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Heracles (Hercules): Birth and Early Adventures

In a Nutshell

Harry Potter was just a simple boy who lived with his aunt and uncle at Number Four Privet Drive in the village of Little Whinging. He was lonely and mistreated.

Percy Jackson was just a kid who lived in Queens, NY with his mom. He had a knack for getting kicked out of school.

Katniss Everdeen was a normal teenage girl who lived in District 12, an impoverished coal-mining region in the country of Panem. When her father was killed in a tragic coal-mining accident, she had to step up and take care of her family.

Harry, Percy, and Katniss are only three of many heroes on our bookshelves today. Depending on your definition of "hero," we could probably come up with a mile-long list of characters who fit the bill. Why do we love heroes so much? Well, maybe it's because they make us feel like we might also be extraordinary and capable of superhuman feats.

You may disagree, but we think the most fascinating part of a hero's story is his or her beginning. That's why we go wild over stories about young heroes and also hero origin stories. In fact, these stories may be more popular than ever, based on the recent release of movies like X-Men: First Class, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Batman Begins, and the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man. We want to know how heroes find out that they're extraordinary, and how they react to the discovery.

To the ancient Greeks, Heracles wasn't just a superhero he was a super superhero. And no hero would be complete without an awesome origin story, right? Wolverine was ripped apart and had his bones coated in adamantium by the sinister Weapon X project. Baby Superman was launched into space just before his home planet of Krypton was destroyed. Harry performs some surprising magic and sets a giant snake free at a zoo. And Heracles? Well, you'll just have to read on to find out how the greatest Greek hero got his start.


Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this myth connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop

  • In the Odyssey by Homer, Odysseus runs into the ghost of Heracles in Hades. This sighting is a little confusing since Heracles would have been immortal at that point and hanging out on Mount Olympus.
  • Heracles pops up in The Metamorphoses by Ovid when the river god Achelous describes having a fistfight with the hero over a lady, Deianira. Heracles ends up winning Deianira's hand in marriage, but later dies as a result of her jealousy. Later, he shows up again when he rescues Hesione, daughter of Laomedon, from a sea monster. But then he causes major trouble because the Trojans won't give him the horses they promised him. Word to the wise: Don't break a promise you've made to Heracles.
  • The men in Love's Labor's Lost by William Shakespeare sure do love them some Heracles. They like to talk about his many feats and the fact that he was love-struck, just like them.
  • We see how much Hamlet idolizes his father when he talks about how his uncle Claudius measures up to Old Hamlet as much as he (Hamlet) measures up to Hercules in Hamlet. (He's being sarcastic.)

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