Herakles (Hercules) and His Twelve Labors

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Hercules fighting the Nemean lion

Hercules (Herakles to the Greeks and Hercules to Romans) is most popular and celebrated of the Greek heros. He was the son of the mortal Alcmene, who made love to Zeus and her husband on the same night and bore two children: Hercules son of Zeus and Iphicles, son of her husband Amphityon. Hera was angry about her husband’s indiscretion and vented her anger at Hercules.

Hercules inherited great strength from his father and began performing heroic deeds at an early age. When Hera place had two serpents placed in his cradle Hercules grabbed them and strangled them. As he was growing up he was trained in the arts of war by Centaurs and heros. When he was a young man two women sought him out. Kakia (vice) promised him an easy life of luxury and wealth if he followed her. Arete (virtue) promised him only glory from fighting evil if he followed her. Hercules followed the latter.

Marianne Bonz wrote for PBS’s Frontline: “According to Greek legend, Herakles was the son of Zeus by a mortal woman of noble lineage, whose name was Alcmene. Zeus's vengeful wife, Hera, attempted to kill the infant Herakles by placing serpents in the cradle where he and his twin brother slept. But Herakles strangled the snakes, thus saving himself and his twin. [Source: Marianne Bonz, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Bonz was managing editor of Harvard Theological Review. She received a doctorate from Harvard Divinity School, with a dissertation on Luke-Acts as a literary challenge to the propaganda of imperial Rome]

“In addition to semi-divine parentage and birth in difficult circumstances, another common feature of the lives of demi-gods is that they encounter ignominy or great misfortune, which they must either overcome before death or resolve through death. After he was grown and married, Herakles was struck with a deadly madness and, mistaking his own wife and children for those of a bitter enemy, he killed them. It was in atonement for this terrible crime that he performed the twelve superhuman labors that rid the world of terrifying monsters and brought new security to the world's inhabitants. Because of his superhuman strength, Herakles was the patron of athletes, and sanctuaries honoring him adorned virtually every gymnasium throughout the Greco-Roman world. But his most important role was that of powerful patron and protector of human beings and gods alike.

Hercules captures the Cerneneian hind
On artworks that featured Hercules as a subject, Karen Rosenberg wrote in the New York Times, “Unlike most of the other heroes, who were associated with local cults, Hercules had pan-Hellenic appeal. He was also the only one to enjoy a semidivine status, ascending to Olympus to join his immortal wife Hebe, after much trial and tribulation on earth. The marriage is celebrated here in a pyxis attributed to the Meleager Painter. Hercules had weaknesses too: wine and women. But artists mostly obsessed about the strength manifested in his extraordinary labors, to judge from the works on view. In a row of vessels, an action-film-like sequence, he overpowers Cerberus, the Hydra and the Erymanthian Boar, among others. Things get even more interesting when Hercules meets the Amazons, the female warriors who used men as slaves and occasionally deigned to reproduce with them. The wall labels note that the ancient Greeks saw Amazons as quasi-heroes and paragons of beauty and athleticism.” [Source: Karen Rosenberg, New York Times, October 21, 2010]

When Disney released the film “ Hercules” Greek archaeologists lodged a formal complaint against Disney for erroneously recorded several events from the Hercules legend. The film for example has Hercules defeating the Medusa and the Minotaur, but in reality it was Perseus and Theseus, respectively, who defeated them. The film also said that Hercules was the son of Hera, wife of Zeus, when the legends says he was the son of Alcamene.

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Story of Herakles

Collete Hemingway wrote: “According to Greek mythology, Zeus desired to sire a son who would be the guardian of mortals and immortals. Thus, he visited the mortal woman Alkmene in Thebes, where they conceived Herakles. However, on the day Herakles was to be born, Zeus boasted that his son would rule over Greece. Homer describes how Hera, wife of Zeus, delayed the birth of Herakles until the day after his cousin Eurystheos was born. Thus, the vengeful Hera ensured that Eurystheos inherited the throne. And she sent two snakes to destroy the infant Herakles as he slept in his cradle. Yet even as a baby Herakles' strength was legendary, and he saved himself from Hera's serpents by grasping one in each hand and strangling them. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, metmuseum.org \^/]

Hercules killing the Hydra

Herakles was son of Zeus and of Alkmene (who was daughter of Electryon, the son of Perseus, and therefore great-granddaughter of Zeus and Danaë). Alkmene was already the wife of Amphitryon, the nephew of Electryon. Amphitryon killed his father-in-law Electryon, king of Tiryns, and was exiled by Elektryon's brother and successor Sthenelos (or Sthenelaus). The family went to live in Thebes (where Kreon was king). Alkmene refused to sleep with her husband until he avenged her brothers, who had been killed in a cattle raid at Argos. The night (or same afternoon) before the successful Amphitryon returned, Alkmene slept with Zeus, under the impression that he was her hisband. She was surprised when her husband returned a second time, until Tiresias, the blind seer, explained the situation. Zeus boasted, however, that the offspring (Herakles, originally named Alcaeus after his grandfather) was his son. This of course annoyed Hera, who began to stir up trouble. [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Hera made Herakles mad, during which time he killed his own children and his first wife Megara (daughter of King Kreon), two children of his half-brother, Iphicles, and in addition the man who had usurped the Theban throne after the assasination of King Kreon, a man named Lykos. When the madness left him, Herakles went to Delphi and consulted Apollo about what to do. Apollo, who ordered Herakles to go to Tiryns and do whatever his cousin, Eurystheus, son of Sthenelos, told him to do. If he succeeded in doing ten (or twelve) glorious deeds imposed upon him, he would become an immortal. This had already been predicted by Tiresias for Amphitryon, when Herakles was an infant.

Twelve Labors of Hercules

mosaic of Hercules going mad and preparing to kill Megara

Hercules was far from perfect. He could be a notorious drunk, capable of consuming huge amounts of wine, and sometimes displayed a vicious temper. Once in a rage provoked by Hera he killed his own children. As an act of repentance he was forced to perform what became known as the “Twelve Labors of Hercules.”

Collete Hemingway wrote: “ After Herakles married the Theban princess Megara, Hera afflicted the hero with madness, and he murdered his wife and all their children. According to some literary accounts, the Greek god Apollo instructed Herakles to atone for his crime by performing labors for Eurystheos, king of Mycenae. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, metmuseum.org \^/]

The first six of the Twelve Labors were: 1) killing the Nemean lion (after strangling the beast Hercules wore its skin as a garment); 2) slaying the nine-headed Hydra water serpent; 3) capturing the Erymanthian boar; 4) capturing the golden-horned Cerneneian hind (stag); 5) killing the human-flesh-eating Stymphalian birds; 6) cleaning the Augean stables, which houses 3,000 oxen and had not been cleaned for 30 years (this was achieved by diverting two rivers.

The last six of the Twelve Labors were: 7) capturing the Cretan bull; 8) capturing the flesh-eating mares of Diomedes and the evil king of Thrace (who was thrown to the horses to be eaten alive); 9) defeating the Amazons, killing their queen and bringing back her belt; 10) taking the oxen of the monster Geryon (on his way to do this he erected the Pillars of Hercules, the Straits of Gibralter; 11) steal the golden apples of Zeus; and 12) bringing Cerberus, the multi-headed dog of the Underworld , to the surface.

Hercules also killed Calais and Zetes, the sons of Boreas because they created a sea breeze that kept Jason and the Argonauts from rescuing Mysia.

First Four of the Twelve Labors of Herakles

Hercules wearing the Nemean lion skin

Collete Hemingway wrote: “The first of these labors was to kill a vicious lion that terrorized the area around Nemea in the Peloponnese. Eurystheos instructed Herakles to bring back the skin of the slain Nemean Lion, but the hero's weapons—his club, bronze sword, and bow and arrow—were useless against the impenetrable skin of the beast. Instead, he wrestled the lion to the ground, strangled it, and removed the creature's tough hide with its own claws. Thereafter, Herakles wore the legendary lion's skin as his own impenetrable armor. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, metmuseum.org \^/]

1) The Nemean Lion (site: in the hills north of the Plain of Argos,) was not an ordinary lion, but a child of Orthos and Echidna or of Typhon (thus, a descendant of Poseidon and Medusa. On his way to the confrontation, Herakles stopped at Cleonae, where Molorchos offered to sacrifice to Herakles as if to a divinity after 30 days (This assumed Herakles would be dead or a god). On his successful return to Tiryns, Eurystheus hid in a bronze jar (womb/tomb) and would only deal with his cousin Herakles through the State Herald Kopreus (a son of Pelops). The lion became a constellation in the sky (Leo), thanks to Hera. Its invulnerable skin became a cloak and emblem of Herakles.[Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class ++]

2) As a second labor, Herakles was instructed to slay the Lernaean Hydra, a serpentlike creature with nine heads and poisonous venom. He accomplished this task by cutting off each of the Hydra's heads and burning the exposed stumps, which finished off the beast. The Hydra (site: five miles south of Argos, on the coast road to Arcadia and Sparta) was half-sister to the Nemean Lion through Typhon or the Echidna, and is said to have been nourished by Hera. It lived near a spring (Amymone) with a crab for a friend (in a cave with two entrances); its nine heads grew back when cut off. Iolaos, the son of Iphicles (Herakles' half-brother) acted as charioteer for his uncle Herakles, and helped him by cauterizing the wounds which prevented the new heads from growing back. The central stalk was immortal and Herakles could only bury it along side of the road. The body provided Herakles with a deadly poison for his arrows. This poison later helped to cause Herakles' death. The crab which helped the Hydra was made into a constellation by Hera (Cancer). On Herakles' return to Tiryns, Eurystheus refused to count this as one of the Labors because Herakles had received help. ++

Hercules and Boar of Erymanthus

3) As a third labor, Eurystheos ordered Herakles to capture the Hind of Keryneia, a deer sacred to Artemis, goddess of hunting. Eurystheos chose the deer specifically in hope of provoking the wrath of Artemis. For one year, Herakles hunted the animal until it finally stopped to rest, whereupon he shot it with his bow and arrow or caught it a net, depending on the source. On his journey home, Herakles ran into the infuriated Artemis, but begged her forgiveness. The goddess gave in and allowed Herakles to bring the deer to Eurystheos. However, when he arrived, the sacred Hind leaped out of the hero's arms and eventually returned safely to its mistress. The Hind (site: roamed around the territory of Oenoe in north-west Argos) was finally run down in Arcadia, beside the River Ladon in northwest Arcadia ++

4) Erymanthian Boar (site: the territory of Psophis, a city in north-east Arcadia, near Mount Cyllene, the birthplace of Hermes) was vicious wild boar that lived on a mountain called Erymanthus. Herakles chased the boar to exhaustion and then drove it into deep snow at Mount Erymanthos,, where he successfully netted it and brought it back alive to Eurystheos, who hid in the bronze jar again. On the way to this encounter, Herakles visited the home of the centaur Pholus. Other centaurs invited to dinner got wildly drunk, and Herakles in alarm killed them. ++

Middle Four of the Twelve Labors of Herakles

Hercules and the Mares of Diomedes

Collete Hemingway wrote: “Eurystheos king was angered by Herakles' continued success and ordered him to clean out the Augean Stables, home to the greatest number of cattle in all of Greece. The stables had never been cleaned, and Herakles was instructed to complete the task in one day. This he accomplished by rerouting two rivers and flushing out the mess. When he returned, Eurystheos demanded of him another chore. He ordered Herakles to kill an enormous flock of man-eating birds that gathered near Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia,[Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, metmuseum.org \^/]

5) At the Stables of Augeas (site: Elis, near Olympia, in western Peloponnesus) Herakles agreed to remove dung from the huge herds of cattle in exchange for a 10 percent commission. He diverted the River Alpheus ('...where Alph the sacred river ran/ through caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea'--S.T. Coleridge) and/ or the River Peneus, and succeeded. King Augeas refused to honor the contract. When Heracles arrived in Tiryns, Eurystheus refused to count it as one of the Labors, since Heracles had demanded payment (Thus, 10 Labors = 12 Labors). [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class ++]

6) Stymphalian Birds (in north-central Arcadia) were an enormous flock of cannibalistic birds that gathered near Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia, an area surrounded by a dense forest. Heracles borrowed from Athena a set of bronze clappers that Hephaestus had made. When the birds heard the noise and flew upward in alarm and Herakles shot them with his arrows. ++

Hercules and the Stymphalian birds

7) As his seventh labor, Herakles was ordered to capture the Cretan Bull (the father of the Minotaur by way of Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete). He stifled the beast with his bare hands and shipped it back to Mycenae, whereupon Eurystheos decided to sacrifice it to Hera. The goddess, however, refused to accept a sacrifice that was a sign of Herakles' success. The bull was brought back to Tiryns and freed. It eventually wandered to Attica, to the plain of Marathon, where it was finally captured by Theseus and sacrificed (to Athena).\^/ ++

8) After this Eurystheos demanded the eight labor: that Herakles capture four man-eating mares that belonged to the Thracian King Diomedes of the Bistones. According to one of many versions of this story, Herakles killed Diomedes and then fed his flesh to his horses, which had a calming effect on the animals, allowing Herakles to bring them to Mycenae. Herakles overpowered the grooms of the cannibalistic horses of Diomedes (site: Thrace, at the mouth of the Nestos River) and drove the mares down to the sea. Turning back to deal with grooms who were chasing him, he left the mares with his current lover Abderus. When he returned, however, he found that they had eaten Abderus and Herakles forced them fed on their master Diomedes to cure them of cannibalism, In one version of the story Herakles took the horses to Tiryns and then released them. Later they were eaten by wild animals on Mount Olympus. \^/ ++

Last Four of the Twelve Labors of Herakles

When Herakles returned, Eurystheos demanded yet another task—that he steal the magical belt of Hippolyte, (or Antiope) was the daughter of Ares and a queen of the Amazons. Herakles then launched an expedition to the Black Sea area to find her. Collete Hemingway wrote: “However, Hippolyte was so enchanted with Herakles' physical strength that she gave the belt to him. While they met on board his ship, the ever-vengeful Hera” posing as an Amazon,” spread a rumor among the Amazons that the Greek hero intended to abduct their queen. The women warriors charged down to the ship, and Herakles, sensing danger and perhaps betrayal, pierced the heart of Hippolyte and made off with her belt.” Hippolyte later had an affair with King Theseus of Athens and was the mother of Hippolytus, meaning maybe Herakles only captured her and her sister Antiope. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, January 2008, metmuseum.org \^/]

Hercules and the Amazons

10) As a tenth labor, Eurystheos commanded that Herakles fetch the red cattle of Geryon, a monster with three heads and three sets of legs that lived on the island of Erythia, near the far edge of the known world ((site: Spain: Geryon was king of Erytheia, now Cadiz in southern Spain, the sherry wine country). Herakles killed Geryon, as well as the monster's two-headed watchdog Orthos, before successfully escaping with the herd of red cattle. Geryon maybe had three bodies from his waist down. He had a watchdog named Orthus (which had 2 heads). On the way to Spain (by way of Libya) Herakles set up the Pillars of Herakles (Gibraltar and Ceuta). He killed the watchdog with his club and likewise the Royal Shepherd, Erytion. When Geryon came after Herakles, Herakles shot him with arrows. He then drove the cattle back to Greece, by way of southern France and Italy (where he ran into robbers Ialybion and Dercynus, and (at the future site of Rome) Cacus. Herakles founded an altar at Rome which was still being tended by two aristocratic Roman families in the third century B.C. It stood at the entrance to the Circus Maximus (near S. Maria in Cosmedin). [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class ++]

Hemingway wrote: “Upon the hero's return to Mycenae, Eurystheos demanded yet two more labors of Herakles. The first of his tasks was to retrieve the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides ('The Western Ones'). The three golden apples were kept in a garden guarded by a hundred-headed dragon and the Hesperides, the nymph daughters of Atlas. During his journey, Herakles did battle with Ares, the sea god Nereus, and the sons of Poseidon. Many of these mythic battles are featured on Greek vase paintings. Having successfully retrieved the apples of the Hesperides, Herakles had one final labor-the most dangerous one of all. Eurystheos demanded that he travel to the Underworld and bring back the monstrous three-headed guard dog Kerberos. Using brute strength, Herakles wrestled the vicious creature into submission, and with that completed his twelve labors. \^/

Diomedes devoured by his horses

11) The Apples of the Hesperides: (golden fruit) were a wedding present to Hera from Gaia. This is a transformation story of Nereus, the 'Old Man of the Sea', until he tells Herakles how to get to the Islands of the Hesperides (maybe the Azores or Canary Islands). A visit to Atlas (brother of Prometheus) takes place during the journey; he helps Herakles (in some versions of the tales) by actually going himself to the Hesperides and getting the apples from the tree. In other versions, Herakles goes to the garden and kills Ladon, who becomes the constellation Serpens. Herakles dedicates the apples to Athena upon his return, and she returns the apples to the Hesperides (Cf. Gilgamesh and the flower that gives old men back their youth). ++

12) To capture of the Hound of Hell Cerberus, Herakles entered the Underworld (House of Hades) by way of the cavern at Taenarum in Spartan territory (the same entrance which was used by Orpheus). He released Theseus and his friend Perithoos, king of the Lapiths, who were alive in the House of Hades, but were being held captive in Chairs of Forgetfulness (they had tried to steal Persephone, which is what all heroes have to do, in one system of symbology or another), but were captured and stayed for what almost became an eternal meal. Theseus and Perithoos had also killed centaurs, in Thessaly, like Herakles did. ++

End of Hercules

Hercules had other adevntures. After capturing the Erymanthian Boar, Herakles heard that Jason was preparing the expedition to Colchis to seek the Golden Fleece. During the expedition, Herakles' current boy friend, Hylas, was kidnapped in Mysia in Asia Minor and perhaps drowned (Nymphs seem to be involved: see the Narcissus story). Herakles' grief at the loss may have ended his participation in the Expedition. After the Cretan Bull was captured. Herakles wrestled with Death (Thanatos) and rescued Alcestis in what is known as the Story of Admetus and Alkestis (Euripides, Alkestis) (Pherae in Thessaly). There is also another cycle of Heracles' labors, his enslavement to Omphale ('navel'; Ur-mother?) a queen in Asiatic Greece. He is dressed in women's clothes and becomes one of the several transvestite heroes in Greek myth (cf. Pentheus, Achilles and the transsexual Teiresias) [Source: John Adams, California State University, Northridge (CSUN), “Classics 315: Greek and Roman Mythology class]

Hercules and the Apples of the Hesperides

Herakles was finally done to death by the foolish love of his (last) wife Deianeira, the daughter of Oeneus king of Calydon. Nessos the Centaur had tried to rape Deianeira, perhaps just because centaurs are lusty animals, perhaps in revenge for the destruction of the Peloponnesian centaurs. When Herakles wounded him with one of the famous poisoned arrows, he pretended that all was forgiven and gave Deianeira a 'secret potion' which would keep Herakles home and make him hers forever.

Actually the potion, a salve, contained blood of the Hydra in it. Deianeira smeared some on the inside of a fresh tunic which she helped Herakles to put on after a bath upon the return from one of his many adventures (Cf. the bathtub scene in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, where Queen Clytamnestra murders her husband Agamemnon, with help and support from Aegistheus, Agamemnon's vengeful cousin and Clytamnestra's lover.). The Medusa potion was corrosive, and nearly drove Herakles crazy with pain because he could not get the tunic off (The 'crazy glue' motipheme).

To escape, Heracles ordered Poeas his Chief Steward and Poeas' son Philoctetes to build his funeral pyre. He climbed up on it, still alive, gave Poeas his bow and arrows as a farewell gift (later inherited by Philoctetes and taken to the Trojan War — a necessary ingredient for victory of the Greeks). He ordered the pyre to be lit. His mortal part was consumed by the flames (cf. the prince of Eleusis Demophon and Asklepios), while his immortal part (He was a son of Zeus, after all) was fetched to Olympus by Zeus' order, who sent a special chariot to meet what was left of Heracles. This was at the demand of the rest of the gods (Divine Council) who were impressed by Heracles' achievements, and reminded Zeus of the prophecies.

Hercules Festival in Sicyon

On a festival in Sicyon, a city-state situated in the northern Peloponnesus between Corinth and Achaea, Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece” Book II: Corinth (A.D. 160): “In the gymnasium not far from the market-place is dedicated a stone Heracles made by Scopas.1 There is also in another place a sanctuary of Heracles. The whole of the enclosure here they name Paedize; in the middle of the enclosure is the sanctuary, and in it is an old wooden figure carved by Laphaes the Phliasian. I will now describe the ritual at the festival. The story is that on coming to the Sicyonian land Phaestus found the people giving offerings to Heracles as to a hero. Phaestus then refused to do anything of the kind, but insisted on sacrificing to him as to a god. Even at the present day the Sicyonians, after slaying a lamb and burning the thighs upon the altar, eat some of the meat as part of a victim given to a god, while the rest they offer as to a hero. The first day of the festival in honor of Heracles they name . . . ; the second they call Heraclea. From here is a way to a sanctuary of Asclepius. On passing into the enclosure you see on the left a building with two rooms. In the outer room lies a figure of Sleep, of which nothing remains now except the head. The inner room is given over to the Carnean Apollo; into it none may enter except the priests. In the portico lies a huge bone of a sea-monster, and after it an image of the Dream-god and Sleep, surnamed Epidotes (Bountiful), lulling to sleep a lion. Within the sanctuary on either side of the entrance is an image, on the one hand Pan seated, on the other Artemis standing. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

Hercules and Cerberus

“When you have entered you see the god, a beardless figure of gold and ivory made by Calamis.1 He holds a staff in one hand, and a cone of the cultivated pine in the other. The Sicyonians say that the god was carried to them from Epidaurus on a carriage drawn by two mules, that he was in the likeness of a serpent, and that he was brought by Nicagora of Sicyon, the mother of Agasicles and the wife of Echetimus. Here are small figures hanging from the roof. She who is on the serpent they say is Aristodama, the mother of Aratus, whom they hold to be a son of Asclepius. Such are the noteworthy things that this enclosure presented to me, and opposite is another enclosure, sacred to Aphrodite. The first thing inside is a statue of Antiope. They say that her sons were Sicyonians, and because of them the Sicyonians will have it that Antiope herself is related to themselves. After this is the sanctuary of Aphrodite, into which enter only a female verger, who after her appointment may not have intercourse with a man, and a virgin, called the Bath-bearer, holding her sacred office for a year. All others are wont to behold the goddess from the entrance, and to pray from that place. The image, which is seated, was made by the Sicyonian Canachus, who also fashioned the Apollo at Didyma of the Milesians, and the Ismenian Apollo for the Thebans. It is made of gold and ivory, having on its head a polos,1 and carrying in one hand a poppy and in the other an apple. They offer the thighs of the victims, excepting pigs; the other parts they burn for the goddess with juniper wood, but as the thighs are burning they add to the offering a leaf of the paideros.

“This is a plant in the open parts of the enclosure, and it grows nowhere else either in Sicyonia or in any other land. Its leaves are smaller than those of the esculent oak, but larger than those of the holm; the shape is similar to that of the oak-leaf. One side is of a dark color, the other is white. You might best compare the color to that of white-poplar leaves. Ascending from here to the gymnasium you see in the right a sanctuary of Artemis Pheraea. It is said that the wooden image was brought from Pherae. This gymnasium was built for the Sicyonians by Cleinias, and they still train the youths here. White marble images are here, an Artemis wrought only to the waist, and a Heracles whose lower parts are similar to the square Hermae.”

Hercules Sarcophagus?

Debra Kelly wrote in Listverse: “The ancient Greek hero Hercules has long had an association with the Iberian Peninsula. In one version of the legend, the 10th of the demigod’s famous Twelve Tasks was retrieving the cattle of Geryon. Along the way, he shortened the trip a bit by smashing the Atlas Mountains and joining the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Even today, the straight between Gibraltar and Morocco is said to be flanked by the Pillars of Hercules. In another legend, Hercules died in Spain while leading an army there. [Source: Debra Kelly, Listverse, May 9, 2016]

“So there was great excitement in 1850, when Spanish stoneworkers uncovered a sarcophagus with detailed carvings that seemed to show Hercules surrounded by the signs of the zodiac and leading a procession of people and animals from Egypt to Spain. The workers had smashed the sarcophagus before realizing it might be important, but the pieces were supposedly collected and reassembled by local historian Buenaventura Hernandez y Sanahuja.

“He published his findings in a book, concluding that an ancient people known as the Hyskos had fled to Spain after being driven out of Egypt, which they had ruled for a century between 1650–1550 B.C. . Hernandez y Sanahuja argued that a Hercules figure led an Egyptian expedition to Spain, where he teamed up with the locals to destroy the Hyskos once and for all, perishing himself in the final battle. This idea had a mixed reception in Spain, and was laughed out of town everywhere else, along with the carvings, which have been described as “cartoon-like” forgeries. Embarrassed, Hernandez y Sanahuja destroyed almost all copies of his book, although his work still turns up in some of the more outlandish pseudo-historical theories.”

20120219-Hercules Twelve_Labours_Altemps_Inv8642.jpg
Twelve Labors of Hercules

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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