Greek Myth: Heracles

  1. The Birth of Heracles
    Perseus' son Electryon has a daughter Alcmena, and 9 sons. Electryon became king of Mycenae, but pirates attacked and killed all but one of his sons. Electryon was going to leave to get revenge --> entrust kingdom and daughter to nephew Amphytrion. But Amphitryon killed Electryon in a quarrel before he left. Went north to Thebes --> Creon purified him. . Amphytrion marries Alcmena, but she wont sleep with him until he avenges the deaths of her father and brothers.

    So night before A. gets back, Zeus takes his form --> has sex with her; then A. comes back --> has sex with her.

    2 seeds: 1 mortal (A.) --> Iphicles, 1 divine (Zeus) --> Heracles
  2. How does Heracles become a slave

    --> Alcmena's giving birth to Heracles
    Just as Alcmena is about to give birth, Zeus swears that on that day a descendent of his own seed would be born who would rule over all the surrounding lands. Hera delays the birth of Heracles, and hastens that of Eurystheus (descendent of Perseus and thus Heracles)

    So Alcmena is in the birthing chamber for 7 days --> cries out to the birth goddess Lucina; but Hera instructs her to sit outside with legs crossed and fingers intertwined. One clever server girl, Galanthis, notices the strange old woman, realizes what she is doing and shouts "hooray, the baby is born) -> Lucina jumps up, breaking the spell, but then turns Galanthis into a weasel (galanthis = weasel)
  3. Observations: Twins and Divine Birth
    • twins are rare: parents either kill or regard with wonder
    • twins are either close friends or bitter enemies
    • one explanation for fraternal twins is two fathers, one mortal, one divine (invisible being present at the moment of conception)
    • this notion of simultaneous intercourse comes from Egypt: the pharoah is born to the god Amun who comes to the Queen disguised as her husband
    • If the story of Heracles is from Eygpt, good example of downgrading from a story ni an earlier culture that had important political and religious meaning --> Jupiter makes the night last three times as long, while the real Amphytrion is locked outside
  4. Heracles' Youthful Deeds: serpents
    • - Hera sent serpents to destroy the infant Heracles --> seizes the snakes and crushes them in his mighty hands
    • - Assures Amphytrion of which son is actually his.
  5. humorous tales about Heracles

    - milky way
    - school (lyre teacher)
    Milyway: Zeus wanted Heracles to be great -> place him at Hera's breast; Heracles bites down --> milk that spurts out is the milkyway

    School: good at athletics, but clumsy in music, strong fingers break the lyre. Teacher complains, so Heracles bashes him over the head with the liar. Tried for murder, aquitted for self defense
  6. Heracles' quest at age 18
    Father sends him to the country to hunt an enormous lion that was destroying the flocks of Thespiae. Stayed for 50 days in Thespius' house --> he sends one of his 50 daughters in each night, so Heracles has his first 50 sons
  7. Heracles - Marriage, Madness and Murder

    • Heroes in peacetime can be dangerousAmphytrion had died in battle, new king of Thebes Creon gives Heracles his daughter Megara to marry
    • Has three kids with Megara, but one day Hera strikes him mad and he kills them all plus his wife
    • Imagines that he goes to Mycenae to kill the sons of Eurystheus (made him undergo the 12 laubors - in Eurypides' version happened first)
    • Athena hurls a big stone at him, hitting him on the chest to send him into a coma and end his madness

    At the height of happiness he lost control and committed a terrible crime --> uncertainty and terror of human life
  8. Heracles: types of labors
    • - athloi - "labors"
    • - parerga "side deeds"
    • - praxeis "military exploit
  9. The Twelve Labours (athloi)
    • Leave Thebes, Go to delphi to get an oracle to learn that he has to go serve cousin Eurystheus (king of Mycenat) to perform 12 labors
    • 1. The Nemean Lion (Nemea) - ravaging the lands around Nemea, impenetrable skin. Staps its neck with his hands, keeps lionskin --> wears. Club
    • 2. Hydra (Lerna) (sea serpent with many heads, breath = death, cut off one head, 2 more grow. swamps of Lerna). Crab (cancer) attack foot. Faithful companion Iolaus (nephew) cauterizes head stumps until H. can finally kill central immortal head. --> gets his poison arrows
    • 3. Ceryneian Deer (Cerynea) - remote mountains. Artemis' deer (golden antlers, bronze hoofs) --> tracked it for a long time, wounded and then released.
    • 4. Erymanthian boar (Mt. Erymanthus) (capture) - side deed. Centaur Pholus, and Chiron
    • 5. The Augean Stables (Elis) Has to clean out the very dirty horse stables of Augeas (son of Helius) - supposed to be degradign. He agrees to give 1/10 of cattle if he can clean in one day - does by diverting a river - but wont pay after he hears it is part of his task.
    • **later came back to kill him and his sons and institute Olympic games
    • 11. The Stymphalian Birds (Symphalis) - arrow-firing wings, armour piercing beaks. Drove them from their cover, then shot them with arrows

    **all local deeds in Peloponnesus

    • 7. The Cretan Bull (Crete) (summoned from sea) - capture and ride back to Peloponnesus; then lets it go til Theseus kills it. Minos, Pasiphae, Daedalus, Icarus
    • 8. The Horses of Diomedes (thrace) (son of Ares, king of savage northern tribe)
    • *side deed* - rescue of Alcestis. Captures the horses (eat human flesh) and fed their master to them)
    • 9. The Girdle of Hippolyta (queen of the Amazons) - Eurystheus wants the girdle (sexual symbol - taking is rape) for his daughter. Heracles is charming --> the queen offers the girdle, but then Hera runs around screaming that the Queen's been abducted; Heracles strangles her, takes the girdle and escapes.
    • 10. The Cattle (red) of Geryon (monster with three bodies - lives on Erythia). Cattle are guarded by Eurytion and 2-headed dog Orthus. Goes through Africa; sets up two pillars where Mediterranian meets Atlantic. As he is traveling, so hot that he fires an arrow at Helius, who then gives him a cup to travel in. kill two guards, put cattle in cup, sailing away then Geryon attacks --> shoots him with arrows, then returns cup. Side-deed: Cacus. Then bring the cattle back, sacrifice to Hera, Pillars of Heracles (Gilbitrar)
    • 11. The Apples of Hesperides (the nymphs of the west). Grow on a magical tree - golden bark/leaves. Wedding present from Zeus to Hera --> she set a 100-headed serpent (Ladon) to guard it. Heracles has to go seize Nereus, who changed into every shape before Heracles got an directions into the Garden. Side deed: Busiris, and Prometheus, Antaeus. Finally get to garden --> gets Atlas to fetch apples (too dangerous for H.) while he held up the sky. Atlas doesnt want to take it back, but H. asks if he could just for one second while H. gets pads for shoulders --> runs away. Eurystheus gives the apples back --> too dangerous.
    • 12. Cerberus - goes to the underworld and asks Hades --> okay, but you cant use any weapons. Drags it by a chain above and then release back into underworld.
  10. Side Deed (parerga): The Friendly Centaur Pholus (Labor 4. The Erymanthian Boar)
    Heracles goes to visit centaur Pholus; opens the wine of all the centaurs, they come to attack. Flee to Chiron's --> Heracles shoots poison arrows, accidentally hits Chiron (immortal) - paradox of the poison that always kill flowing through immortal veins. but does eventually die.

    After Pholus picks up arrow to examine, but accidentally drops it on his foot; dies.
  11. Side Deed (parerga) : Alcestis (Labor 8. The horses of Diomedes)
    Background: Apollo's son Aesclepius - greatest healer to ever live - brought back Hippolytus from the dead --> Seus kills him --> Apollo kills the cyclopes who make Zeus' thunderbolt. --> Apollo must serve under king Admetus (Thessaly) for 1 year - he treated the god so well that Apollo says he doesnt have to die if someone will die for him in his place --> only his faithful wife Alcestis

    Heracles stops there, gets drunk and makes a fool of himself. Once he learns that the house is mourning for the dead queen, he declares that he will go get her back. Wrestles down Death (Thanatos) and takes her back.
  12. Side Deed: Cacus (Labor 10. The Cattle of Geryon)
    • Some of the cattle were stolen by Cacus - three-headed fire breathing monster - hid in his cave.
    • Heracles hears the cattle mooing, goes to find them.
    • Cacus retreats into his cave, blowing fire. Heracles goes into the cave, jumps over wall of fire, and strangles monster. Then brings the cattle back, sacrificed to Hera.
  13. Side Deed: Busiris (Labor 11- apples)
    Busiris - king of Egypt. (son of Poseidon and one of Ephaphus' daughters). Egypt was barren for a while, so a seer told him that he needs to sacrifice every foreigner he could. Heracles comes to Egypt as he is trying to find the Garden of Hesperides. Heracles allows himslef to be bound and led to the alter; but then break bonds, seize Busiris and sons, and kill them all.

    Sacrificing Busiris = death overcome (name comes from Osiris-god of death)
  14. Side deed (parerga): Antaeus, Labour 11/ The Apples of Hesperides
    • Meets a wrestler who gets stronger when he is touching mother Gaea (earth),
    • Heraces kills him in the air
  15. Side Deed: Prometheus (Labor 11- apples)
    Looking for Garden, Heracles finds Prometheus --> kills the eagle, sets prometheus free.
  16. Observations: Heracles' Labors
    • His labors are connected to those of other heroes (bull, travel to end of earth)
    • But original monsters are fewer than 12
    • 12 may have come from 12 stone panels (metopes) - mounted near front and rear porch columns of Zeus' temple at Olympia (470 BC). But the number may have been an accident - the sculptor had 12 spaces to fill. - canonical
    • Early adventures in Peloponnesus, 1st-single combat btw. man and animal (stables dont fit) then widening of locations, adversaries; end with heaven and hell.
    • Myths reflect the Greeks reverence for him. Faced death --> can easily overcome foreign people (colonists favorite hero), even became a god.
  17. Various Deeds of Heracles : Eurytus, Iole, and Iphitus
    • settles in Tiryns after freed from labors
    • wants to marry. Eurytus (his old archery teacher) is having archery contest for his daughter Iole. Heracles wins but Eurytus will not give her up b/c of what happened to Megara
    • 12 mares missing from E's herd --> son, Iphitus, doesnt think H. would sink that low, goes to check, yes they are there.
    • H. invites him up to stone ramparts--> pushes him off. Violates xenia (guest host relationship) for a second time
    • Goes to Delphi to see how to atone. Pythia wont even look at him -> disgusted. H. breaks in and steals her tripod. Apollo comes down and grabs on -> they fight til Zeus separates with a thunderbolt.
    • Apollo will purify Heracles on these conditions:
    • serve a woman for three years
    • give everything he earns to Eurytus

    so hermes leads him to slave market where he is bought by Omphale for her lover
  18. Heracles and Omphale

    *what did he do after he left her servitude
    • Omphale (queen of lydia) buys him as a slave to be her lover (he must serve for 3 yrs b/c he killed Iphitus)
    • wear eachothers clothes
    • one day the go to a cave (dressed as eachother). Pan sees and follows, wanting to rape Omphale; he jumps on "her" - actuall Heracles - he smashes him into a wall
    • Pan never wears clothes again

    • *gathered an army to settle some scores --> first to Troy (badly treated on an earlier adventure)
    • Kills the king Laomedon and all his sons except one: Podarces. Before giving away the kings daughter, he allowed her to save one person --> Podarces, then became Priam "the randsomed one" (king of troy during trojan war)
  19. Hercules and the Cercopes
    • Cercopes - 2 ruffians who robbed passersby and treated them cruelly
    • Try to rob Heracles but he captures them, and carries them on a pole
    • They crack jokes at Heracles, call him "black buttocks" (burnt from his travels across the desert)
    • Heracles is amused and lets them go
  20. The Death of Hercules
    • Marries Deianira "man killer" - wrestles the river god Achelous for her, broke off one of his horns
    • Then heads to Trachis with bride. They have to cross a river, so the Centaur Nessus carries her across, and in the process assaults her.
    • Heracles shoots him with a poison arrow.
    • Nessus, as he is dying, tells Deianira to collect blood and semen b/c it is a powerful love potion (actually poison - poison of Hydra in his blood)

    Heracles is still resentful that he was jipped of Iole, gathers an army, sacks Oechalia, takes Iole, and kills Eurytus. Brings her back to a cape on Euboea

    • Deanira remembers the love potion. Soaks a shirt in the potion; gives to a messenger, Lichas, to give to Heracles
    • Shirt, poisonous, rips his flesh apart.
    • kills Lichas, tells son to carry him away

    dies at the hands of the dead (nessus) and from a woman - unheroic

    Deanira stabs herself

    Brought to a pyre on the top of Mount Oeta, no one dares light except a passing shephard - Philocetes. But no traces of bone. He is lifted up into heaven (apotheosis) - exaltation of subject to divine level
  21. The Return of the Heraclids / Heraclidae
    Eurystheus and his sons want to kill Heracles' sons. Heracles' sons flee to Athens; the Athenians kill Eurystheus and his sons

    • They go and conquer the Peloponnesus, but then plague hits, so they leave b/c oracle says they will be allowed to return after the third harvest
    • they thought they were talking about years, but actually harvest refers to generations of men
    • Legendary "return of the Heraclids" refers to the Dorian incasion that caused the collapse of the Mycenaean world (1200 BC)
  22. Observations: Heracles Kallinikos, "Handsome in Victory"
    • Heracles' name means "the renown of Hera' --> wierd because she persecutes him relentlessly.
    • But Heracles may have been a common name in the Bronze age (like John or Paul), applied to common folktale hero who suffered greatly and was rewarded at the end.
    • origins of Heracles are obscure; character is complex and hard to summarize - he is often called the archtypal Greek Hero (he was considered old fashioned to the Greeks in Homers time; they are past the idea that violence can solve anything)

    Heracles does everything in extremes (violates most sacred human obligations - murders wife and children, and guest-friend. Then must live in degrading bondage to cowarly Eurystheus and then as a sex slave)

    • hero's essence: reckless, fearless, tricky, getting away with things others cant, violating every convention, attacking even the gods.
    • Heracles embodies the Greek's naive eagerness to try anything without fear of the result (often disastrous)

    • Other hero's confront death, but he does most often/explicitly - goes to underworld and brings back cerberus, returned back from Geryon (crossed the river to where death lies), kills the death dealing birds, wrestles down death the free Alcestis; holds the apples of eternal life temporarily, and in one version, chasing the deer takes him into that garden of heaven -
    • marries Heve ('youth') after death - never gets old

    • He is alexikakos - "the averter of evils," summoned as a god to turn away disease, human and animal attack, and all other harm.
    • favorite of the greek heroes
    • he was the paradigm of heroic tragic existence but his reputation for womanizing/gluttony --> ppl make fun of him

    doesnt fight other heroes; he is the tough guy, strongest man on earth, makes the world safe by destroying dangerous beasts
  23. Heracles interpretted: figure of divine contrasts
    • - savage / civilizing force
    • - divine / human
    • - hero / villain
    • - male defeated by female (divine and mortal)
    • - exemplifies human condition
Card Set
Greek Myth: Heracles
Myths of Heracles