Hercules (or Heracles) was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Ancient Greece. He was the superhero who was given 12 Tasks by a vindictive cousin, each with the express intention of having killed, stabbed, eaten or locked for ever in Hades. Hercules got out of all them till the day he trusted his wife to say You know Hercules, why don't you wear some clothing next time we pop down to the ASDA in Athens. But before we get to that...let's consider Hercules and why he was such a big deal to the Greeks, Romans and the direct inspiration for Arnold Schwarzenegger to leave Austria and conquer the world.
Let's not mince words here. Hercules was the spawn of that great upholder of family values, Zeus. Except Zeus like any hot blooded man just couldn't keep it in his flowing white bedsheets if he spied a pretty woman in Thebes about to retire to bed. So when Zeus saw Hercules's mother Alcmene washing her body whilst her husband Amphrityon was off fighting a lot of other angry Greeks, the god took leave of Olympus and joined her in the shower. Zeus pulled that old shape-shifter technique of assuming her husband's visage and letting himself have his Godly way with her, taking her over the high jump into god induced orgasm. From that would spring Hercules. Ironically, the same night Amphrityon returned and whilst his wife was a bit confused, surprised her with a renewed bout of love making. This would produce Hercules pathetic younger brother Iphicles.
Zeus's wife (and sister) Hera missed all this as she was out shopping with Aphrodite to find a new love girdle. She wasn't aware of her husband's latest seed spreading till the old fool boasted he just fathered the greatest Greek hero since..erm..the last time he had been knocking off mortal women. Hera turned from porcelain white to puce purple and said she was going to make this baby's life hell, a touch unfortunate as Hera was the President of the Ancient Greek Women's Institute.
Hera took her early revenge on the innocent Hercules in a couple of ways. First she had Hercules's (and his brother) birth delayed (extra agony for Alcmene) and then sent two snakes as 'childminders' for the twins. Iphicles wailed like any other 99.999% children but Hercules picked the snakes up and squeezed them so hard that their eyes popped out. When viewing this later on TIVO, Zeus remarked that is definitely my boy.
The young Hercules soon showed that he was more in body building than pansy-posing philosophy any day (so very un-Greek). To give him a little more polish in case he got invited to some important parties, he was given lyre plucking classes by a centaur called Cherion. The half horse/half man teacher was good at showing Hercules where to put your hand when dancing with a lady and how to come up with right axiom if faced with a hungry lion. The only blot on Hercules school report was that he killed his music teacher Linus when the latter advised Hercules wasn't quite right for the Temple Choir. Linus was later re-incarnated by an apologetic Zeus and re-appeared in Peanuts.
First Marriage and Madness
It looked like it was all going hunky dory for Hercules. He left school and married Megara, the daughter of King Creon and the Cocoanuts of Thebes. Children quickly followed and Hercules took a job in his father-in-law's business, cutting ribbons at the opening of temples and presiding as judge in Greece's top TV unreality show, The 50 Euro Note Question. Hercules grew his first beard and paunched out with a wine belly. Life looked good.
This domestic bliss was too much for Hera so she sent down a real foul mood to envelope Hercules. Blaming his children for sleeping problems whilst trying to watch a ball game, Hercules killed them. He was sorry after. King Creon decided he would let a local Oracle advise him what to do with his murdering son-in-law. The Oracle answered that Hercules had to do 10 Labours of International Community Service, the list to be decided by King Eurystheus of Argos, prince of the printed catalogue. This would be a family feud as Eurystheus was also Hercules's cousin.
Let the Labours Begin
Eurystheus and Hercules had nothing in common except one thing. They were both grandsons of Perseus the Gorgon Slayer. Hercules arrived in Argos to be given his free catalogue but was forced to wait whilst his cousin came up with some suggestions that were in a special section marked 'Shitty Specials'. Top of the list was The Nemean Lion. This had taken to preying on local virgins and then using them as bait to lure in foolish wannabe heroes and then proceeding to eat both victim and hapless saviour. Eurystheus said 'we'll start with a man eating lion and you will work you way up.'
To make it extra hard, Hercules was forbidden to use any weapons except a club, bow and arrows and his bare hands. Nor could he phone a friend or use a credit card.
Hercules tracked the lion down to a cave. Arrows just bounced off it and it was too far to swing a club at. Hercules then tried enducements:Appearance on the Discovery Channel, a one-to-one with David Attenborough but the lion showed no interest in attacking him. So Hercules entered the cave and found a beautiful, naked woman waiting for him. Puzzled, he asked where 'the lion was' - only to get pounced on by the woman who then transformed into the lion. Hercules was too strong for it and strangled the beast.
Part of the deal (and to fill in his time sheet), Hercules had to bring the lion back to Argos. Slung over his shoulder, casual like, Hercules gained entry to Eurystheus's palace to show off his handiwork. The Argive King was so appalled that he hid in large brass cooking pot and told Hercules never to come inside again with his 'labour'. Hercules donated the carcass to the kitchens but kept the skin for himself. So much taken was he with the skin (it was after all, invulnerable to arrows) that he took all his clothes off and would spend the rest of his 'labouring' in the pelt. This probably suggests Hercules stunk like a dead cat.
So from an alluring lion to a beast with many heads. This was an unfair Labour as Hera invented it just to kill Hercules. Hercules noticed that according to his contract, he was allowed to bring along an assistant (trainee labourer) and chose his nephew Ioalus, son of his brother Iphicles. Ioalus was there to drive the chariot, avoid parking tickets and (it was said), make himself available for Hercules in 'other matters'.
The Hydra was found quarrelling with itself, so many heads to argue about in which direction to move. Seeing Hercules, it slithered towards him spitting venom and trying to breathe all over the hero with its deadly noxious breath. Hercules swung the club and knocked off a head and then was shocked to see it replaced by two more. This was worse than bindweed! Hercules would have spent all day doing this and dying from the fumes given off by Hera's halitosis friend till Iaolus (who had done some first aid) suggested they burn the stump and cauterised the wound to prevent the extra head problem. This worked a treat. Hera (who was watching all of this) then sent her deadliest weapon so far: A bad tempered crab. Though it got one large nip into Hercules unguarded bum, he turned around and smashed it into crab soup. Hera made an apology to the late crab and instead gave it an astrological number and the harbinger of a lung disease as Cancer. The Hydra was then killed but not made into a fashion accessory. Hercules settled for collecting the Hydra's poison blood and storing it in a jam jar for later tasks.
So far Hercules had done the easy stuff: Find it, kill it, skin or drain it and then tick that off as a done job. Eurystheus decided to set the new job as catch the fastest Bambi but bring it back alive. The deer in question was the Ceryneian or 'Golden' Hind for the colour of its coat. She could run faster than Usain Bolt and look a lot prettier.
This was a dull labour for Hercules. In fact it seems to have bored all those who wrote the story up since how Hercules managed to capture the fast running animal is obscure. Did he jump her whilst she was asleep or involve Artemis as Goddess of the Chase in it? Didn't matter. The Golden Hind was brought to Eurystheus. He wanted her for his zoo collection but Hercules let the animal free, saying that wasn't part of the deal. At least she didn't end up as venison.
Again Hercules had to bring back an animal alive but this time it wasn't no jumpy deer but a 'for the throat' wild boar. The Erymanthian Boar had been a burden on Arcadia in the peloponnese. Not content to snuffling about the forest looking for truffles, this boar had made itself unwelcome by propping the bars in local tavernas and boring people about its life as a wild pig.
Once again this labour seems a bit of a thin tale. Hercules lacked 'boar catching' in his education so asked his old teacher Chirion. He said 'wait for snow' as Boars don't like it. Well whatever, Hercules got his boar and showed it to Eurystheus to confirm he had done what was asked. The King grimaced and said it looked like the beast but that Hercules could keep it. The hero spent the next few nights with the boar until his patience was tested and the wild pig was converted into sausages for a local Greek restaurant.
Eurystheus was nothing if not inventive. His latest wheeze for Hercules to undertake was clean all the shit out King Augeas's stables. For reasons the myth makers skimp on, it is not known why this particular stables hadn't been cleaned in 30 years. King Augeas of Elis (a boarding school friend of Eurystheus) blamed the local Greek population for not taking up his offer of stable jobs and hadn't brought in other Eastern Europeans to do it either.
Hercules arrived and was given a large bucket and a shovel to start work, a job Eurystheus reckoned would take the next 30 years. Hercules may have looked a brain drained beefcake but he drove a bargain. One tenth of the livestock to clean the stables in a day as payment or he would become Augeas's slave. The greedy King agreed and then was dumbstruck when Hercules went outside the stables and diverted two rivers to flood the area and wash all the muck and crap into the Ionian sea.
Hercules got double stitched up here. Augeas said Hercules hadn't done the work but had just used nature to clean up his dirty stables. Eurystheus agreed and fined Hercules two extra labours for polluting the sea. Hercules said nothing but gave a throat cutting gesture to Augeas to indicate what would happen to the King of Elis once the tasks had been completed.
Another crappy labour for Hercules to complete. After the previous shitty job, this one involved poisonous bird droppings as deposited by man killing birds. Yes, man killing birds. These avian horrors had besides killer poo, bronze beaks and metallic feathers. Taking an umbrella with him from the bird excrement, Hercules coated his arrows in Hydra poison and shot the screeching birds out the sky. He took a few dead birds to prove the job was done.
Back to the farmyard for this one. Hercules travelled to Crete to pick up a particularly disgruntled bull. No clue why this beast was pissed as in Crete they worshipped the animals and had in the past done back flips and handstands by jumping onto the horns. King Minos of Greek offered help but Hercules got it and took that one back alive to Argo. Five more labours to go.
8:Mares of Diomedes
This time Hercules was to steal the man eating horses of King Diomedes of Thrace. So far all of Hercules heroics had been within the Greek world (as they saw it). Thrace (where Bulgaria currently sits) was on the outside - land of the barbarians and tattoos. The horses themselves were not show ponies but wild animals who had been forced feed on unlucky human chops to make them aggressive. Diomedes liked to personally feed the choice cuts to feed his peculiar hobby.
Hercules trick was to somehow 'borrow' the horses without Diomedes noticing. So Hercules put it around they were to appear in the Olympic Games in one of the equestrian events. It would also be a cultural recognition for Diomedes that he wasn't a savage but an honorary Greek. The king thought this was a good start but insisted going along with a larder of spare slaves to keep his horses in tip-top condition.
Shipping was arranged but secretly Hercules planned to sail the next day with the horses but without Diomedes. The Thracian tyrant was tipped off, confronted Hercules on the beach and had his head caved in by the Greek hero. Diomedes's horses broke free and then devoured what was left, curing them of their need for meat and a wished instead for a bowl of sugar lumps instead. The rest of the labour was easy, though it did gain Hercules another enemy as Diomedes's dad was Ares, the God of War as was to be proved in the 9th labour.
9:Girdle of Hippolyta
This was a special request/demand from Eurystheus' daughter Admete:The Magic Panties of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. The Greeks called this a 'girdle', in fact they were quite common. The Olympian sex machine Aphrodite had one which she was constantly lending out to other goddesses to spice up their sex life. Hippolyta (a daughter of Ares and therefore a sister of Diomedes) was wild woman who ruled the Amazon kingdom which was a warehouse off the road between Trabzon in Turkey and Tblisi in Georgia. Once again Hercules had to get something by offering nothing. However this time Hippolyta (perhaps hankering after some recent absent bloke action) said she would willingly give up her Ancient Playtex 24 hour Girdle for some rough house action with Hercules.
Hera then appeared in disguise as a war maiden and persuaded the other Amazons that Hercules intended to leave with their queen and set up another warehouse elsewhere. Roused to fury, the Amazons attacked Hercules. He, unsportingly killed Hippolyta and took the girdle.
10:Cattle of Geryon
More farm animals. Eurystheus was running out of tasks to kill Hercules with. This one involved stealing cattle but also meant killing the owner too, a three headed chap called Geryon and his two headed dog Orthrus. Both happened to live in Spain which to Greeks was heading very close to the shelf edge of the world.
Hercules turned up in Spain and without any great undue effort, killed both master and hound. The bigger challenge was bringing the cattle all the way back from Spain to Greece. Hera once again tried various methods to hinder Hercules, including once again a bizarre animal of revenge, a horse fly. Hercules swotted all these obstacles away and delivered once again. Eurystheus now tried very hard for the next labour. This one would be off the map.
11:Apples of Hesperides
Hercules was told to get the apples but was given no method of getting to this place. The garden where these Golden Apples were kept at a secret location by sylph like nymphs in skimpy underwear. That caught Hercules attention but then he remembered the nymphs who looked after these apples (one byte and you have to open an iTunes account) were the daughters of Atlas, King of the Titans. And he knew where Atlas was, standing on a mountain in Morocco.
Since Hercules couldn't travel there (lesser Gods and above were only allowed access), he would need to persuade someone to go for him. Atlas had been condemned to holding up the sky since he had a dinner party falling out with Zeus. Whilst the rest of the Titans were thrown in a maximum security hell, Atlas remained above earth but forced to have the world on his shoulders.
Hercules offered Atlas some of his Hydra Jelly but the God said he would do this for 'Erc' as he liked him. Oh, and do you mind doing my job whilst I away? Hercules saw this could be trap but accepted. Atlas then handed the world over to Hercules and promised to be back 'soon'. Hercules should have known that Atlas would string this out as long as possible and went missing for hours, days..weeks? Hercules couldn't remember as he felt the strain ofr keeping the world from rolling away and disappear down a storm drain. When Atlas returned with the apples he said he would go to Argos and deliver the apples but Hercules said that would only mean his Labours would be extended again. Atlas agreed and then stood looking at Hercules doing his job.
This stand off lasted for awhile until finally Hercules agreed to Atlas going to Argos but that first, he needed a head rest. Atlas said he could borrow his but in that moment when neither man was actually holding the world, Hercules slipped away and left Atlas holding the baby - or in this case, Planet Earth. The Titan turned the air a deep shade of blue as he cursed the fleeing Hercules with his apples.
So far Eurystheus had thrown lions, bulls, boars, multi-headed snakes,man eating horses, wild women and an angry giant at Hercules and everytime the hero had succeeded. Racking his brains, Eurystheus finally came up with the request "Bring me the Hound of hell".
Cerberus was a three headed dog whose job was to keep the living out and prevent the dead escaping. If it had entered Crufts you would have put down 'Hellhound Cross' - though not to say what it was crossed with. This task needed to find the visitors gate to hell to enter and to somehow get into the underworld and come back again. Hercules ruled out just snatching the beast off the doorstep as that would annoy Hades and add another immortal to Hercules extensive list of gods who wished him all the worst.
This time Hercules got some of his Olympian help: Athena suggested he should arrange a business meeting with Hades. Hermes supplied his Olympic Sat Nav to Hercules whilst Hestia, goddess of the hearthside hippies cooked some hash cakes for Hercules to feed Cerberus on the way in. The only other person to agree to let Hercules into the underworld was Charon. He initially refused Hercules passage as he claimed he would lose his job (and have his innards pulled out) to allow illegal migrants in. Hercules explained he only had a short term visa and if Charon objected any further, he would be thrown into the water.
Hercules made his way past Cerebus (the greedy beast loved the cakes) and into the land of the damned, aimless and listless till he reached Hades's palatial pad. The gloomy one's wife Persophone was so glad to see someone else alive down there (her husband barely counted) that she lobbied for Hercules to be given the chance to take Cerberus out for a walk topside. They would just close the entrance to their world whilst the guard dog was away. Hades agreed but said Hercules couldn't use any weapons as he wanted to keep his dog alive.
Sneaking up behind Cerberus (still a bit dozy after his druggy cake), Hercules grabbed hold of the mutt by its three throats and choked it into submission. He then slung the trussed up dog over his back and returned to Argos. Hercules lay the snarling dog on the floor of the palace. Eurystheus (peeking out from his hiding place) finally knew he was beaten and released Hercules from any further labours. Cerberus was cut free and trotted back to the hell.
And the rest
Hercules didn't hang up his club after his ordeal, nor did Hera relax in finding other ways to nobble her husband's son. Hercules under took other missions and labours. He settled accounts with Augeaus by burying him head first in a deep cowpat and took a holiday with Jason and the Argonauts.
Hercules also got involved in a dispute with Troy, rescuing a naked maiden from a sea monster and then sacking the city when they refused to pay him for the job. He also wrestled Death, shot an eagle out of the sky and fought against Proteus, a foe who would change into various animals to scare an opponent. Hercules simply went for the throat choke hold and won.
There was another 'labour' involving impregnating the 50 daughters of the King of Thespiae in a single night. From them he fathered sons and daughters (The Thespians) who would later all end up on stage or sitcoms. Hercules said that was his toughest labour of all and he was so sore he couldn't theoretically wear any tight pants for six months.
Death and Return
Hercules eventually married again. He chose a woman called Deianira. She was more of his age and wasn't interested in making more babies for the hero. This suited Hercules who now swopped one club (for hitting beasts/people with) for membership of the prestigious Theban Golf Club. He also dropped the lion suit as that was now in a terrible state. The couple were set for a cosy retirement until a meddling centaur called Nessus (as they do) stuck his hooves in. He told her that Hercules was still enjoying a few 'extra' labours with the local wood airy-fairies. A distraught Deianira allowed herself to be taken on a 'ride' by the helpful Nessus who then tried to gallop away with her. Hercules spotted them and shot a fatal arrow at Nessus. As he lay dying, the lying centaur said Deianira could keep Hercules faithful if she the rubbed some of that liquid Hercules kept in his potting shed on the inside of best golfing blazer. What Nessus failed to tell her it was the blood of the poisonous Hydra.
So when Hercules and Deianira received the invite to attend a local ball, she persuaded her husband to wear the jacket. The moment he put it on, the squelchy jacket burnt into his skin. Screaming in agony, he asked for a barbecue ending till Zeus came down and snatched up the 'godly' bits of his son. The rest of the mortal stuff eventually ended up in Hades (the place) which gave Hercules a uniquely split personality. One of him was in Olympus with his dad and third wife (and half sister) Hebe, Queen of the Hee Bee Gees. The other, rougher Hercules went down into Hades but with heroic bonus points. There he was allowed to hunt phantom deer and fight phantom monsters. Hercules could kill them all again and they would be back again for more - just like a video game. Those who knew both Hercules said the one in Hades was having far more fun than the one who had stand next to his father on a mountain all day and look well..'Olympian'.
- The Romans called him Hercules because they objected to lousy Greek spelling.
- Provided by Larry Ellison of Ellis with first year of free obscure prophecy support.
- It was more like a belt than an item of underwear but that isn't so funny.
- The apples are always described as Golden but no further details about whether you could eat them or not.
- The Titans were the previous God ruling class, overthrown by Zeus, Poseidon and Hades.
- The trip for Hercules was cut short when his travelling companion Hylas was drowned in a pond by over frisky water nymphs.
- Hercules's grandfather Perseus had done the same deed elsewhere in Greece. All sea monsters preferred their victims naked as they found clothing got stuck in their gullets.
- King Creon didn't object