Hercules (Greek Heracles)
The greatest of the Greek heroes. He was the son of Zeus by Alcmena, wife of Amphitryon; hence he was sometimes called Alcides, after Alcaeus, father of Amphitryon. His whole life from the very moment of his birth was shaped by the animosity of Hera, who pursued him with relentless hostility. He was adopted by the Romans, who worshipped him as the god of physical strength.
Hera drove him mad and in his madness he killed his wife and children. To expiate this crime (and to gain immortality) he served Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, for twelve years. And it was Eurystheus who set him the famous Twelve Labors which are one of the major features of his legend. They are (though different accounts assign a different order):
1 - The killing of the Nemean Lion.
2 - The killing of the Lernaean Hydra.
3 - The capture of the Cerynean hind (or stag).
4 - The killing of the Erymanthian boar.
5 - The cleansing of the Augean stables.
6 - The killing of the cannibal birds of Stymphalus.
7 - Capturing the Cretan bull.
8 - Capturing the man-eating horses of Diomedes of Thrace.
9 - Obtaining the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.
10 - Capturing the oxen of the monster Geryon.
11 - Bringing back the Apples of the Hesperides.
12 - Bringing up from Hades its gates guardian, Cerberus, the three-headed dog.
Among other of his many legends may be mentioned his strangling of two serpents (sent by Hera) when he was an infant in his cradle. After the twelve labors and many other adventures, Hercules was rewarded with immortality.
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Sources: (1) Cooper, J.C. (Editor), Brewer's Book of Myth and Legend, Cassell Academic Publishing; (2) Evans, Bergen, Dictionary of Mythology, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.; (3) Dixon-Kennedy, Mike, Encyclopedia of Greco-Roman Mythology, ABC-Clio Inc. Publishers; (4) Ayto, John, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Collins Reference Publishing.
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