Hercules FAQ and Fact Sheet

Image ID: 83460 Hercules & Hippolita (1814)
Image ID: 83460 Hercules & Hippolyta (1814). © NYPL Digital Gallery

If you are coming to Greek mythology for the first time, you might want to know certain things about the most famous legendary demi-god and hero, Hercules. Unlike the case with obscure figures in mythology, it is likely that you already have a mental image or know something about Hercules from movies or television shows and so might have specific questions about him. I have tried to imagine the questions you might have, answered them with the basic, accepted, traditional information, and listed further articles for you to explore.

You may wish to test your prior knowledge by covering the right-hand side of the screen (or print-out) -- where the answers lie -- and taking a guess before looking.

Some of the questions are slightly ambiguous. I wrote my answers (or provided related articles) in order to cover both likely meanings.

 

1. Who were Hercules' parents?His father was the king of the gods, Zeus, and his mother, a mortal, was Alcmene/Alcmena. Hercules' mortal father was Amphitryon, while the queen of the gods, Hera, was his stepmother. Hercules in the Greek spelling of his name (Heracles) was named for her ("the glory of Hera").​
2. Where was Hercules born?Conventionally, Hercules is said to have been born in Thebes.
3. What are his names?The writing attributed to Apollodorus says he was called Alcides until the Pythian priestess named him Heracles, more commonly known in its Roman form as Hercules.
4. What was the madness of Hercules?During the period in which Hercules was out of his mind, he killed several of the members of his family. He might have had epilepsy.
5. How did Hercules die?Hercules couldn't die the way mere mortals could, but he did die when he chose to. He asked for help from the gods because he was suffering from a skin-burning poison so excruciating, he couldn't bear living any longer. Papa Zeus granted his son's wish.
6. What were the special objects used to identify Hercules?Hercules wore the skin of the Nemean lion, the head of which is often shown covering the top of the hero's head. He also carried a club or shot arrows, especially poison-tipped ones.
7. What were the 12 Labors?Hercules performed a set of labors that ultimately numbered a dozen in order to expiate the crimes he had committed. The labors were not just chores worthy of a common laborer, but a series of seemingly impossible tasks that his cousin King Eurystheus imposed on him.
8. Was Hercules in the Trojan War?No, although he fought in an earlier Trojan War. His arrows were used in the main event, though. Philoctetes had them.
9. If not the Trojan War, besides his own 12 Labors, which major heroic adventures did Hercules take part in?The Voyage of the Argonauts.
  • Hercules and the Argonauts
10. What are the names of Hercules' wives?Hercules' appetites in all areas were enormous and so he had sexual encounters with many, many women, but he did marry Megara and Deianeira. Some might include Iole.