that Heracles was able to reach Colchis on foot and there joined the participants of the campaign. At the same time, the author of the Scholia to Theocritus writes that the hero was prevented from doing so by Hera, who patronized Jason. Finally, there is a version by Demaratus, which goes back to an unpreserved tragedy, according to which Heracles traveled all the way to Colchis and back aboard the Argo.

Other accomplishments

After the journey to the afterlife, Hercules” service to Eurystheus ended. Henceforth the hero was free. His further mythological biography is rich in events, but now it is no longer a fight with monsters, but mainly military campaigns and the conception of numerous sons, who became rulers in different parts of Greece. Returning to Thebes, Hercules gave his wife Megara to his nephew Iolaus and began his search for a new, younger wife. He asked his friend Eurythus, king of Echalea, for the hand of his daughter Iola, but was refused: the king of Echalea stated that he was afraid “that if Heracles had children he would not kill them as he had killed the former ones”. According to one version of the myth, Iola”s hand was supposed to go to the winner of the archery contest, and Hercules was the best, but Euritis broke his word. Later, when twelve mares were stolen from the king”s herd, Hercules was suspected. Eurytus” eldest son Iphitheus came to Tirynthus in search of the missing, and there Hercules threw him off the wall. According to one version, he did it in a fit of madness, sent by Hercules; according to another, because he was angered by the unjust accusation.

Now the hero needed to be cleansed of the blood he had shed. He appealed to the king of Pylos, Neleus, for cleansing, but was refused. Nestorius” son Deiphobus, son of Hippolytus, persuaded him to perform the necessary ritual at Amicles, but even after that Heracles continued to have nightmares. For advice the hero went to Delphi, to the Pythia. She declared that she had no oracle for one who had killed his own guest. Heracles, enraged, announced that he would create his own oracle, and seized the tripod on which the Pythia was seated. Apollo stood up to defend his temple; a quarrel broke out between him and Hercules and it ended only after Zeus himself intervened, throwing a thunderbolt. The supreme god forced the opponents to make peace. Together Apollo and Heracles founded the city of Githion, with their statues standing side by side in the central square.

Pythia explained to Heracles that in order to purify himself completely from the blood he had shed, he must sell himself into slavery for a time (according to one version, for a year, according to another, for three years), and give the proceeds to Eurytes. The hero was bought for three talents by the queen of Lydia, Omphale. Being her property, Heracles subdued the Lydian bandits, caught the serpents and killed a huge snake that was burning people and crops in the fields with its breath. Some ancient authors write that in Lydia the hero had to forget his manhood: Omphale made him dress like a woman and spin. In all this, Heracles was the lover of the queen, and she bore three or four sons by him.

After gaining his freedom, Hercules set out on a campaign against Troy. The king of that city, Laomedontus, had once refused to give the hero two wonderful horses in gratitude for saving his daughter Gesiona from the sea monster; now Heracles had gathered an army and set out for Troy, according to various sources, in six ships. Eakidas Telamon and Peleus, the Argivean Oicles, also took part in this campaign. Telamon was the first to break into the city, and Heracles, jealous of others” glory, wanted to kill his rival, but the latter, guessing what was happening, began to pile up stones. When asked what he was doing, Telamon answered, “I am building an altar to Hercules the Victor”; on hearing this, Hercules ceased to be angry. In battle the hero killed Laomedontes and slaughtered his many sons except for the youngest, the Gift. He allowed the latter to be ransomed by his sister Hesione, which gave the prince a new name, Priam (“bought”). Heracles gave Hesione to Telamon.

On the way home from Troy, Hercules” ships were fired upon by the inhabitants of Kos. Heracles landed on the island and killed the local king Euripides; he himself was wounded by Chalcodonte, but Zeus saved his son. According to an alternative version, the hero himself attacked Kos because he fell in love with Euripilus” daughter Chalchiopa, who later bore him a son, Thessalus. After this Athena took Heracles to the Phlegrean plain, where he took part in a battle between the gods and the giants (gigantomachy): the gods were predicted to win if a mortal helped them. Heracles shot Alcyoneus with his bow, finished off Porphyrion, who attacked Hera and was struck by Zeus” perun, and together with Apollo killed Ephialtes. Many giants, wounded by the gods, he finished off with his arrows, so that the Olympians won a complete victory.

Later Heracles decided to take revenge on Augeas and invaded Aelid with an army drawn from the Arcadians, the Argives and the Thebans. He soon fell ill, and so made peace; learning the reason for his yielding, his enemies attacked his army and killed many. The author of the Scholians to Pindar”s odes reports that during these events Augeus treacherously killed the sons of Heracles from Megara. Subsequently, when the nephews of Avgius, the Molionides, or Avgius” son Eurythus, went to the Isthmian games as theorians (sacred ambassadors), Heracles attacked and killed them. Consequently, the Aelians permanently refused to participate in the Games of Isthmia. After that Heracles attacked Aelid again and this time he was victorious: he killed Augeus along with most of his children and made Phileas the new king.

The ancient authors connect the beginning of the history of the Olympic Games with the stay of Heracles in Elida. According to Pindar, the hero founded these competitions and established the prize – a wreath of wild olive tree brought from the country of Hyperboreans. It was he who established the Olympic stadium with a length of 600 of his feet; in running, Heracles overcame the stadium without losing his breath, hence the distance got its name. According to Herodorus, Heracles founded the temple of Zeus the Olympic and set up six double altars dedicated to the twelve gods. He himself became one of the first winners of the games (in pankration), and according to Nonnus, he fought Zeus, and the contest ended in a draw.

From Elis, Hercules moved on to Messenia, against the Pilos king Neleus, who had once refused to purify him. Hades, Ares, Poseidon and Hera fought on Neleus” side in this war, but Heracles was still victorious; he wounded Hades in the fight, killed the Pilos king as well as all his sons except Nestorius. Then the hero marched on Sparta, against the sons of Hippocontus, to avenge their murder of his kinsman Aeon. On his way Heracles was joined by the king of Arcadia Kefei and his twenty sons who previously received from him a lock of Gorgon for his daughter (this lock was to protect the kingdom of Kefei from enemies during the war). All the Arcadian heroes died in the battle, and Hercules slew the Hippocoyontides and made Tyndareus king of Sparta. Later he seduced the sister of Cepheus, Augustus, who gave birth to a son named Telephus, and the daughter of Alkimedontus, Thialo, who gave birth to Echmagoras.

From Arcadia Heracles went to Aetolia, where he wooed Dejanira, the daughter of King Oineus of Calydon. He had to face off against another challenger, the river god Achelos, who had taken the form of a bull. Heracles won by breaking off the bull”s horn; he received the hand of Deionira, while Acheloi, in exchange for the bull”s horn, gave the hero the horn of Amalthea, which could be filled with any food and drink at the owner”s will. Heracles joined the Calydonians in their campaign against the Thesprotians. After capturing the city of Ether, he made his beloved the daughter of the local king Astyocha, who gave birth to Tlepolemus.

Soon Heracles had to leave Aetolia because of another accidental murder: at a feast he struck Eunom, who was bringing water to wash his hands, and the latter died on the spot. The dead man”s father agreed to forgive the hero, but he still went into exile in Trachin, where his kinsman Keikus ruled.

The Death of Hercules and Deification

On their way from Aetolia to Trachin, Heracles and Dejanira found themselves on the banks of the river Even, where the centaur Nessus was ferrying them for a fee. Heracles crossed the river himself and entrusted Nessus to carry his wife. Suddenly Ness fell passionately in love with Deionira and either tried to rape her in the water when Heracles was already on the other shore, or he crossed the river first and tried to skip away with Deionira. Hercules wounded the centaur with his arrow. As he died, Ness told Dejanira that his blood mixed with semen (or just blood) was a powerful love potion that would ensure her husband”s love if kept in the dark and soaked into Heracles” clothes at the right moment.

Along the way Heracles won a number of other victories. He defeated the Dryopes, who lived near Mount Parnassus, and gave their leaders as slaves to the Delphic temple; at the request of the Dorians from Hestiotis he defeated the Lapithians and received for that one third of the Dorian kingdom; in the city of Eaton in Phthiotis he fought in chariots with the charioteer Cicna, son of Ares, and killed him, while Ares, thanks to Athena, was wounded in the thigh, after which Zeus put an end to the fight. Finally Heracles killed Aminthoras, king of the city of Ormenia at the foot of Pelion, and made his lover his daughter Astydamia, who gave birth to Ctesippus or Tlepolemus.

At Trachinus, Heracles gathered an army of Arcadians, Locrians, and Melians and marched on Echalia to avenge Eurytes for an old grievance. He took the city by storm, killed Eurytes and his sons, and took Iola captive. Dejanira, learning of the captive”s youth and beauty (according to one version of the myth, Hercules sent Iola to his wife), decided to win back her husband”s love with the blood of Nessus. She sent Heracles with her messenger Lichas a chiton soaked in this blood. When Heracles, wearing this chiton, began offering sacrifices to the gods on the Lycian promontory, the sun”s rays melted the hydra”s poison, and the hero felt a burning and unbearable pain. The chiton stuck to his body; Heracles tried to tear off his clothes, but pieces of flesh were torn off along with the fabric. He threw himself into the cold river, but that only made the burning and pain worse. Losing control of himself, Hercules overturned the altars and threw Lichas far into the sea.

The hero, exhausted by his suffering, was brought by ship to Trachin. Dejanira, upon learning what had happened, committed suicide by either stabbing herself or hanging herself. At his command, Heracles was lifted in a stretcher to the nearby Mount Etah; according to some sources, only his son Gillus was with him, while the others were in Tirinth or Thebes with Alcmene. Hercules told Gillus to marry Iola, and he himself climbed the pyre he had built for him and ordered it to be set on fire. The companions refused to do so, so the hero”s last order was carried out by Peantus or his son Philoctetes, who was passing by in search of his cattle and received Heracles” bow and arrows in gratitude. When the fire was kindled, a thundercloud appeared, which carried the hero to Olympus. There Heracles was accepted into the hosts of immortal gods. Hera was reconciled with him and married him to her daughter Geba, the goddess of eternal youth, who gave birth to her sons, Alexiara.

Since then, according to the ancient authors, Hercules lived happily on Olympus, feasting with the gods and acting as the heavenly gatekeeper. At the same time his ghost, according to Homer, was in Hades, where he wandered with his bow perpetually drawn. This puts the story of deification into question: apparently, the Hellenes were not convinced that the hero”s posthumous fate was happy. According to Pseudo-Hyginus, Zeus placed his son among the constellations for his courage – as a Serpentine (in memory of the strangling of the serpent in Lydia), as the Kneeling (referring to his victory over the dragon guarding the apples of Hesperides, or the battle with the Ligurs over the cows of Geryon) or as part of the constellation Gemini along with Theseus or Apollo.


In his marriage with Dejanira, Heracles had a daughter, Macarias, and three or four sons. According to Hesiod and Pseudo-Apollodorus, they were Gillus, Glenus, Ctesippus, and Onytus; according to Diodorus of Sicily, they were Gillus, Gleneus, and Goditus. After their father”s death they began to be pursued by Eurystheus, so the Heraclides took refuge first in Trachinus, then in Athens. Several times they tried to return to the Peloponnese at the head of an army, but were invariably defeated. Only the great-grandchildren of Hyla, Temenes and Cresphontes, together with their nephews Proclus and Eurysthenes, were able to recapture their ancestral lands. They divided what they conquered among themselves, so that Temenes became the ancestor of the historical kings of Argos, Cresphontes the ancestor of the kings of Messenia, and from Proclus and Eurysthenes came the two dynasties of kings of Sparta, Aegis and Euripontis respectively.

Antique authors mention the names of many other sons of Hercules. These are the children of Megara Terimachus and Ophytes or Terimachus, Creontiades and Deicoontes; the sons of Omphala Agelaeus (son of Chalchiope Tettalus and son of Epicasta, daughter of Augius, Testalus. Parthenopa, daughter of Stimphalus, bore from Heracles Averus; Abga, daughter of Aleus, bore Telephus, whom the Attalid kings of Pergamum regarded as their ancestor. The son of Astioch, daughter of Philanthus, was Thlepolemus; the son of Astidamia, daughter of Amintor, was Ctesippus; the son of Autonoi, daughter of Piraeus, was Palemon.

He also had sons by the daughters of Thesepius: Antileonte and Hippeus by Procida (the eldest of Thesepius” daughters gave birth to twins), Trepsippus by Panope, Eumede by Lysa, … Creonte, from Epilaida – Astianax, from Kertha – Jobetus, from Eurybia – Polylaus, from Patro – Archemachus, from Melina – Laomedontus, from Clytippa – Eurycapius, from Eubota – Eurypilus, from Aglaia – Antiadus, from Chryseide – Onesippus, from Oreia – Laomenes, from Lysidica – Telesus, from Menippida – Entelides, from Antippa – Hippodrome, from Eury… Teletagoras, from Hippa – Kapil, from Euboea – Olympus, from Nica – Nicodrome, from Argelas – Cleolaus, from Exola – Eritras, from Xanthida – Homolippus, from Stratonica – Atrom, Ithis – Kelevstanor, Laotia – Antiphos, Antiope – Alopius, Calametida – Astibius, Phileides – Tigasius, Eschreida – Leukon, Anthea … from Eurypila – Archedicus, from Erato – Dynastus, from Asopida – Mentor, from Aeon – Amestrius, from Tiphis – Linkeus, from Olympus – Halocrates, from Heliconida – Falii, from Hesychia – Oystrobleth, from Terpsicrata – Euryopus, from Elahea – Bouleus, from Nikippa – Antimachus, from Piracippa – Patroclus, from Praxithea – Nephus, from Lysippa – Erasippus, from Toxicrates – Lycurgus, from Mars – Bukol, from Eurythemes – Leucippus, from Hippocrates – Hippos.

Two of the sons of Thespias settled in Thebes, seven in their grandfather”s homeland, Thespias, and their descendants, according to Diodorus of Sicily, “until recently” ruled the city. Hercules sent the rest of his sons to Sardinia with his nephew Iolaus, thus fulfilling the order of the oracle. The settlers conquered the best part of the island and established their colony there.

Besides, ancient texts mention Euclaea (daughter of Myrtos), Echmagoras (son of Thialo), Tlepolem (king of Rhodes), Antiochus (son of Meda, king of Dryops), Echephron and Promachus (kings of Psophis), Phaestus (king of Sikion) as Heracles” children, Galatus (king of Gaul), Sophax (king of Muretania), Polemon, Helon, Agathyrus, Scythian (eponym of the Scythians), Celtus, Sard (eponym of Sardinia), Pandaya, who received from her father a kingdom in southern India, and her brothers who divided the rest of that country among themselves. The youngest of Hercules” sons was considered the Phasian athlete Theagenes, with whose mother Hercules was united in his temple.

According to ancient authors, Heracles fell in love not only with women, but also with men. The son of the king of the Dryopes, Gilas, the companion and armor-bearer of Heracles in the Argonauts” campaign, and Iolaus, the hero”s nephew, who in late antiquity was considered the patron of lovers, were among them.

The image of Hercules occupies an important place in Western culture. It appears in many works of art and in political and aesthetic theories. In the majority of cases we are not talking about any specific deed of the hero: Hercules is depicted as a bearer of certain typical features. The German anticologist F. Bezner singles out three main features. The first one is extraordinary power, the connection of physical strength with strength of spirit, which makes Hercules an archetypal savior and liberator, a fighter against lawlessness and barbarism, a defender of civilization, a symbol of self-control and the ability to direct his abilities to a good cause. Moreover, in this context, the image of Hercules can be seen as a symbol of political domination.

The second trait, related to the first and in many ways contradicting it, is the lack of a sense of proportion: possessing unlimited power, the hero did evil as easily as good. In the mythological biography of Hercules, there is a great deal of villainy and simple arbitrariness; he may appear as a defender of civilization, who himself is poor at distinguishing between civilizational and moral boundaries, as a character strong physically but limited mentally, yet confident that he is on a great mission. This variant of the development of the image was often used by representatives of the comic art of different eras.

The third feature is the ambivalence of the image of Hercules, associated with the coexistence of power and immensity, human and divine origin, life on earth, filled with labor and suffering, and the heavenly apotheosis, which became a reward for all this. Hercules liberated others, but was himself for a long time the object of oppression (he possessed superpowers, but was the slave of one woman and died through the fault of another. The fact that the hero committed cruel and gratuitous murders in a state of madness can be used to raise questions about the limits of guilt, about the limits of the human mind, about the relationship between human desires and destiny, and about the need for firm authority.

The Cult and the Memory of Hercules

In the historical era, Hercules was worshipped throughout the Greek world as a personification of strength and courage, a champion of justice; according to the hypothesis of one ancient scholar, this popularity of the hero was linked to the notion of his ability to “ward off all evil”. In some cases we are talking about the cult of a god, in others – about the cult of the hero. According to Diodorus of Sicily, the first to sacrifice Heracles (as a hero) was his friend Menetius, thanks to whom this cult took root in the city of Opuntus in Locris. Later the Thebans also began to venerate the hero born in their city, and the Athenians, according to Diodorus, “were the first to honor Heracles with sacrifices as a god … teaching all the other Hellenes.” The inhabitants of Marathon, however, challenged the Athenians for this honor. In Attica alone, scholars count at least a dozen and a half temples and sacred sites dedicated to Hercules, and this despite the fact that Attica has almost no connection with the myths of this hero. The Marathon area remained intact during the Peloponnesian War because of its connection with the cult of Hercules (there were temples of Hercules at Kinosarga and at Marathon itself), as the Spartans considered it sacred.

Every year on the second day of the month of Metagitnion, when Heracles was believed to have ascended to heaven, various cities of Hellas held Heracleos celebrations with games. The sources mention the sanctuary of Heracles the Misogynist in Phocis, whose priest was not supposed to sleep with a woman for a year, the temple of Heracles in Thespias with a virgin priestess, the temple of Heracles the Binder of Horses in Thebes, the altar of the hero in the Athenian Academy and in Eryphra, the temple on Kos, where priests wore female clothes, and other shrines. Heracles was considered the patron saint of palaestris, gymnasiums, baths, as well as healing and trade. In different regions of Hellas, places associated with the memory of Hercules were shown in historical times: for example, in Argolida there grew the “Twisted Olive”, which, according to the locals, the hero bent with his own hands; the name Thermopylae on the border of Phocis and Thessaly was associated with the fact that Hercules, who suffered from poisoned clothes, dived into the local spring and the water immediately became hot. The inhabitants of Trezen showed travelers the temple to which Heracles had brought Cerberus and the wild olive tree that supposedly grew from the hero”s club; the inhabitants of Sparta the trophy set up by Heracles at the place where the Hippocoyontydeans were killed.

The memory of Hercules was closely connected with genealogy. The kings and aristocrats of many Greek polities (first of all Doric) attributed their origins to this hero. In particular, Heracles was considered by the kings of Sparta, who were not Doric, but Achaean; according to one version of the political myth, Heracles was the first king of Lacedæmon, because he defeated the Hyppokoyontians. From the same hero came, according to legends, the kings of Macedonia of the Argead dynasty, who used their lineage to integrate into the Hellenic world. Kings Philip II and especially his son Alexander III, who was the ideal ruler for the whole Hellenistic era, were often compared with their ancestor; kings of Egypt of the Lagid dynasty also linked their lineage to Heracles. The image of the hero appeared on the coins of Alexander, many kings who ruled over the wreckage of his empire, and the Cushan monarchs. Due to the abundance of sons-eponyms Heracles was considered the forefather of the Scythians, Celts and Sards.

As Greek culture spread, Heracles began to be identified with certain deities and heroes of other nations whose mythological biographies or appearances were seen as similar to the Greek model – the Phoenician Melkart (in Gades there was a temple of Heracles, presumably identified with this deity, the Egyptian Honsu, the Persian Artagnon, Bel of the Near East, the Philistine Dagon and others. In the religion of the Etruscans, the cult of the oracle god with an almost Greek name Herkle was evidently influenced by the Greek Hercules from the late seventh century to early sixth century BC, but apparently had a mythological cycle partly different from the Doric character. The Romans identified Mars with Hercules, but no later than the fourth century B.C. they began to venerate the hero under the name Hercules. Heracles was known to and venerated by Scythians of the Black Sea, who apparently used his image as an apotheosis. In ancient India the hero was identified with Krishna, Vasudeva-Krishna, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu, Pandu and Yayati. The image of Hercules also influenced Buddhism: at least in Gandhara in the II-III centuries A.D. Vajrapani, the defender of the Buddha, was often depicted copying the appearance of the Greek hero.

In ancient Greek literature

Scholars believe that the tales of Hercules were widespread in the Mycenaean period (before the 11th century B.C.) and became one of the main sources of plot material for epic poets. Apparently, Homer knew these tales well and considered them common knowledge. He mentions in his poems the story of the birth of Hercules (perhaps the only feat of the hero known to Homer), Hera”s attempt to destroy Hercules at sea on his way home from Troy. In addition, the Iliad mentions an episode, unknown from other sources, when Heracles wounded Hera in the chest with an arrow.

Already in the Homeric poems one can see a tendency characteristic of many works of ancient literature. Heracles does not appear here as a protagonist at all, but he is of great importance for the context: the characters and their deeds are correlated with well-known episodes of the hero”s biography, thus pushing the reader to certain conclusions. So Diomedes fights with the goddess Aphrodite under the walls of Troy and wounds her, just as Heracles once wounded Hera and Hades – but Homer underlines that the former acted according to the will of Athena, while the latter, “the perishing man”, “committed sins” and offended the gods. Odysseus meets Iphitheus in Messenes, who is looking for stolen horses, becomes his best friend and accepts a bow as a gift; here it is reported that Heracles, “a hard-hearted husband and accomplice of many rapes”, soon after this meeting killed Iphitheus in his own house and appropriated his possessions. The same bow in the Odyssey is used to beat up Penelope”s suitors, and Homer thus emphasizes the legitimacy and justification of this mass murder in contrast to the murder of Iphitheus. As a result, Hercules appears in the poems as a negative character, giving in to his passions, committing evil and not treating immortals with the necessary reverence. Homer uses references to his deeds to justify the actions of his heroes.

In all this, Homer emphasizes the scale of the personality of Hercules, “the greatest of men,” who belonged to an era when the gods were still married to mortal women and heroes could almost single-handedly take cities. The Trojan War takes place at a far less heroic time. Heraclides Tlepolemus, who acts in the Iliad, tells his opponent Sarpedon that he is “incomparably small” compared to the sons of Zeus, and recalls the first capture of Troy: Heracles managed to take the city on the move, although he had only six ships and a “small army” under his command; meanwhile Menelaus” allies had gathered a huge army but had been standing under Troy for ten years.

Hesiod in his Theogony created a positive image of Heracles, the fighter against monsters and the liberator Prometheus, who received immortality as a legitimate reward for his work. The thesis of this reward is most clearly formulated in one of the Homeric hymns dedicated to “Hercules the Lion-Soul”:

There were large epic works devoted to the myths of Hercules. The poem The Shield of Hercules, attributed to Hesiod until the fourth century BC, has been preserved in fragments; modern scholars believe that it was written in the early sixth century BC by an unknown rhapsod from Thessaly. In the “Shield” we can read about the victory of the hero over Cyclus; moreover, the main narration includes the story of Heracles” birth, which was taken from the “Catalogue of women” – another poem attributed to Hesiod in antiquity or in the 6th century B.C. Pisander of Rhodes created “Hercules” – a poetic epic in two books, which covered all or many deeds of the hero. Presumably it was this poet who streamlined the tales of Hercules, previously scattered, and in particular was the first to list the twelve feats. “Hercules was very popular and its author was included by the Alexandrian grammarians in the canon of epic poets; nevertheless the text of the poem has been completely lost.

In the 6th century B.C. the epic The Conquest of Echalia (author unknown), dedicated to one of the later episodes of Hercules” biography, was created. At the turn of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., Paniasides wrote the poem Heracles – another example of an epic biography of a hero. Nothing of either work has survived.

Hercules figures prominently in Apollonius of Rhodes” Argonautica, written in the Hellenistic era. Here he is the central character of the first book – stronger, more experienced and more determined than Jason. Heracles himself refused to lead the campaign to Colchis, later it was he who insisted on sailing from Lemnos. Apollonius had to “get rid” of Heracles so that he would not obscure Jason”s image, the key to the development of the action.

The choral lyricist Stesichor (7th-7th centuries B.C.) made Heracles” campaign for the cows of Herion the theme of his work Heryonides, which has survived in fragments; he also wrote, judging from the fragments that have survived, about the fight with Cicna in Liguria and the campaign for Cerberus. The myth of Hercules played an important role in the works of Pindar and Bacchylides (5th century B.C.), who wrote, among other things, epinic poems – odes in honor of winners of sports competitions. Pindar recalls Heracles as the founder of the Olympic Games, the legendary ancestor of the kings of the historical era, the model of behavior for every participant in the games, showing that “he who acts, endures. It is with this poet that the Pillars of Hercules are first mentioned as a symbol of “the end of all paths,” the final frontier which, however, can be overcome by the victor. In one of the odes Pindar tells of the founding of the Olympic Games, and in this context Hercules is portrayed as a cultural hero and a decidedly positive character. Antiquarian scholars see here an implicit polemic with Homer, as in another ode where the poet justifies the hero”s struggle with the gods by speaking of strength as a natural right.

Bacchylides, in an ode to Hieron of Syracuse, writes about Heracles” march to Hades to get Cerberus. For him the fate of the hero is an example of the fact that “To full happiness None is born of the inhabitants of the earth”: Heracles, at the height of his glory, promises Meleager to marry his sister, not knowing that this will bring him an early and painful death.

Ancient Greek playwrights drew their plots almost exclusively from mythology. However, they used the tales of Hercules relatively rarely – this mythological cycle was inferior in popularity to the legends of Pelopidas and the kings of Thebes. In Aeschylus” surviving tragedy Prometheus Chained, the title character predicts that he will be saved by a “strong, fierce great-grandson” from the “seed” of Hypermnestra, who will mediate the conflict between him and Zeus. Aeschylus also wrote the tragedy Prometheus Liberated, in which Heracles kills the eagle that pecked Prometheus” liver (only a fragment of it has survived). The texts of Aeschylus” tragedies Amphitryon, Alcmene and Heraclides, about the content of which nothing is known, and of his Satyr dramas The Lion (presumably about the victory over the Cepheron or Nemean lion) and The Heralds (possibly about the episode with the Ergin ambassadors) are almost completely lost.

Sophocles has Heracles in his two surviving tragedies, The Trachinians and Philoctetes. In both cases he first appears in the lines of other characters and only towards the end comes on stage. In Philoctetes he is a positive character, playing the role of the deus ex machina, who has already obtained immortality, is sent by the Olympians to Lemnos, and he announces to the title character that he is destined, like Hercules himself, to suffer much toil and gain the reward of “the crown of valour”. Thus, Hercules helps Philoctetes regain his faith in justice and, using his authority as the first destroyer of Troy, convinces him to take part in the second siege of that city. In the Trachinians there is a critical rethinking of the image. Dejanira, who at the beginning of the play considers Heracles her savior and “the best of men,” learns of his intention to marry Iola; gradually she realizes that for her spouse the struggle for her with Achelos was just one of the adventures associated not with confronting culture with barbarism and the right cause with evil, but rather with promiscuity. Hercules confirms this in a key scene when, in pain, he demands of Gill”s son that he marry Iola. The dying man”s goal is to make sure that Iola, who has managed to become his concubine, does not go to any stranger. Thus, even in his last hour the hero thinks only of himself and remains a prisoner of his passions. With all this Sophocles recognizes the great merits of Heracles, who cleansed the earth of monsters, and does not remove the blame from Dejanira, who ruined the hero.

Sophocles also wrote the satyr drama “Hercules the Child” (supposedly about the newborn hero strangling two snakes in the cradle) and the tragedy “Hercules” about the campaign after Cerberus, of which only a few small fragments remain. It is possible that Hercules and Sophocles” satyr drama On Tenarus, which has been lost almost completely, are one and the same play.

Euripides made Heracles the title character of one of his tragedies. Here the hero, endowed with positive traits, becomes a toy in the hands of the evil gods, who inflict madness and make him a child-murderer; it is to the gods that the playwright falls his criticism. Heracles also appears in Euripides” tragedy Alcestis, where he performs a glorious deed (saving his friend”s wife from the demon of death), in the lost plays Avga (a tragedy) and Eurystheus (a satyr drama). The events connected with his conception are described in the tragedy Alcmene, the text of which has also not survived.

The myths of Hercules became the plot basis for a number of plays written by lesser-known authors and subsequently completely lost. These are no less than five tragedies and comedies called Alcmene (including those written by Astidamante, Ion of Chios and Dionysius), the tragedies Heracles the Mad, by Lycophron and Timesitheus. The tragedy of Nicomachus of Alexandria and the comedy of Ephippus were devoted to Heracles” campaign for the cows of Geryon; a number of tragedies were devoted to his battle with the centaurs in the house of Dexamenes; the battle with Antaeus was the tragedy of Frinichus and Aristius and the comedy of Antiphanes; and the rescue of Alcesta was the tragedy of Frinichus. There were also a number of comedies with the names “Alcesta” and “Admetus” (in particular, written by Antiphanes), but nothing is known about their plot: perhaps it was about the matchmaking of Admetus. A number of tragedies told about the death of Heracles.

Comediographers often handled plots about Hercules and centaurs (“Hercules at Fola”s” Epicharmus, Dinolochus” Pholus, and a number of comedies and satyr dramas about the episode in the house of Dexamen). At least six comedies (including Epicharmus and Cratina) dealt with the Busiris myth. In these plays the playwrights paid much attention to Hercules” gluttony, his unbridled temperament, and his love of women. As a god Heracles appears in Aristophanes” comedies “The Birds” and “The Frogs.

Heracles appears in a number of mythological and historical-mythological prose reviews, created in Hellas since the 6th century B.C. Thus, the first Greek prose writer Ferecid wrote about him in detail, he is mentioned by “the father of history” Herodotus, who dated the life of Heracles approximately 900 years before his era, i.e. the 14th century B.C. (Paros Chronicle is approximately 1300 B.C.). (in the Paros Chronicle it is approximately 1300 B.C.). The various tales of Hercules were put together by Herodorus of Heraclea (3rd century BC) and Ptolemy Hephaistion (2nd century BC), who considered their goal to entertain the reader – including the author”s fictions.

Several works have survived in which the Greek myths are summarized. The most complete and systematized account is contained in the Mythological Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus, where four chapters (Pseudo-Apollodorus wrote laconically and unsophisticatedly, briefly retelling the contents of a number of poems and plays. Diodorus of Sicily devoted three books of his Historical Library to mythology (only two have survived in full), which begin with a voluminous biography of Hercules. The author relies on the encomium of Matridus of Thebes (whose sources were, in turn, Paniasides or Pisander of Rhodes) to write about the hero”s exploits, and on the later life of Heracles, using the work of Ferecid. A characteristic feature of Diodorus”s method is the euhemerization of myth, i.e. an attempt to rationally explain its content. Here Heracles is the central character (along with Dionysus), the most heroic of men, who, thanks to his great deeds, was numbered among the gods. “According to tradition,” writes Diodorus, “he undoubtedly surpassed by the greatness of his deeds all those men, the memory of whom passes from age to age. At the same time Heracles in the Historical Library is transformed from an individualistic hero into a warlord who campaigns throughout the known world of the Greeks.

The variety of myths about Hercules and the presence of similar heroes in other peoples led ancient philologists to the assumption that many people bore this name. Diodorus of Sicily in the Historical Library mentioned two Hercules. According to Servius in his Commentaries on the Aeneid, Marcus Terentius Varron counted forty-three Hercules. A speech by Gaius Aurelius Cotta, included in Marcus Tullius Cicero”s treatise On the Nature of the Gods, speaks of six Hercules. Lucius Ampelius also counted six Hercules. John Lyde mentions seven characters with this name:

Antique philosophers were interested in the story of Heracles” choice between vice and virtue at the beginning of his journey. This story was first told by the sophist Prodicus, and is known from Xenophon”s retelling of it in Memoirs of Socrates. Here the woman, the personification of vice, offers the young hero an easy and happy life filled with pleasures, and the second woman, the personification of virtue, speaks of “the field of noble, high exploits”, of ceaseless toil and moderation. Heracles chooses the latter. This subject is the reason why ancient culture rethinks the hero”s physical strength as intellectual and moral strength, self-discipline and movement towards a high goal. For the Cynics, Hercules became the embodiment of autarchy – man”s capacity for independent existence and self-restraint. Less highly regarded was Isocrates, who in his “Praise of Helen” compared Hercules with Theseus performed feats more loud and significant, and another more useful and closer to the Hellenes”.

In ancient fine art

Antique depictions of Hercules can be divided into two types. These are either depictions of the hero as an athlete, emphasizing his physical strength and without any mythological context, or works connected with specific tales (mainly about the heroic deeds of Heracles and his apotheosis). Usually Heracles is presented as a mighty bearded man, in many cases armed with a mace and dressed in the skin of the Nemean lion. Here artists and sculptors were guided by reports from a number of sources about the hero”s bogatyr appearance: according to Gaius Julius Solinus, he was seven feet (2.06 meters) tall (but Pindar writes that Heracles was “small in appearance but strong in spirit”).

Cycles of images dedicated to the deeds of Hercules appeared in the classical era on the east side of the Theseion on the Acropolis of Athens, on the metopes of the Temple of Zeus the Olympic (circa 470-455 BC) and the treasury of the Athenians at Delphi. Statues of the hero stood in many cities. Pausanias mentions the “wooden naked statue of Hercules” by Daedalus which stood in the square in Corinth and Scopas and many other images from the 2nd century AD. The statue presumably dates from the 4th century B.C. It was copied many times and one of its copies is known as Hercules Farnese. It depicts the hero leaning tiredly on a club, with the apples of Hesperides in his hand.

The myths of Hercules became one of the most important sources of plot material for vase-painters: thus, it is known that by the middle of the 6th century BC Hercules had become the most popular character in Attic vase-painting. Artists and sculptors referred to many episodes of the hero”s biography. As a child strangling a serpent he is depicted on frescoes in Pompeii (killing Linus – on a bowl by Duris in Munich (5th century BC), fighting the Nemean lion – on a bowl by Execius in Berlin (6th century BC). The battle with the Lernaean hydra became the subject for the painting of the Corinthian ariballus (ca. 590 BC); the capture of the Cerine deer for the New Attic relief preserved in Dresden; the war with the Amazons is depicted on the Laconia cilicus (6th century BC). e.), the episode with the cows of Geryon – on a Chalcidian amphora in the Medici cabinet in Paris, the struggle with Antaeus – on the crater of Euphronius in the Louvre, the murder of Busiris – on the Athenian pelican of Pan. Hercules” clash with Cerberus became a common theme in vase paintings and sculpture (in particular, it is depicted on the amphora of Andocida in Paris). The authors of Pompeian frescoes turned to the themes “Hercules at Omphale” and “Hercules, Dejanira and Ness”. In the Louvre there is the crater of Eurytus with the scene of the capture of Echalea, in Orvieto there is the amphora Execchia on which Heracles is depicted among the Olympians.

In Roman culture

The cult of the god Hercules-Hercules emerged in Rome as early as the Early Republic, which at first was administered by two patrician families, the Pinarii and the Poticii. According to legend, the hero himself instructed the representatives of these families to perform all the necessary rituals when he drove Hercules” cows through Italy and made a stop on the Tiber, on the site of the future city of Rome. The cult of Hercules was familial until 312 or 310 B.C., when the censor Appius Claudius Cecus handed it over to the state slaves. Antique authors consider this a sacrilege. According to them, the gods punished the impious: the Potentius family quickly died out, and Appius lost his sight; scholars consider this account an etiological legend. The cult of Hercules in later centuries was very popular in Rome. An altar to the god stood at the Bull”s Forum, where a temple of Hercules (one of Rome”s first marble buildings) appeared in the 140s B.C., and in the 16th century a gilded bronze statue of the god was found at the forum. It is known that the Romans often swore in the name of Hercules, while for women such oaths were forbidden.

The first century B.C. saw a new stage in the formation of the Roman legend of Hercules-Hercules. It was characterized, on the one hand, by the influence of Stoicism with the idea of this character as a personification of a number of virtues (exemplum virtutis) and, on the other hand, by the use of the myth in political propaganda. Hercules was compared with Lucius Licinius Lucullus, Gnaeus Pompeius the Great and Mark Antony who fought in the East; the latter”s marriage to Cleopatra was compared by his enemies with Hercules” slavery to Omphale. The account of Hercules” stay in Italy was filled with details: according to various authors, the hero killed the robber Caca, who had tried to steal his cows, took advantage of the hospitality of Evander (the founder and king of the settlement on the Palatine) and received divine honors from him, became the father of Pallante, whose mother was Evander”s daughter Lavinia, erected the altar of Zeus of Eurasia (in Roman tradition, Jupiter the Creator) and established new borders between communities. Virgil, in the Aeneid, tells of the victory of Hercules over the “half-beast” Cacus, seeing in this feat one of the great events preceding the foundation of Rome. The poet draws parallels between Hercules, the protagonist Aeneas (the ancestor of the Romans), and Augustus, who put an end to civil wars.

In Horace we can also find comparisons between Hercules and Augustus. The same material was used very differently by Propertius and Ovid: according to the former, the thirsty hero, after his victory over Cacus, is not allowed into the women”s sanctuary, but he enters it anyway, and as punishment forbids women access to his cult; Ovid, in the Fastas, de-idealizes the struggle with Cacus and uses the story of Hercules” own cult to criticize the principalship. Alcmene”s son is mentioned in the Punicus by Silas Italicus. Here Hannibal compares himself to him, but the author clearly sees the real heir of Hercules in Scipio. Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote a tragedy based on Euripides” play, Hercules in Madness, in which the title character returns from Hades and kills his children from Megara.

As a victorious god, Hercules gained popularity at the beginning of the second century AD, under Trajan (numismatic data, numerous statues and reliefs testify to this). It finally became a part of the “Roman myth” – a complex of legends about the foundation of Rome and the formation of the Roman state. Hercules was considered the patron of the Antoninus dynasty, the last representative of that dynasty, Commodus, identified himself with him, claiming to be the “re-founder” of Rome, and later his cult was supported by Septimius Severus and Maximian, who had the nickname of Hercules.

Middle Ages

In the transition from antique religion to Christianity, the image of Hercules-Hercules changed considerably. Now he was interpreted mainly allegorically, looking for new meanings in his name and in his mythological biography. Already Macrobius (Fabius Plantius Fulgentius, who considered the whole complex of ancient myths from the standpoint of symbolic etymology, translated the name of the hero as “The voice of brave men”. In his portrayal, the deeds of Hercules are an allegory of the many difficulties faced by virtue. Slavery in Omphale shows that valor is weaker than the urges of the flesh, the struggle with Antaeus is the opposition of the intellect to brute force, Kak is a classic evil, always doomed to defeat. Similar interpretations of the myth were made by Servius, the author of the commentary on the Aeneid (with Hercules the personification of spiritual power associated with physical strength), and the philosopher Boetius, who saw behind the hero”s exploits a constant, forced and exhausting struggle of the sage with fate.

The church fathers (Tertullian, Origen, Gregory Nazianzin, and others) often used the myths of Hercules in their polemic with pagans to criticize ancient religion. The hero was reviled for murders, temporary alliances with many women, and submission to one of them (Omphale). According to Lactantius, Hercules “defiled the whole earth with dishonor, lust and adultery”; he only defeated men and animals, but could not achieve the main victory – over his passions, which proves that there was nothing divine about him. However, there were also positive assessments. Origen noted that Hercules” choice of the road of virtue points the way for all mankind; Clement of Alexandria saw in Hercules a model of a just ruler, and the same Lactantius drew attention to the hero”s struggle with human sacrifice. Because of his physical strength, Hercules was placed on a par with the biblical characters Nebuchadnezzar and Samson (first by Blessed Augustine). Both supporters and opponents of Christianity often drew parallels between Hercules and Jesus Christ in connection with stories of painful death and ascension to heaven. This motif was of great importance for the entire medieval era, being reflected in painting and poetry (for example, one of Dante”s canzons is devoted to it).

Up until the early modern period, authors retelling ancient myths spoke of Hercules as a hero who triumphed over his own passions. In the Christian context, it was the victory of virtue over sins and of the immortal soul over all the burdens of the earthly world. Bernard Sylvester (twelfth-century French Platonist) saw in Hercules” duel with the hydra a symbolic representation of the exegete”s struggle with multiple meanings of a text that defies interpretation; the hero appears in some poems and chivalric novels of the High Middle Ages (for example, in Conrad of Würzburg”s “Trojan Romance”), but in none of these works plays the leading role. In minor poetry this image was sometimes portrayed with irony. In some cases there was a politicization of the character as a symbol of power, domination, supreme power, as the conqueror and the forerunner of the monarchs of particular countries. An example of this is the “Universal History” by Alfonso X of Castile.

Medieval artists most often depicted Hercules fighting a lion.

Early Modern Times

With the beginning of the Renaissance in Italy in the fourteenth century, interest in ancient culture in general and in mythology in particular increased. Giovanni Boccaccio, in his Genealogy of the Pagan Gods, tried to set forth all the myths of Hercules and their interpretations; he himself interpreted ancient material from a rationalist and euhemeristic perspective. Coluccio Salutati, in his work On the Feats of Hercules, depicted the title hero as a real person whose biography was embellished by ancient authors. This was the beginning of a tradition of critical study of texts about Hercules-Hercules that opposed medieval symbolism.

In the Early Modern era, many writers, artists and composers turned to the theme of “Hercules” choice,” treating it in the spirit of humanism and sometimes as applied to a specific political situation. The Italian poet Giraldi Cintio (16th century) and the English poet William Shannston (18th century) used the subject to reflect on the moral function of literature. Johann Sebastian Bach (cantata Hercules at the Crossroads, 1733), Georg Friedrich Handel (the latter using a libretto by Pietro Metastasio) varied it in different ways. An ironic interpretation of the story was created by the English playwright Ben Jonson in Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue (1619), where the hero, a merry drunkard, vacillates between sin and high morality.

Since the 16th century, the theme of the “Celtic Hercules” – the statue of the hero mentioned in Lucian, who leads captives, with the thin chain to which they are chained passing through their ears and Hercules” tongue – has been gaining popularity. Lucian explains that here the hero symbolizes the Word drawing people along. In connection with this account, Hercules was often called the “god of elocution”; this image was used in poetry (by Pierre de Ronsard), in book illustrations and in great painting (for example, by Raphael and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo). Until the end of the Old Order, kings of France were identified with the “Celtic Hercules”.

In parallel, the Christianization of the image continued (in Pierre de Ronsard”s “Hymn to Hercules,” in John Milton”s “Paradise Returned,” etc.). The Christianization of the image also continued (Pierre de Ronard”s “Hymn to Hercules” and John Milton”s “Paradise Returned,” one of Johann Sebastian Bach”s cantatas, etc.). Heracles was likened to Samson, seen as a model of a “Christian warrior” (miles Christianus) and a bearer of all the virtues of chivalry. The influence of court culture was evident here from at least 1464, when the French chivalric novel Collected Tales of Troy by Raoul Lefebvre was created. Around 1474 this novel was published by William Caxton and became the first printed book in English; it had an enormous influence on the culture of subsequent eras. Hercules is presented here as a fifteenth-century man, a model warrior and courtier, a role model for all knights and rulers.

Along with this, Heracles was often mentioned and depicted as the patron of muses (Musaget), as “Heracles the Black-bearded” (Melampiga), mocked by pygmies, as “Heracles the Egyptian” (this was connected with the emergence of interest in ancient Egypt in general and in hieroglyphics in particular). By the end of the eighteenth century, mythological lexicons had developed a classic image of the hero. The authors of dictionaries not only retold the contents of the main myths, but also debated the name, nicknames and appearance of Heracles, one and several heroes with that name. In some cases the narrative became rather tendentious: for example, N. Konti tried to justify a number of murders committed by Heracles through the intrigues of Hera, and explained the shameful dependence on Omphale as an attempt of the hero to establish control over his own passions by means of such a test.

The entire succession of Hercules” exploits became a theme for the composer Pierre Beauchamp (ballet The Feats of Hercules, 1686), the painters Antonio del Pollaiolo (1478), Andrea Mantegna (1468-1474), Giulio Romano (1527-1528), Giorgio Vasari (1557), Annibale Carracci (1595-1597), Guido Reni (1617-1621), Francisco de Zurbaran (1634), who created cycles of paintings and frescoes, the sculptor Giambologna (sculptural group, 1581). Heracles and Antaeus (Mantegna, Pollaiolo, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Raphael, Rubens, Surbaran, Filaret etc.), Heracles, Dejanira and Ness (Pollaiolo, Veronese, Reni, Rubens, Jordans etc.), Heracles throwing Lichas into the sea (Jacopo Tintoretto, Domenichino etc.) and others are especially popular in painting. Hercules became a protagonist in many English dramas of the Elizabethan era; at the level of references he plays an important role in some of William Shakespeare”s plays – notably Antony and Cleopatra and The Fruitless Endeavor of Love. In the seventeenth century Hercules becomes the ideal hero of baroque drama – in Pedro Calderon, Fernando de Sarate, Jean Rotroux. Plays about the madness of Hercules were especially frequent in this era. As a consequence numerous operas appeared: about the hero”s birth (Jacopo Peri, 1605), about his choice (Hasse, 1766), about individual exploits (T. Albinoni, 1701), about the rescue of Alcestis (Jean Baptiste Lully and Christoph Willibald Gluck), about the episode with Omphale (Francesco Cavalli, 1662), about his marriage to Heba (Reinhard Kaiser, 1700, and Gluck, 1747), etc. The most significant work on this theme is Georg Friedrich Handel”s Hercules on a libretto by Thomas Broughton (1745).

Because of his popularity, Hercules becomes the most popular example of a virtuous hero, which is why he is clearly ironic in Sebastian Brant”s Ship of Fools. Heracles is often depicted comically as a drunkard and lover of women; love stories and the related contrast between the lion”s skin and a woman”s tunic, exploits and slavery at Omphala were used by poets (in particular by Angelo Poliziano in his Stans) and by artists. In painting on this theme, the motif of loss of masculinity dominated until the mid-17th century (Lucas Cranach the Elder, Niclaus Manuel, Bartholomeus Spranger, Hans Baldung, etc.), while afterwards the motif of love that does not lead to a change of gender roles (François Lemoine, François Boucher).

Hercules-Hercules became a particularly significant character in Renaissance political culture. It began in Florence: as early as 1277, the image of Hercules in a lion”s skin and with a club adorned the seal of the city republic, and in official propaganda the image of the hero symbolized the commune”s claims to independence. Hercules fighting the hydra is depicted on the north side of the Florentine cathedral. The Florentines associated this feat with their struggle for independence, a fact confirmed by many sources. Gradually, the image of Hercules was usurped by the Medici; this became particularly evident in the second half of the 15th century under Lorenzo the Magnificent, who was directly identified with the mythological hero in the works of court poets and commissioned his images to artists and sculptors (Michelangelo in particular). Lorenzo”s descendant Cosimo I (first grand duke of Tuscany in 1569-1574) also made extensive use of the image of Hercules to prove his rights to power.

In the 16th century, the appeal to Hercules as a symbol of legitimate power and political greatness became a pan-European phenomenon. Rulers and members of the high aristocracy ordered texts, coins and medals in which they were likened to this hero, and organized all kinds of performances and festivities in which Hercules played an important or even central role. This character became a symbol of victory, conquest and heroism; propagandists of different states attributed the hero”s characteristics to their rulers. The identification with Hercules played an important role for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and his grandson Charles V, who made the hero”s cudgel part of his personal emblem. Sometimes the name of Hercules was used to confirm authority unrelated to political domination: for example, Martin Luther was called the “German Alcide” by his contemporaries, and similar epithets were heard in relation to Ulrich Zwingli and Ignatius Loyola; Francis Bacon made Hercules the central figure of his “new science”, and Tycho Brahe tried to make the ancient notions of Hercules and Atlanteus relevant in order to visually legitimize his “new astronomy”.

XIX-XXI centuries

Unlike Prometheus, Odysseus, Sisyphus or Oedipus, Hercules did not become a subject of intense interest of philosophers and writers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Nevertheless, he remained one of the key mythological heroes for Western culture, a symbol of physical strength and valor. After the demise of the Old Order, the character was still used for political purposes, as a personification of power and domination; it is just that the bearer of power could no longer be the monarch, but the people. During the French Revolution Hercules was the symbol of the National Guard, later references to him were found in the propaganda of Napoleon I, in one of Engres” sketches the hero represents revolutionary changes as such. However, during the 19th century there was a shift of meanings: the image of Hercules was increasingly used for political criticism and satire. For example, one of Honoré Daumier”s caricatures depicts an old Bonapartist with a club, which clearly resembles a mythological hero.

In the nineteenth century the myths of Hercules become the subject of historical-critical study; they are now evaluated as the product of “mythological fantasy. New lexicons are appearing, built on a close study of the sources from the perspective of the emerging science and including articles on Hercules (including the German Pauli-Wissow). Georg Hegel drew attention to this character as an example of a struggle against evil initiated on his own whim: Hercules wages this arduous struggle not because he is a “moral hero,” but because he wants to. Following the philosopher, anticollectors also began to consider Hercules” distinctive features, along with his physical power, to be activity, his free will without clear calculation or spirituality, his readiness to protest against nature and fate. In popular accounts of the myths, the son of Zeus is a virtuous citizen, a daredevil who never retreats.

It is generally accepted in modern antiquarianism that it is impossible to determine the region of Greece in which the myths of Hercules appeared. In the past, attempts were made to localize in Boeotia, to which the hero is related by birth, and in Argolis, where most of his exploits take place, where Eurystheus reigned and where Amphitryon and Alcmene were from, but these attempts are recognized as futile. Presumably, there were details in the oldest layers of the myth which would have helped localization, but they have long since been erased; therefore, even classifying Heracles as a Doric hero, according to many anticollectors, would have looked unjustified. However, there is still a version according to which Heracles was originally a character of Doric myths.

The tales of Hercules are a complex and multi-component complex. The fight of the son of Zeus against monsters is attributed by researchers to “early heroism”, when the character of the legends physically destroys the bearers of evil; at the same time, some monsters are subdued by Heracles without killing them, which makes him similar to cultural heroes. In addition, in the deeds of this character are clearly visible elements of theomachy and military exploits, typical of the heroes of the epic. Innokenty Annensky saw in Hercules three heroes at once – “the servile worker”, “the brilliant victor” and “the exploiter”, “that ”hero of labour” who loves “impossible work” and solves “unsolvable riddles”. It is a typical mythological character with all the typical features of the genre and details of biography (the miraculous conception, the hyperbolization of all attributes, including physical strength, courage and strength of emotion, the hero”s opposition to death and the hostile world of the earth, the need to obey weak and petty people, the desire for fame, solitude and a tragic death). However, Hercules surpasses all other heroes in both the drama of his fate and the scale of his deeds. The geography of his exploits, which began in the vicinity of Argos, gradually covers the entire known world and even extends beyond it (by clearing the Augean stables, Heracles defeats nature itself, and, capturing Hippolyta”s belt, triumphs over matriarchy. His deeds, in the words of Alexei Losev, become “the apotheosis of human power and heroic daring”; here we can see a symbol of man”s conscious struggle for his happiness, typical of classical Hellas. Hercules” exploits go far beyond what humans are allowed to do, and after each one the intervention of the gods is required in order to restore balance to the world (thus, the apples of Hesperides return to the garden beyond the ocean, while Cerberus once again retreats to the underworld). As a result, Hercules can be considered the greatest all-Greek and even all-human hero.

The Soviet researcher Yakov Golosovker writes about the dramatic fate of Zeus” son:

From the cradle he performs his monstrous deeds without the help of the gods. Moreover, he performs them under the opposition of the gods, who make him a wife-killer and a child killer. Athena”s help is negligible. He wanders through torment: he descends into hell, from whence he brings out Kerberus, the bound guardian of hell; he penetrates into paradise, the garden of the Hesperides, to obtain there the apples of youth, and he kills their guardian, the dragon of paradise, Ladon. He even aims his bow at the sun itself – at Helios, who burns him in Africa with the fire of his arrow-beams. He, the servant of King Eurystheus, a nobody and a coward, reaches the summit where the power of man ends over him, and dies, mistakenly betrayed by jealous love – but not at the hand of the living, but at the hand of the dead


Hercules appears in several poems by Friedrich Hölderlin and Friedrich Schiller and in a number of other literary works of the 19th century. In Frank Wedekind”s drama (1916-1917) he finds himself in a state of “progressive psychological disintegration” because of the story with Omphale, but he overcomes difficulties with dignity and becomes a god in the finale. After World War II, the image of Hercules becomes noticeably more tragic. Thus, in Friedrich Dürrenmatt”s play The Stables of Abyss (1954-1963), the hero, trying to perform a feat, encounters an insurmountable bureaucratic ban, which symbolizes the defeat of the modern individual in his struggle with institutions. Hercules appears in the novel Prometheus Enigma by Lajos Meshterhazy, in a cycle of plays by Harald Müller, and in numerous other works. Agatha Christie gave the name Hercule (in 1947 she created the book The Feats of Hercules, a collection of 12 novellas, in each of which, named after another feat, Hercule Poirot solves another riddle. Henry Lyon Oldie (this is the joint pseudonym of two Ukrainian writers) in 1995 published the novel “A Hero Should Be Alone”, which is an alternative biography of Hercules.

The story of Hercules and Lichas was dealt with in the nineteenth century by sculptors Antonio Canova and William Brody, and by painter Theodore Géricault. Among the sculptures of the twentieth century, experts highlight the work of Emile Bourdelle”s Hercules the Archer (1909). American painter Thomas Garth Benton created in 1947 an allegorical painting “Aheloy and Hercules” (here the hero is depicted in jeans), Salvador Dali in 1963 painted a picture entitled “Hercules lifts the skin of the sea and stops Venus from waking Cupid for a moment”.

In opera at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the popularity of Hercules stories diminished. Among the works on this theme, the symphonic poems The Youth of Hercules and The Spinning of Omphale and his opera Dejanira stand out. Egon Welles wrote the opera Alcestide in 1923.

Hercules appeared in popular culture around the 1800s: all fairs and circuses had strongmen and acrobats who either bore the stage name Hercules or were directly identified with the hero. The exploits of Hercules became the theme of puppet shows and his name adorned hotel signs. Inventors and manufacturers of technical innovations often gave their products the name of this hero, symbolizing physical power. Thus, it became the most popular name in marketing compared to the names of other mythological characters.

In Russian popular culture, Hercules is known, among other things, thanks to Hercules oat flakes, which gave the name “Hercules porridge.

In the twentieth century Hercules became the hero of a number of feature films. In the American “The Feats of Hercules” (1957) and its sequel, the film “The Feats of Hercules: Hercules and the Queen of Lydia” (1959), the main character is played by Steve Reeves, in a series of Italian peplums in the 1960′s – Reg Park, and in 1969 came the film “Hercules in New York”, the first film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1983, the American-Italian film Hercules (starring Lou Ferrigno) was released, the director of which tried to portray the title character as similar to Superman. In the popular television series “The Amazing Wanderings of Hercules” (1995-1999) and “Xena the Warrior Princess” (1995-2001), Hercules was played by Kevin Sorbo.

Other pictures dedicated to this hero are the Disney feature-length cartoon Hercules (starring Paul Telfer), Hercules: The Beginning of the Legend (starring Dwayne Johnson). The latter was made as a high-budget pseudo-historical action film, pitching the story in a realistic style.

In astronomy

The constellation Hercules in the northern hemisphere of the sky, a crater on the moon, and the double asteroid (5143) Hercules are named after Hercules.



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