Hercules (Heracles) and the Cretan Bull as portrayed on a Greek stamp issued in 1970
Hercules (Heracles) and the Nemean Lion as portrayed on a Greek stamp issued in 1970
Hercules, or Heracles as he is also known, is a Greek hero, who becomes a god after his death. The son of Zeus and Alcmene, he is intended by his father to become a great ruler, and ultimately to aid the gods in their battle with the titans, but Hera, jealous of Zeus' unfaithfulness, conspires to make Hercules the slave of Eurystheus.
Even when he is a baby Hera tries to destroy him, sending two serpents which twine themselves around the infant Hercules and his twin brother Iphicles, son of Alcmene's lawful husband Amphitryon, but the hero proves that he is Zeus' son by strangling them. His first heroic deeds on reaching manhood are the killing of the lion of Cithaeron, which has been savaging the countryside, and the defeat of Erginus, who has been exacting an annual tribute from Thebes. In gratitude the Theban king, Creon, gives Hercules his daughter Megara as wife. When Creon dies and the usurper Lycus tries to seize the throne, Hercules kills him, but in the rejoicing that follows, Hera again takes a hand; she strikes him with a fit of madness, and he shoots both Megara and their three children. As punishment for these murders, he is ordered by the Delphic oracle to perform his famous "Twelve Labors."
The first nine labors, beginning with the killing of the Nemaean lion take place in the world of ancient Greece. The lion's skin cannot be pierced, so Hercules strangles it and skins it. He is often portrayed wearing its skin as a cloak. Killing the many-headed Hydra of Lerna is Hercules' second task. He needs the help of his nephew Iolaus to seal the wounds on the necks as the heads are cut off, because otherwise new heads grow back. The Hydra's poisonous blood is used when Hercules goes to hunt the Erymanthian boar. Next he spends a year capturing of the Cerynean hind. The next labor is cleaning out the stables of Augeas which is accomplished by diverting a river through them. The sixth labour is the killing of the birds which infest the shores of Lake Stymphalus; he scares them with a rattle given him by Athena and shoots them as they fly away. Then he kills the fire-breathing bull of Crete, and captures the man-eating mares of the king of Thrace, Diomedes. Stealing the girdle of the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, for Eurystheus's daughter is Hercules' ninth labour.
The last three tasks take the hero on journeys beyond the Greek world. To steal the cattle of Geryon he travels in the floating cup of Helios to the far west. To obtain the golden apples of the Hesperides he must take the place of Atlas, holding up the world while Atlas gets the apples. Finally Hercules descends into the underworld to carry off Cerberus,the guard dog. At this time he defeats and wounds Hades, king of the dead, and establishes his own claim to immortality before playing a significant role in many other ancient myths.
(adapted from Who's Who in Classical Mythology by Jessica Hodge)
1. List at least five important differences between this version of the myth of Hercules and the story told in the movie.
2. List at least five important similarities between this version of the myth and the story told in the movie.
3. Disney wanted its animated feature film version of Hercules to have its opening at the Acropolis. Greek archeological authorities refused to allow Disney to use the ruins of the ancient Greek temple. Do you think the movie provided a reasonable interpretation of the myth that should have been permitted to have its premiere in the Acropolis? Write a paragraph supporting your opinion with at least three specific pieces of evidence to support your argument.