Hercules was perhaps the greatest hero in all mythology. He was the son of Jupiter and Alcmena, and was hounded all his life by Juno. (This is deliciously ironic, because in the original Greek myths, Juno is named Hera and Hercules is Heracles, which means "glory of Hera.") Juno was unhappy with Jupiter's infidelity, and saw Hercules as a living, breathing symbol of her shame. She delayed his birth, and when Hercules was a mere baby (but a big one!) sent two snakes into the crib he shared with his mortal half-twin Iphicles. Hercules killed them both with his bare hands, marking the beginning of his career as a monster-killer.
After a precocious childhood and adolesence, Hercules married Megara (daughter of Creon, king of Thebes). Juno succeeded in driving him mad, though, and he killed his wife and his children. As atonement, he serves the king Eurystheus, performing the twelve labors for which he is most famed:
Hercules also accompanied Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece and assisted in the war between the gods and the giants. He remarried, and eventually died after accidentally poisoned by his wife Deineira. He was subsequently immortalized, even though he was by birth only half immortal.
The constellation Hercules, found between Lyra and Bootes, shows the hero wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion while holding his characteristic club and Cerberus the three-headed dog. He also rests his foot atop the head of Draco the dragon. The constellation is huge--the fifth-largest in the sky--but rather dim, which is an interesting parallel with Hercules himself. The hero was famed for his brawn, but his wits were rather lacking.
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These pages are the work of Cathy Bell
cmbell (at) comfychair (dot) org
originally for the Princeton University course CLA 212.