Hercules, called in Greek Heracles, or Alcides, is a half-mythical demigod of Greek mythology, chiefly to be regarded as embodying the perfection of physical manhood, and as illustrating the perpetual struggle of la bete humaine against the higher impulses of man's nature. Hercules was the son of Zeus by Alcmena the wife of Amphitryon, whose son he was generally supposed to be When he was a few months old Hera, in her jealousy, sent two snakes to kill him, but the child strangled them. He was afterwards carried to heaven and surreptitiously placed at Hera's breast, thus imbibing a further portion of divine nature. Returning to earth he grew up at Thebes, being taught by Castor to fight, by Eurytus to shoot, by Autolycus to drive, and by Eumolpus to sing, the finishing touches to his education being given by Cheiron the Centaur. A legend relates that at the outset of life be had the choice of following pleasure or virtue, and that he chose the latter. At eighteen he killed a lion on Mount Citheeron, and Thespius's fifty daughters became pregnant by him. After the slaughter of the lion Kreon of Thebes gave Hercules his daughter in marriage, and handed over to him the government of the country. But Hera drove him mad, and caused him to kill his children during a delirium in which he imagined them to belong to Eurystheus, who had summoned him to Mycenee. He retired from public life and consulted the oracle, which ordered him to subject himself to Eurystheus for 12 years, during which he performed the well-known twelve labours, being armed for their accomplishment by the gods. The labours were (1) the slaughter of the Nemean lion, (2) killing, with the aid of Islas, the Lerntean hydra, (3) capturing the stag with the golden horns and brazen hoofs (which involved him in a quarrel with Artemis), (4) slaying the Brymanthian boar, (5) the cleansing of Augeas's stables, (6) the slaughter of the Stymplialian birds, (7) capturing the Cretan bull, (8) capturing the mares of Diomedes, (9) taking the girdle of the Queen of the Amazons, (10) killing the monster, Geryon, King of Gades, and carrying off his flocks (in the course of which he set up The Pillars), (11) the taking the apples of the Hesperides, (12) carrying Cerberus from Hell to the upper world. Many minor feats Hercules also accomplished, and one of his adventures, illustrated by sculptors, was his period of slavery to Omphale, Queen of Lydia.
His marriage to Deianeira led eventually to his death; for when Nessus the Centaur offered violence to the wife Hercules killed him, and the dying Centaur told Deianeira that his blood would bring back her husband's love if it should ever wander from her. Finding him later enamoured of Iole, a former love, Deianeira gave him a tunic steeped in the poisoned blood, and Hercules, finding himself dying in torture, hastened events by causing himself to be burnt on a funeral pile. He was taken to heaven, reconciled to Hera, and married to her daughter Hebe. The cult of Hercules was widespread, and there are numerous statues of him, generally with a club and clad in the lion's skin. His career has sometimes been explained as a solar myth.