Friday, August 2, 2013
Heracles - Herakles - Hercules
Apologies for the bad formatting. I just updated my program, and now it seems that it doesn't translate to my blog very well, sigh...
Hi, my name is Heracles, and just so you know, my family is CRAZY! My father is Zeus, King of the Gods. 'Nuff Said!
As for my mother and stepfather... Well, just listen to their story and then decide for yourselves whether they are crazy or not.
The Tale of Alcmene and Amphitryon
Before I can tell you their story, I need to explain something important. Once upon a time ago, my father Zeus became enamored of a Princess named Danae. She – having been locked in a tower by her irrational father, King Acrisius or Argos, because of a prophesy that her son would one day kill him – conceived and gave birth to a son of Zeus named Perseus.
Legends state that my father went to Danae in the form of a shower of gold coins that fell on her lap – thereby impregnating her (What? Was she naked?), but I have a hard time believing this. For one, my father was a horny old goat! If he wanted to get a woman pregnant, he would have had fun doing so!
And for two, Danae had been locked in the tower all alone for who knows how long. Likely pacing the tower in boredom and frustration... She probably jumped at the chance to interact with the first person to visit her in what must have felt like forever.
Oh yeah... I totally bet they had sex. The kind that takes all night or longer and makes the neighbors wonder if they've been possessed by noisy pig demons!
Anyway, Danae gave birth to Perseus and was no longer alone. Her father eventually found out, but his love for her temporarily outweighed his fear that her son would one day kill him. So, rather then murder the baby outright, he locked them both in a chest and then threw the chest into the sea.
Perseus grew up and had a few adventures of his own. He married a Princess named Andromeda – after rescuing her from the fearsome sea monster Cetus – and they had several children. However, only three of them are important to the story: Alcaeus, Electryon, and Sthenelus.
Alcaeus married and had my stepfather: Amphitryon. Not to mention an older daughter named Anaxo. She comes up again in a second.
Electryon married Anaxo (See?), and they had a daughter named Alcmene: my mother. Lastly, Sthenelus married and had a son named Eurystheus... But more on him later.
Phew! I am just now getting to the story and already my head is spinning! By my reckoning, my grandfather married his niece, had my mother, who then married her uncle slash cousin. Oi!
On to their story!
Amphitryon – having been smitten with Alcmene's beauty and wisdom – went to his uncle to ask for her hand in marriage. My grandfather, Electryon, agreed to the marriage, but before it could happen, the six sons of Pterelaus – King of the Taphians – came to lay claim to part of my grandfather's Kingdom of Mycenae and Tiryns.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that my grandfather probably laughed at them! He definitely told them no. Then he told them to go back where they came from.
They left and – during my mother's wedding to my stepfather – stole all the cattle belonging to my grandfather. Immediately upon hearing this news, my grandfather sent out his nine legitimate sons to go retrieve them. My mother was so worried about her brothers that she refused to celebrate or consummate her marriage until her brothers returned safely.
The Taphians killed all nine of King Electryon's sons, but this wasn't really a sweeping victory since only one of them survived. The survivor – Evenus – herded all the cattle away, and sold them before returning home.
Electryon insisted that my stepfather accompany him to avenge his sons and retrieve the cattle, leaving my mother untouched with only her illegitimate half-brother for company. They followed the trail until they came across the stolen cattle – which were now the property of a merchant. Amphitryon – eager to get back to his new wife – solved the problem with their new owner by buying the herd back. Unable to continue their quest with a herd of cattle in tow, my step father and his father-in-law decided to bring the cattle home before getting their revenge.
At one point, something made one of the bulls abruptly charge at the two men. My stepfather used his club to defend them from the sudden attack, but in a freak accident, the club he used bounced off the bull's horn and crushed my grandfather's skull.
Full of sorrow, my stepfather finished returning the cattle to his wife and explained the situation. Her uncle – Sthenelus, remember him? He's the other son of Perseus I mentioned. Anyway, Sthenelus claimed that Amphitryon murdered King Electryon so that he – being the next in line to rule due to both birthright and his marriage to Electryon's only remaining legitimate child – could rule Mycenae and Tiryns.
Amphitryon swore up and down that this wasn't true! Having been raised by him, I am mostly inclined to believe him. … Mostly.
In any case, having a reasonable doubt – but no actual proof – Sthenelus was able to seize the throne and exile my stepfather. Also believing him, my mother accompanied him, bringing her half-brother with them as they fled to Amphitryon's good friend Creon: King of Thebes. (Thebes not thieves! It's a city Kingdom that you've probably heard of.)
As I said previously, my mother was a wise woman. She was tall and had dark, alluring eyes like Aphrodite. She knew that if she ever wanted revenge for her brothers – and in a way, her father – that she only had one way to entice her new husband to do so. She continued to refuse to consummate their marriage until after he returned from a quest for vengeance.
I think it's a testament to how much he really did love her that he left to do exactly that without trying to force or coerce his wife into bed first.
Knowing that he would need help, Amphitryon asked Creon to accompany him. Creon agreed... under the condition that Amphitryon first slay the Teumessian Fox. I'd like to think that my stepfather gave a reluctant and long-suffering sigh before he agreed to go after the giant fox.
The Teumessian Fox – also known as the Cadmean Vixen – was one of the many monstrous children of Echidna. As a child of a Goddess and her husband – who was also a God and the most fearsome monster who ever lived – the fox was literally unable to be caught.
Giant and ferocious, the fox was sent to Thebes to punish the city/Kingdom by preying on children. It consumed far too many of the young before Creon desperately sent Amphitryon out to slay the uncatchable fox.
My stepfather, a fairly intelligent man himself, soon realized that the only way to catch an uncatchable fox was to fetch Laelaps – the dog who never failed to catch what he hunted for.
This was a paradox! Can the two possibly exist in the same place at the same time?! My father Zeus had a rare headache from the conundrum... Until he turned both creatures into stone and cast them into the stars, where they remain forever more.
Fulfilling his duty, Amphitryon returned to Creon, who then went with him to fight the Taphians. They were notorious pirates who lived on a well-fortified island. Their King – Pterelaus – was literally immortal: thanks to a single golden hair given to him by my uncle Poseidon. Thus, the entire island was unconquerable!
Pterelaus' daughter – Comaetho – was so smitten by Amphitryon at first sight that she snuck into her father's bedroom one night to pluck out his magical strand of golden hair. This rendered him helpless, and his island was easily captured by my stepfather and his friends.
Out of a deep sense of honor, Amphitryon killed the traitorous Comaetho. His next act was to give the island to his friend Cephalus before gathering up a fair amount of booty and returning home with Creon.
This is where the story really gets interesting!
Zeus – who also thought my mother quite beautiful – decided to trick her. The night before her husband returned victorious from his quest for revenge, Zeus disguised himself as Amphitryon. After a quick trip to pilfer part of the booty, he brought my mother a single Taphian cup as proof that he had fulfilled his promise to her.
Overjoyed, my mother threw her arms around him and they made enough love that it felt like three nights had passed. This was when I was conceived, which – if you were paying attention – actually makes me more than half a God. My mother was the great-granddaughter of Zeus after all, and the descendants of his son Perseus hadn't exactly thinned out his Godly blood, if you know what I mean!
Anyway, when Amphitryon returned home for real, he promptly bedded his wife and discovered that she was no longer a virgin. He was furious, but she swore up and down that he was the only man she'd ever bedded.
Giving my mother the benefit of the doubt, my stepfather brought her to the famous blind prophet of Thebes: Tiresias. Tiresias explained that it was not Alcmene's fault; Zeus had tricked her! And – incidentally – that Alcmene was now suffering from a case of Heteropaternal Superfecundation. This meant that she was pregnant with fraternal twins – each having a different father! Sadly for Amphitryon, Tiresias didn't know which twin was my stepfather's.
In loving acceptance that it was not her fault, Amphitryon and my mother returned home to wait for my brother and me to be born. Enter Hera: my stepmother...
She hated every single one of my father's lovers and illegitimate offspring. Actually, that's an understatement!
The Birth of Heracles
On the day that I was supposed to be born, as my mother went into labor, Zeus bragged to all that would listen that a child descended from his son Perseus would be born. He then bragged that the child would one day rule over both Mycenae and Tiryns.
Hera – always cunning and quick at coming up with clever ideas – immediately insisted that he vow upon his position as King of the Gods that the descendant of Perseus born that day would one day be King.
I often wonder if Zeus even paused for one second to ask himself why his wife was making this strange request. Whether he did or not, the result is the same. He made the vow and was literally bound to keep it.
As soon as she could, Hera rushed to their daughter – Eileithyia, Goddess of childbirth – and ordered her to delay my birth. Eileithyia did so by sitting outside the room where my mother was in labor. The Goddess had her legs crossed and her fingers entwined.
As Eileithyia was preventing me (and my twin) from being born, Hera rushed to the wife of Sthenelus – remember him? He was brother to both of Amphitryon and Alcmene's fathers and now King of Mycenae and Tiryns. Well, his wife was also pregnant, but not due to have her child for another two months. Hera used her power to bring on the woman's labor, and soon, she had a son name Eurystheus.
See? I told you I'd get back to him! Dues to Zeus' vow – though it infuriated him to no end – Eurystheus was now the future King of Mycenae and Tiryns.
Meanwhile, my mother suffered the pains of childbirth for seven days. Seven! I'd like to think that the blood of Zeus that flowed through her veins made her resilient and able to endure the ordeal without going insane. Even so, she eventually grew weak and nearly died.
Only the clever thinking of her maid Galanthis saved her. Galanthis went to Eileithyia and exclaimed: “Praise the Gods! The babies have finally been born!”
Eileithyia was so surprised to hear this that she jumped up – probably exclaiming: “What?!” – which uncrossed her legs and unentwined all her fingers. This act ended her magic, allowing my brother and me to slip from our mother's womb. I came first, probably because I had been fighting to get out for days.
Seeing that she had been tricked, Eileithyia – afraid of repercussions from her mother, no doubt – promptly turned Galanthis into a weasel. My mother kept her, taking good care of her for the rest of her life. When I was older, I built a sanctuary in Thebes to honor her sacrifice.
Despite having won – arranging for my cousin to be King instead of me – Hera was not happy that I was born. However, not even she could be certain which child was which... So, she sent a pair of deadly snakes to kill the both of us when we were just babes.
My brother – Iphicles (I was named after my grandfather Alcaeus at first and then later renamed in an attempt to please Hera) – cried in mortal terror at the snakes. I do not remember it, but even then I was a fearless hero. I grabbed both snakes and strangled them!
Amphitryon – alerted by the crying – rushed into the room just in time to witness the death of the snakes. He was now certain that I was the son of Zeus and that Iphicles was his. He went to consult again with Tiresias, learning that I would apparently be a great Hero someday.
Meanwhile, my mother – afraid to offend Hera any further after her arduous labor – brought me to an uninhabited forest and left me to die. My sister – the Goddess Athena, another of Zeus' many illegitimate offspring – was the patron Goddess and protectoress of Heroes. She came to me as I was wailing from hunger and took me to Hera.
“Look at this poor abandoned baby I found! Isn't he just adorable?”
Hera took me in her arms and cradled me tenderly. She is actually a very loving mother and often takes pity on children in need. My hungry squalling prompted her to feed me from her own breast; not realizing who I was.
Perhaps I somehow knew that she wanted me dead. Perhaps I was simply a brat. In any case, I sucked the milk from her breast so strongly that she gasped in pain.
“Ah! Take him back to his mother, wherever she may be!” Hera cried out to Athena, pulling me away from her breast as I nursed greedily. I was already so strong that the action of pulling me from her breast caused some milk to spray from her. It shot out across the heavens, forming the Milky Way.
With a secretive smile, Athena carried me back to my mother and assured her that Hera herself had commanded that Alcmene raise me.
So, now you know about my family and why I think they are a bit crazy. Keep that in mind as you read about my adventures and my life. I think you might find that I'm a little bit crazy too!