Hercules , (Gr. the most renowned of the mythical heroes of antiquity, son of Jupiter by Alemena, the granddaughter of Perseus. He was destined by Jupiter to occupy the throne of Perseus, but by the contrivance of Juno was superseded by Eurystheus, the grandson of that hero. His name originally was Alcides or Alcaeus: it was changed to Hercules by the Delphic oracle, which ordered him to live at Tiryns and serve Eurystheus 12 years. When Jupiter saw that Juno had accomplished the disinheritance of Hercules, he made her promise that Hercules should become immortal on the completion of 12 great works for Eurystheus. There is some difference in the accounts of these labors, but the most common enumeration is the following: 1. The fight with the Nemean lion. The valley of Nemea between Cleonae and Phlius was infested by a monstrous lion. Hercules blocked up one of the entrances to the den, entered it by the other, strangled the lion, and brought the carcass to Eurystheus. 2. The fight with the Lermean hydra. In the district of Lernae, near Argos, dwelt a huge hydra having nine heads, the middle one immortal. Hercules, having roused the hydra from its lair, cut off its heads, but in place of every head cut off two new ones sprang up.
With the assistance of his servant Iolaus, he burned the mortal heads, and buried the immortal one under a rock. 3. The capture of the Arcadian stag. This animal had golden horns and brazen feet, and was of surpassing swiftness. Hercules was ordered to bring it alive to Mycenae. For a whole year he pursued it in vain. At length, weary of pursuing, the hero wounded it with an arrow, caught it, and carried it to Mycenae. 4. The hunt of the Erymanthian boar. This boar had descended from Mt. Erymanthus into Psophis, and Hercules was ordered to bring him alive to Eurystheus. He chased the brute through the deep snow till, having tired him down, he caught him in a net. 5. The cleansing of the Augean stables. Augeas, king of Elis, had a herd of 3,000 oxen, whose stalls had not been cleansed for 30 years. Eurystheus commanded Hercules to clean them in one day. He ac-complished it by turning the rivers Alpheus and Peneus through the stables. G. The destruction of the Stymphalian birds, an innumerable swarm of voracious creatures, with claws, wings, and beaks of brass, that used their feathers as arrows and fed upon human flesh.
They had taken refuge in a lake near Stymphalus, whence Hercules startled them with a rattle, and killed them with his arrows as they attempted to fly away. 7. The capture of the Cretan bull. This bull was a sacrificial gift from Neptune to Minos; but as Minos neglected to sacrifice him, Neptune caused the bull to go mad, and to make great havoc in Crete. Hercules was commanded to catch him, and bring him to Myeenae. He did so, but then set the animal free to the great terror of Greece. 8. The abduction of the mares of Di-omedes, a Thracian prince who fed them with human flesh. Eurystheus sent Hercules to bring them to him. Hercules had conducted them to the seacoast, when he was overtaken and attacked. He vanquished the Thracians, slew Diomedes, and cast his body to the mares, which became tame after eating the flesh of their master. Hercules then embarked with them, and brought them to Eurystheus. 9. The seizure of the girdle of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, which she had received from Mars. Hercules set sail from the Peloponnesus, and landed at Themiscyra, where he was hospitably entertained by Hippolyte, who promised him the girdle.
But the malignity of Juno rousing the Amazons against him, he, deeming the queen a party to the conspiracy, slew her, possessed himself of her girdle, and arrived with it in safety at Mycenae. 10. The capture of the oxen of Geryones, a monster who lived in the island of Erythia, and who had a herd of red oxen which fed with those of Helios, and were guarded by the giant Eurytion and the two-headed dog Orthrus. Erythia was in the ocean far to the west, and in his journey to it Hercules erected the pillars of Calpe and Abyla, hence called the pillars of Hercules. He killed Orthrus, Eurytion, and Geryones, and, after overcoming the efforts of gods and men to deprive him of them, brought the oxen to Eurystheus. 11. The getting of the golden apples of the Hesperides. These apples had been presented by Terra to Juno, by whom they had been intrusted to the keeping of the Hesperides and the dragon Ladon, in some remote region of the west. Hercules, with the aid of Atlas, obtained the apples, which on his return he gave to Eurystheus. 12. The seizure of Cerberus, the dog that guarded the entrance to Hades. On arriving in Hades, Hercules asked permission of Pluto to take Cerberus, and the god yielded his assent, provided he could do so without having recourse to arms.
Seizing Cerberus, Hercules bore him to the upper world, showed him to Eurystheus, and immediately carried the monster back to Hades. - In the original legends, Hercules figures as a mighty chieftain, who subdues Troy, and wages successful war against Argos and Lacedaemon; who dethrones princes, and gives away kingdoms and sceptres. The worship of Hercules prevailed especially among the Dorians; and the sacrifices offered to him were chiefly bulls, boars, rams, and lambs. He was also worshipped at Rome, and, under various names, in many other parts of the ancient world. In works of art he is represented in all the various stages of life; but whether he appears as a child, a hero, or a celestial, his character is always that of supernatural strength and energy. He is most frequently represented clothed in a lion's skin and carrying a club.