Heroes who reach greatness and achieve important accomplishments remind all humans of our own immense potential to reach incredible levels of greatness, as well as encouraging us to work hard to achieve extraordinary feats. Although the ancient Greeks perpetuated stories about several different heroes, Hercules was one of the most important heroes in Greek mythology. Hercules notably performed several excellent feats of physical and mental strength to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, alleviate the suffering of other people, and redress the crimes of villains. However, the legend of Hercules is also replete with allegorical elements that reflect the ability for humans to reach incredible levels of greatness, the intensive effort required for a man to become a hero, and the importance of using our advanced powers to help mankind.
Hercules was begotten by Zeus and Alcmene, a beautiful woman from the city of Argos. Zeus was the God of the sky and the supreme deity on Mount Olympus, and the lustful God frequently descended down to Earth to wear a disguise and mate with human women whose beauty and grace aroused his sexual interests. One night, in which the husband of Alcmene was away, Zeus came down and mated with the beautiful woman, which resulted in the birth of Hercules (The Life and Times of Hercules). Hercules, along with many other Greek heroes, was said to have been begotten by a God and a human woman, which allegorically allows the heroes to possess superior blood from the powerful God while also connecting the hero with us by having human blood as well. This feature of Hercules, being a demi-God who is part human and part God, serves a meaningful purpose. When we see heroes exhibit superior powers to accomplish incredible feats that seem impossible, the accomplishments impress us with a sense of awe and with the perception that the heroes possess superhuman qualities. For instance, the remarkably great compositions of Beethoven, plays of Shakespeare, and scientific discoveries of Einstein provide the impression that these people had powers that were beyond those of ordinary humans. However, the Greeks established their heroes as mortals because this is the only way to remind us that we, too, can accomplish such remarkable feats. If the Greek heroes were depicted entirely as divine Gods, then other humans would complacently concede that we can never reach such levels of greatness, and consequently, trying to do so is futile. In contrast, because heroes are humans who possess minds and bodies just like us, it follows that we, too, can accomplish exceptional feats if we work incessantly hard to maximize our respective skills. Thus, establishing Hercules as a demi-God and a mortal helps exemplify that, although our heroes might seem divine, they are actually humans, just like us. Therefore, we, too, have the potential to reach greatness and become heroes.
The fact that Hercules was begotten by Zeus and Alcmene infuriated Hera. Hera was the wife of Zeus and the supreme female Goddess of marriage and matrimony. As a result, Hera was prone to experience dramatic fits of jealousy as her husband Zeus would constantly cheat on her by mating with mortals on Earth. This jealousy caused Hera to especially resent Hercules, as he was the product of Zeus cheating on her and was a constant reminder of his infidelity. Although we typically use the Roman pronunciation of Hercules, the original name given to the child by Alcmene was Heracles, which translates to “gift of Hera,” and this name further magnified Hera’s rage. The intense resentment of the goddess motivated her to attempt to murder Hercules while he was still just a newborn infant lying in a cradle. To do so, Hera sent two serpents to infiltrate the home of Hercules, sneak into the crib, and wrap their coils around his neck to strangle the young baby in his sleep (The Life and Times of Hercules). However, Hercules immediately gripped one snake with his right hand, the other with his left, and proceeded to quickly choke the snakes to death while still giggling like any normal baby.
This was an important allegorical episode in the life of Hercules. Although most humans do not reach such excellence and accomplish such great feats until their skills have actualized during their prime of adulthood, most humans that become heroes also demonstrate the potential of greatness and the promise of noble accomplishments at an early age. Thus, the scene in which baby Hercules kills two snakes while giggling in his crib was an example of a hero demonstrating his potential to reach greatness during his youth. Additionally, the remarkable feat of strength exhibited by Hercules as he killed the snakes convinced Hera that she probably cannot kill the strong Hercules. Hera instead determined that she would provide his life with as many tedious annoyances and overwhelming difficulties as possible, which was a theme that would influence much of Hercules’ life.
During the early development years of his youth, the young Hercules trained and studied under the wisdom and guidance of Chiron. Chiron was the oldest and wisest of the centaurs, which was a large tribe of half-horse and half-man creatures. Chiron possessed the advanced knowledge and superior experience required to train many heroes, and he served as a beloved mentor of Hercules (Atsma, “Cretan Bull”). To instruct the young Hercules, Chiron provided education and training to enhance the young hero’s ability to use a diverse range of weapons, form intelligent and effective fighting strategies, and perform excellent athletic feats. This episode also contains symbolic value that reflects our world. For a human to reach greatness, he or she must first fulfill rigorous training and obtain a comprehensive education to learn the craft, improve their mental and physical strength, and maximize their abilities to achieve exceptional accomplishments. Although humans possess different passions and skills, every craft we choose to pursue is universal in that an intensive amount of hard work is inevitably required to master the craft. Thus, the episode in which Chiron educates and trains the young Hercules is a reminder to all humans that they, too, must complete a sufficient amount of practice and training before they can reach impressive levels of greatness, overcome difficult challenges, and accomplish noble achievements.
After Hercules had completed his education and training under the guidance of Chiron, Hercules was now a young man who was ready to embark on adventures and utilize his superior powers to help mankind. However, the first challenge that confronted Hercules was a moment in which he had to make a crucial decision in a scene often referred to as “The Choice of Hercules.” In this pivotal story, Hercules had just begun his journeying when he quickly arrived at a fork in a road, which motivated him to sit on a tree stump at the fork to ponder about his future and the preferred direction of his life. While in contemplation, two goddesses suddenly appeared. One Goddess was named Kakia, which translated to “vice,” while the other Goddess was named Arete, which meant “virtue.” Both Goddesses attempted to urge Hercules to join them and walk down their respective paths, and Hercules was forced to choose which Goddess and which path he would follow (Robertson). As the representation of vice, the beautiful Goddess Kakia promised Hercules that if he chose her and walked down her path, she would provide him with a life full of pleasure, luxury, romance, riches, and ease. In contrast, Arete represented virtue and was dressed in much more ordinary and humble attire. While persuading Hercules to follow her, Arete informed him that her path leads to constant toil, difficult hardships, perpetual fighting against evil, terrifying dangers, and painful suffering that he would have to endure. Remembering the lessons he was taught by Chiron, Hercules made the correct decision by choosing Arete as his guide and virtue as his path.
“The Choice of Hercules” is an important scene that is replete with a mythological connection to philosophical symbolism and instructive meaning. The difficult decision represents the need for every young man or woman to make a choice regarding which path of life they will take and how they will spend their limited time in this world, which then determines what we do, who we are, and what type of life we fulfill. Hercules was always depicted and revered as an admirable hero, and humans tend to imitate and replicate the heroes that we admire. Thus, having the admirable Hercules choose the path of virtue over the path of vice provided the lesson to everybody that it is better to choose the path of toil and noble deeds than the path of pleasure and idleness. The scene also provides a warning regarding the temptations of vice, which is represented by Kakia being a gorgeous woman dressed in beautiful attire to more effectively seduce humans to follow her path. Although the path of virtue was not as glamorous and immediately appealing, as exemplified by Arete wearing very humble clothing, Hercules made the correct choice by following the path of virtue and morality.
The Greeks would most likely argue that he made the right choice because pursing a life of endless toil and brutal challenges is the only way to reach greatness and perform heroic deeds for mankind. Although we all have the potential to reach greatness, to do so requires that we spend an extensive amount of time practicing our craft and improving our skills. However, if we squander the limited amount of time that we have by constantly pursuing pleasure and idleness, it is very unlikely that we will ever achieve excellence or perform incredible feats to help humanity. Thus, “The Choice of Hercules” instructs us to resist the temptations of vice and pleasure, and to instead spend our time working hard and maximizing our skills so we can reach greatness, overcome difficult struggles, and help improve the world.
After choosing to dismiss vice and follow the path of virtue, Hercules walked the rough and thorny path to begin confronting challenges. Immediately, Hercules utilized his superior mental and physical powers to help protect the weak, alleviate the oppressed, and redress atrocities (Guerber). This is an important feature regarding the life of a hero. Many people exercise their superior skills to only benefit themselves or to harm other people, including street criminals, business criminals, and cruel dictators. Thus, a man is only valuable to humanity and established as a hero if he uses his great abilities to help other people, provide an important boon for the community, or improve the quality of life for mankind.
One of the feats Hercules completed in the early period of his adventures was the assistance of Thebes. Orchomenus were enemies of Thebes and were attempting to unfairly collect an excessive tax of one hundred cattle from Thebes. Hercules defended Thebes by severing the ears and noses of the collectors, tying up their hands, and sending them back to Orchomenus (Stylianou). Although this action stimulated a war between Thebes and Orchomenus, Hercules helped Thebes win the war, freed them from the oppressive taxation, and the King of Thebes rewarded the hero by allowing him to marry his beautiful daughter, Megara.
During their marriage, Hercules and Megara were initially happy as they begot three children together. However, the Goddess of marriage, Hera, was incensed to see that the man she fervently resented was living a happily married life as a husband and father. To disrupt the happiness and continue her mission of providing Hercules with endless pains, she instilled his mind with a fit of madness that caused him to slay Megara and kill all of his children by throwing them into a fire (Megara). Although modern times might perceive the murdering of his family as a deplorable crime, even this scene is adorned with tremendous symbolism. Most Greek heroes had difficulty obtaining or sustaining successful marriages for an important allegorical reason. Being married and having a family is not conducive for heroes because the family life includes several obligations and restrictions that require people to sacrifice their independence and to focus their time on caring for the family. However, heroes must be entirely free to work hard, roam around, seek constant adventure, and confront very difficult and dangerous challenges without the fear of leaving their families behind. Thus, the scene in which Hercules murders his family because Hera inflicted him with a spell of madness signifies that the life of marriage and family is not appropriate or ideal for a prospective young hero.
Hercules soon recovered from his fit of madness and regained his senses again. Realizing that he had murdered his entire family, the despondent Hercules was struck with intense grief and overwhelmed with regretful remorse. During this period of depression, the hero withdrew to retire and live a solitary life in the isolation of the mountains. However, he soon received a visit from Hermes, who was Zeus’ messenger God often tasked to deliver important information from Zeus and other Gods on Olympus. During the visit, Hermes told Hercules that Zeus had decreed for the hero to atone for his crime by serving a 12-year sentence while performing 12 labors for Eurystheus, the king of Mycenae (Hercules). Although Hercules was initially reluctant to be a slave, he quickly agreed to atone for his crime, enter the period of servitude, and complete the 12 labors assigned by Eurystheus.
All of the 12 labors or feats that Hercules had to perform seemed like impossible and insurmountable challenges. The first labor was required Hercules to kill the Nemean lion. The Nemean lion had been devastating the village of Nemea by seizing and devouring many of the children, women, and cattle of the area. The terrified villagers warned Hercules that their strongest warriors were all killed trying to hunt the monstrous lion and doubted that Hercules could successfully overcome the beast either. Because all heroes must possess tremendous courage to willingly confront dangers and overcome difficult conflicts, Hercules went to the forest to hunt the lion with unflinching bravery. During the struggle with the Nemean lion, the hero soon realized that his arrows and spears were incapable of piercing the exceptionally strong skin of the beast, and thus Hercules instead beat the lion with a club while chasing it into a cave. Once in the cave, Hercules blocked one entrance and then entered through the only other entrance so he could fight the lion face-to-face and in an enclosed area. After a long struggle, Hercules was able to grip the neck of the lion with his powerful hands, maintain his tight grip despite the scraping claws of the lion, and eventually choke the lion to death (The Nemean Lion). When the hero returned to Eurystheus, the king was shocked and terrified that Hercules was strong enough to perform that seemingly impossible feat, and afterward refused to go near the hero, choosing instead to hide in an underground jar whenever the hero was present, sending his orders through a messenger. Meanwhile, Hercules consistently wore the lion skin around his body as a decorative trophy, which has caused many artistic depictions of the hero to portray him wearing a lion’s skin.
The second labor King Eurystheus appointed to Hercules was to kill the Hydra of Lerna. As a serpent monster with 7 heads and venomous blood, the Hydra was destroying the village of Lerna. Hercules approached and attacked the Hydra by severing off its heads, but he soon learned that every time he cut off one of the serpent’s heads, several new heads would immediately sprout up from the stump. To overcome this problem, Hercules exercised his wit and developed the effective strategy of having a helper burn and scorch the stumps immediately after the heads were cut off to prevent new heads from spawning. This strategy was successful, and eventually, Hercules had severed and destroyed every head to kill the serpent (Wallace). After killing the Hydra, Hercules dipped many of his arrows into the poison of the serpent’s venomous blood, and his newly formed weapons of poisonous arrows would help him achieve future successes and would also, ironically, lead to his downfall.
Hercules had tremendous difficulty performing the third labor, which required him to capture and bring the Hind of Ceryneia back to Eurystheus. Although this was a hard challenge, as the female deer was a divine animal with golden horns and brazen hooves, the mission was especially complicated because the deer was a favorite pet of Artemis, the Goddess of the hunt. As a result, Hercules could not harm or kill the deer, for to do so would instigate the anger and revenge of the very powerful Goddess. Hercules experienced significant difficulties trying to capture the deer, as the fleet-footed animal was able to elude his every move. After a year of the chase, Hercules finally managed to corner the deer on a riverbank, and he then used his precise aim to shoot it with an arrow in an area of the deer’s body that pinned it to the ground without killing the animal. As he was marching away with the deer on his broad shoulder, Artemis appeared to scold and punish Hercules for trying to steal the deer. However, Hercules was able to alleviate the anger of Artemis by blaming the situation on Eurystheus and explaining that his period of servitude required him to obey the king’s orders (The Hind of Ceryneia). This honest explanation worked, as Artemis healed the wound of the deer and allowed Hercules to bring the unharmed hind to Eurystheus.
The fourth labor that Hercules had to perform was to capture the Erymanthian Boar and bring him back to the king alive. This boar was a wild pig with huge tusks, and it was constantly coming down from the Erymanthian Mountains to ravage and desolate the surrounding villages. While preparing for the hunt in one of the villages, Hercules spent a night socializing and conversing with a centaur that he was friends with from the past. Hercules convinced his centaur friend to open and drink some sacred wine from Dionysus. Many other Centaurs came to drink as well, and eventually, the drunken atmosphere caused some of them to attack the hero. Hercules fended off the centaurs by shooting and killing many of them with his arrows, but unfortunately, one of the centaurs he killed was his mentor Chiron (Leadbetter). Although Hercules was devastated that he accidentally murdered his own mentor, he still had to complete the mission, and he thus set out to capture the boar. After a long chase, Hercules eventually succeeded in the mission by cleverly chasing the boar into a deep pile of snow that prevented the boar from being able to run, thus using his wit to take away the biggest strength of the boar. While immobilized by the deep snow, Hercules trapped the boar in a net and brought him back to the king alive. Hercules succeeded in the mission, and Chiron was rewarded for his great works by the Gods as Zeus transferred him to the skies to shine forever as the constellation Sagittarius. Additionally, the story is symbolic because of what the boar represents. Boars often symbolize the destructive vices of gluttony and selfishness, and thus capturing the boar with a net reflects our ability to overcome and control those primal urges with the powers of reason.
The fifth labor required Hercules to clean the Augean Stables. King Augeas possessed more cattle than anyone in Greece, and the abundance of cattle caused the stables to be disgusting with excessive accumulations of dirt, filth, and feces. Additionally, Eurystheus made the task even more difficult by obligating the hero to entirely clean the filthy stables in just one day. Although this was a difficult challenge, Hercules utilized his mental powers and physical strength to solve the problem and complete the challenge. To clean the stable, Hercules tore two openings in the wall, used rocks and tree stumps to change the direction of a nearby river, and dug a trench to redirect the flow of the river into the stable. This was a successful strategy, as the powerful surge of the flowing river was able to quickly eradicate and clean all of the dirt from the Augean stable, at which point Hercules removed the rocks, filled in the trench, and reestablished the river’s natural course (The Augean Stables). This story is symbolic of purification, as Hercules cleaning the exceptionally dirty stable represents the heroic human ability to purify and cleanse our old selves so we can stimulate transformation, instigate change, and improve our new selves.
Hercules was tasked to kill the Stymphalian birds as his sixth labor. These birds occupied a marsh near Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia, and the surrounding villages were constantly threatened by the birds feasting on the flesh of humans. Hercules immediately went to the swamps to hunt the birds at their dwelling home. However, the hero was unable to access the murky marshes, for the swampy ground could not support his weight and his footsteps were sinking and sticking into the ground (Stymphalian Birds). As a result, Hercules cleverly grabbed a castanet percussive instrument that Athena had given to him, banged on the instrument, and as the birds flew up into the air he shot them all with his poisonous arrows.
The seventh labor assigned by Eurystheus was to capture the Bull of Cretan. Poseidon provided the bull to Minos, King of Crete, to be sacrificed. However, the Queen of Crete had fallen in love with the wild bull, mated with the animal, and the mating session begot a Minotaur monster with a man’s body and the head of a bull. King Minos was also fond of the bull, and when he broke his promise to Poseidon and refused to sacrifice the animal, Poseidon instilled the animal with madness and caused it to rampage around the village, destroying everything in its path (Astma, “Bull”). To end the devastation, Hercules captured the wild bull, tied its limbs, and sent it to Athens where eventually the hero Theseus would end the bull’s life.
For the eighth labor, Hercules was required to capture and retrieve the Mares of Diomedes. These fine horses fed on human flesh and the cruel King Diomedes made a tradition of inviting travelers into his home, treating them with excellent hospitality, and feeding them plentiful amounts of delicious food until they were sufficiently fattened. After the meal and the demonstration of hospitality, Diomedes would then throw the guests into the horse pit so the mares could eat and devour the fattened travelers. To punish Diomedes for his atrocious crimes, Hercules seized him and fed the evil king to his horses (Guerber). The hero then brought the horses to Eurystheus and sent them up to Mount Olympus, where they were eaten by wild animals.
The ninth labor performed by Hercules was the challenge of retrieving the belt of Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons. The daughter of Eurystheus was a beautiful and vain girl who desired the best possible ornaments of dress to display and augment her beauty. Hearing about the gorgeous belt of Hippolyte filled her with the intense desire to own the accessory. Eurystheus appointed Hercules the task of retrieving the belt from the Amazon Queen. Undaunted as usual, Hercules went to the Amazons, told the tribe about his task, and Hippolyte soon agreed to provide Hercules with her beautiful belt. However, while he was staying the night at the Amazon village, Hera decided to interfere with the mission of Hercules. To do so, the Goddess came to the Amazons disguised as a village girl, spread a rumor that the true intention of Hercules was to kidnap Queen Hippolyte, and claimed that his excuse of needing the belt was a deception to distract the Amazons from his true purpose (Guerber). Enraged by this false revelation that Hercules planned on kidnapping their queen, the female Amazon warriors immediately attacked the hero, at which point he arduously fought off the women, retrieved the girdle, and brought it back to the daughter of Eurystheus.
Hercules was then tasked to fulfill the mission of retrieving the divine cattle of Geryon for his tenth labor. This mission required Hercules to travel to the farthest edge of the Earth. Bred from the lineage of the gorgon Medusa, Geryon was a monster with three heads, three sets of legs, and a set of divine cattle. After a very difficult struggle, Hercules killed the watchdog of the cattle with his club, seized the cattle, and moved quickly to guide them back to Eurystheus (Guerber). Although Geryon attacked the hero to prevent him from leaving his isle with the cattle, Hercules killed Geryon as well. Then, after a very long journey, he was able to eventually bring the cattle across the world and to the king.
The eleventh labor of Hercules was to find and bring back the Hesperian Apples. These golden apples were given to Hera as a wedding present, and the Goddess employed the Hesperides to guard and protect the apples. The challenge was immensely difficult because Hercules did not know where the apples were located, and to find the apples without any clues regarding where they were hidden on the vast Earth was a daunting task. After a long journey, inquiries helped Hercules learn that the apples were located somewhere in Africa and guarded by a large dragon. Thus, Hercules went to Africa to gather information as to which part of the continent the apples were located. The journey led Hercules to Prometheus, who was still bounded on the precipice of a mountain while being perpetually tormented by a ravenous vulture as punishment for stealing fire from the Gods. Hercules easily climbed up the mountain, broke the adamantine chains, and freed Prometheus. As a reward, Prometheus informed Hercules that his brother Atlas would know where the apples were located, and he also told the hero where to find Atlas. Hercules found Atlas in his usual position of holding up the heavens with his strong shoulders while complaining about the treacherous burden which he was destined to endlessly fulfill. To the relief of Hercules, Atlas said that he knew where the apples were and that he would retrieve them if Hercules would hold the heavens temporarily while he went to get them for him. Hercules happily consented to this and held the heavens on his shoulders while Atlas went to successfully seize the apples. However, upon his return, Atlas was extremely reluctant to resume his position of holding the heavens on his shoulders, and he instead requested that Hercules hold the heavens for a little more time while he would go bring the apples to Eurystheus. Hercules feigned agreement but asked Atlas if he could hold the heavens briefly so the hero could put a pad on his shoulders (Guerber). However, as soon as Atlas resumed holding the heavens, Hercules immediately grabbed the apples, went back to Eurystheus, and left the giant Atlas in the same position as he found him. The act of holding the heavens for a period of time is symbolic of the heavy burden and immense responsibilities that heroes must fulfill as they endure intense pain, exert endless toil, and overcome brutal challenges to help improve the world and elevate mankind.
The twelfth and final labor assigned by Eurystheus was also the most difficult and dangerous of all missions. For the final labor, Hercules was required to descend into Hades and return with the three-headed dog Cerberus, the guard-dog of the underworld entrance. Hades was the underworld to which all dead souls were destined to go, and it was largely believed that nobody who entered the realm of the underworld could return alive. However, Hercules was able to descend into Hades, grip all three heads simultaneously with his powerful arms, wrestle the dog into submission, and bring him to Eurystheus. The king was surprised that Hercules was able to succeed in the mission, was terrified by the sight of the three-headed dog, and insisted that the hero return Cerberus to Hades (Guerber). This story is also symbolic of the hero’s journey and of human transformation. Almost every hero’s journey involves the hero traveling to the underworld and returning back to the surface. The act of entering the land of the dead, retrieving the dog, and bringing it up to the surface of the living represents the ultimate transformation of death and rebirth. Thus, the myth of Hercules retrieving Cerberus symbolizes the dramatic journey of descending into the dark and mysterious realm of the unconscious, receiving a gift or piece of valuable wisdom, and returning to the world of light and consciousnesses as a new, transformed, and improved man.
After performing all twelve of the seemingly impossible labors, Hercules was finally liberated from his period of servitude and free to wander on his own accord. Refreshed at the newly acquired freedom, Hercules roamed around, engaged in many adventures, and achieved many incredible achievements to help save the distressed and punish the wicked. During his journey, the hero established the Olympic Games, which were originally held every five years to honor Zeus and to celebrate great achievements of athletic prowess. Additionally, Hercules also met and fell in love with Deianeira, the daughter of Ceneus, and desired to marry her. Because Deianeira was already promised to the river god Achelous, Hercules challenged Achelous to a wrestling match to determine who would marry the beautiful woman. After a hard-fought struggle, Hercules was able to overcome and defeat the powerful river god and marry Deianeira.
One day, the happily married couple went wandering when they approached a raging river that blocked their path. Although Hercules could overcome the surging tide, he worried that Deianeira was unable to cross this dangerous river without suffering injury or death. A nearby centaur named Nessus then offered to help carry her across and the hero consented to this generous offer. Nessus held Deianeira on his back and walked her across the rough flow, while the strong Hercules walked across the tide on his own behind them. However, Nessus immediately fell in love with the beautiful Deianeira, and upon reaching the shore, the centaur attempted to run away with the gorgeous woman. Hercules heard his wife crying for help, saw Nessus trying to run away with her, and quickly shot the centaur dead with one of his poisonous arrows. While dying, the remorseful Nessus apologized to Deianeira and insisted that she take his robe, for although there was a tiny spot of blood on it, the robe possessed magical powers. Nessus explained to Deianeira that, if Hercules’ love for her ever waned, having him wear the robe would immediately reignite and invigorate his love for her (Erin). Although Hercules and his wife walked home together safely, the story of Nessus inevitably led to the demise of Hercules.
Heroes must constantly wander and seek new adventures. Because of this, Hercules commonly embarked on journeys while his wife remained at home. Although the hero usually returned back to his home and his wife after each journey, one particular adventure seemed to keep Hercules away from home for an extensive length of time. Deianeira began to worry that her husband was gone for so long, and eventually she heard rumors that he had fallen in love with another woman named Iole. When rumors also informed her that he was returning home with his new love, the deeply distressed Deianeira concocted a plan to have Hercules wear the magical robe provided by Nessus in the hopes that the robe would rejuvenate his love for her. She employed a messenger to meet Hercules when he reached the edge of town and have him wear the robe. Although Hercules obliged and put on the robe, immediately the tiny spot of blood that contained poison from his arrows caused venom to infiltrate Hercules’ skin, rush through his veins, and poison his entire body. The burning pain and stinging sensation that followed was too excessively agonizing for Hercules to bear, and without a cure for the suffering, Hercules insisted that his followers build a funeral pyre and burn him. His followers were, of course, reluctant to do so, but eventually, Hercules persuaded them to fulfill his commands. Hercules climbed up the mountainside, stretched his suffering body on a pile of huge oaks, and his friend Philoctetes set fire to the pyre to kill Hercules.
However, to reward the hero for his many accomplishments, Zeus granted him eternal life by allowing the divine portion of Hercules to enjoy everlasting life and dwell upon Mount Olympus with the Gods forever. Additionally, the human portion of Hercules was granted to also receive eternal life by dwelling in the area of Hades known as Elysian. Elysian was a heavenly paradise of the underworld in which virtuous heroes were rewarded with eternal spring, perpetual sunshine, and endless joy after their deaths. Hercules being granted immortality in his afterlife is symbolic of the reward that heroes obtain. Although humans who achieve incredible feats to help improve mankind still must inevitably die, their legacies and great works are granted eternal life in the memory of humanity as their fame survives and their great works are perpetuated through the succeeding generations. For instance, although the Greek poet Homer (the Iliad and Odyssey) has been long dead, his legacy can be perceived as immortal because his great works are still remembered, celebrated, and influencing humanity centuries after his death. Thus, the reward of an immortal afterlife granted to Hercules symbolizes that the hard work and great achievements that heroes perform are rewarded with immortality, for their famous legacies and great works live forever and benefit mankind long after their deaths.
Humans often possess different passions, are gifted with unique skills, and pursue different crafts throughout their lives. However, every human possesses the same incredibly godlike potential to reach amazing levels of greatness at whatever craft they pursue. The demi-god status and heroic deeds of Hercules represents the ability of every human to embrace the gifts that God gave them upon their birth, maximize those skills with intensive labor, and perform incredible feats of greatness to improve the quality of life for other people. Hercules is celebrated because he utilized his superior powers to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and to relieve the suffering of other humans, and his story is replete with many symbolic elements. The Hercules myth has survived over the centuries because the myth reminds all humans that we possess the potential to reach greatness, encourages us to exert the extensive amount of effort required to reach greatness, instructs us regarding the importance of using our superior powers to benefit humanity, and establishes immortality as the reward for people who become virtuous heroes.
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