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Fast Facts on: Hercules

Semi-divine hero of Greek mythology


The Gate of Hercules. Marble statuary in Ephesus.
David Madison/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Hercules' Appearance: Handsome, well-built, vigorous young man, often bearded.

Symbol or Attributes of Hercules: Wooden club, his well-developed muscles, a lion skin which he wears over one shoulder after completing Labor #1, noted below.

Hercules' Strengths: Brave, strong, determined.

Hercules' Weaknesses: Can be lustful and gluttonous.

Birthplace of Hercules: Son of Zeus by Alcmena or Alcmene, born at the Greek city of Thebes. His first "stepfather" was Amphitryon. His second stepfather and mentor was Radamanthes, the just and law-giving brother of King Minos of Crete, who was also a son of Zeus.

Hercules' Spouse: Megara; after his deification after death, Hebe, Olympian goddess of health.

Children of Hercules: Many; supposedly had a child by each of the fifty daughters of Thespius; some accounts claim that was only one night's worth. His three sons by Megara are Thersimachus, Creontidas, and Deicoon.

Some Major Temple Sites of Hercules: There is a small ruined temple to Hercules at the oracle site of Dodona in northwestern Greece, where his Dad, Zeus, is very popular. The city of Heraklion, Crete, is said by some to be named after Hercules, who did have some ties to Crete. He is also associated with the ancient Cretan city of Phaistos, ruled or founded by his stepfather Radamanthes, and was featured on early coins issued by the city.

Hercules' Basic Story: The mythological stories associated with Hercules are extremely numerous. The Labors of Hercules vary in number, but are most often ten or twelve, and depending on the source, the labors include different tasks. Hercules was set on these labors by the Oracle of Delphi, possibly to expiate his guilt over killing his wife and children in a fit of madness sent by the goddess Hera, and the labors were part of his service to King Eurytheseus.

1. Conquer and deliver the Nemean Lion, a monstrous feline.
2. Kill the multiheaded Hydra.
3. Bring back, dead or alive, the Cerynitian Hind, a ravaging deer.
4. Catch the Erymanthian Boar.
5. Clean out the massive stables of Augeas, perhaps the most famous of the Labors.
6. Scare off and kill the metal-feathered Stymphalian birds.
7. Capture the Cretan Bull.
8. Do something about those pesky man-eating Mares of Diomedes (he moved them and released them.)
9. Get the Girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (she gave it to him peacefully, which enraged Hera, who arranged for the rest of the Amazons to attack Hercules; in the mess that followed, Hippolyta was killed by Hercules.)
10. Steal the cattle of Geryon.

11. Bring back the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.
12. Go down to the Underworld and bring back multi-headed Cerberus, chief Hound of Hades.

Hercules enjoyed dozens of other adventures and was beloved by the Greeks. His worship later spread to Rome and the rest of Italy. A popular TV series took him on many more, increasingly unlikely adventures, but even in ancient times Hercules was an inexhaustible source of entertaining tales, so they're not that far off.

Interesting Fact: Hercules' name means "Glory of Hera" though Hera is his implacable enemy. The goddess Athena, on the other hand, regards him kindly, as does his father, Zeus.

Frequent Misspellings: Hercales, Heracules, Herkules, Herkalies, Hurcales

More Fast Facts on Greek Gods and Goddesses:

Olympian Gods and Goddesses - Greek Gods and Goddesses at Home - Aphrodite - Apollo - Ares - Artemis - Athena - Demeter- Hades - Hephaestus- Hera - Hercules - Hermes - Pan- Persephone - Zeus.

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