Study Guide

Heracles (Hercules): The Twelve Labors Heracles (Hercules)

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Heracles (Hercules)

Think of the biggest, hunkiest dude that you've ever laid eyes on. Now multiply that by the biggest number you can imagine. There you go: Heracles. He wasn't just a hero to the ancient Greeks, he was a god... literally. In this section of his story, we hear all about his most famous adventures: the Twelve Labors.

Heracles Goes to Crazytown

We know how angry Hera can get when she hears about her husband Zeus' affairs. Unfortunately for Heracles, he is Zeus' illegitimate son. Rarely does Hera act as violently as she does with Heracles. Hera. Hates. Heracles.

When Hera drives Hercules insane because she hates him so much, she causes him to murder his own children in cold blood. Now, here's a little debate you might have with yourself about the circumstances of this tragedy:

Perspective 1: Poor dude.

Perspective 2: Poor dude? He murdered his own kids. What's poor about him? He deserves to suffer in Tartarus forevermore.

Perspective 1: Yeah, but he didn't kill his kids on purpose. Hera drove him insane. It's her fault. Even knowing this, Heracles wants to be punished.

Perspective 2: You don't think Heracles had some degree of control over his actions? It seems like a very convenient excuse: "Um, the gods made me do it." In fact, I should remember that excuse in the future. "Sorry, teacher, I couldn't finish my homework. The gods made me watch TV all evening."

Perspective 1: Well, why else would Heracles have killed his own children? What other evidence do we have?

Perspective 2: There could be a million pieces of evidence that have disappeared over time that prove that Heracles killed his kids without any help from Hera. It was widely known that they were archenemies, so who knows what kind of stories people have invented about her over time.

Perspective 1: Yeah, but that's the whole point of mythology. These stories are handed down to us, generation by generation. The only "facts" we have are the stories that survive.

Perspective 2: I still think Heracles is to blame. There's no excuse for murder. Do you really think Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, would want innocent little mortals to die? Besides, if he really was so innocent, why did he want to punish himself so badly?

Perspective 1: Let's agree to disagree, shall we?

Perspective 2: Fine.

Heracles Atones

We think it's fascinating that Heracles feels so guilty about murdering his kids. Imagine the most powerful mortal in the entire world – he's like Michael Jordan and Brad Pitt all rolled into one. Everyone knows who he is and worships him. His dad is not merely a god but the king of the gods. Heracles probably can get away with murder.

But this superhero doesn't want to "get away" with anything. He wants to be punished for his actions, even though he was probably tricked by Hera into murdering his kids. He wants to be treated like a normal human being and not like a god. We think this demonstrates some interesting things about Heracles:

  • He liked his kids
  • He didn't want to be treated like a god all the time.
  • He had a sense of morality, of right and wrong.

Of course, you may disagree with us. Why do you think Heracles wants to be punished so intensely for his crimes, even when he suspects that Hera might have tricked him?

Brawn AND Brains (and a Dash of Charm)

Yes, you are right. It is thanks to Heracles' big muscles and athletic ability that he's able to complete the Twelve Labors so well. However, we think it's also important to note the fact that Heracles has a pretty juicy brain too. He's able to outsmart the likes of Atlas and King Diomedes, and he enlists Mother Nature to clean out the Augean Stables.

Let's also not forget Heracles' charm. How else could he have convinced the queen of the Amazons to happily hand over her sacred girdle? How else could he have persuaded Atlas to do all of his dirty work and to steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides? Charm, friends. Heracles has mad charm.

Help from the Gods

We also think it's worth noting how much help Heracles gets from the gods. The sun god Helios lends Heracles a magical golden cup to help him sail across the ocean to the edge of the world. Hades allows Heracles to wrestle his guard dog Cerberus into submission, as long as he promises not to wound the pooch too badly. Why would the Olympians want to help a murderer? Well, they probably know that Hera had a hand in causing Heracles to kill his own children. And they probably respect Heracles too.

Dying to get more details on ancient Greece's most famous mortal? Click here.

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