Son of Zeus and the woman Alcmena, who the god seduced in the shape of her husband Amphitryon, king of Thebes. He also had a twin brother, Iphicles, who was one night younger and the son of Amphitryon. Heracles was one of the most popular heroes of Greek mythology, and his many feats were constantly retold in art and literature. All over Greece he was worshipped as either a god or a hero. He was the protector of athletics and according to one myth he was the founder of the Olympic Games. He was believed to ward off evil. His constant persecutor was Hera, who crazed with jealosy of her husbands liason with Heracles' mother caused the hero many troubles. While Heracles was just a baby in the cradle, she sent two snakes which the child strangled, one in each hand. She also made him insane for a while, which made him murder his children with Megara.
Besides these Hera induced frenzies, Heracles was a very brutal character. His music teacher he killed with his lyre in a fit of anger. When he was only eighteen he killed a lion, and for the rest of his life he would carry its skin. There are many stories about Heracles. Thanks to him the gods defeated the giants, since they could only beat them if a mortal would fight with them. As a youth he defeated the enemies of Thebes, and as a reward king Creon of Thebes gave him his daughter Megara. His constant follower was Iolaus, who was also his nephew.
The most famous stories about Hecacles are about the twelve labors. Ready to commit suicide after killing his sons, he was told not to do so by the oracle in Delphi and to purify himself by serving his cousin king Eurystheus of Mycenae and to do whatever the king told him.
- The first labour was to kill the Nemean lion, which he did with his bare hands. This frightened the king so much that he would not let Heracles inside Mycenaes walls; the hero had to show his trophy outside the walls.
- The second labour was to fight the Hydra, an immortal monster with nine heads. If a head was cut off, two new would grow out in its place. Heracles defeated the Hydra with the help of his friend Iolaus. Each time a head would be cut off, Iolaus burnt the neck with fire, and so no new heads could grow out. When all the heads were off they buried the monster under a pile of stones. Heracles dipped his arrows in the Hydra's blood, making them lethal.
- The third labour was the capture of the Cerynitic hind which he brought back alive to Mycenae.
- The fourth labour was the capture of a terrible wild boar which lived on the mountain Erymanthos in North Arcadia.
- The fifth labour was to clean king Augeias' stable in Elis on the Peloponnese. The stable was huge and full of dung, and Heracles cleaned it by leading two rivers into it.
- The sixth labour was to kill the monster birds at Stymphalos in North Arcadia, which he did with the help of Athena.
- The seventh labour was to capture the Cretan bull, which either was the father of the Minotaur or the bull that had taken Europa on its back. Heracles brought it to Mycenae, but let it go, and it wandered off to Attica where Theseus later had to fight it.
- The eight labour was to capture king Diomedes of Trace's man eating horses. Heracles killed the king and captured the horses, and founded the city Abdera.
- The ninth labour was to get the girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyte. He either defeated her or she gave it to him willingly.
- The tenth labour was to bring back the herd of the giant Eurytion on the island Erytheia. On his way to this western place by Oceanos, he made a passage through the Atlas mountains, setting up the pillars of Heracles - today's Gibraltar. He made it to the island in the cup of the sungod, and killed Eurytion and his dog Orthros. The herd he brough with him back to Greece.
- The eleventh labour was to bring back the golden apples of the Hesperides. According to one version he killed the dragon that guarded the apples and took them. According to another he went to Atlas, the father of the Hesperides. Heracles took the sky on his shoulders while Atlas went to get the apples, but when he returned he did not want to take over the burden of the sky again. Heracles then told him to hold the sky only for a short moment while he put a pillow on his shoulders, and so tricked Atlas into taking his position again.
- The twelfth, and final, labour was to bring back the three headed dod Cerberus which guarded Hades, which he did.
After these labours Heracles had made his penance, and he married Deianeira, whose father was Poseidon's son Antaeus. When Heracles killed the centaur Nessus for attacking his wife, the dying centaur told Deianeira to save some of his blood and dip a tunic in it. If she ever needed to secure Heracles's love all she had to do was to make him wear the tunic.
When Heracles later wore it the centaur's blood turned out to be poision, and he could not get it off, slowly poisoning him to death and causing him great pain. Heracles then climbed the funeral pyre and was deified, marrying Hebe on Mt. Olympus. There are many more stories about Hercules. He was one of the Argonauts for short while, he defeated many monsters and peoples and the adventures he went through are innumerable.
Heracles also had the following epithets:
Alexicacus, Buraicus, Charops, Cynagidas, Index, Macistus, Melampygos, Menytes, Misogynis, Rhinocolustes.