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Heracles (means glory of Hera) is best known as the strongest of all mortals and considered as super hero on a grand scale. He is much stronger compared to other Gods. He was the deciding factor in allowing the Olympian Gods to win their battle with the giants. He was the last mortal son of Zeus. He is the only man born of mortal woman to become a god upon his death.
Offsetting his strength was a noticeable lack of intelligence or wisdom. Once when he became too hot he pulled his bow out and threatens to shoot the sun. This coupled with strong emotions in one so powerful frequently got Heracles in trouble. While his friend and cousin Theseus ruled Athens, Heracles had trouble ruling him. His pride was easily offended. He took up grudges easily and never forgot them. His appetites for food, wine, and women were as massive as his strength. Many of Heracles great deeds occurred while doing penance for stupid acts done in anger or carelessness.
It would be easy to view Heracles as a muscle bound buffoon. Indeed, many of the comic Greek playwrights used him this way. Even among serious critics he was often seen as a primitive, brutal, and violent. There is much to support this view. His chosen weapon was a massive club. His customary garment a lion skin, head still attached. He impiously wounded some of the gods. He threatened Apollo priestess at Delphi when an answer to his questions was not forthcoming. He created most of his own problems.
However, Heracles as simply a macho buffoon is unfair. If he held grudges, he would also do anything to help a friend. Once his anger passed he was the most critical judge of his own actions. He was too strong for anyone to force a punishment on him. That he willing did severe penance shows a fundamental sense of justice. During his punishments he shows patience, fortitude and endurance that are as heroic as his strength. Terrible things happen to him because of Hera's hatred, a hatred that he is not responsible for. That he perseveres through it all is a moral victory beyond simple strength.
The view of Heracles shifted considerable over time. The early view focused on how badly he managed despite his obvious gifts. As time pass the focus shifted to his virtues. The Romans valued him highly as he best fit their idea of a hero. He eventually had a fair sized cult that worshiped him as a god.
The twelve Labors of Heracles for King Eurystheus
Zeus, having made Alcmene pregnant with Heracles, proclaimed that the next son born of the house of Persues would become king. Hera, Zeus was furious; however, his rash proclamation still stood.
In a fit of madness, induced by Hera, Heracles slew his wife and children; the fit then passed. Realizing what he had done, he isolated himself, going into the wilderness and living alone. He was found (by his brother Iphicles) and convinced to visit the Oracle at Delphi. The oracle told him that as a penance he would have to perform a series of ten tasks set by King Eurystheus, the man who had taken Heracles birth right, the man he hated the most. Heracles kills many during his labors and adventures. Some are monster and tyrants. He kills some through misunderstanding (Hippolyte, The Amazon Queen) and some in rage (Lichas and Iphitus). Most importantly, Heracles is working to restore order, to further common good. He destroys monster that threaten the crops and herds, rescue populace from cruel rulers and pirates, established his friends or just leaders to rule, overcomes tremendous physical odds and conquers unknown territory, all to organize and consolidate the world into order and deliver it from chaos. Heracles successfully carried them all out, but Eurystheus deemed that two of the tasks had been failed due to Heracles being helped and allocated so King Eurystheus decided to add two more of his labors, which Heracles also completed, making twelve.
The traditional order of the twelve labors that Heracles done is:
1. Kill the lion of Nemea
Heracles first task that he must performed for King Eurythus is to put to death the mighty Lion of Nemea. Heracles used his bow and arrow to kill the Lion of Nemea. Apparently the arrows just bounced off the lion's coat. Heracles had no choice but to fight the monster with his bare hands. The fight was so violent. Heracles had his little finger bitten off but this only made him angrier and stronger. He grasped the lion tightly around the neck and squeezed. The lion choked to death. After the lion death Heracles skinned the lion and wears the skin for protection.
2. Kill the nine headed Hydra
Hydra is a water monster. It had a dog's body and nine snake's heads. When Eurystheus set this task it seemed impossible but once again Heracles proved equal to it. When Heracles and his brave young nephew Iolaus arrived at the Lernean swamps, where the Hydra's lair was located, the goddess Athena greeted them. She told Heracles to put the tips of his arrow in the Hydra's poisonous blood because he might need them in his future labors. She also said that he had to fight the monster whilst, he held his breath, as the foul stench was also poisonous. Heracles got ready to fight and as soon as the Hydra came out he struck off one the Hydra's heads with his club. But as soon as he struck it off another one grew it's placed. And all the time the slimy creature tightened its grip on our brave hero. Heracles asked Iolaus to put fire to the wound as he chopped of each head. Iolaus quickly lit a torch and put the flame to the pulp. The wounds were sealed and new heads did not grow. When the time the creature was dead Heracles followed Athena's advice to dip his arrows in its poisonous blood. These weapons will be deadlier than ever, when used in the tasks to come. Everyone living locally was really happy when the Hydra was dead.
3. Capture the Erymanthian Boar
Heracles next task was to go to Mount Erymanthus in Southern Greece where there a huge wild boar roamed. Heracles doesn't want to kill the boar. He wants to bring the boar back, so Heracles chased it and chased it cutting herself into ribbon in the process on Mount Erymanthus sharp thorn bushes. All seemed lost for Heracles when suddenly it began to snow. He follows the boar's footprints until Heracles caught up it and drove it into a snowdrift. Now is the chance of Heracles he sprung on top of the wild boar and chained his deadly snout shut. He then lifted the beast around his shoulders and carried it all the way back to Tiryns.
4. Capture the Cerynian Hind
The next task that Heracles must do was to capture the Cerynian hind. Heracles had been stalking it for a whole year. The deer, sacred to Artemis the goddess of hunting, has got hooves bronze and horns of gold. It has got the most beautiful hair coat and is fast and supple. This is why it took Heracles a year to catch it, because he had to capture and not kill the animal. Heracles shot it through feet to bring down without killing it. Heracles came close many times, but the Ceryneian Hind was too fast for him to catch. The stag was very timid. The only way that Heracles thinks to stop the stag is to shoot it in the hoof. King Eurystheus was very surprise that Heracles had caught the Cerynean Hind. Since Heracles has done this task easily, King Eurystheus need to think something that is a little more difficult for the next Heracles task.
5. Clean the Augean stables in one day
The next task was to clean out the stables of King of Elis in one day. These stables are infamous for their dirt. It seemed an impossible task. Cleaning these stables would take a lifetime. Then the goddess Athene came to Heracles and told Heracles what to do. Goddess of Athene told to Heracles that the only way to clean this stables is by using water so Heracles went to a nearby river and dug a channel diverting the river through the stables. The water washed out all the dung. Augeus refuses to pay. Eurytheus refuses to accept the labor, saying it was done for profit.
6. Kill the carnivorous birds of Stymphalis
The next task is to get rid of the Stymphalian Birds. These monstrous, man- eating birds have bronze claws and beaks. They also have fire bronze spikes out of their wings. It was fortunate that Heracles had his lion-skin armor on. The only way that Heracles does to rid Stymphalian birds is by the help of Athena and the Hydra's blood.
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