Heracles (/ˈhɛrəkliːz/ HERR-ə-kleez; Greek: Ἡρακλῆς,
Hēraklēs, from Hēra, "Hera"), born Alcaeus (Ἀλκαῖος,
Alkaios) or Alcides (Ἀλκείδης, Alkeidēs), was a divine
hero in Greek mythology, the son of
Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of
Amphitryon and great-grandson and half-brother (as they are both
sired by the god Zeus) of Perseus. He was the greatest of the Greek
heroes, a paragon of masculinity, the ancestor of royal clans who
claimed to be
Heracleidae (Ἡρακλεῖδαι), and a champion of
the Olympian order against chthonic monsters. In Rome and the modern
West, he is known as Hercules, with whom the later Roman emperors, in
Commodus and Maximian, often identified themselves. The
Romans adopted the Greek version of his life and works essentially
unchanged, but added anecdotal detail of their own, some of it linking
the hero with the geography of the Central Mediterranean. Details of
his cult were adapted to Rome as well.
Hero or god
1.2 Christian chronology
3.1 Birth and childhood
3.3 Labours of Heracles
3.4 Further adventures
3.7 Rescue of Prometheus
3.8 Heracles' constellation
3.9 Heracles' sack of Troy
3.10 Other adventures
5.1 Consorts and children
Hercules around the world
6.3 Other cultures
7 Uses of
Heracles as a name
9 See also
12 Further reading
12.1 Primary sources
13 External links
Many popular stories were told of his life, the most famous being The
Twelve Labours of Heracles; Alexandrian poets of the Hellenistic age
drew his mythology into a high poetic and tragic atmosphere. His
figure, which initially drew on Near Eastern motifs such as the
lion-fight, was widely known.
Heracles was the greatest of Hellenic chthonic heroes, but unlike
other Greek heroes, no tomb was identified as his.
Heracles was both
hero and god, as
Pindar says heroes theos; at the same festival
sacrifice was made to him, first as a hero, with a chthonic libation,
and then as a god, upon an altar: thus he embodies the closest Greek
approach to a "demi-god". The core of the story of
been identified by
Walter Burkert as originating in Neolithic hunter
culture and traditions of shamanistic crossings into the
Hero or god
Heracles' role as a culture hero, whose death could be a subject of
mythic telling (see below), was accepted into the Olympian Pantheon
during Classical times. This created an awkwardness in the encounter
Odysseus in the episode of
Odyssey XI, called the Nekuia, where
Heracles in Hades:
And next I caught a glimpse of powerful Heracles—
His ghost I mean: the man himself delights
in the grand feasts of the deathless gods on high...
Around him cries of the dead rang out like cries of birds
scattering left and right in horror as on he came like night..."
Ancient critics were aware of the problem of the aside that interrupts
the vivid and complete description, in which
Odysseus and hails him, and modern critics find very good reasons for
denying that the verses beginning, in Fagles' translation His ghost I
mean... were part of the original composition: "once people knew of
Heracles' admission to Olympus, they would not tolerate his presence
in the underworld", remarks Friedrich Solmsen, noting that the
interpolated verses represent a compromise between conflicting
representations of Heracles.
In Christian circles a Euhemerist reading of the widespread Heracles
cult was attributed to a historical figure who had been offered cult
status after his death. Thus Eusebius, Preparation of the Gospel
(10.12), reported that Clement could offer historical dates for
Hercules as a king in Argos: "from the reign of
the deification of
Hercules himself and of
Asclepius there are
comprised thirty-eight years, according to Apollodorus the chronicler:
and from that point to the deification of Castor and Pollux
fifty-three years: and somewhere about this time was the capture of
Heracles in Agrigento
Readers with a literalist bent, following Clement's reasoning, have
asserted from this remark that, since
Heracles ruled over
Argos at the same time that
Eurystheus ruled over Mycenae, and since
at about this time Linus was Heracles' teacher, one can conclude,
based on Jerome's date—in his universal history, his
Chronicon—given to Linus' notoriety in teaching
Heracles in 1264
BCE, that Heracles' death and deification occurred 38 years later, in
approximately 1226 BCE.
The ancient Greeks celebrated the festival of the Heracleia, which
commemorated the death of Heracles, on the second day of the month of
Metageitnion (which would fall in late July or early August). What is
believed to be an Egyptian Temple of
Heracles in the Bahariya Oasis
dates to 21 BCE. A reassessment of Ptolemy's descriptions of the
Malta attempted to link the site at
Ras ir-Raħeb with a
temple to Heracles, but the arguments are not conclusive.
Several ancient cities were named Heraclea in his honor.
Greek mythology influenced the Etruscans. This vase at
King Eurytus of Oechalia
King Eurytus of Oechalia and
Heracles in a symposium. Krater of
corinthian columns called 'Krater of Eurytion', circa 600 B.C.
Extraordinary strength, courage, ingenuity, and sexual prowess with
both males and females were among the characteristics commonly
attributed to him.
Heracles used his wits on several occasions when
his strength did not suffice, such as when laboring for the king
Augeas of Elis, wrestling the giant Antaeus, or tricking Atlas into
taking the sky back onto his shoulders. Together with
Hermes he was
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 labors 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 was an extremely passionate and emotional individual, capable
of doing both great deeds for his friends (such as wrestling with
Thanatos on behalf of Prince Admetus, who had regaled
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, as Augeas, Neleus
Laomedon all found out to their cost.
Birth and childhood
Heracles strangling snakes (detail from an Attic red-figured stamnos,
c. 480–470 BCE)
A major factor in the well-known tragedies surrounding
Heracles is the
hatred that the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, had for him. A full
Heracles must render it clear why
Heracles was so tormented
by Hera, when there were many illegitimate offspring sired by Zeus.
Heracles was the son of the affair
Zeus had with the mortal woman
Zeus made love to her 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, a case of heteropaternal superfecundation, where a woman carries
twins sired by different fathers). Thus, Heracles' very existence
proved at least one of Zeus' many illicit affairs, and
conspired against Zeus' mortal offspring as revenge for her husband's
infidelities. His twin mortal brother, son of Amphitryon, was
Iphicles, father of Heracles' charioteer Iolaus.
The Origin of the Milky Way by Jacopo Tintoretto
On the night the twins
Iphicles were to be born, Hera,
knowing of her husband Zeus' adultery, persuaded
Zeus to swear an oath
that the child born that night to a member of the House of Perseus
would become High King.
Hera did this knowing that while
to be born a descendant of Perseus, so too was Eurystheus. Once the
oath was sworn,
Hera hurried to Alcmene's dwelling and slowed the
birth of the twins
Iphicles by forcing Ilithyia, goddess
of childbirth, to sit crosslegged with her clothing tied in knots,
thereby causing the twins to be trapped in the womb. Meanwhile, Hera
Eurystheus to be born prematurely, making him High King in
place of Heracles. She would have permanently delayed Heracles' birth
had she not been fooled by Galanthis, Alcmene's servant, who lied to
Ilithyia, saying that
Alcmene had already delivered the baby. Upon
hearing this, she jumped in surprise, loosing the knots and
Alcmene to give birth to
Heracles and Iphicles.
Heracles as a boy strangling a snake (marble, Roman artwork, 2nd
Fear of Hera's revenge led
Alcmene to expose the infant Heracles, but
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
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
Heracles had acquired supernatural powers.
the infant back to his mother, and he was subsequently raised by his
The child was originally given the name Alcides by his parents; it was
only later that he became known as Heracles. He was renamed
Heracles in an unsuccessful attempt to mollify Hera. He and his twin
were just eight months old when
Hera sent two giant snakes into the
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.
The choice of
Hercules by Annibale Carracci
After killing his music tutor Linus with a lyre, he was sent to tend
cattle on a mountain by his foster father Amphitryon. Here, according
to an allegorical parable, "The Choice of Heracles", invented by the
Prodicus (c. 400 BCE) and reported in Xenophon's Memorabilia
2.1.21–34, 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. This was part of a
pattern of "ethicizing"
Heracles over the 5th century BCE.
Later in Thebes,
Heracles married King Creon's daughter, Megara. In a
fit of madness, induced by Hera,
Heracles killed his children by
Megara. After his madness had been cured with hellebore by Antikyreus,
the founder of Antikyra, he realized what he had done and fled to
the Oracle of Delphi. Unbeknownst to him, the Oracle was guided by
Hera. He was directed to serve King
Eurystheus for ten years and
perform any task
Eurystheus required of him.
Eurystheus decided to
Heracles ten labours, but after completing them,
Eurystheus when he added two more, resulting in the Twelve
Labors of Heracles.
Labours of Heracles
The fight of
Heracles and the
Nemean lion is one of his most famous
feats. (Side B from a black-figure Attic amphora, c. 540 BCE)
His eleventh feat was to capture the apple of
bronze, Roman artwork, 2nd century CE)
Main article: Labours of Hercules
Driven mad by Hera,
Heracles slew his own children. To expiate the
Heracles was required to carry out ten labors set by his
archenemy, Eurystheus, who had become king in Heracles' place. If he
succeeded, he would be purified of his sin and, as myth says, he would
be granted immortality.
Heracles accomplished these tasks, but
Eurystheus did not accept the cleansing of the Augean stables because
Heracles was going to accept pay for the labor. Neither did he accept
the killing of the
Lernaean Hydra as Heracles' nephew, Iolaus, had
helped him burn the stumps of the heads.
Eurystheus set two more tasks
(fetching the Golden Apples of
Hesperides and capturing Cerberus),
Heracles performed successfully, bringing the total number of
tasks up to twelve.
Not all writers gave the labours in the same order. The Bibliotheca
(2.5.1–2.5.12) gives the following order:
Slay the Nemean Lion.
Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
Capture the Cretan Bull.
Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
Steal the apples of the
Hesperides (he had the help of Atlas to pick
Hercules had slain Ladon).
Capture and bring back Cerberus.
After completing these tasks,
Heracles joined the
Argonauts in a
search for the Golden Fleece. He also fell in love with Princess Iole
King Eurytus of Oechalia
King Eurytus of Oechalia promised his daughter, Iole, to
whoever could beat his sons in an archery contest.
Heracles won but
Eurytus abandoned his promise. Heracles' advances were spurned by the
king and his sons, except for one: Iole's brother Iphitus. Heracles
killed the king and his sons—excluding Iphitus—and abducted Iole.
Iphitus became Heracles' best friend. However, once again,
Heracles mad and he threw
Iphitus over the city wall to his death.
Heracles purified himself through three years of
servitude—this time to Queen
Omphale of Lydia.
Main article: Omphale
Omphale was a queen or princess of Lydia. As penalty for a murder,
imposed by Xenoclea, the Delphic Oracle,
Heracles was to serve as her
slave for a year. He was forced to do women's work and to wear women's
clothes, while she wore the skin of the
Nemean Lion and carried his
olive-wood club. After some time,
Heracles and married
him. Some sources mention a son born to them who is variously named.
It was at that time that the cercopes, mischievous wood spirits, stole
Heracles' weapons. He punished them by tying them to a stick with
their faces pointing downward.
While walking through the wilderness,
Heracles was set upon by the
Dryopes. In Apollonius of Rhodes'
Argonautica it is recalled that
Heracles had mercilessly slain their king, Theiodamas, over one of the
latter's bulls, and made war upon the
Dryopes "because they gave no
heed to justice in their lives". After the death of their king,
Dryopes gave in and offered him Prince Hylas. He took the youth on
as his weapons bearer and beloved. Years later,
Heracles and Hylas
joined the crew of the Argo. As Argonauts, they only participated in
part of the journey. In Mysia,
Hylas was kidnapped by the nymphs of a
local spring. Heracles, heartbroken, searched for a long time but
Hylas had fallen in love with the nymphs and never showed up again. In
other versions, he simply drowned. Either way, the
Argo set sail
Rescue of Prometheus
Theogony and Aeschylus'
Prometheus Unbound both tell that
Heracles shot and killed the eagle that tortured
Prometheus (which was
his punishment by
Zeus for stealing fire from the gods and giving it
Heracles freed the Titan from his chains and his
Prometheus then made predictions regarding further deeds of
On his way back to
Mycenae from Iberia, having obtained the Cattle of
Geryon as his tenth labour,
Heracles came to
Liguria in North-Western
Italy where he engaged in battle with two giants, Albion and Bergion
or Dercynus, sons of Poseidon. The opponents were strong;
in a difficult position so he prayed to his father
Zeus for help.
Under the aegis of Zeus,
Heracles won the battle. It was this kneeling
Heracles when he prayed to his father
Zeus that gave the
name Engonasin ("Εγγόνασιν", derived from "εν
γόνασιν"), meaning "on his knees" or "the Kneeler", to the
constellation known as Heracles' constellation. The story, among
others, is described by Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
Heracles' sack of Troy
A fresco from
Greco-Roman mythology, 1st century AD
Before Homer's Trojan War,
Heracles had made an expedition to
sacked it. Previously,
Poseidon had sent a sea monster to attack Troy.
The story is related in several digressions in the
20.145–148, 21.442–457) and is found in pseudo-Apollodorus'
Bibliotheke (2.5.9). This expedition became the theme of the Eastern
pediment of the Temple of Aphaea.
Laomedon planned on sacrificing his
Poseidon in the hope of appeasing him. Heracles
happened to arrive (along with
Telamon and Oicles) and agreed to kill
the monster if
Laomedon would give him the horses received from Zeus
as compensation for Zeus' kidnapping Ganymede.
Heracles killed the monster, but
Laomedon went back on his word.
Accordingly, in a later expedition,
Heracles and his followers
Troy and sacked it. Then they slew all Laomedon's sons
present there save Podarces, who was renamed Priam, who saved his own
life by giving
Heracles a golden veil
Hesione had made.
Hesione as a war prize; they were married and had a son, Teucer.
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Heracles fighting the servants of the Egyptian King Busiris, Attic
Pelike, c.470 BC
Heracles defeated the
Bebryces (ruled by King Mygdon) and gave their
land to Prince Lycus of Mysia, son of Dascylus.
He killed the robber Termerus.
Heracles visited Evander with Antor, who then stayed in Italy.
Heracles killed King
Amyntor of the
Dolopes for not allowing him into
his kingdom. He also killed King
Emathion of Arabia.
Heracles kills the Egyptian King Busiris and his followers after they
attempt to sacrifice him to the gods.
Lityerses after beating him in a contest of
Periclymenus at Pylos.
Heracles killed Syleus for forcing strangers to hoe a vineyard.
Heracles rivaled with Lepreus and eventually killed him.
Heracles founded the city Tarentum (modern
Taranto in Italy).
Heracles learned music from Linus (and Eumolpus), but killed him after
Linus corrected his mistakes. He learned how to wrestle from
Autolycus. He killed the famous boxer
Sicily in a match.
Heracles was an Argonaut. He killed
Alastor and his brothers.
Heracles killing the giant, Antaeus
Hippocoon overthrew his brother, Tyndareus, as King of Sparta,
Heracles reinstated the rightful ruler and killed
Hippocoon and his
Heracles killed Cycnus, the son of Ares. The expedition against
Cycnus, in which
Iolaus accompanied Heracles, is the ostensible theme
of a short epic attributed to Hesiod, Shield of Heracles.
Heracles killed the Giants
Alcyoneus and Porphyrion.
Antaeus the giant who was immortal while touching the
earth, by picking him up and holding him in the air while strangling
Heracles went to war with
Augeias after he denied him a promised
reward for clearing his stables.
Augeias remained undefeated due to
the skill of his two generals, the Molionides, and after
ill, his army was badly beaten. Later, however, he was able to ambush
and kill the Molionides, and thus march into Elis, sack it, and kill
Augeias and his sons.
Heracles visited the house of
Admetus on the day Admetus' wife,
Alcestis, had agreed to die in his place. By hiding beside the grave
Heracles was able to surprise Death when he came to
collect her, and by squeezing him tight until he relented, was able to
persuade Death to return
Alcestis to her husband.
Heracles challenged wine god
Dionysus to a drinking contest and lost,
resulting in his joining the
Thiasus for a period.
Heracles also appears in Aristophanes' The Frogs, in which Dionysus
seeks out the hero to find a way to the underworld.
greatly amused by Dionysus' appearance and jokingly offers several
ways to commit suicide before finally offering his knowledge of how to
get to there.
Heracles appears as the ancestral hero of
Scythia in Herodotus' text.
Heracles is sleeping out in the wilderness, a half-woman,
half-snake creature steals his horses.
Heracles eventually finds the
creature, but she refuses to return the horses until he has sex with
her. After doing so, he takes back his horses, but before leaving, he
hands over his belt and bow, and gives instructions as to which of
their children should found a new nation in Scythia.
In the fifth book of the New History, ascribed by
Photius to Ptolemy
Hephaestion, mention that
Heracles did not wear the skin of the Nemean
lion, but that of a certain Lion giant killed by
Heracles whom he had
challenged to single combat.
Hercules (painting by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634, Museo del
This is described in Sophocles's
Trachiniae and in Ovid's
Metamorphoses Book IX. Having wrestled and defeated Achelous, god of
the Acheloos river,
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 is true to the
archetype of the mischievous centaur and tries to steal
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
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,
Lichas into the sea,
thinking he was the one who poisoned him (according to several
Lichas turns to stone, becoming a rock standing in the sea,
named for 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
Heracles rises to Olympus as he dies.
No one but Heracles' friend
Poeas in some versions) would
light his funeral pyre (in an alternate version, it is
lights the pyre). For this action,
Heracles' bow and arrows, which were later needed by the Greeks to
Troy in the Trojan War.
Philoctetes confronted Paris and shot a poisoned arrow at him. The
Hydra poison subsequently led to the death of Paris. The Trojan War,
however, continued until the
Trojan Horse was used to defeat Troy.
According to Herodotus,
Heracles lived 900 years before Herodotus' own
time (c. 1300 BCE).
During the course of his life,
Heracles married four times.
His first marriage was to Megara, whose children he murdered in a fit
Pseudo-Apollodorus (Bibliotheke) recounts that Megara was
unharmed and given in marriage to Iolaus, while in Euripides' version
Heracles also killed Megara.
His second wife was Omphale, the Lydian queen or princess to whom he
was delivered as a slave.
His third marriage was to Deianira, for whom he had to fight the river
Achelous (upon Achelous' death,
Heracles removed one of his horns
and gave it to some nymphs who turned it into the cornucopia). Soon
after they wed,
Deianira had to cross a river, and a
centaur named Nessus offered to help
Deianira across but then
attempted to rape her. Enraged,
Heracles shot the centaur from the
opposite shore with a poisoned arrow (tipped with the Lernaean Hydra's
blood) and killed him. As he lay dying, Nessus plotted revenge, told
Deianira to gather up his blood and spilled semen and, if she ever
wanted to prevent
Heracles from having affairs with other women, she
should apply them to his vestments. Nessus knew that his blood had
become tainted by the poisonous blood of the Hydra, and would burn
through the skin of anyone it touched. Later, when
Heracles was fond of Iole, she soaked a shirt of his in the
mixture, creating the poisoned shirt of Nessus. Heracles' servant,
Lichas, brought him the shirt and he put it on. Instantly he was in
agony, the cloth burning into him. As he tried to remove it, the flesh
ripped from his bones.
Heracles chose a voluntary death, asking that a
pyre be built for him to end his suffering. After death, the gods
transformed him into an immortal, or alternatively, the fire burned
away the mortal part of the demigod, so that only the god remained.
After his mortal parts had been incinerated, he could become a full
god and join his father and the other Olympians on Mount Olympus.
His fourth marriage was to Hebe, his last wife.
An episode of his female affairs that stands out was his stay at the
palace of Thespius, king of Thespiae, who wished him to kill the Lion
of Cithaeron. As a reward, the king offered him the chance to perform
sexual intercourse with all fifty of his daughters in one night.
Heracles complied and they all became pregnant and all bore sons. This
is sometimes referred to as his Thirteenth Labour. Many of the kings
Greece traced their lines to one or another of these,
notably the kings of
Sparta and Macedon.
Yet another episode of his female affairs that stands out was when he
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
identified as Echidna) 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. In some versions, the Scythian echidna's
children by him are known as the Dracontidae and were the ancestors of
a House of Cadmus.
Iolaus (Fountain mosaic from the
As a symbol of masculinity and warriorship,
Heracles also had a number
of male lovers. Plutarch, in his Eroticos, maintains that Heracles'
male lovers were beyond counting. Of these, the one most closely
Heracles is the Theban Iolaus. According to a myth thought
to be of ancient origins,
Iolaus was Heracles' charioteer and squire.
Heracles in the end helped
Iolaus find a wife.
Plutarch reports that
down to his own time, male couples would go to Iolaus's tomb in Thebes
to swear an oath of loyalty to the hero and to each other.
One of Heracles' male lovers, and one represented in ancient as well
as modern art, is Hylas. Though it is of more recent vintage (dated to
the 3rd century) than that with Iolaus, it had themes of mentoring in
the ways of a warrior and help finding a wife in the end. There is
nothing in Apollonius's account that suggests that
Hylas was a sexual
lover as opposed to a companion and servant.
Another reputed male lover of
Heracles is Elacatas, who was honored in
Sparta with a sanctuary and yearly games, Elacatea. The myth of their
love is an ancient one.
Abdera's eponymous hero, Abderus, was another of Heracles' lovers. He
was said to have been entrusted with—and slain by—the carnivorous
mares of Thracian Diomedes.
Heracles founded the city of Abdera in
Thrace in his memory, where he was honored with athletic games.
Another myth is that of Iphitus.
Another story is the one of his love for Nireus, who was "the most
beautiful man who came beneath Ilion" (Iliad, 673). But
that certain authors made
Nireus out to be a son of Heracles.
Pausanias makes mention of Sostratus, a youth of Dyme, Achaea, as a
lover of Heracles. Sostratus was said to have died young and to have
been buried by
Heracles outside the city. The tomb was still there in
historical times, and the inhabitants of Dyme honored Sostratus as a
hero. The youth seems to have also been referred to as
There is also a series of lovers who are either later inventions or
purely literary conceits. Among these are Admetus, who assisted in the
hunt for the Calydonian Boar, Adonis, Corythus, and Nestor
who was said to have been loved for his wisdom. His role as lover was
perhaps to explain why he was the only son of
Neleus to be spared by
A scholiast on
Argonautica lists the following male lovers of
Heracles: "Hylas, Philoctetes, Diomus, Perithoas, and Phrix, after
whom a city in
Libya was named". Diomus is also mentioned by
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium as the eponym of the deme Diomeia of the Attic
Heracles is said to have fallen in love with Diomus when
he was received as guest by Diomus' father Collytus. Perithoas and
Phrix are otherwise unknown, and so is the version that suggests a
sexual relationship between
Heracles and Philoctetes.
Main article: Heracleidae
Heracles and his child Telephus. (Marble, Roman copy of the 1st or 2nd
All of Heracles' marriages and almost all of his heterosexual affairs
resulted in births of a number of sons and at least four daughters.
One of the most prominent is Hyllus, the son of
Heracles and Deianeira
or Melite. The term Heracleidae, although it could refer to all of
Heracles' children and further descendants, is most commonly used to
indicate the descendants of Hyllus, in the context of their lasting
struggle for return to Peloponnesus, out of where
Hyllus and his
brothers—the children of
Heracles by Deianeira—were thought to
have been expelled by Eurystheus.
The children of
Heracles by Megara are collectively well known because
of their ill fate, but there is some disagreement among sources as to
their number and individual names. Apollodorus lists three,
Therimachus, Creontiades and Deicoon; to these Hyginus adds
Ophitus and, probably by mistake, Archelaus, who is otherwise known to
have belonged to the Heracleidae, but to have lived several
generations later. A scholiast on Pindar' s odes provides a list of
seven completely different names: Anicetus, Chersibius, Mecistophonus,
Menebrontes, Patrocles, Polydorus, Toxocleitus.
Other well-known children of
Heracles include Telephus, king of Mysia
(by Auge), and Tlepolemus, one of the Greek commanders in the Trojan
War (by Astyoche).
According to Herodotus, a line of 22 Kings of
Lydia descended from
Hercules and Omphale. The line was called Tylonids after his Lydian
The divine sons of
Heracles and Hebe are Alexiares and Anicetus.
Consorts and children
Astydameia, daughter of Ormenius
Astyoche, daughter of Phylas
Autonoe, daughter of Piraeus / Iphinoe, daughter of Antaeus
Baletia, daughter of Baletus
The Scythian dracaena or Echidna
Lavinia, daughter of Evander
Malis, a slave of Omphale
Palantho of Hyperborea
Parthenope, daughter of Stymphalus
Rhea, Italian priestess
Thebe (daughter of Adramys)
Tinge, wife of Antaeus
50 daughters of Thespius
50 sons, see Thespius#Daughters and grandchildren
Unnamed Celtic woman
Unnamed slave of Omphale
Alcaeus / Cleodaeus
Unnamed daughter of Syleus (Xenodoce?)
Phaestus or Rhopalus
Hercules around the world
Hercules in ancient Rome
Heracles was honored as Hercules, and had a number of
distinctively Roman myths and practices associated with him under that
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.
Hercules in popular culture
Hellenistic-era depiction of the
Zoroastrian divinity Bahram as
Hercules carved in 153 BCE at Kermanshah, Iran.
Vajrapani of the
Buddha is another incarnation of
Heracles (Gandhara, 1st century CE)
The Mathura Herakles, strangling the Nemean lion. Also: . Today
Kolkota Indian Museum.
Greco-Buddhist culture, Heraclean symbolism was transmitted to
the Far East. An example remains to this day in the
deities in front of Japanese Buddhist temples.
Herodotus also connected
Heracles to Phoenician god Melqart.
Sallust mentions in his work on the
Jugurthine War that the Africans
Heracles to have died in
Spain where, his multicultural army
being left without a leader, the Medes, Persians, and
were once under his command split off and populated the Mediterranean
coast of Africa.
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
The gateway to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, where
the southernmost tip of
Spain and the northernmost of Morocco face
each other is, classically speaking, referred to as the Pillars of
Hercules/Heracles, owing to the story that he set up two massive
spires of stone to stabilise the area and ensure the safety of ships
sailing between the two landmasses.
Heracles as a name
In various languages, variants of Hercules' name are used as a male
given name, such as Hercule in French,
Hércules in Spanish, Iraklis
(Greek: Ηρακλής) in Modern Greek and Irakliy in Russian.
Also, there are many teams around the world which have this name or
Heracles as their symbol. The most popular in
Greece is G.S.
Greek mythology portal
Other figures in
Greek mythology punished by the gods include
Heracles in other mythological traditions
^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867). "Alceides". In William Smith. Dictionary
of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 1. Boston: Little, Brown
and Company. p. 98. Archived from the original on
^ Bibliotheca ii. 4. § 12
^ a b By his adoptive descent through Amphitryon,
the epithet Alcides, as "of the line of Alcaeus", father of
Amphitryon. Amphitryon's own, mortal son was Iphicles
^ a b Burkert 1985, pp. 208–9
^ Burkert 1985, pp. 208–212.
^ Robert Fagles' translation, 1996:269.
^ Solmsen, Friedrich (1981). "The Sacrifice of Agamemnon's Daughter in
Hesiod's' Ehoeae". The American Journal of Philology. 102 (4):
353–358 [p. 355]. JSTOR 294322.
^ Ptol. iv. 3. § 37
^ Ventura, F. (1988). "Ptolemy's Maltese Co-ordinates". Hyphen. V (6):
^ Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 4.32.1
^ Aelian, Varia Historia, 12.15
^ Aelian, Varia Historia, 5.3
^ Compare the two pairs of twins born to Leda and the "double"
parentage of Theseus.
^ Andrew Ford, Aristotle as Poet, Oxford, 2011, p. 208 n. 5, citing,
in addition to Prodicus/Xenophon, Antisthenes,
Herodorus (esp. FGrHist
31 F 14), and (in the 4th century) Plato's use of "
Heracles as a
figure for Socrates' life (and death?): Apology 22a, cf. Theaetetus
175a, Lysis 205c."
^ Pausanias Χ 3.1, 36.5. Ptolemaeus, Geogr. Hyph. ΙΙ 184. 12.
Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. «Ἀντίκυρα»
^ Richard Hunter, translator,
Jason and the Golden Fleece
(Oxford:Clarendon Press), 1993, p 31f.
^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, i. 41
Ptolemy Hephaestion, New History Book 5 "
Heracles did not wear the
skin of the Nemean lion, but that of a certain Lion, one of the giants
Heracles whom he had challenged to single combat."
^ Ovid, Metamorphoses, IX l.132–3
^ Herodotus, Histories II.145
^ Herodotus, Histories IV. 8–10.
^ Plutarch, Erotikos, 761d.The tomb of
Iolaus is also mentioned by
^ Pindar, Olympian Odes, 9.98–99.
^ Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica, 1.1177–1357; Theocritus, Idyll
^ Sosibius, in Hesychius of Alexandria's Lexicon
^ Bibliotheca 2.5.8; Ptolemaeus Chennus, 147b, in Photius' Bibliotheca
^ Ptolemaeus Chennus, in Photius' Bibliotheca
^ Ptolemaeus Chennus, 147b.
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7. 17. 8
^ Plutarch, Erotikos, 761e.
^ a b Ptolemaeus Chennus
^ Ptolemaeus Chennus, 147e; Philostratus, Heroicus 696, per Sergent,
1986, p. 163.
Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 1. 1207
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Diomeia
^ Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 2. 4. 11 = 2. 7. 8
^ Fabulae 162
Scholia on Pindar, Isthmian Ode 3 (4), 104
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Brettos
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Bargasa
Servius on Virgil's Georgics 2. 115
^ a b Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 1. 43. 1
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Akelēs
^ Solinus, De mirabilia mundi, 1. 15
^ Virgil, Aeneid, 7. 655 ff
^ Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 9. 4
^ Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 5. 24. 2
^ So Conon, Narrationes, 17. In Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 6.
3 a daughter of Syleus, Xenodoce, is killed by Heracles
^ Statius, Thebaid, 6. 837, 10. 249
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Amathous
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Gaza
^ Statius, Thebaid, 6. 346
Servius on Virgil's Eclogue 9. 30
^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 1. 50. 4
^ Hyginus, Fabulae, 162
Stephanus of Byzantium
Stephanus of Byzantium s. v. Phaistos, Rhopalus is the son of
Heracles and Phaestus his own son; in Pausanias, Description of
Greece, 2. 6. 7, vice versa (Phaestus son, Rhopalus grandson)
^ The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, James C. Harle,
Yale University Press, 1994 p.67
Sallust (1963). The Jugurthine War/The Conspiracy of Catiline.
Translated by S.A. Handford. Penguin Books. p. 54.
^ Morford, M. P. O.; Lenardon R. J. (2007). Classical Mythology.
Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 865.
Heracles at Theoi.com Classical literature and art
Timeless Myths –
Heracles The life and adventure of Heracles,
including his twelve labours.
Heracles, Greek Mythology Link
Heracles (in French)
Vollmer: Herkules (1836, in German)
Burkert, Walter, (1977) 1985. Greek Religion (Harvard University
Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London:
Thames and Hudson.
Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Brockliss, William. 2017. "The Hesiodic Shield of Heracles: The Text
as Nightmarish Vision." Illinois Classical Studies 42.1: 1–19.
Burkert, Walter. 1982. "
Heracles and the Master of Animals." In
Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, 78–98. Sather
Classical Lectures 47. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
Haubold, Johannes. 2005. "
Heracles in the Hesiodic Catalogue of
Women." In The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: Constructions and
Reconstructions. Edited by Richard Hunter, 85–98. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge Univ. Press.
Karanika, Andromache. 2011. "The End of the Nekyia: Odysseus,
Heracles, and the
Gorgon in the Underworld." Arethusa 44.1: 1–27.
Padilla, Mark W. 1998. "Herakles and Animals in the Origins of Comedy
Satyr Drama". In Le Bestiaire d'Héraclès: IIIe Rencontre
héracléenne, edited by Corinne Bonnet, Colette Jourdain-Annequin,
and Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, 217–30. Kernos Suppl. 7. Liège:
Centre International d'Etude de la Religion Grecque Antique.
Padilla, Mark W. 1998. "The Myths of Herakles in Ancient Greece:
Survey and Profile". Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America.
Papadimitropoulos, Loukas. 2008. "
Heracles as Tragic Hero." Classical
World 101.2: 131–138. doi:10.1353/clw.2008.0015
Papadopoulou, Thalia. 2005.
Heracles and Euripidean Tragedy. Cambridge
Classical Studies. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Segal, Charles Paul. 1961. "The Character and Cults of
the Unity of the Frogs." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
65:207–242. doi:10.2307/310837. JSTOR 310837.
Stafford, Emma. 2012. Herakles. Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World.
New York: Routledge.
Strid, Ove. 2013. "The Homeric Prefiguration of Sophocles' Heracles."
Hermes 141.4: 381–400. JSTOR 43652880.
Woodford, Susan. 1971. "Cults of Herakles in Attica." In Studies
Presented to George M. A. Hanfmann. Edited by David Gordon Mitten,
John Griffiths Pedley, and Jane Ayer Scott, 211–225. Monographs in
Art and Archaeology 2. Mainz, Germany: Verlag Philipp von Zabern.
Homer, Odyssey, 12.072 (7th century BCE)
Women of Trachis
Women of Trachis (c. 450 BC)
Euripides, Herakles (416 BCE)
Theocritus, Idylls, 13 (350–310 BCE)
Callimachus, Aetia (Causes), 24. Thiodamas the Dryopian, Fragments,
160. Hymn to
Artemis (310–250? BCE)
Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika, I. 1175–1280 (c. 250 BCE)
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.9.19, 2.7.7 (140 BCE)
Sextus Propertius, Elegies, i.20.17ff (50–15 BCE)
Metamorphoses (AD 8)
Ovid, Ibis, 488 (AD 8–18)
Gaius Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica, I.110, III.535, 560, IV.1–57
Hyginus, Fables, 14.
Argonauts Assembled (1st century)
Philostratus the Elder, Images, ii.24 Thiodamas (170–245)
First Vatican Mythographer, 49.
Hercules et Hylas
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Herc's Adventures (1997)
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Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen, BWV 213
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