Mythology Part 3, Chapter 3: Hercules
Hercules was the most admired hero in all of Greece, except Athens. His qualities were the most cherished: strength and courage. Hercules often fought with the gods. He fought for them against the giant and against Apollo when the god's oracle would not speak for him. Intelligence was not one of his strengths. His emotions often sent him out of control and caused him harm. Hercules could not have been in command of a kingdom like Theseus. He was great:
"Not because he had complete courage based on overwhelming strength, which is merely a matter of course, but because, by his sorrow for wrongdoing ad his willingness to do anything to expiate it, he showed greatness of soul." Part 3, Chapter 3, pg. 227
He was born in Thebes to Alcmena and Zeus (thought to be the son of the King). Hera was jealous when he was an infant and she sent serpents against him. His brother wailed and his parents rushed in the room to find that Hercules had killed the snakes. He went into a rage every time a teacher tried to teach him something he didn't want to know. He killed a lion when he was 18 and ever after, wore its skin as a cloak. He conquered many peoples and was given a Princess to marry. Later, after he had children, Hera made him go crazy and kill his family. He went to Delphi and asked how he could atone for this. He was told to go to the king of Mycenae and do whatever he asked. Hera helped this king devise the hero's twelve labors.
His first labor was to kill the lion of Nemea who was impervious to weapons. He choked it to death. Next, he had to kill a nine-headed hydra whose neck would sprout two new heads whenever he chopped one off. He burned the stumps and buried the beast under a great rock. He had to bring back a live stag belonging to Artemis (the third), and then bring back a great boar (the fourth). On his fifth labor, he had to clean enormous stables in a day. He accomplished this by rerouting two rivers. A plague of innumerable birds had to be driven from a city, and Athena aided him. Next, he stole a great savage bull from Crete and was charged with retrieving the girdle of Hippolyta, the leader of the Amazons. She was going to give it easily, but Hera made the Amazons fight him. Then, he retrieved man-eating mares from Thrace and cattle from far in the west. On the tenth labor, he set up the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar. His eleventh task was to steal the golden apples from the Hesperides, stars in the sky, daughters of Atlas. He asked Atlas for help and Atlas asked him to bear the earth and sky for him. Atlas wanted to take the apples to Greece himself, intending to leave Hercules where he was. Hercules actually outsmarted him by asking for a brief rest to pad his shoulders. His final labor was to go to the underworld and steal Cerberus alive. Hades assented, as long as Hercules used no weapons and brought him back. It was during this last labor that he freed Theseus.
The completion of his atonement did not make him happy. He continued to go on adventures. He fought with a river god and rescued maidens from serpents. He also freed Prometheus. Accidentally, he killed a serving boy and a friend over an insult. Zeus' punishment was that he be made a servant to a Queen who dressed him up like a woman. He held this against the King whose son he killed.
On the eleventh labor, he stayed with a friend whose wife had recently died. He approached the house and found it in mourning. Admetus, rather than be a poor host, did not tell Hercules that his wife had died. He hid his mourning and Hercules got drunk and boisterous. When a servant told him that Admetus did not drink with him because his wife had died, Hercules was distraught. He exclaimed "'His eyes were red..He made me come in...Oh good friend and host!'" Part 3, Chapter 3, pg. 240. He went and wrestled death and got Admetus his wife back. After he was freed from his service to the Queen, he collected an army and marched against the King whose son he had killed. After he did this, he sent a band of maidens to his new wife. She thought he was in love with another woman and charmed a robe with the blood of a Centaur (she had been told this was a love potion). Hercules was not killed, but he was tortured for a great time. He was raised up to heaven and married to Hebe.