The Erymanthian Boar
HERAKLES, son of ZEUS and of ALKMENE (who was daughter of ELECTRYON, the son of Perseus, and therefore great-granddaughter of Zeus and Danaë). Alkmene was already the wife of Amphitryon, the nephew of Electryon.
AMPHITRYON killed his father-in-law ELECTRYON, king of Tiryns, and was exiled by Elektryon's brother and successor STHENELOS (or Sthenelaus). The family went to live in Thebes (where Kreon was king). Alkmene refused to sleep with her husband until he avenged her brothers, who had been killed in a cattle raid at Argos. The night (or same afternoon) before the successful Amphitryon returned, Alkmene slept with Zeus, under the impression that he was her hisband. She was surprised when her husband returned a second time, until TIRESIAS, the blind seer, explained the situation. Zeus boasted, however, that the offspring (HERAKLES, originally named Alcaeus after his grandfather) was his son. This of course annoyed HERA, who began to stir up trouble.
Hera made Herakles mad, during which time he killed his own children and his first wife Megara (daughter of King Kreon), two children of his half-brother, Iphicles, and in addition the man who had usurped the Theban throne after the assasination of King Kreon, a man named Lykos. When the madness left him, Herakles went to Delphi and consulted Apollo about what to do. Apollo, who ordered Herakles to go to Tiryns and do whatever his cousin, EURYSTHEUS, son of Sthenelos, told him to do. If he succeeded in doing ten (or twelve) glorious deeds imposed upon him, he would become an immortal. This had already been predicted by Tiresias for Amphitryon, when Herakles was an infant.
THE TWELVE LABORS OF HERAKLES
I. THE NEMEAN LION (site: north of the Plain of Argos, in the hills):
not an ordinary lion, but a child of Orthos and Echidna or of Typhon (thus, a descendant of Poseidon and Medusa. On his way, Herakles stopped at Cleonae, where Molorchos offered to sacrifice to Herakles as if to a divinity after 30 days (This assumed Herakles would be dead or a god). On his successful return to Tiryns, EURYSTHEUS hid in a bronze jar (womb/tomb) and would only deal with his cousin Herakles through the State Herald Kopreus (a son of Pelops). The lion became a constellation in the sky (LEO), thanks to Hera. Its invulnerable skin became a cloak and emblem of Herakles.
- II. THE HYDRA OF LERNA (site: five miles south of Argos, on the coast road to Arcadia and Sparta) :
The Hydra is half-sister
to the Nemean Lion through Typhon or the Echidna, and is said to have been nourished by Hera. It lived near a
spring (Amymone) with a crab for a friend (in a cave with two entrances); it had nine heads that grew back when
cut off, and it was partially invulnerable. IOLAOS, the son of Iphicles (Herakles' half-brother) acted as charioteer
for his uncle Herakles, and helped him by cauterizing the wounds where the necks of the Hydra were cut through
before a new head could be grown back. The central stalk was immortal (= Death) and Herakles could only bury it
along side of the road. The body provided Herakles with a deadly poison for his arrows (Cf. the story of
Philoctetes, by Sophocles); this poison later helped to cause Herakles' death. The crab which helped the Hydra
was made into a constellation by Hera (CANCER). On Herakles' return to Tiryns, Eurystheus refused to count
this as one of the Labors (thus 10 = 12) because Herakles had received help.
III. THE CERYNITIAN HIND (site: roamed around the territory of Oenoe in north-west Argos):
This deer was sacred to
Artemis. Herakles chased it for a year, and finally ran it down in Arcadia, beside the River Ladon in northwest
Arcadia [Remember: Ladon is the name of the Serpent that guards the Apples of the Hesperides, and is thus a
death-symbol, like the Dragon that guards the Golden Fleece). Herakles caught the Cerynitian hind in nets and
brought it back alive to Eurystheus; it was then released.
IV. THE ERYMANTHIAN BOAR (site: the territory of Psophis, a city in north-east Arcadia, near Mount Cyllene, the birthplace
[On the way, Herakles visited the home of centaur Pholus. Other centaurs invited to dinner got wildly drunk, and
Herakles in alarm killed them; cf. St. Patrick and the snakes of Ireland. There are no longer centaurs in the
Peloponnesus or snakes in Ireland.]
Herakles trapped the boar in the deep snow of mount Erymanthos, and brought it back alive to Eurystheus, who hid
in the bronze jar again (cf. Greek vase painting)
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS: It was at this point that Herakles heard that Jason was preparing the expedition to Colchis to seek the Golden Fleece. During the expedition, Herakles' current boy friend, HYLAS, was kidnapped in Mysia in Asia Minor and perhaps drowned (Nymphs seem to be involved: see the Narcissus story). Herakles' grief at the loss may have ended his participation in the Expedition.
V. THE STABLES OF AUGEAS (site: Elis, near Olympia, in western Peloponnesus):
Herakles agreed to remove dung from the huge herds of cattle in exchange for a 10% commission. He diverted the River Alpheus ('...where Alph the sacred river ran/ through caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea'--S.T. Coleridge) and/ or the River Peneus, and succeeded. King Augeas refused to honor the contract. When Heracles arrived in Tiryns, Eurystheus refused to count it as one of the Labors, since Heracles had demanded payment (Thus, 10 Labors = 12 Labors).
VI. THE STYMPHALIAN BIRDS (in north-central Arcadia) :
cannibalistic birds, a nuisance. Heracles borrowed from Athena a
set of bronze castinets that Hephaestus had made. When the birds heard the noise and flew upward in surprise,
Herakles shot them with his arrows.
VII. THE CRETAN BULL:
(This bull was the father of the Minotaur out of Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete) Herakles
captured the bill, brought it back to Tiryns, and then freed it. The bull wandered eventually to Attica, to the plain
of Marathon, where it was finally captured by Theseus and sacrificed (to Athena).
THE STORY OF ADMETUS AND ALKESTIS (Euripides, Alkestis) (Pherae in Thessaly) Herakles wrestled with
Death (Thanatos) and rescued Alcestis.
VIII. THE CANNIBALISTIC HORSES OF DIOMEDES (site: Thrace, at mouth of Nestos River):
The mares were fed by King
Diomedes of the Bistones on human flesh. Herakles overpowered their grooms and drove the mares down to the
sea. Turning back to deal with pursuers, he left the mares with his current lover ABDERUS. When he returned,
however, he found that Abderus had become their lunch. So Herakles (in some versions) fed them their master
Diomedes to cure them, or (in other versions) he took the animals to Tiryns and then released them; later they
were eaten by wild animals on Mount Olympus.
IX. THE BELT OF HIPPOLYTE (or ANTIOPE)
Hippolyte (or Antiope) was the daughter of ARES and a queen of the AMAZONS. An expedition to the Black
Sea area. Hera posed as an amazon and stirred up trouble for Herakles. Herakles killed Hippolyte (who later had
an affair with King Theseus
of Athens and was the mother of Hippolytus), or maybe he only captured her and her
- X. THE CATTLE OF GERYON (site: Spain: Geryon was king of Erytheia, now Cadiz in southern Spain, the sherry wine
Geryon had three heads, or maybe three bodies from his waist down--in any event his physiognomy was
unusual. He had a watchdog named Orthus (which had 2 heads). On the way to Spain (by way of Libya)
Herakles set up the Pillars of Herakles (Gibraltar and Ceuta). He killed the watchdog with his club and likewise
the Royal Shepherd, Erytion.
An Earth Observatory photograph of the Straits of Gibraltar
When Geryon came after Herakles, Herakles shot him with arrows. He then drove the cattle back to
Greece, by way of southern France and Italy (where he ran into robbers Ialybion and Dercynus, and (at the
future site of Rome) CACUS. Herakles founded an altar at Rome which was still being tended by two aristocratic
Roman families in the third century B.C. It stood at the entrance to the Circus Maximus (near S. Maria in
XI. THE APPLES OF THE HESPERIDES :
(golden fruit: a wedding present to HERA from GAIA) Guarded `at the ends of the earth' in a sacred grove by a hundred-headed serpent LADON and by the nymphs called the HESPERIDES (`The Western Ones'). This is a transformation story (cf. Odysseus and Proteus) of Nereus, the `Old Man of the Sea', until he tells Herakles how to get to the Islands of the Hesperides (Azores? Canary Islands?) A visit to Atlas
(brother of Prometheus) takes place during the journey; he helps Herakles (in some versions of the tales) by
actually going himself to the Hesperides and getting the apples from the tree. In other versions, Herakles goes to
the garden and kills LADON, who becomes the constellation SERPENS. Herakles dedicates the apples to Athena
upon his return, and she returns the apples to the Hesperides (Cf. Gilgamesh and the flower that gives old men
back their youth).
XII. THE CAPTURE OF THE HOUND OF HELL CERBERUS:
Herakles went to the Underworld (House of Hades) and returned with
the Three-headed Dog. He entered the underworld by way of the cavern at Taenarum in Spartan territory (the
same entrance which was used by Orpheus, q.v.). He released THESEUS and his friend PERITHOOS, king of the
Lapiths, who were alive in the House of Hades, but were being held captive in Chairs of Forgetfulness; they had
tried to steal Persephone (which is what all heroes have to do, in one system of symbology or another), but were
captured and stayed for what almost became an eternal meal. (Note: Theseus and Perithoos had also killed
centaurs, in Thessaly, like Herakles did.)
There is another cycle of Heracles' labors, his enslavement to OMPHALE (`navel'; Ur-mother?) a queen in Asiatic Greece. He is dressed in women's clothes and
becomes one of the several transvestite heroes in Greek myth (cf. Pentheus, Achilles and the transsexual Teiresias)
HERAKLES was finally done to death by the foolish love of his (last) wife DEIANEIRA, the daughter of Oeneus
king of Calydon. NESSOS THE CENTAUR had tried to rape Deianeira, perhaps just because centaurs are lusty
animals, perhaps in revenge for the destruction of the Peloponnesian centaurs. When Herakles wounded him
with one of the famous poisoned arrows, he pretended that all was forgiven and gave Deianeira a `secret
potion' which would keep Herakles home and make him hers forever. Actually the potion, a salve, contained
blood of the HYDRA in it. Deianeira smeared some on the inside of a fresh tunic which she helped Herakles
to put on after a bath upon the return from one of his many adventures (Cf. the bathtub scene in Aeschylus'
Agamemnon, where Queen Clytamnestra murders her husband Agamemnon, with help and support from Aegistheus,
Agamemnon's vengeful cousin and Clytamnestra's lover.). The Medusa potion was corrosive, and nearly drove
Herakles crazy with pain because he could not get the tunic off (The `crazy glue' motipheme). To escape, Heracles ordered POEAS his Chief Steward and Poeas' son PHILOCTETES to build
his funeral pyre. He climbed up on it, still alive, gave Poeas his bow and arrows as a farewell gift (later
inherited by Philoctetes and taken to the Trojan War--a necessary ingredient for victory of the Greeks). He
ordered the pyre to be lit. His mortal part was consumed by the flames (cf. the prince of Eleusis Demophon
and Asklepios), while his immortal part (He was a son of Zeus, after all) was fetched to Olympus by Zeus'
order, who sent a special chariot to meet what was left of Heracles. This was at the demand of the rest of
the gods (Divine Council) who were impressed by Heracles' achievements, and reminded Zeus of the