Heracles (Hercules): Later Adventures and Death Summary
How It (Supposedly) Went Down
Hold onto your hats. Heracles' later adventures involve lots of different stories.
Prometheus was doomed by Zeus to be chained to a rock forever, because he stole Zeus's sacred fire and gave it mankind. Everyday an eagle would come and eat out Prometheus's liver. (Some call this liver-lovin' bird the Caucasian Eagle because Prometheus was said to chained in the Caucasus Mountains.) Over night Prometheus' life would grow back again so that the eagle could have another tasty feast the next day.
According to some versions of the myth, Heracles ends Prometheus' horrible torment and shot the eagle with one of his trusty poisoned arrows.
Then Heracles pulls his "favorite son" card and talks Zeus out of dreaming up a new punishment for Prometheus.
Some say this mini-adventure happened during Heracles' Twelve Labors, and that Prometheus advised Heracles to get Atlas, Prometheus' brother, to help Heracles in finding the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Others say that this happened after the Twelve Labors.
Hylas and the Argonauts
Heracles decides to put in some time with Jason and his famous Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. Most agree that Heracles doesn't stick around for much of the journey, though.
See, a young man named Hylas, who most say was also Heracles' lover, comes along with Heracles for the journey.
Hylas is the son of Theiodamas, the king of the Dryopians. For some stupid reason, the Dryopians once decided to attack Heracles. Heracles killed Theiodamas, and the Dryopians gave Prince Hylas to the hero to calm him down.
It must've worked because Heracles is very attached to young Hylas.
Anyway, Hylas ends up coming along with Heracles on the quest for the Golden Fleece.
Not long after they set sail in the Argo, the Argonauts land on an island.
Hylas wanders off and comes upon a pond full of super sexy water nymphs. The nymphs coax Hylas into the water with them.
When Hylas can't be found, Heracles goes crazy. He refuses to leave until he finds the boy, and so Jason and the other Argonauts leave without him.
Eventually, Heracles finds the pond, but all he hears is the echo of his lover's voice bubbling up from the water.
The people of Troy are in big trouble, because their king, Laomedon, has gotten on Poseidon's bad side.
See, Poseidon helped build the walls of Troy, but the Trojan king refused to pay the god of the sea for his work. Poseidon is mad and has sent the Cetus, a sea monster, to attack.
An oracle says that the only way to get rid of the creature is for the king to let it eat his daughter, Hesione. Laomedon does what any good father would do and chains his daughter to a rock.
About this time, Heracles strolls by and decides to step in. The hero says he'll kill the Cetus as long as Laomedon gives him the horses that that Troy once received from Zeus after the king of the gods abducted the Trojan prince Ganymede to be his personal servant.
Laomedon agrees to give Heracles the horses.
Heracles runs out to the beach and slays the Cetus just before it devours the beautiful princess.
Unfortunately, Laomedon proves once again that he's a total crook and refuses to give the horses to Heracles.
"We'll see about that," says Heracles.
The hero goes off, raises an entire army, and takes out Troy. He slaughters Laomedon and almost all of the king's sons.
He allows Hesione, the princess, to choose one of her brothers to keep alive, and she chooses her youngest bro, Podarces, who later changed his name to Priam. (To find out what happens to Priam check out the Iliad.)
Hesione pays Heracles with a golden veil for allowing her to keep her brother alive.
Heracles gives the Trojan princess to a dude named Telamon as a concubine.
None of the ancient writers seem to be able to agree on when this story took place. Some say that it took place during Heracles' Twelve Labors. Others say it was on his way back home from hanging out with the Argonauts. Still others say it was either after or during his years with the Libyan queen, Omphale...
Life with Omphale
Heracles goes crazy and kills a guy named Iphitus by throwing him from the walls of a tall tower.
There's a lot of disagreement about why Heracles does this mean thing.
Heracles gets a terrible disease after this killing.
He goes to the Oracle of Delphi to find out what to do to cleanse himself of the disease and the murder. Heracles is told that he has to sell himself into slavery (bummer). That's how the great hero ends up becoming a slave to the Libyan queen, Omphale.
The African queen decides it would be fun to play some cross-dressing games with Heracles. She orders him to wear women's clothing while she struts around wearing his lion skin cape and holding his club. Apparently, this little game gets them both very excited, and soon the two are all over each other.
Some say that one night Omphale and Heracles are sleeping together when the god Pan comes sneaking in. He sees a person in a dress, assumes it's a woman, and decides to take advantage to the situation. When Pan lifts up the dress, he's surprised to find that it's not a woman at all.
About this time, Heracles wakes up, sees the furry little god, and whacks him. It's said that this is why Pan walks with a limp.
Eventually Omphale and Heracles get married and have a bunch of babies.
There are a lot of different and conflicting stories about Heracles' adventures while he's with Omphale.
In one story, he kills a dragon, Draikon Maionios, who's been ravaging the countryside.
Another tale tells of how Heracles kills a guy named Seyleus who forces everybody who comes by to work in his vineyard and then kills them.
In another tale, Heracles is robbed while he's sleeping by some tricky little dwarves called the Cercopes. Heracles captures the tiny men and ties them up by their feet. Depending on whom you ask, he either kills them, or makes them slaves to Omphale.
In our favorite version the Cercopes make fun of Heracles because he has a really hairy butt, calling him black-bottom. Heracles thinks this is hilarious and lets them go.
In yet another story, Heracles finds the body of Icarus and buries it. As a reward, Icarus' father, the great inventor Daedalus, builds a statue of Heracles.
There's no story about how Heracles' marriage to Omphale ended. The only thing everybody seems to be able to agree on is that he had tons of adventures while he was with the African queen, but that eventually he moved on to wife number three...
Marriage to Deianira, Death, and Deification
Heracles sees a smoking hot girl named Deianira and decides that he has to have her as a bride.
The trouble is that she was already engaged to a river god named Achelous, so Heracles and Achelous duke it out over the lovely Deianira. Even though Achelous can turn himself into lots of fearsome forms, like a merman and a bull with man's head, Heracles wins the day by snapping off Achelous' horn and makes off with his new bride.
Later on, Heracles and Deianira are crossing another river and have to use the services of a ferryman named Nessus.
Nessus is a centaur, a creature with the upper torso of a man, but the body of a horse.
Like a lot of other centaurs, Nessus is all about the ladies all of the time. When he's giving Deianira a ride across the river he gets all hot and bothered, and he tries to force himself on her.
Heracles hears Deianira scream and shoots Nessus with one of his Hydra-poisoned arrows. (To find out the origin of these arrows, read up on Heracles' run in with the Hydra during his Twelve Labors.)
As Nessus is dying, he tells Deianira that his blood is a magical love potion. He assures her that she can use it to make sure that Heracles is always faithful to her.
For some unknown reason, Deianira believes the nasty centaur and takes some of his blood in a little bottle.
A few years later, another young lady named Iole catches the eye of Heracles. Afraid that she is going to lose her husband to the new girl, Deianira pours the blood of Nessus onto a shirt and gives it to Heracles.
As soon as the sun touches his shirt, Heracles' skin feels like it is on fire – in some versions of the myth it actually does catch on fire. It turns out that Nessus' blood is still full of Hydra venom from Heracles' arrow.
Deianira is totally horrified by what she's done and kills herself.
There's no hope for Heracles either; the Hydra venom sinks deep into his skin, and the pain is excruciating.
To escape the burning torture, Heracles decides he's going to go out in style and have his whole body literally set on fire. Depending on whom you talk to, either Iolaus or a guy named Philoctetes sets the hero ablaze.
The raging fire burns all of Heracles' mortal parts away, and all that's left is his immortal half. This part of Heracles rises to Mount Olympus, and he becomes a full-fledged god.
On Olympus, his lifelong enemy, Hera, finally decides to be nice to him, and she signs off on him marrying her daughter, Hebe, goddess of youth.