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Chapter 12

HERCULES AND OEDIPUS

HERACLES

One of the greatest Greek heroes, Heracles, (Hercules in Roman Mythology) was the progenyu of Zeus and the mortal, Alcmene. Alcmene was married to King Amphitryon, but Zeus came to her in Amphtryon's bodily form, in order to impregnate her. Here, since Hareacles was a product of Zeus's infidelity, plagued Heracles throughout his life, providing constant obstacles for hm to overcome.

The first of these occurred when Heracles was just a infant. Hera sent two serpents to his cradle, but the toddler strangled both with his bare hands.

Heracles was raised by the noted Centaur, Chiron, who schooled in in the fighting arts, with all kinds of weapons, as well as training him in sports and the arts.

At the age of eighteen, Heracles killed the Thespian lion in the woods of Cithaeron. He then marched on the nemesis of the Thebans, the Minyans, handily defeating them. In appreciations, the Thebans gave the hand of the beautiful princess, Megara, to Heracles.

As part of her revenge, Hera sent a madness to overtake Heracles, causing him to murder his wife, and his children, which, after the madness ended, caused him unbearable grief. After spending a short period to time in asylum, provided by Theseus in Athens, he went to Delphi, to see how he could atone for sugh a heinous act. He was told to go to the prince of Argos, Eurystheus, who gave Heracles "Twelve Labors", to perfom to purify him of his murders.

Herein follows a listing of the Twelve Labors, followed by a discussion of each:

1) Lion of Nemea
2) Hydra of Lerna
3) Stag of Cerynitia
4) Boar of Mt Erymanthus
5) Augean Stables
6) The Bull of Crete
7) Mares of King Diomedes
8) Girdle of Hippolyta
9) Stymphalian Birds
10) Cattle of Geryon
11) Golden Apples of Herperides
12) Cerberus of the Underworld

The first five labors took place in the Peloponnesus, or southern Greece, and the rest in various other parts of the Mediterranean.

First Labor: Lion of Nemea

The Lion of Nemea was a monstrous creature, which was ravaging the countryside of Nemea, devouring cattle, sheep, and even children. Heracles soon discovered that the skin of the lion was invulnerable to metal weapons; therefore, he picked up the lion by the throat, and strangled it with his bare hands. He then skinned it, and thereafter used the pelt as a shield for his own body, occasionally.

Second Labor: Hydra of Lerna

This nine-headed creature proved to more challenging. When one hydra head was cut off, two would grow in its place.

So, Heracles came up with a solution. He enlisted the aid of Iolaus, who seared the stumps of the necks, after being beheaded by Heracles with a sword, so that the neck would not replicate. The last remaining hydra head, which was immortal, was conquered by smothering it under rocks.

Before leaving, Heracles dipped all his arrows in the Hydra's blood, which was poisonous, thereafter making his arrows very deadly.

Third Labor: Stag of Cerynitius

This third task apointed by Eurytheus was to trap the fleet-footed deer, and bring it back alive. This labor took Heracles an entire year, until he eventually drove the stag into deep snow, in the distant north, allowing him to capture it and carry it to Eurytheus in Argos.

Fourth Labor: Boar of Mt. Erymanthus

Heracles used exactly the same strategy to capture this boar, driving it to deep snow. While performing this labor, Heracles was attacked by a group of Centaurs, and he accidentally killed his tutor, Chiron the Centaur.

Fifth Labor;: The Augean Stables

King Augeus of Elkis, in western Greece, had stable which housed 3000 oxen, and had not been cleaned in 30 years. Heracles, in an uncharacteristic mannyer, did not use his brute strength, but used his wiles to win this labor. Her diverted the nearby rivers Alpheus and Peneus, causing the rives to course through the rancid stable, so that the stables were completely cleaned in one day.

Sixth Labor: The Bull of Crete

Poseidon had given King MInos of Crete a beautiful bull, which he was supposed to sacrifice. However, Minos thought that bull too valuable to kill, trying to substitute another bull, to fool the god.

But Poseidon saw through this sham, so he maddened the bull, to wreak havoc all over the Isle of Crete. Heracles easily captred the bull using his strength, binding it, and bringing it back to Greece.

Seventh Labor: Mares of Diomedes

The king's horses were fed on human flesh. The king sustained a steady supply of this unusual food for horses, by decreeing that all strangers that come to his Thracian kingdom would be executed. Heracles immediately seized the king, and threw him to his own man-eating creature, before bringing the mares to Eurytheus.

Eighth Labor: Girdle of Hippolyta

Hippolyta was the Queen of the Amazons, a tribe of war-like women, living on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Heracles travelled there, and simply asked the queen for her girdle, explaining his purpose.

But Hera convinced the other Amazons that Heracles goal was the abduction of Hippolyta herself, causing a battle, which caused the death of Hippolyta, before Heracles successfully carried off the girdle.

Ninth Labor: The Stymphalian Birds

During this labor, Heracles used his poison arrows to down these birds. These birds had become a plague to the country side around Lake Stymphalus, eating up all the surrounding crops. Their feathers were shot like arrows from their body, but they were not match for Heracles' poison arrows.

Tenth Labor: Geryon Cattle

Heracles had to travel to the area of southern Spain for this labor. The Sun God, Helions, provided Heracles with a giant cup to travel across the Mediterranean, and allowing him to bring the cattle back, after he captured them. In the couse of this deed, Heracle had to kill Orthus, the giant watchdog who guarded over their cattle.

The rocks on either side of the Strait of Gibraltat were, thereafter called the "Pillars of Heralces" to commemorate this act of Heracles.

Eleventh Labor: Golden Apples of Hesperides

This labor roved to be very arduous for Heracles. The Golden Apples were orginally given by Mother Earth, or "Ge", to Zeus, and Hera, as a wedding present. They were placed in a garden somewhere in North Africa, guarded over by Ladon, a hundred-headed monster, and the Hesperides, Atlas's daughters.

Heracles did not know where to find these apples, so he enlisted the aid of old Nereus, a god of the sea. To extract infomation from this god, one had to grasp him with both hands holding on tight. Nereus would attempt to excpae tby assuming many different bodily forms, hoping to scare off his questionere.

But Heracles held on, and learned from Nereus that he should go to seek advise from Pormetheus, who was chained in the Caucasus. Heracles travelled there, and was told by Prometheus that he should go to his brother, atlas, who was in North Africa, holding up the sky. In appreciation, Heracles released Prometheus from his chains.

Atlas told Heracles that he knew where the apples were, but that he himself would go get them, if Heracles would hold up the sky in his absence. Heracles readily agreed, and relieved Atlas of his burden. Atlas returned with the apples, but he enjoyed the new freedom vastly, so he made a proposition to Heracles; he wanted to bring the apples to Eurytheus in Greece.

Heracles pretened to agree, but asked Atlas if he would just hold up the sky for a moment, while he put a pad on his shoulder to easen the weight of the sky. Once Atlas re-assumed the weight, Heracles simply picked up the apples, and set out for Greece, leaving Atlas alone, once again, with his plight of the heavy load of the sky.

Twelvth Labor: Cerberus of the Underworld

This turned out to be one of the most difficult labors. Heracles descended to the Underworld, where he released Theseus from one of the Chairs of Forgetfulness, before he explained his purpose to Hades, the God of the Underworld. Hades agreed, as long as Heracles did not use any weapons, and he did not harm the three-headed dog, Cerberus.

Heracles bound the dog, ascended to the Upper World, and delivered it to Eurytheus, thereby ending his labors, and absolving himslef of the murder of his wife and children.

Heracles was now free. He then went to Olympus, in western Greece, where he established games to be celebrated every 5 years, in honor of his father, Zeus. (these games are the forerunner of our Olympic Games) He continued to wander, doing good deeds, wherever he went.

Heracles set out on the Argonauts' expedition, although he did not complete their journey (see Chapter 10). He also took part in the battle between the Centaurs and Lapithae at the wedding of Pirithous. Then, by accident, Heracles slew a man, and was condmened to 3 years of servidture to Omphale, Queen of Lydia. During this time, Heracles was humble to perform effeminate tasks.

After this period of servitude, Heracles met and fell in love with princess Deiriana. In order to win her, he had to defeat the river god Achelous. Afer successfully doing so, Heracles carried Deiriana off, coming to the river Evenus, which was to turbulent for him to carry her across. Therefore, he enlisted the help of a centaur, Nessus, who had been nearby.

After carrying her across, Nessus tried to abduct Deiriana. Heracles quickly loaded up one of his poison arrows, and mortally wound the abducting centaur.

Before dying, Nessue told Deiriana to take a flashk of his blood, and to use it on Heracles, whenever he felt his heart straying from her affections. The blood, he said, if applied to Heracles, would revitalize his love for Deiriana. Deiriana was very grateful for this gift, although she hoped she would never have to use this strange potion.

Years passed, and Heracles continued to perform good deeds. He came upon a maiden, Iole, who Deiriana suspected was sharing the affections of her husband. Therefore, remembering the gift of blood of Nessus, she smeared the blood on a tunic intended as a gift for Heracles.

Unbeknownst to Deiriana, this blood was taken from Nessus after he had been shot by one of Heracles poisoned arrows, and that Nessus' blood, was, in fact, poisonous.

When Heracles put on the robe, he screamed in pain, attempting to rip if off, bu instead only ripped off chunks of his flesh.

Heracles knew his end was near, so he induced Philoctetes to build a pyre, on which he could lay, before going to a fiery death. Phliloctetes did so, and, in appreciation, Heracles gave him his remaining poisonous arrows.

After Heracles' mortal death, Zeus came down from the heavens, taking Heracles' sould to Olympus, where he became immortal, and where he married Hebe, Goddess of Youth, and Zeus' daughter. There, Hera finally forgave him for being the offspring of another woman by Zeus, and he became a special divinity of sports and strength, worshipped by all Greek youths.

...after his mighty Labors, he had rest
His choicest prize, eternal rest
With the homes of blessedness.......

OEDIPUS

Upon the birth of Oedipus to King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes, the oracle of Delphi foretold the Laius that his son would kill him. To avoid this from happening, Laius entrusted the infant Oedipus to a servant, instructing him to pierce the infant's feet with a pin, and hang him from a tree on the mountainside.

Instead, the servant took the child to the Queen of neighboring Corinth, who adopted him, since she and King Polybus did not have an heir. Oedipus grew to adulthood uneventfully, unti, one day, another youth tanted Oedipus that he really was not a son of Polybus. Disturbed, Oedipus consulted the oracle, and was told that he was pre-ordained to kull his father, and marry his mother. Thinking that Polybus and Merope were his true parents, he fled Corinth to avoid the oracle from occurring. At a crossroads, he encountered an old man and his entourage. Unbeknownst to Oedipus, this old man was his true father Laius, who was on the way to the oracle to consult about a sphinx that had been plaguing Thebes. Oedipus, and the "old man" fought about the right of way, at the crossroads, and Oedipus ultimely killed the old man, and his fellow travellers. Oedipus continued on to Thebest, where he soon learned that this sphinx, a monster with a womas head, birds wings, and claws, and lion's body, was encamped at the city gates. This creature would kill anyone who could not solve the riddle...

...what animal is that which has four feet at morning bright Has two at noon, and three at night?

It was determined that anyone who solved the riddle would rule over Thebes, since Laius had been killed, the people thought, by bandits in the countryside.

Oedipus solved the riddle. The answer was "man", since, in infancy man walks on all fours, in mid-life on 'two' legs and on 'three' in old age, since he uses a cane. Oedipus now became King of Thebes, and married Queen Jocasta, who, in reality, and not known to either party, son and mother!

The next few years were uneventful. Oedipus and jocasta had four children, Polyneices and Eteocles, the sons, and Ismene and Antigone, the daughters. Suddenly, a terrible plague came upone Thebes. Since Oedipus had ridded Thebes of the last scourge of the sphinx, they looked to him for the way to deal with it. Oedipus consulted the Oracle ata Delphi, and was told that the plague would be lifted, when the murderer of King Laius was found and punished.

Not knowing that he, himself, had been the killer, Oedius collected all possible information. Soon, he discovered from the servant that he had not placed the infant Oedipus on the mountainside to die, but had given him to King Polybus. The horrible truth was now known. Queen Jocasta hung herself, and Oedipus blinded himself with a pin.

Oedipus then left Thebes, penniless and blind, wandering the land, plauged by the Furies, until dying an anonymous death. Theseus, ever compassionate, buried im honorably in Athens, in the Precinct of the Solemn Ones.