A hero and a heroine of Greek mythology today. First up, Hercules. Last week I read about Theseus, famed and beloved Athenian hero. What Theseus is to Athens, Hercules is to the rest of Greece. While Theseus was not only brave but also compassionate, Hercules had unflinching courage and supreme self-confidence to say nothing of his immense strength. However, unlike Theseus who went on to become a ruler, that was not in Hercule's destiny. He was more a brawns over brains sort of hero. His heart was in the right place, but his emotions would win out over his intellect. And his massive strength all too often got the better of him and resulted in overpowering and occasionally killing those who didn't deserve it. Hercules always tried to show proper penitence, though.
In a way Hercules had the odds stacked against him since he was a son of Zeus and the wife of a distinguished Theban general named Alcmena. Ever jealous, Hera took her anger of Zeus's infidelity out on Hercules and would cause him much heartache in his life and ultimately cause his death however inadvertently. Hera caused Hercules to go mad and kill his wife and sons, those he was most devoted to. Even though he was out of his mind when he killed them he went to Delphi to consult the oracle and find a way to purify himself of his awful deed.
The priestess sent him to his cousin Eurystheus, King of Mycenae, and do whatever he was told. If anyone could purge Hercules of his sins, it was Eurystheus. He gave Hercules twelve all but impossible tasks, or what are known as the "Labors of Hercules". They required great strength and many took years to accomplish. One of them was to kill the many-headed Hydra. Almost as fast as one head was lopped off two more would grow in its place. He eventually killed it by searing the neck after each head was chopped off using a brand given to him by his nephew.
Hercules had a great many adventures. He sailed with Jason on the Argo, but when his armor bearer fell overboard and was lost Hercules's grief overtook him and he could not go on. He saved Theseus from the underworld. He even bested Atlas when Atlas tried to dump the world on Hercule's shoulders. Always, though, Hercules would be wounded emotionally by his actions when he unintentionally caused someone's death. In his anguish he asked that a great pyre be created so he could end his life. Although this sounds like a sad end to his story, he was taken to heaven where he reconciled with Hera and was allowed to marry her daughter Hebe. Not such a bad ending after all.
And finally a story of a heroine and what's more even something of a warrior (what's the feminine version of warrior? Warrioress?). You have to like Atalanta since she wasn't a goddess just an ordinary woman who was left to die on a mountainside thanks to her father's disappointment in having a daughter rather than a son. She was taken in by a she-bear and grew to be strong and courageous. Unfortunately there seems to be a little uncertainty about Atalanta. She may have sailed with Jason on the Argo as well, though maybe not, too. She did hunt the Calydonian boar (her most famous escapade?), which was sent by Artemis when the King of Oeneus failed to send sacrifices. Atalanta was the only woman among many men to hunt the wild boar, and while her spear thrust wasn't the one to finish the animal off, she was the first to strike it.
At this time Atalanta caught the eye of one of the young men, Meleager, but she swore she would never marry. She said if any man could beat her in a foot race she would consent to marry him, but none could run faster. It was only with the meddling of Aphrodite did the young man win a race against Atalanta. He had three golden apples, which were so beautiful that any human who saw them would immediately want them. As the two raced, Meleager threw each down in turn. When Atalanta bent to pick up each apple he was able not only to catch her but beat her as well. So she was his. Story has it, though, that ultimately the two were turned into lions because of some affront to the gods. So typical in Greek mythology!
I'm past the halfway mark mark and am making steady progress now through the stories in Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Next week: The Trojan War.