Heracles, often with the epithet Soter (Saviour), is the God of strength, gatekeeper of Olympus and protector of mankind. The soul of Heracles is divine, undefiled and pure, and emanated from the Creator, the Celestial Demiurge King Helios, through Athene, the virgin Goddess of Forethought. He was begotten to be the saviour of the world and was sent by Helios to fulfill the tasks chosen for Him, with Athene acting as His protector.
When His soul was sent, and while still in mere swaddling clothes, He strangled two serpents, and then opposed Himself to the very elements of nature; the extremes of heat, cold, lack of food and loneliness.
The elements were controlled by His immaculate and most pure mind and divine body, which subdued the elements with a creative and perfecting force. In a notable example, Heracles had crossed the ocean by walking on water, as the Golden Cup of Helios is a mere allegory for the blessings of His Father, Helios, which allowed Heracles to control the elements.
Heracles is the champion of our realm, His activity being in our own Sub-Lunar plane of existence and acting as our earthly receiver of Helios’ will, fulfilling His chosen tasks. While it is His father Helios who initiates policy, it is Heracles who executes it. While it is Helios who plans, it is Heracles who acts. It is Heracles who the divine commission to purge impiety in our realm of existence. Heracles is a God who embodies and enforces virtue, rejecting and subduing vice. He is among the greatest of Heroes.
After fulfilling His chosen tasks with the help of His followers such as Lichas, Iolaus, Telamon, Hylas, and Abderos, it was then the will of the Celestial Demiurge to beckon Heracles back to His side through the flame of a thunderbolt, bidding His son to come to him by the divine signal of the ethereal rays of light. Heracles returned to His father, joining Him in His father’s halls of heavenly light on Olympus. The Roman poet Ovid describes the apotheosis of Heracles (Ov. Met. 9.172):
“As a serpent, when it is revived from its old age, casts off the faded skin, and fresh with vigor glitters in new scales, so, when the hero had put off all dross, Himself appeared celestial, majestic, and of godlike dignity. And Him, the glorious father of the Gods in the great chariot drawn by four swift steeds, took up above the wide-encircling clouds, and set Him there amid the glittering stars.”
The Twelve Labours
The chosen tasks of Heracles came in the form of twelve labours, assigned to him by King Eurytheus of Mycenae. These were, in order:
- The Nemean Lion: Heracles was tasked with bringing King Eurystheus the skin of an invulnerable lion which terrorized the hills around Nemea.
- The Lernean Hydra: The second labor of Heracles was to kill the Lernean Hydra, a serpentine beast who lived in swamps and terrorized the countryside of a place called Lerna. The monster attacked with poisonous venom and had nine heads, one of which was indestructible. Iolaus assisted Heracles in this task.
- The Hind of Ceryneia: For the third labor, Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring him the Hind of Ceryneia, a deer which was sacred to Diana, without kill or hurting it.
- The Erymanthean Boar: Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring him the Erymanthian boar, a huge and wild monsterous pig, alive.
- The Augean Stables: Heracles was tasked with cleaning King Augeas’ stables in one day, which was difficult since King Augeas had more cattle than anyone in Greece, as well as herds of bulls, goats, sheep and mares.
- The Stymphalian Birds: Heracles was to drive away an enormous flock of aggressive birds which gathered at a lake near the town of Stymphalos and would attack men. Arriving at the lake, which was deep in the woods, Heracles had no idea how to drive the huge gathering of birds away. His protector Athena came to His aid, providing a pair of bronze krotala, noisemaking clappers similar to castanets, which were crafted by Hephaistos. Climbing a nearby mountain, Heracles clashed the krotala loudly, scaring the birds out of the trees, then shot them with bow and arrow, or possibly with a slingshot, as they took flight.
- The Cretan Bull: Heracles was tasked with capturing the Cretan bull, a monsterous animal that fathered the Minotaur and rampaged across Greece. Heracles wrestled the beast to the ground and drove it back to King Eurystheus, who let it go free.
- The Horses of Diomedes: Eurystheus sent the saviour to get the man-eating horses of Diomedes, the king of a Thracian tribe called the Bistones, and bring them back to him in Mycenae.
- The Belt of Hippolyte: Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring him the belt of Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, a tribe of female warriors.
- Geryon’s Cattle: Heracles was tasked with journeying to the end of the world to bring Eurytheus the cattle of the monster Geryon.
- The Apples of the Hesperides: After performing ten miracles, Eurytheus demanded two more labours from the saviour, since he didn’t count the Hydra or the Augean stables as having been properly done since Heracles recieved help during them. Instead, Eurytheus demanded Heracles bring him golden apples which belonged to Zeus, which were given to Him by Hera as a wedding gift.
- Theft of Cerberus: Eurystheus ordered Heracles to go to the Underworld and kidnap the beast called Cerberus
Heracles is mostly depicted muscled and bearded, being either nude or nearly so. He wears the skin of the Nemæan lion on His back or draped over an arm and carries a club, His signature weapon. He may be carrying the apples of the Hesperides or fighting one of His numerous adversaries (such as the Nemæan, the Hydra or Cerberus)
Heracles is renown for His strength, fortitude and daring that He exhibits on so many occasions. Particular focuses in iconography are the tragedy of His mortal life and His blessed end as he was called back by His father. He is a paragon of virtue, especially courage, and triumph through unflinching resistance.
“Him great Zeus[-Helios] begat to be the savior of the world through Athena who is forethought, and placed as guardian over him this Goddess He had brought forth whole from the whole of Himself”
-Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus / Julian the Philosopher
“HERCVLI SAXSANO: to HERCULES of the ROCKS.” Deo Mercurio. Accessed September 15, 2017. http://www.deomercurio.be/en/herculi.html.
“The Labors of Hercules.” Perseus Project. Accessed October 18, 2017. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Herakles/labors.html.
Flavius Claudius Iulianus Augustus, and Wilmer Cave. Wright. The works of emperor Julian. London: Heinemann etc., 1962.
Greenwood, David Neal. “Crafting Divine Personae in Julian’s Oration 7.” Classical Philology109, no. 2 (2014): 140-49.