Who Were the Parents of the Greek Hero Hercules?

Daddy Drama!

Hera Suckling Hercules. Mid-4th century Apulian Painted Vase.
Hera Suckling Hercules. Mid-4th century Apulian Painted Vase. © Marie-Lan Nguyen

Sometimes it seems that Hera was the mother of Hercules and Zeus his father. At other times, mortals are named. So who were the parents of Hercules?

Heracles technically had three parents: two mortal and one divine. He was raised by Amphitryon and Alcmene, a human king and queen who were cousins and grandchildren of Zeus's son Perseus, but his biological dad was actually Zeus himself. How did this weird custody situation come about?

Zeus fell head-over-divine heels for Alcmene, and, when Amphitryon was away at war, disguised himself as Alcmene, then Amphitryon's fiancé. Zeus seduced Alcmene and had super-rigorous sex with her by making the night three times as long as usual, conceiving Heracles. Amphitryon later made love to his lady, conceiving a fully-human child, Iphicles. Alcmene gave birth to twin boys, but it was soon made clear that Heracles was superhuman and the child of her inadvertent liaison with Zeus.

While Alcmene was pregnant, Hera, Zeus's understandably jealous wife, had found out about his child-to-be and made her husband swear that any of his descendants born that day would be king over Mycenae. Zeus had forgotten, however, that Amphitryon's uncle, Sthenelus (a son of the aforementioned Perseus), was also expecting a child with his wife.

Wanting to deprive her husband's secret love child of the prestigious prize of the Mycenaean throne, Hera induced Sthenelus's wife's labor and made the twins root deeper into Alcmene's womb.

As a result, Sthenelus's cowardly son, Eurystheus, wound up ruling Mycenae, rather than mighty Heracles. And Heracles's mortal step cousin was the one to whom he brought the fruits of his Twelve Labors.

More information on this angsty and incestuous family is available here.

-Edited by Carly Silver

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Gill, N.S. "Who Were the Parents of the Greek Hero Hercules?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 18, 2017, thoughtco.com/parents-of-greek-hero-hercules-118942. Gill, N.S. (2017, February 18). Who Were the Parents of the Greek Hero Hercules? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/parents-of-greek-hero-hercules-118942 Gill, N.S. "Who Were the Parents of the Greek Hero Hercules?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/parents-of-greek-hero-hercules-118942 (accessed January 17, 2018).