Study Guide

Heracles (Hercules): Later Adventures and Death Characters

  • Heracles (Hercules)

    Heracles, the Wanderer

    What does a hero do after he's completed his quest? He keeps on questing, of course. But what is the Herculator looking for? What does he really want? Is he dying to be a god? Does he even want to be immortal? Or, does he just want an endless supply of monsters to kill and maidens to save? Your guess is as good as ours.

    After completing the Twelve Labors, Heracles gives his wife Megara away to a friend of his and leaves town. Huh? (In some versions of this story, he actually kills Megara at the same time that he kills his children.) He then kills another random dude and feels really bad about it. His therapist, the Oracle at Delphi, prescribes him another few years of servitude. This time, though, he serves as a slave to the Libyan queen Omphale.

    What starts out as a horrible punishment turns out to be one of the great experiences of Heracles' life. He and Queen Omphale love each other like whoa. And it turns out there are plenty of monsters and mischief to be had in Africa. He even gets to slay a dragon and do some cross-dressing. Everything seems to be perfect until…

    Heracles leaves town again. He just can't seem to stay in one place or with one woman. Adventure calls to him.

    Heracles and the Ladies

    Heracles loves the ladies. He loves them so much that he keeps marrying them, even while still being married to his previous wives. He marries:

    • Megara;
    • Omphale;
    • Deianira; and
    • Hebe.

    We never really hear what happens to the wives he leaves behind (except we do know that Deianira kills herself). Heracles just decides that the time is right to meet another woman. When Hera, Heracles' greatest enemy, offers him her daughter, Hebe, as a wife, we're like, "whaaaaaaa?" The goddess of marriage offers the man with three wives her very own daughter. Fascinating.

    For much more on the most famous hero of them all, click here.

  • Hera (Juno)

    The queen of the gods absolutely despises Heracles, because he is yet another reminder of her husband Zeus' cheating, philandering ways. Though she gave most of Zeus' illegitimate kids a hard time, she seems to have a special kind of hatred for Heracles. Maybe it is because he ends up being the shining star of all of Zeus' illegitimate children. Maybe she's jealous of all of the attention he gets? Perhaps Hera is just a very lonely goddess who loves her husband very, very much.

    In this story, surprisingly, Hera and Heracles make amends. When he becomes a god, she agrees to let him marry her daughter, Hebe.

    Want to know more about the vengeful queen of the gods? Click here.

  • Hylas

    Hylas was a prince of the Dryopians and companion to Heracles. Many say that the young man was also Heracles' lover, making the boy a lot like Heracles' other famous eromenos (boy lover) Iolaus. While traveling with the Argonauts to find the Golden Fleece, Hylas ditches Heracles to hang out with a bunch of sexy water nymphs and disappears – permanently.

  • Omphale

    Heracles starts out as the slave of this beautiful Libyan queen, but he ends up being her husband. Besides being Heracles' second wife, Omphale is most famous for making the mighty hero dress in women's clothing, while she pranced around wearing his lion skin cape and twirling his club. (For real, we couldn't make this up.) This little story was apparently the subject of a lot of comic and erotic literature over the years. One thing's for certain: Heracles had some good times with Omphale.

  • Deianira

    You'd think Heracles might think twice before he married someone whose name meant "husband destroyer." Nevertheless, Heracles got hitched to Deianira, making her his third wife. Deianira ended up earning her name by accidentally causing the death of the greatest hero of all time. (She accidentally poisoned him with Hydra venom. Read more about it here.)

    Deianira is the main character for the first half of Sophocles' play The Women of Trachis, and her story is also featured in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

  • Achelous

    Achelous is the god of the largest freshwater river in Greece. Sometimes he was even thought of as the god of freshwater in general, but most of the time Poseidon got this title. He's most famous for fighting – and losing – a battle with Heracles over the hand of the lovely Deianira.

  • Nessus

    Nessus is a centaur. Like the rest of his kind, he has the upper torso of a man stuck on to the body of a horse. The Greeks thought that most centaurs were wild savages. Nessus lives up to this reputation when he tries to force himself on Heracles' third wife, Deianira. For this crime, Heracles kills Nessus with an arrow poisoned with Hydra venom. In the end, however, Nessus shows that he's not just any stupid old centaur. By tricking Deianira into thinking that his poisoned blood is a love potion, Nessus ends up causing the death of Heracles.

  • Hebe

    Hebe is Hera's daughter and the goddess of youth. Heracles marries Hebe when he becomes a god on Mount Olympus. Their marriage symbolizes how Hera has finally let bygones be bygones.