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Heracles


Heracles is a mighty hero, most known for freeing Prometheus from his eternal chains, and performing Twelve Labors to atone for his bout of madness where he killed all of his children.

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Heracles (sometimes spelled Herakles) is one of the most popular Greek heroes, known as Hercules (the Roman equivalent) in more modern times. He was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, princess of Thebes. Hera was extremely jealous of Heracles and his twin brother Iphicles, so she sent two serpents to devour them shortly after they were born. Heracles put out his infant hands and strangled the two serpents to death.

Heracles grew up to choose the path of Virtue, although he was derailed by a fit of madness sent to him by the ever-vengeful Hera, and in his madness he killed all of his children. In order to atone for this atrocity, the Oracle at Delphi told him he would need to serve King Eurystheus of Mycenae. Eurystheus gave Heracles twelve tasks to complete before he could earn his freedom back. Most of these tasks involved killing or retrieving creatures for the king, and Heracles accomplished all of them. He killed and skinned the Nemean lion with its own claws, and the skin became a part of Heracles’ depiction in ancient Greek art. During the Eleventh Labor in which Heracles had to retrieve the Golden Apples of Hesperides, he killed the eagle and broke the chains of Prometheus, finally setting him free from the torture of having his liver pecked out each day.

Heracles was also crucial in installing King Priam as the King of Troy, after he attacked Troy with a fleet and ransacked the city shortly after defeating a monster sent by Poseidon. Priam became the pariah of the Greek world when he refused to turn Helen over to the Greeks, honoring his son’s love for the girl instead.

Heracles was killed by his wife Deianira, when she discovered he had fallen in love with another woman. Deianira was given special blood by a centaur, Nessus, which he told her would turn Heracles’ heart back to her if he ever fell in love with someone else. She wove it into a robe for him, but it was a trick of revenge by the centaur. As soon as Heracles put the robe on, he was burned to death. He was granted a place on Mount Olympus and given the goddess of youth, Hebe, as his wife.


Heracles Hero Reference

Parents

Zeus and Alcmene


Notable Myths

  • Hera’s serpents
  • Twelve Labors
  • Freeing of Prometheus

Symbols / Attributes

  • Lion’s skin armor
  • Bow and arrow
  • Club

Companions

Megara, Deianira, Hebe


Be sure to check out the teacher guide on the 12 Labors of Heracles!

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