Skip to main content
Select Source:

Hercules

Hercules (Greek: ‘Heracles’) was the greatest hero of the Greek world, known for his feats of strength. His mother Alcmene was mortal, his father was the god Zeus. Even as a child, Heracles strangled serpents in his cradle. As an adult, after murdering his own children in a fit of madness caused by the goddess Hera, he was punished by having to carry out twelve labours, which included cleaning the stables of Augeas, capturing the man-eating mares of Diomedes, taking the belt of the queen of the Amazons, stealing the golden apples of the Hesperides, and chaining up Cerberus, the many-headed hound of Hades, who wags his tail when the newly deceased arrive but attacks and eats those who try to leave. These labours took him to the limits of the known world and, in the case of Cerberus, to the world of the dead. In art, he is represented with a lion-skin cape and hood (courtesy of the object of another labour, the Nemean lion), and carries a club and a bow and arrows.

He was finally defeated only by trickery. In the version given in Sophocles' play, The Women of Trachis, his wife Deianira gave him what she thought was a love potion, but was in fact poison given to her by the centaur who had previously tried to rape her. The poison was used to impregnate Hercules' robe, but it ate away his flesh, causing him unbearable pain.

A number of Greek rulers claimed descent from Heracles as a symbol of their power; these included the Macedonian royal family, whose most notable member was Alexander the Great. The cult of Heracles may have been the first foreign cult to be introduced to Rome; he was particularly popular with merchants, because of the amount of travel involved in his labours. Dogs were excluded from his sanctuary at Rome; maybe he had seen enough of them with Cerberus. In the later Roman Empire a number of emperors identified with Hercules and had themselves represented in statuary with his attributes — most notably Commodus, who issued a commemorative medal showing himself wearing Hercules' lion-skin, with the inscription ‘To the Roman Hercules’.

Hercules' reputation as a strong-man derives in particular from his wrestling bout with the supposedly invincible Libyan giant, Antaeus. Knowing that Antaeus renewed his strength by physical contact with his mother, the earth goddess, Hercules held up his opponent so that his feet could not reach the ground, then crushed him to death. Another feat demonstrating his strength was the establishment of the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ at the limits of the known world — the Strait of Gibraltar.

Helen King


See also Greeks.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hercules." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hercules." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hercules

"Hercules." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/hercules

Hercules

Hercules in Greek and Roman mythology, a hero (the Greek form of his name is Heracles) of superhuman strength and courage; he is usually armed with a club. The son of Zeus and Alcmene, in his cradle he strangled two snakes which Hera had sent to kill him; in adult life he performed twelve immense tasks or ‘labours’ imposed on him, and after death was ranked among the gods. He died when the dying centaur Nessus, whom he had killed, tricked Hercules's wife Deianeira into smearing his blood on her husband's robe. The centaur's blood was a poison which consumed Hercules with fire.
Labours of Hercules in order, comprising the Nemean lion, the Hydra, the Erymanthian boar, the Cerynitian hind, the Stymphalian birds, the Augean stables, the Cretan bull, the horses of Diomedes, the girdle of the Amazon, the cattle of Geryon, the golden apples of the Hesperides, and the capture of Cerberus.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Hercules." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Hercules." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hercules

"Hercules." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/hercules

Heracles

Heracles (Roman, Hercules) Greatest of the Greek mythological heroes. Condemned to serve King Eurystheus, he performed 12 labours: he killed the Nemean lion and the Hydra; caught the Erymanthian boar and the Cerynean hind; drove away the Stymphalian birds; cleaned the Augean stables; caught the Cretan bull and Diomedes' horses; stole the girdle of Hippolyte; killed Geryon; captured Cerberus and stole the golden apples of Hesperides. After death, he was allowed to ascend as a god to Olympus.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Heracles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Heracles." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/heracles

"Heracles." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/heracles

Heracles

Heracles Greek form of Hercules.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Heracles." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Heracles." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/heracles

"Heracles." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/heracles

Heracles

Heracles: see Hercules.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Heracles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Heracles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/heracles

"Heracles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/heracles

Heracles

Heracles •Andes •Hades, Mercedes •Archimedes • Thucydides • aphides •Eumenides, ParmenidesMaimonides, Simonides •Euripides • cantharides • Hesperides •Hebrides •Aristides, bona fides •Culdees •Alcibiades, Hyades, Pleiades •Cyclades • antipodes • Sporades •Ganges • Apelles •tales, ThalesAchilles, Antilles •Los Angeles • Ramillies • Pericles •isosceles • Praxiteles • Hercules •Empedocles • Sophocles • Damocles •Androcles • Heracles • Themistocles •Hermes • Menes • testudines •Diogenes • Cleisthenes •Demosthenes •Aristophanes, Xenophanes •manganese • Holofernes • editiones principes • herpes •lares, primus inter pares •Antares, Ares, Aries, caries •antifreeze • Ceres • Buenos Aires

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Heracles." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Heracles." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/heracles-0

"Heracles." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/heracles-0