This edited article about Hercules originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 711 published on 30 August 1975.
Hercules was one of the greatest of all the heroes in Greek and Roman mythology. In the ancient tales and stories of Greece he was called Heracles, and in Roman tales he was known as Hercules.
The son of Jupiter, the king of the gods, and a mortal princess called Alcmene, Hercules was attacked by two snakes when he was a baby in his cradle, but so great was his strength, even as a child, that he was able to strangle the snakes with his own hands. He grew up to be a mighty hunter and warrior and married a princess called Megara.
After a time, Hercules was seized by a fit of madness during which he killed his wife and children. A message from the god Apollo told him that he must offer his services to a king called Eurystheus to make amends for his terrible deed. Eurystheus made Hercules carry out 12 tasks which became known as the ‘Labours of Hercules’. The first of these was to bring to King Eurystheus the skin of a fierce lion, which lived in the valley of Nemes. Hercules tried to shoot it with a bow and arrow but this did not work and he had to kill the lion with his own hands. Next, Hercules was sent to kill the Hydra, a monster with many heads. For his third and fourth tasks he captured a golden-horned stag and a wild boar. Then he had to clean out some stables which had not been cleaned for 30 years. To do this he changed the course of two rivers so that they flowed through the stables, and in one day all were cleansed.
Then he had to slay human-eating birds, the Cretan bull and the wild horses of Diomedes. His ninth task was to fetch the girdle of Hippolyta, a queen of the warlike Amazons. Then he had to fetch the flocks and herds of Geryon from an island in the western Ocean. To get there he broke a mountain in two, forming the Straits of Gibraltar, which in ancient times, were known as the Pillars of Hercules.
The eleventh labour was to secure three golden apples which grew on a tree guarded by a dragon and for his twelfth and final task, he had to fetch the dangerous three-headed dog, Cerberus, from the underworld.
After completing all these tasks Hercules went with the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.
He then married a princess called Deianira who later caused his death. Hercules built a funeral pyre and on it was burned to death. As this happened, he was borne away to heaven in a cloud and became a god.
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