1902 Encyclopedia > Hercules

Hercules




HERCULES (Old Latin, Hercoles, Hercles) is the Latinized form of the mythical Heracles, the chief national hero of Hellas, who has part in all the most important myths of the generation before that which embraces the Homeric warriors at Troy. The name 'Hpa/cÀ-rçs is com-pounded of Hera, the goddess, and the stem of KÀe'os, "glory." The thoroughly national character of Heracles is shown by his being the mythical ancestor of the Dorian dynastic tribe, while revered by Ionian Athens, Lelegian Opus, and iEolo-Phcenician Thebes, and closely associated with the Achaean heroes Peleus and Telamon. The Perseid Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon of Tiryns, was Hereules's mother, Zeus his father (see ALCMENE). After his putative father he is often called Amphitryoniades, and Alcides too, after the Perseid Alcseus, father of Amphitryon. His mother and her husband lived at Thebes in exile as guests of King Creon. By the craft of Hera, his foe through life, his birth was delayed, and that of Eurystheus, son of Sthenelus of Argos, hastened, Zeus having in effect sworn that the elder of the two should rule the realm of Perseus. Hera sent two serpents to destroy the new-born Hercules, but he strangled them. He was trained in all manly accomplishments by heroes of the highest renown in each, until he slew Linus, his instructor in music, with the lyre. Thereupon he was sent to tend Amphitryon's oxen, and at this period slew the lion of Mount Cithaeron. By the sub-jection of the Minyans of Orchomenus he won Creon's daughter, Megara, to wife. Her children by him he killed in a frenzy induced by Hera. After purification he was sent by the Pythia to serve Eurystheus. The apologue of Prodicus on the Choice of Hercules between pleasure and virtue was founded on his obedience to the oracle. Thus began the cycle of the twelve labours :—

1. Wrestling with the Nemean lion.
2. Destruction of the Lemean hydra.
3. Capture of the Arcadian hind (a stag in art).
4. Capture of the boar of Erymanthus, while chasing which he
fought the Centaurs and killed his friends Chiron and Pholus, this
homicide leading to Demeter's institution of mysteries,
5. Cleansing of the stables of Angeas.
6. Shooting the Stymphalian birds.
7. Capture of the Cretan bull subsequently slain by Theseus at Marathon.
8. Capture of the man-eating mares of the Thraeian Dio-medes'.
9. Seizure of the girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons.
10. Bringing the oxen of Geryones from Erythia in the far west, which errand involved many adventures in the coast lands of the Mediterranean, and the setting up of the " Pillars of Hercules" at the Straits of Gibraltar.
11. Bringing the golden apples from the garden of the Hespe-rides.
12. Carrying Cerberus from Hades to the upper world.

Most of the labours lead to various adventures called _n-dpepya. Their common order and selection, due to Apol-lodorus and Diodorus Siculus, are later than Euripides, who omits 5, 6, and 7, and seems to count the victory over Cycnus in Phthiotis, the bearing of the heavens for Atlas, and the freeing of the seas from dangerous monsters. In Homer we read of unspecified labours for Eurystheus, of the struggle with the sea monster of the Troad, and of wars. Hesiod mentions labours 1, 2, and 10, and the freeing of Prometheus. It is a mistake to suppose that legends of Hercules's struggles with monstrous embodi-ments of evil are not of high antiquity, though we cannot say positively which are old and which comparatively late. Some enumerations give only 10 labours. The late lists probably rest partly on astronomical ideas.





On Hercules's return to Thebes he gave his wife Megara to his friend and charioteer lolaus, son of Iphicles, and by beating Eurytus of CEchalia and his sons in a shooting match won a claim to the hand of his daughter Iole, whose family, however, except her brother Iphitus, withheld their consent to the union. Iphitus persuaded Hercules to search for Eurytus's lost oxen, but was killed by him at Tiryns in a frenzy. He consulted the Pythia about a cure for the consequent madness, but she declined to answer him. Whereupon he seized the oracular tripod, and so entered upon a contest with Apollo, which Zeus stopped by sending a flash of lightning between the combatants. The Pythia then sent him to serve the Lydian queen Omphale. He then with Telamon, Peleus, and Theseus took Troy. He next helped the gods in the great battle against the giants. He took part in the Argonautic voyage and the Calydonian boar hunt, made war against Augeas, and against Nestor and the Pylians, and restored Tyndareus to the sovereignty of Lacedaemon. He sustained many single combats, one very famous struggle being the wrestling with the Libyan Antaeus, son of Poseidon and Ge (Earth), who had to be held in the air, as he grew stronger every time he touched his mother, Earth. Hercules withstood Ares, Poseidon, and Hera, as well as Apollo. The close of his career is assigned to iEtolia and Trachis. He wrestles with Achelous for Deianeira ("destructive to husband"), daughter of CEneus, king of Calydon, vanquishes the river god, and breaks off one of his horns, which as a horn of plenty is found as an attribute of Hercules in art. Driven from Calydon for homicide, he goes with Deianeira to Trachis. On the way he slays the centaur Nessus, who persuades Deianeira that his blood is a love-charm. From Trachishe wages successful war against the Dryopes and Lapithae as ally of iEgimius king of the Dorians, who promised him a third of his realm, and after his death adopted Hyllus, his son by Deianeira. Finally Hercules attacks Eurytus, takes CEchalia, and carries off Iole. Thereupon Deianeira, prompted by love and jealousy, sends him a tunic dipped in the blood of Nessus, and the unsuspecting hero puts it on just before sacrificing at the headland of Censeum in Eubcea. Mad with pain, he seizes Lichas, the messenger who had brought the fatal garment, and hurls him on the rocks ; and then he wanders in agony to Mount CEta, where he mounts a pyre, which, however, no one will kindle. At last Poeas, father of Philoctetes, takes pity on him, and is rewarded with the gift of his bow and arrows. The immortal part of Hercules passes to Olympus, where he is. reconciled to Hera and weds her daughter Hebe.

In one aspect Hercules is clearly a sun-god, being identified, especially in Cyprus and in Thasos (as Makar), with the Tynan Melkarth. He is again a representative of endurance and effort in the cause of Hellenic civilization and enterprise. Sundry of his exploits may be based on actual achievements of tribes and leaders of men, but it is impossible to unravel satisfactorily the tangled strands which make up this highly elaborate myth, though the separate existence of some is clearly discernible. The close connexion of the hero with both Thebes and Argos suggests actual relations between the two states. The Lydian episode shows traces of Eastern influence. The second, fifth, and sixth labours may be solar, but yet they suggest reclamation of marsh land. The third and twelfth are the most obviously solar, the horned hind representing the moon, and the carrying of Cerberus to the upper world an eclipse. It may be admitted as highly probable that the last episode of the hero's tragedy is a complete solar myth developed at Trachis. The winter sun is seen rising over the Ceneean promontory to toil across to Mount CEta and disappear over it in a bank of fiery cloud. The fatality by which Hercules kills so many friends as well as foes recalls the destroying Apollo; while his career frequently illustrates the Delphic views on blood-guiltiness and ex-piation. As Apollo's champion Hercules is Daphnephoros, and fights Cycnus and Amyntor to keep open the sacred way from Tempe to Delphi. As the Dorian tutelar he aids Tyndareus and iEgimius. As patron of maritime adventure (i7ye/ibVios) he struggles with Nereus and Triton, slays Eryx and Busiris, and perhaps captures the wild horses and oxen, which may stand for pirates. As a god of athletes he is often a wrestler (iraXaipLiDv), and founds the Olympian games. In comedy and occasionally in myths he is depicted as voracious (/3ou^>ayos). He is also represented as the companion of Dionysus, especially in Asia Minor. The " Besting " (avcnravop.evo'i) Hercules is, as at Thermopylae and near Himera, the natural tutelar of hot springs in conjunction with his protectress Athena, who is usually depicted attending him on ancient vases. The glorified Hercules was worshipped both as a god and a hero. In the Attic deme Melita he was invoked as <L\e£iKa/<os (" Helper in ills"), at Olympia as /oaAAiViKos ("Nobly-victorious"), in the rustic worship of the CEtaeans as Kopvoiruov (Kopvcnre;, " locusts"), by the Erythraeans of Ionia as OTOKTOVOS, (" Canker-worm-slayer"). In Italy he was, like Apollo, Musagetes ("Leader of the Muses"). He was aceTvp ("Saviour"), i.e., a protector of voyagers, at Thasos ami Smyrna, and in Italy, where tithes were vowed to him to be spent in entertainment. Games in his honour were held at Thebes and Marathon. In early poetry, as often in art, he is an archer, afterwards a club-wielder and fully-armed warrior. In early art the adult Hercules is bearded, but not long-haired. Later he is sometimes youthful and beard-less, always with short curly hair and thick neck, the lower part of the brow prominent. A lion's skin is generally worn or carried. Lysippus worked out the finest type of sculptured Hercules, of which the Farnese by Glycon is a grand specimen. The infantine struggle with serpents was a favourite subject.

Quite distinct was the Ickean Hercules, a Cretan Dactyl connected with the cult of Ehea or Cybele. The Greeks recognized Hercules in an Egyptian deity Chom and an Indian Dorsanes, not to mention personages of other mytho-logies. Hercules is supposed to have visited Italy on his return from Eiythia, when he slew Cacus, son of Vulcan, the giant of the Aventine mount in Rome, who had stolen his oxen. To this victory was assigned the founding of the Ara maxima. With respect to the Roman relations of the hero, it is manifest that the native myths of Recar-anus, or Sancus, or Dius Fidius, were transferred to the Hellenic Hercules.

The best account of the Hercules myths and cults is by L. Preller, Griechische Mythologie, 3d ed., Berlin, 1875. See also Hillan, De Herculis Romani falula et cultu, Münster, 1850 ; and Breal, Hercule et Cacus, Paris, 1863. (C. A. M. F.)







Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries