Hercules is due to hit theaters later this month. Will you be in attendance? He is our focus for this month’s Immortal Monday.
The famous Greek demi-god, Heracles, son of the god, Zeus, and the mortal woman, Alcmene, is most commonly known as Hercules. The name Hercules was adapted by the Romans and used across the modern West. It is under this name that many artists, both writers and painters alike, depicted his strength and stories. The many great adventures by which he has become famous.
What story do you think Hollywood will tell you this time?
The one bound to make our hero look his best, of course. Throw in a dash of weakness and tragedy to make you feel sorry for him, a whole lot of tension, and you’ve got yourself a big budget motion picture worthy of Tinsel Town.
Heracles’s story is a long one. Today, let’s explore the story Hollywood isn’t telling you.
Let’s start at the beginning. Did you know Heracles had a brother? A fraternal twin, to be precise. Except his twin didn’t have Zeus for a father. This is known as Heteropaternal superfecundation, when two children are conceived by separate fathers within a normal ovulation period.
When Zeus came to Alcmene disguised as her husband, Amphitryon, he made sure his seed was good and strong. But the real Amphiryton came later that night, home early from the war he’d been away fighting. Thus the twin, Iphicles, was conceived, within the same time span as Heracles.
Could Alcmene really not tell the difference? Meh.
The ever vengeful Hera ~ constantly irritated by Zeus’s many escapades. She despised the young demi-god even before his birth. He was then known as Alcides―his original given name. His name would later be changed to Heracles in an attempt to appease Hera. It didn’t work.
On the eve of the great hero’s birth, Zeus proclaimed a member of his blood line, the House of Perseus, would become High King. He had high hopes for Heracles and was casting the foundation. He was not planning on what Hera would do next. Once the formal proclamation was made, she had him trapped. She got Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, to delay Heracles’s birth, leaving the boy trapped in the womb. She then rushed to his cousin’s house and caused a premature birth, bringing Eurystheus into the world approximately two months early. Two month! Before neonatal!
Bound by his word, Zeus named Eurystheus High King. Hera had won. She had successfully stolen Heracles’s crown. First point for Hera, and she was just getting started.
Labor had been hellish for Alcmene, lasting close to a week, and by now she had a pretty good idea of what was what. Something along the lines of Zeus being the super-secret-sex-crazed-baby-daddy. She feared Hera’s wrath and what the boy meant for her family’s future days. She made the choice of a confused, terrified woman and abandoned the child in a field.
Can you imagine the state you’d have to be in before you could leave a child alone with no intention of returning? Pretty scared and desperate, I would imagine.
A sad state for any child, Athena took pity on him, scooped him up, and took him to Hera. She managed to trick The Mother goddess into feeding the boy from her own breast. Oops! Athena conveniently forgot to mention who the boy was.
Heracles was a hungry baby and he suckled taking in the nectar of the goddess, making him far stronger than any mortal. Making him the man of many legends, the man of godlike strength and immortality.
Then he bit her.
Angry, she pushed him away, wanting nothing more to do with him.
Her milk splattered across the skies creating what we now know as the Milky Way. Thank you Heracles.
Hence, the creation of a true demi-god: Zeus as a father. Magic boost, Hera’s milk.
Don’t you worry about Heracles’s parentage. When presented by Athena, his parents took him back. Alcmene was a better mother to him moving forward.
Of course, it wouldn’t be easy. Upon learning the identity of the child she had nursed, Hera was so angered that she sent two serpents to Heracles’s cot, intending to kill him. Um, yeah. He was found holding a strangled snake in each hand, playing. Can you imagine the look on his parent’s faces? His father immediately sent for the seer Tiresias, and so Heracles course was prophesied. Tiresias said the boy would vanquish many monsters in his time. And so he did.
Imagine if you were Heracles’s mother, or mortal father, even. How do you imagine yourself accepting the task of parenting an adolescent demi-god of such clear strength, with a Hera-wrath magnet built-in? Would you want to read more on Heracles in the future?
*images via Wikipedia. Click on one to be zipped off to the source.
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