Hercules was born a demigod to Greek god Zeus and a mortal woman Alcmene. Because of his immortal father, he was a demigod and possessed superhuman strength. Hercules would be known as one of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology, as his story includes perseverance, tragedy, and betrayal.
To know how Hercules died, we have to know how he lived. Hercules’s life was not easy, which would come to foreshadow his untimely death.
Hercules is Hated by Hera
Hera, the Greek goddess of marriage, was married to Zeus when he had an extramarital affair with the mortal woman Alcmene. Because Hercules was born from the affair, Hera was constantly reminded of Zeus’s infidelity, and she hated Hercules for it.
Hera attempted to destroy Hercules from the time he was an infant. Hera sent serpents into the cradle where baby Hercules lie, hoping they would destroy him. The first indication of Hercules’s superhuman strength came when he strangled the serpents as they enter his cradle.
Hercules grows into a man, fights in battles, and marries the daughter of a king. His marriage to Megara would be the first step that would lead to Hercules’s death.
Hera Sends a Madness Upon Hercules
One night while Hercules was away, Megara’s father, King Creon, was killed by the invader Lycus of Euboea. Lycus was now attempting to force himself upon Megara. Hercules was warned by the gods and was able to rush home and kill Lycus. When Lycus had died, Hercules took the time to pray to the gods and thanked them for allowing him to return home in time to save his wife from Lycus.
As he was praying, Hera came over Hercules and inflicted madness upon him. Hera made Hercules believe that Lycus was still in the home in the form of her sons and that Megara was actually Hera, who was trying to kill Hercules again. In order to defend himself and his family, Hercules would need to kill them all.
Truly believing the lies that Hera had placed in his head, Hercules killed his wife and three sons, thinking they were Lycus and Hera. When he awoke from his madness, he was struck with grief and sought the Greek god Apollo for answers. Apollo told Hercules to visit King Eurystheus to serve him.
King Eurystheus would tell Hercules he would need to complete 12 labors to repent for what he had done to his family.
Hercules Marries Again
After Hercules completes his 12 labors, he traveled to various places, one of which was called Calydon. Calydon is where Deianira lived. She was the daughter of King Oeneus and Queen Althaea, making her princess of Calydon.
Hercules immediately fell in love with Deianira when he saw her, and he wanted to marry her. Deianira was beautiful, and many men wanted to marry her, but she was not interested in marrying any of them. When Hercules requested her hand in marriage, most suitors backed down. The only suitor to challenge Hercules for Deianira’s hand was Achelous, god of the river.
Hercules fights Achelous and ultimately wins Deianira’s hand in marriage. Hercules and Deianira would travel to various lands after they were married. While on their travels, they came in contact with a centaur named Nessus. Nessus was slain from the arrows Hercules used while completing his 12 labors.
One of his labors required that he slay the venomous Hydra. The arrows that Hercules used to slay the Hydra were still soaked in the Hydra’s venom when Nessus was shot. Therefore, Nessus was envenomated from the venom of the Hydra.
As Nessus was dying, he told Deianira that his blood possessed a love potion that could make anyone fall in love, and this could only happen when the blood was applied to the skin. Nessus convinced Deianira to save his blood in a vial to use on Hercules if he ever looked at another woman. This would keep Hercules faithful to her and prevent him from looking elsewhere for love. Unknowing that the arrows Hercules used contained venom, she willfully took the vial of blood, thinking it contained a love potion.
As Deianira and Hercules continued their travels, they come upon the city of Trachis, where Iole, the daughter of King Eurytus, lives. Deianira was afraid that Hercules was falling in love with Iole, and she remembered what Nessus had given her.
As Hercules was preparing a feast, he asked Deianira to fetch his best shirt to wear. Deianira was worried that Hercules now wanted to marry Iole, so she soaked his shirt in the blood of Nessus.
After soaking the shirt in blood, Deianira washed the blood out, thinking she was leaving the love potion within it. Unfortunately, it was not the love potion, but instead, it was the venom from the Hydra that remained. When Hercules put on the shirt, he immediately agonized in pain.
Deianira quickly learned that she had been tricked by Nessus, but it was too late. Hercules was dying, and as a demigod, he did not die as quickly as a mortal. However, because he was a demigod, Hercules received a place on Mount Olympus. Zeus honored his son by giving his immortal half a place on Mount Olympus to live with the gods.