Hercules, the Latin equivalent of Heracles, was the son of Jupiter and Alcmene. His jealous stepmother, Juno, tried to murder the infant Hercules by putting a serpent in his cradle. Luckily for Hercules, he was born with great strength and killed the serpent. By the time Hercules was an adult, he had already killed a lion. Eventually, Juno drove Hercules insane. Due to his insanity, Hercules killed his wife, Megara, and their three children. Hercules exiled himself because of the shame that he had brought on himself through his lack of sanity.
Hercules decided to ask the Delphic Oracle what he should do to regain his honor. The Oracle told Hercules to go to Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, and serve him for twelve years. King Eurystheus couldn’t think of any tasks that might prove difficult for the mighty son of Jupiter, so Juno came down from her palace on Olympus to help him. Together, the twosome came up with twelve tasks for Juno’s mortal stepson to complete.
These tasks are now known as the twelve labors of Hercules. Hercules’ first labor was to kill the menacing Nemean Lion; Hercules strangled the creature and carried it back to Mycenae. The second task was to overcome the nine-headed snake known as the Hydra; Hercules’ cousin Ioloas helped him out by burning the stumps of the heads after Hercules cut off the heads; since the ninth head was immortal, Hercules rolled a rock over it. The third task was to find the golden-horned stag and bring it back alive; Hercules followed the stag around for one full year; he finally captured the stag and took it back alive. The fourth labor was to capture a wild boar that terrorized Mycenae’s people; Hercules chased the boar up a mountain where the boar fell in to a snow drift, where Hercules subdued it. The fifth task of Hercules was to clean the Augean stables, where thousands of cattle were housed, in a single day; Hercules diverted two rivers so that they would flow into the Augean stables. The sixth labor was to destroy the man-eating Stymphalian birds; Hercules drove them out of their hiding places with a rattle and shot them with poison-tipped arrows. The sixth task was for Hercules to capture a Cretean savage bull; Hercules wrestled it to the ground and took it back to King Eurystheus. The eighth labor was to capture the four man-eating mares of Thrace; Hercules threw the master of the mares to them; the horses became very tame, so Hercules safely led them back to Mycenae. Hercules’ ninth labor was to obtain the girdle of the fierce Amazon warrior queen, Hippolyta; Hippolyta willingly gave her girdle to Hercules, but Juno convinced the Amazons that Hercules was trying to take Hippolyta from them, so Hercules fought them off and returned to his master with the girdle. The tenth labor was to capture the cattle of the monster, Geryon; Hercules killed Geryon, claimed the cattle, and took them back to the king. The eleventh task was to get the golden-apples of the Hesperides; Hercules told Atlas that if he would get the apples for him, he (Hercules) would hold the heavens for him; when Atlas returned from his task, Hercules tricked him into taking back the heavens. The final labor of Hercules was to bring the three-headed watchdog of the underworld, Cerberus, to the surface without using any weapons; Hercules seized two of Cerberus’ heads and the dog gave in. Hercules took the dog to his master, who ordered him to take it back. Finally, after twelve years and twelve tasks, Hercules was a free man.
Hercules went to the town of Thebes and married Deianira. She bore him many children. Later on in their life, the male centaur, Nessus, abducted Deianira, but Hercules came to her rescue by shooting Nessus with a poison tipped arrow. The dying Nessus told Deianira to keep a portion of his blood to use as a love potion on Hercules if she felt that she was losing him to another woman. A couple of a months later, Deianira thought that another woman was coming between her and her husband, so Deianira washed one of Hercules’ shirts in Nessus’ blood and gave it to him to wear. Nessus had lied to her, for the blood really acted as a poison and almost killed Hercules. On his funeral pyre, the dying Hercules ascended to Olympus, where he was granted immortality and lived among the gods.