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Hercules: Pillar of Strength
By Juliana Davila

In all of Greek mythology, there seems to be one name that almost everyone can recognize. Born a demigod and immortalized by the Twelve Labors, Herakles is perhaps one of the most well-known figures of Greek mythology, and possibly even mythology in general. This son of Zeus is more commonly referred to by the name of his Roman counterpart, Hercules, a name that has become equated with strength and the ability to overcome even the toughest of adversaries. His fan base is wide and varied, and while his story is often twisted and changed, at the core, Hercules remains an intensely admired symbol of strength.

Hercules was the result of yet another one of Zeus’ infamous love affairs, much to Hera’s dismay. Zeus’ tryst this time was with the woman, Alcmene, who attempted to stave off Hera’s wrath and jealousy of her child by Zeus in naming him Herakles, a name that means “glory of Hera.” From the first of his life, Hercules’ incredible strength was made apparent. While still in the cradle, Hera sent two serpents to kill the baby boy, but Hercules strangled the both of them before they could do any harm to him.

Even at that early age of his life, Hera proved herself to be Hercules’ greatest nemesis. It was she that drove Hercules to his madness, a madness that caused him to kill his wife, Megara, and their children. Once fully in control of his senses again, Hercules imposed an exile onto himself in shame of his actions. He also sought out Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. It was the oracle that sent him to King Eurystheus, ruler of Tiryns and Mycenae, telling Hercules that he had to complete 10 tasks, a number that would later be increased to 12, while serving this king for twelve years. However, King Eurystheus was not alone in choosing the tasks assigned to the son of Zeus, for Hera, of course, got involved.

While the actual order of the Twelve Labors is often changed, there are two certainties to the myth. One is that there were, indeed, twelve, and the other is that the first labor was the slaying of the Nemean lion. The order of the labors that seem to be most common is as follows:

01. The Nemean Lion
02. The Lernean Hydra
03. The Hind of Ceryneia
04. The Erymanthean Boar
05. The Augean Stables
06. The Stymphalian Birds
07. The Cretan Bull
08. The Mares of Diomedes
09. The Girdle of Hippolyta
10. Geryon’s Cattle
11. The Apples of Hesperides
12. Cerberus

With the help of gods like Athena and Hermes, as well as mortals such as Ioloas, Hercules was able to complete his twelve tasks and end his servitude to King Erymanthus. Hercules would continue his adventures, but he would eventually settle down with his second wife, Deianira. Through no true fault of her own, Deianira would ultimately bring about the downfall of one of Greece’s most admired heroes.

There was a centaur by the name of Nessos that once tried to abduct or assault Hercules’ wife while they were traveling. Angered by the action, Hercules shot Nessos with an arrow to kill him. In the centaur’s dying breaths, he told Deianira that his blood could act as a love potion, and so she kept some of it in a jar, believing that the centaur spoke the truth. Deianira later suspected Hercules of cheating on her, and so she spread the blood upon a cloak she had woven for her husband. What she thought was a love potion was in actuality poison, and the moment Hercules wrapped the cloak around his shoulders, it began to act. The pain was unbearable to Hercules, and rather than live with the torturous pain, he asked his friends to build a funeral pyre for him. In his death, Hercules ascended to Mount Olympus, where he was granted immortality and his place among the gods.

Few of the gods of Greece can boast of popularity similar to that of the mighty Hercules. Streets, cities and geographic formations have been named after him, and he has his very own constellation circling the night sky above. Movies, television series, poems and artwork – all of these have been inspired by the epic myth of one man, one legend, Hercules.

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