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Hercules, the hero par excellence

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Hercules Farnese. Author: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Heracles, Hercules among the Romans, is the classical hero par excellence, and the best known at a popular level, appearing in numerous monuments, buildings or images such as emblem of Andalusia, and in the media in the hands of Disney, the Italian peplum of the 60s and 70s, the first film (very bad, by the way) of Arnold Schwarzenegger, recently arrived in the USA from Austria, or the television series of the 90s.

The figure of Hercules represents the human being with his virtues and defects, but taken to excess. Pursued by the gods themselves, admired and feared at the same time, his divine origin is revealed in his enormous strength, but otherwise he is profoundly human, with his mistakes, falls and misfortunes, which he overcomes until he ascends to Olympus and obtains immortality.

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Hera suckling Heracles. Photographer: Jastrow (2007) (CC BY 2.5)

Herakles was born from the union of a mortal, Alcmene, and Zeus, the king of Olympus, for which the god took on the appearance of her husband.  Zeus arranged for the newborn to be suckled by his wife Hera; while the goddess was asleep, Zeus brought Herakles to the breast, and from the force of the child’s sucking a jet of milk escaped into the sky, the Milky Way, our Galaxy (galaktos = milk in Greek), which we can contemplate in clear skies without the moon (and without light pollution).

Even as a small child, Heracles will begin to face numerous trials, and while still a baby he strangles two snakes that had approached his cradle, sent by the jealous Hera. The wise centaur Chiron, teacher of other heroes, will be in charge of his education.

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Hercules and the lion of Nemea. Author: Carole Raddato (CC BY-SA 2.0)

But the most important trials that Herakles will face are the twelve labours, which he will perform in the service of King Eurystheus, as atonement for a terrible crime committed against his wife and children, who were killed by the demigod in a fit of madness provoked by Hera.

The first of his labours was to slay the lion of Nemea, with whose impenetrable skin he will cover his shoulders and head.

The second will be the multi-headed hydra of Lerna.

The third, the swift hind of Cerinea, impossible to catch and whom he will capture alive, as well as the wild boar of Erimanthus.

In the fifth work he killed the birds of the Stymphalus and in the sixth he captured the bull of Crete, the father of the Minotaur. Herakles will use his wits as well as his strength to solve impossible tasks, such as the cleaning of the Augean stables, for which he diverted a river.

Or the theft of Diomedes’ people-eating mares.

The following are thefts:

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Heracles, Cerberus and Eurystheus.

That of the magic belt of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons; 

That of the cattle of the giant Geryon of the island Eritrea, identified with Cadiz;

 And the theft of the apples from the garden of the Hesperides.

In the last work he descends to the Underworld to abduct the canine Cerberus, the three-headed dog who was the guardian of the gates of Hades, the kingdom of the Dead.

EsThese twelve labours can have multiple interpretations, from cosmological and astrological, related to the passage of the sun through the twelve zodiacal signs, to those that refer to the human being, the trials that we can face in our lives, and our inner development and spiritual awakening.

In short, this symbol is still valid today, as it represents all of us, with our weaknesses and our greatness, with our eagerness to overcome ourselves and achieve victory over ourselves.

Its representation in art has been very prolific, especially its corporeal figure and its works, which were already widespread in Greco-Roman times.

Here are some of the recreations that you will find in our shop: