Study Guide

Heracles (Hercules): Later Adventures and Death Themes

  • Strength and Skill

    If there's one theme that keeps popping up throughout Heracles' life, it's "Strength and Skill." In pretty much every story, he performs some kind of superhuman act that shows off just how awesome he truly is. Even after he completed his super-famous Twelve Labors, Heracles kept on wowing the ancient world with one amazing feat after another. From sea monster to dragons, Heracles defeats them all.

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. Imagine some superhero battles, like Heracles vs. Superman. Who do you think would win? Why?
    2. Which story of Heracles shows him at his most skillful? Why do you think so?
    3. Aside from being strong, what other skills does Heracles possess?
    4. We spend a lot of time talking about how strong Heracles is, but in what ways might he be weak?
    5. Does Heracles use his strength for good purposes?
  • Violence

    Pretty much every story of Heracles has the same ending: "And then Heracles slaughtered [insert nasty monster or villain]." There's no getting around the fact that he was an incredibly violent guy. The dude just seriously loved to kill stuff. Sometimes he even got out of control and killed innocents. Of course, most of the time the people and beasties he killed were a threat to all humankind and Heracles is remembered and worshipped as a hero.

    Questions About Violence

    1. Which story of Heracles seems the most violent to you? Why do you think so?
    2. What is an example of a time when Heracles is violent without cause?
    3. What is a good reason to use violence?
    4. Heracles seems to lose control and go berserk on a regular basis. Do you think that made him seem more heroic to the ancient Greeks or less? Why? Are you a fan of any modern heroes who have a dark side?
  • Death and Immortality

    Heracles was never just a mere mortal. He was born with a divine blood. His father is the greatest god of all, Zeus. But he was still mortal. One thing that makes the end of Heracles' life stick out from the rest is the fact that he becomes a god. Heracles eventually heads up to Mount Olympus and becomes immortal. Not all heroes get to be gods, so this is an extra super special event.

    There are conflicting reports about when, exactly, Heracles headed up to the land of the gods. Some say that he became a god after completing his Twelve Labors. Others say that he became a god after a period of wandering around and marrying lots of different women. In fact, it seems like the only thing people can agree upon is that Heracles did, at some point, make it to the land of nectar and ambrosia.

    Questions About Death and Immortality

    1. What do you think immortality meant to Heracles? Based on your research do you feel like he wanted to be a god? Did he care about becoming an immortal being?
    2. Why do you think Heracles was made a god while other mortal heroes – even other sons of Zeus, like Perseus – were not?
    3. For a guy who can't seem to stay in one place for too long, do you think Heracles would be bored in Olympus?
  • Jealousy

    From his birth to his death, Heracles has been plagued by jealousy. As a mortal son of Zeus, Hera has seen him as a hated reminder of her husband's cheating ways. She has hounded the hero for years. (Be sure to check out our thoughts on jealousy in our guides to Heracles' birth and early adventures and his Twelve Labors.) In Heracles' later adventures, another lady in his life has some jealousy issues: his wife Deianira.  Worried that she's going to lose Heracles to a pretty, young girl, Deianira poisons her husband with a potion that she thinks will make him love only her. Though Heracles' mortal self dies as a result of his wife's jealousy, he's made a god on Mount Olympus, where he finally reconciles with Hera and even marries her daughter, Hebe.

    Questions About Jealousy

    1. We find it interesting that Heracles dies as a result of his wife's jealousy. Is Deianira much like Hera? And is Heracles like his cheating dad, Zeus?
    2. Is Deianira justified in being jealous? Why or why not?
    3. Why do you think that Hera got over her jealousy of Heracles?
  • Marriage

    It is easy to lose track of how many wives Heracles has. Remember how he gave his wife Megara away? And he then marries Queen Omphale after becoming her slave? After living happily with Queen Omphale, Heracles leaves her and marries Deianira. Deianira accidentally kills him after catching him eyeing another lady. Heracles moves to Mount Olympus where he marries Hera's daughter, Hebe. It sure seems like Heracles takes after his old man, Zeus, when it comes to the ladies.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Why does Heracles marry so many women? And why does he leave them so frequently?
    2. A marriage occurs sometimes out of love, sometimes for political purposes, and sometimes for economic reasons. Marriage is the union between two people, and this union is meant to represent peace and stability. Why does Heracles choose to marry the women that he marries?
    3. Do Heracles' wives share any similarities?
    4. How does Heracles' love life compare to that of other heroes? Think about Odysseus, Jason, and Perseus, in particular. How do you feel about each of these heroes based on their treatment of their wives?