Heracles ( Greek: Ηρακλής ) is the most well -known divine Hero in Greek Religion. Son of Zeus and Alcmene, he travelled to many different countries of the ancient world.
BirthA major factor in the well-known stories about Heracles is the hatred that the Goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, had for him. A full account of Heracles must render it clear why Heracles was so tormented by Hera, when there were many illegitimate offspring sired by Zeus. Zeus made love to the mortal Alcmene after disguising himself as her husband, Amphitryon, home early from war -Amphitryon did return later the same night, and Alcmene became pregnant with his son at the same time. Heracles'twin mortal brother was Iphicles.
When Heracles was born,Fear of Hera's revenge led Alcmene to expose the infant. However, he was taken up and brought to Hera by his half-sister Athena, who played an important role as protectress of heroes. Hera did not recognize Heracles and nursed him out of pity. Heracles suckled so strongly that he caused Hera pain, and She pushed him away. Her milk sprayed across the heavens and there formed the Milky Way. But with divine milk, Heracles had acquired supernatural powers. Athena brought the infant back to his mother, and he was raised by his parents.
Heracles as a boy strangling a snake (marble, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE). Capitoline Museums in Rome, Italy.
The child was originally given the name Alcides by his parents; it was only later that he became known as Heracles, being renamed Heracles in an unsuccessful attempt to appease Hera. He and his twin were just eight months old when Hera sent two giant snakes into the children's chamber. Iphicles cried from fear, but his brother grabbed a snake in each hand and strangled them. He was found by his nurse playing with them on his cot as if they were toys. Astonished, Amphitryon sent for the seer Tiresias, who prophesied an unusual future for the boy, saying he would vanquish numerous monsters.
After killing his music tutor Linus with a lyre, Heracles was sent to tend cattle on a mountain by his foster father Amphitryon. Here, according to an allegorical parable, "The Choice of Heracles", he was visited by two allegorical figures—Vice and Virtue—who offered him a choice between a pleasant and easy life or a severe but glorious life: he chose the latter.
Later in Thebes, Heracles married King Creon's daughter, Megara. In a fit of madness, induced by Hera, Heracles killed his children and Megara. After his madness had been cured by Antikyreus, he realized what he had done and fled to the Oracle of Delphi. He didn't know that the Oracle was guided by Hera. He was directed to serve King Eurystheus for ten years and do any task Eurystheus required of him. Eurystheus decided to give Heracles ten labours, but after completing them, Heracles was cheated by Eurystheus when he added two more, resulting in the Twelve Labours of Heracles.
1. The Slaying of the Nemean Lion
Heracles defeated a lion that was attacking the city of Nemea with his bare hands. After he succeeded, he wore the skin as a cloak to demonstrate his power over the opponent he had defeated.
Heracles defeated a lion that was attacking the city of Nemea with his bare hands. After he succeeded, he wore the skin as a cloak to demonstrate his power over the opponent he had defeated.
2. The Slaying of the 9-headed Lernaean Hydra
The Hydra was a fire-breathing monster with a lion's head and a body of many snakes which lay in a swamp near Lerna. Hera had sent it in hope it would destroy Heracles' home city because she thought it was invincible. With help from his nephew Iolaus, he killed the Hydra and dipped his arrows in its poisoned blood, making them more lethal.
3. The Capturing of the Golden Hind of Artemis
Hercules was ordered not to kill, but to catch, this monster- different, but still difficult, task. It cost time but, having chased it for a year, Heracles wore out the Hind and presented it alive to Eurystheus.
4. The Capturing of the Erymanthian Boar
This was a fearsome marauding boar on the loose. Eurystheus set Heracles the Labour of catching it, and bringing it to Mycenae. Again, a time-consuming task, but the tireless hero found the beast, captured it, and brought it to its final spot. Patience is the heroic quality in the third and fourth Labours.
5. The Cleaning of the Augean Stables in a single day
The Augean stables were the home of 3,000 cattle with poisoned faeces which Augeas had been given by his father Helios. Heracles was given the near impossible task of cleaning the stables of the diseased faeces in only one day. He accomplished it by digging ditches on both sides of the stables, moving them into the ditches, and then diverting the rivers Alpheios and Peneios to wash the ditches clean.
6. The Slaying of the Stymphalian Birds
These aggressive man-eating birds were terrorizing a forest near Lake Stymphalia in northern Arcadia. Heracles scared them with a rattle given to him by Athena, to frighten them into flight away from the forest, allowing him to shoot many of them with his bow and arrow and bring back this proof of his success to Eurystheus.
7. The Capturing of the Cretan Bull
This harmful bull was destroying the lands round Knossos on Crete. Heracles captured it, and carried it on his shoulders to Eurystheus in Tiryns. Eurystheus released it, and it wandered to Marathon which it then terrorized, until killed by Theseus.
Heracles capturing the Cretan Bull. Statue in Germany.
8. The Theft of the Mares of Diomedes
His next challenge was to steal the horses from Diomedes' stables- horses that had been trained by their owner to feed on human flesh. Heracles' task was to capture them and hand them over to Eurystheus. He accomplished this labour by feeding King Diomedes to the animals before binding their mouths shut.
9. The Belt of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons
Hippolyta was an Amazon queen and she had a girdle given to her by her father. Heracles had to retrieve the girdle and return it to Eurystheus. He and his band of companions received a rough welcome because, ordered by Hera, the Amazons were supposed to attack them; however, against all odds, Heracles completed the task and secured the girdle for Eurystheus.
10. The Theft of the Cattle of the Monster Geryon
The next labour was to capture the herd guarded by a two-headed dog called Orthrus, the herdsman Erytion and the owner, Geryon; a giant with three heads and six arms. He killed the first two with his club and the third with a poisoned arrow. Heracles then herded the cattle and, with difficulty, took them to Eurytheus.
11. The Theft of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides
These sacred fruits were protected by Hera who had set Ladon, a fearsome hundred-headed dragon as their guardian. Heracles had to first find where the garden was; he asked Nereus for help. He came across Prometheus on his journey. Heracles shot the eagle eating at his liver, and in return he helped Heracles with knowledge that his brother would know where the garden was. His brother Atlas offered him help with the apples if he would hold up the heavens while he was gone. Atlas tricked him and did not return. Heracles returned the trickery and managed to get Atlas taking the burden of the heavens once again, and returned the apples to Mycenae.
12. The Capturing of Cerberus
Heracles capturing Cerberus by Antonin Wagner. Hofburg, Vienna
His last labour and undoubtedly the riskiest. Eurystheus was so frustrated that Heracles was completing all the tasks, that he had
given him a challenge, which he thought was impossible: Heracles had to go down into the Underworld of Hades and capture the ferocious three-headed dog Cerberus who guarded the gates. Heracles used the souls to help convince Hades to hand over the dog. Hades agreed to give Heracles the dog if he used no weapons to obtain him, and on the condition that Cerberus would later be returned safe to his master. Heracles succeeded and took the creature to Mycenae, causing Eurystheus to be fearful of the power and strength of this hero.
Mortal Death and Rise to Olympus
Heracles killing Nessus the Centaur.1599, Florence
Having wrestled and defeated Achelous, god of the Acheloos river, Heracles takes Deianira as his wife. Travelling to Tiryns, a centaur, Nessus, offers to help Deianira across a fast flowing river while Heracles swims it. However, Nessus tries to steal Deianira away while Heracles is still in the water. Angry, Heracles shoots him with his arrows dipped in the poisonous blood of the Lernaean Hydra. Thinking of revenge, Nessus gives Deianira his blood-soaked tunic before he dies, telling her it will "excite the love of her husband".
Several years later, rumor tells Deianira that she has a rival for the love of Heracles. Deianira, remembering Nessus' words, gives Heracles the bloodstained shirt. Lichas, the herald, delivers the shirt to Heracles. However, it is still covered in the Hydra's blood from Heracles' arrows, and this poisons him, tearing his skin and exposing his bones. Before he dies, Heracles throws Lichas into the sea, thinking he was the one who poisoned him .Heracles then uproots several trees and builds a funeral pyre on Mount Oeta, which Poeas, father of Philoctetes, lights. As his body burns, only his immortal side is left. Through Zeus' apotheosis, Heracles rises to Olympus as he dies.
No one but Heracles' friend Philoctetes would light his funeral pyre. For this action, Philoctetes or Poeas received Heracles' bow and arrows, which were later needed by the Greeks to defeat Troy in the Trojan War.
According to Herodotus, Heracles lived 900 years before Herodotus' own time (c. 1300 BCE).
Extraordinary strength, courage, ingenuity, and sexual prowess with both males and females are among the characteristics commonly attributed to him. Heracles used his wits on several occasions when his strength did not suffice. Together with Hermes, he is the patron and protector of gymnasia and palaestrae. His iconographic attributes are the lion skin and the club. These qualities did not prevent him from being regarded as a playful figure who used games to relax from his Labours and played a great deal with children. By conquering dangerous archaic forces he is said to have "made the world safe for mankind" and to be its benefactor.
Heracles and his child Telephus. (Marble, Roman copy of the 1st or 2nd century CE)
Heracles was an extremely passionate and emotional individual, capable of doing both great deeds for his friends - such as wrestling with Thanatos ( Death ) on behalf of Prince Admetus, who had regaled Heracles with his hospitality, or restoring his friend Tyndareus to the throne of Sparta after he was overthrown- and being a terrible enemy who would wreak horrible vengeance on those who crossed him.
Presence of Heracles around the world
Iconographical evolution from the Greek Heracles to Shukongōshin. From left to right:
1) Heracles (Louvre Museum).
2) Heracles on coin of Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I.
3 Vajrapani, the protector of the Buddha, depicted as Heracles in the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.
4) Shukongōshin of Buddhist temples in Japan.（Sensō-ji）
As Buddhism expanded in Central Asia and fused with Hellenistic influences into Greco-Buddhism, the Greek hero Heracles became Vajrapāni. In that era, he was typically depicted as a hairy, muscular athlete, wielding a short "diamond" club. Via the Greco-Buddhist culture, Heraclean symbolism was transmitted to the Far East. An example remains to this day in the Nio guardian deities in front of Japanese Buddhist temples.
Heracles as protector of Buddha, Vajrapani, 1st-century C.E.. Gandhara.
The protector Vajrapani of the Buddha is another incarnation of Heracles ( Gandhara Art )
Strabo reports, probably on authority of Nearchus reports in his Geographika that the Karmanians worshipped a divinity of victory. That this was Bahram/Verethragna is unlikely if, as per Strabo, he was their "only god." However, the account does reveal that divinities of war were known to the people who were not of the Iranian plateau, evidence for which also comes from Herodotus.
Under the Seleucids (330–150 BCE) and Arsacids (250 BCE–226 CE), the Empires influenced by Hellenic culture, Verethragna was both identified as Ares and associated with Heracles, and given the Greek name Artagnes. This syncretism is well attested in statuary and iconography, most notably in that of the inscription of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene, in which all three names occur together.
Hellenistic-era depiction of the Zoroastrian divinity Bahram as Hercules carved in 153 BCE at Kermanshah, Iran.
That Bahram was considered the patron divinity of travelers is perhaps reflected by the life-size rock sculpture of the divinity on the main highway at Behistun. There Bahram reclines with a goblet in his hand, a club at his feet and a lion-skin beneath him.
In the early Sassanid period Bahram is still represented as the Greek Heracles. In the relief of Ardeshir I at Naqs-e Rajab III, Bahram appears as one of the two smaller figures between Ahura Mazda and the king. There, he has a lion's skin in his left hand and brandishes a club in his right. The other small figure - who appears to be paying homage to Bahram - is the future king Bahram I.
IndiaMegasthenes' Herakles is the conventional name of reference of an ancient Indian deity. Herakles was originally a classical Greek divinity. However, in the aftermath of Alexander the Great's conflicts in North-Western India, an Indian version of this classical Greek deity was identified by Megasthenes, who travelled to India as the ambassador of the Seleucids during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. Upon visiting Mathurai of the Early Pandyan Kingdom, he described the kingdom as being named after Pandaea, Herakles' only daughter.
The Mathura Herakles, strangling the Nemean lion (Kolkata Indian Museum).
Many scholars have suggested that the deity identified as Herakles was Krishna. Edwin Francis Bryant adds the following in this regard:“ According to Arrian, Diodorus, and Strabo, Megasthenes described an Indian tribe called Sourasenoi, who especially worshipped Herakles in their land, and this land had two cities, Methora and Kleisobora, and a navigable river, the Jobares. As was common in the ancient period, the Greeks sometimes described foreign gods in terms of their own divinities, and there is a little doubt that the Sourasenoi refers to the Shurasenas, a branch of the Yadu dynasty to which Krishna belonged; Herakles to Krishna, or Hari-Krishna: Mehtora to Mathura, where Krishna was born; Kleisobora to Krishnapura, meaning "the city of Krishna"; and the Jobares to the Yamuna, the famous river in the Krishna story. Quintus Curtius also mentions that when Alexander the Great confronted Porus, Porus's soldiers were carrying an image of Herakles in their vanguard. ”
— Krishna: a sourcebook, Edwin Francis Bryant, Oxford University Press US, 2007
James Tod associated Herakles primarily with Baladeva, Krishna's older sibling, but also indicated that Herakles could be associated with both:
“ How invaluable such remnants of ancient race of Harikula! How refreshing to the mind yet to discover, amidst the ruins on the Yamuna, Hercules (Baldeva, god of strength) retaining his club and lion's hide, standing on his pedestal at Baldeo, and yet worshipped by Suraseni! This was name given to a large tract of country round Mathura, or rather round Surpura, the ancient capital founded by Surasena, the grandfather of the Indian brother-deities, Krishna and Baldeva, Apollo and Hercules. The title would apply to either ; though Baldeva has the attributes of 'god of strength'. Both are es (lords) of the race (kula) of Hari (Hari-kul-es), of which the Greeks might have made the compound Hercules. ”
— James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan
Megasthenes' Herakles as ShivaAccording to Quintus Curtius, the Sibae, whom he calls Sobii, occupied the country between the Hydaspes and the Akesines. They may have derived their name from the god Siva.
“ Again when Alexander had captured at the first assault the rock called Aornos, the base of which is washed by the Indus near its source, his followers, magnifying the affairs, affirmed that Herakles had thrice assaulted the same rock and had been thrice repulsed. They said also that the Sibae were descended from those who accompanied Herakles on his expedition, and that they preserved badges of their descent, for they wore skins like Herakles and carried clubs, and branded the mark of a cudgel on their oxen and mules. ”
— Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arrian - Dr. Schwanbeck and J.W. McCrindle (1877), pp. 128–129
According to Dr. Schwanbeck and J. W. McCrindle, Megasthenes meant Siva when he mentioned Herakles in his book Indika
“ Such, then are the traditions regarding Dionysus and his descendants current among the Indians who inhabit the hill-country. They further assert that Herakles also was born among them. They assign to him like Greeks, the clubs and the lion's skin. He far surpassed other men in personal strength and prowess, and cleared sea and land of evil beasts. Marrying many wives he begot many sons, but one daughter only. The sons having reached man's estate, he divided all India into equal portions for his children, whom he made kings in different parts of his dominion. He provided similarly for his daughter, whom he reared up and made a queen. He was the founder, also, of no small number of cities, the most renowned and greatest of which he called Palibothra (Pataliputra). He built therein many sumptuous palaces, and settled within its walls a numerous population. The city he fortified with trenches of notable dimensions, which were filled with water introduced from the river. Herakles, accordingly, after his removal from among the men, obtained immortal honor; and his descendants, having reigned for many generations and signalized themselves by great achievements, neither made any expedition beyond the confines of India, nor sent out any colony abroad. At last however, after many years had gone, most of the cities adopted the democratic form of government, though some retained the kingly until the invasion of the country by Alexander. ”
— Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arrian - Dr. Schwanbeck and J.W. McCrindle (1877), pp. 57–58
When Heracles carried away the oxen of Geryon, he also visited the country of the Scythians. Once there, while asleep, his horses suddenly disappeared. When he woke and wandered about in search of them, he came into the country of Hylaea. He then found the dracaena of Scythia in a cave. When he asked whether she knew anything about his horses, she answered, that they were in her own possession, but that she would not give them up, unless he would consent to stay with her for a time. Heracles accepted the request, and became by her the father of Agathyrsus, Gelonus, and Scythes. The last of them became king of the Scythians, according to his father's arrangement, because he was the only one among the three brothers that was able to manage the bow which Heracles had left behind and to use his father's girdle.
Heracles in Africa
On his way to the Garden of Hesperides as his 11th Labour, Heracles had to fight against Antaeus, who was the half-giant son of Poseidon and Gaia.Antaeus killed people and built a temple to his father using their skulls. Ancient sources place him in Libya.
Plutarch recounts what he says to be a local myth, according to which Heracles, after the death of Antaeus, consorted with his wife, Tinge. They had a son called Sophax, who named a city in North Africa Tingis after his mother. Sophax in his turn was father of Diodorus who conquered many Libyan peoples with his army of Olbians and Mycenaeans brought to Libya by Heracles.
Herodotus connected Heracles to the Egyptian god Shu. Also he was associated with Khonsu, another Egyptian god who was in some ways similar to Shu. As Khonsu, Heracles was worshipped at the now sunken city of Heracleion, where a large temple was constructed.
Most often the Egyptians identified Heracles with Heryshaf, transcribed in Greek as Arsaphes or Harsaphes (Ἁρσαφής). He was an ancient ram-god whose cult was centered in Herakleopolis Magna.
When Heracles was assigned to take the cattle of Geryon, he travelled to the Iberian Peninsula- that is, modern day Spain.
This marked the westward extent of his travels. A lost passage of Pindar quoted by Strabo was the earliest traceable reference in this context: "the pillars which Pindar calls the 'gates of Gades' when he asserts that they are the farthermost limits reached by Heracles." Since there has been a one-to-one association between Heracles and Melqart since Herodotus, the "Pillars of Melqart" in the temple near Gades/Gádeira (modern Cádiz) have sometimes been considered to be the true Pillars of Hercules.
According to some sources,while on his way to the garden of the Hesperides on the island of Erytheia, Hercules had to cross the mountain that was once Atlas. Instead of climbing the great mountain, Hercules used his superhuman strength to smash through it. By doing so, he connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and formed the Strait of Gibraltar. One part of the split mountain is Gibraltar and the other is either Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa. These two mountains taken together have since then been known as the Pillars of Hercules, though other natural features have been associated with the name. Diodorus Siculus, however, held that instead of smashing through an isthmus to create the Straits of Gibraltar, Hercules narrowed an already existing strait to prevent monsters from the Atlantic Ocean from entering the Mediterranean Sea. In some versions, Heracles instead built the two to hold the sky away from the earth, liberating Atlas from his damnation.
Having killed Geryon, he freed the locals from his tyranny and founded cities. For example, the founding of Gadeira ( Cadiz ) by Heracles is still commemorated on the city's coat of arms. Another city, Helike ( modern-day Elche ) is said to have been founded by Heracles.
Sallust mentions in his work on the Jugurthine War that the Africans believe Heracles to have died in Spain where, his multicultural army being left without a leader, the Medes, Persians, and Armenians who were once under his command split off and populated the Mediterranean coast of Africa.
Heracles sculpture, Louvre Museum
Temples dedicated to Heracles abounded all along the Mediterranean coastal countries. For example, the temple of Heracles Monoikos (i.e. the lone dweller), built far from any nearby town upon a promontory in what is now the Côte d'Azur, gave its name to the area's more recent name, Monaco.
The Gauls had particular reason for their attachment to this hero. They associated Heracles with numerous local stories, since he was said to have passed through Gaul during one of his Twelve Labours (the rustling of Geryon’s cattle). So it was that the cities of Autun, Alesia and Nîmes declared themselves to have been founded by Heracles and that the Lepontians boasted of their descent from his companions.During his stay, Heracles had affairs with many local princesses, whose children were (depending on the version of the story) Celtos, Galatos and/or Iberus, the eponymous ancestors of the Celts, Galatians and Iberians.Heracles’ passage across Gaul thus linked these provinces to the Græco-Roman world starting from the earliest days of antiquity. Furthermore, the Gauls had to admire Hercules as the incarnation of that strength and spontaneous ardour so dear to the Celtic heart, if one can believe the ancient stereotype.
Inscriptions in Hercules’ honour are not particularly abundant in Gaul. Nonetheless, his image is frequently to be encountered, especially on the monumental Jupiter columns typical of the Rhenish region.
In the Rhenish and Danubian regions, dedications are most often made to Hercules Saxanus.This is a Latin adjective—saxanus, belonging to stones, having to do with stones. As it happens, the myth that links Hercules to stones also anchors him in the soil of Gaul. The epithet 'saxanus' refers to an ambush suffered by Hercules while bringing back the cattle of Geryon. Returning from Spain by way of present-day Provence, Hercules found himself surrounded by enemy Ligurians. The hero prayed to his father Zeus to come to his aid, and the latter caused rocks to rain down on the enemy. In this way, the rocky landscape of the Crau was formed. In memory of this moment of piety and extraordinary aid, people might invoke Heracles Saxanus at times when, surrounded by enemies, they feared for their lives and only divine intervention might save them. Having become a God, Heracles is inclined to recall his own distress and aid in turn those who are suddenly in need of him.
Inscriptions in honour of Hercules Saxsanus stretched from Germania Inferior and Gallia Belgica as far as Noricum and Venetia, with a special concentration in Germania Superior.
SOURCE : Wikipedia