Hercules is probably the best-known and greatest of all Greek heroes.
His mother Alcmene, granddaughter of Perseus and
Andromeda, was married
to Amphitryon, but her beauty attracted the god Zeus and the two became
lovers. She eventually gave birth to twin boys - Hercules, the son of Zeus,
and Iphicles, his mortal half-brother, fathered by Amphitryon.
Whilst still a baby, Hercules had to contend with the wrath of Hera, Zeus's wife.
Angered at her husband's unfaithfulness, she decided that Hercules must be
killed since he was visible proof of her humiliation. She sent two snakes
to murder him as he lay in his crib, but such was Hercules' strength that
he was able to strangle them both with his bare hands. Hercules grew to
manhood and, as a reward for liberating Thebes, was married to Princess
Megara, daughter of the king. But Hera, annoyed at his good fortune,
succeeded in driving him temporarily insane and he killed his wife and children.
Hercules was then placed in charge of his cousin, Eurystheus, and it was during this period
that he performed the twelve labours, all connected with ferocious beasts and monsters,
for which he is most famed. A further fit of madness resulted in him killing his friend
Iphitus and, as an atonement, he was forced to live as a slave to Queen Omphale for three
years. Finally freed from this servitude, he married Deineira and went into exile
with her. Unfortunately, some time later she accidentally poisoned him. He was
carried home and arranged his own funeral pyre, ordering the fire to be lit to put
an end to his terrible suffering. Zeus saw all and, although Hercules was half mortal,
transported him up to Olympus.