Hercules or Heracles in Greek is by far one of the mightiest known Greek heroes who wasn’t a Titan or a full-blown Olympian at the start. Hercules was half-god, half-mortal. His exploits and heroic deeds had him revered and treated as god by the people he served and helped. Many tales have covered his trials and tribulations as the step-son of a jealous goddess, considering who his father was, Hercules’ fame is very well deserved.
So, who was Hercules’ father? How did he come to be born and did her have an influence over Hercules’ life?
Who Was Hercules’ Father?
Hercules’ father was the king of the gods, Zeus. His mother, however, was a mortal. A princess by the name of Alcmene who also happened to be the granddaughter of the Greek hero Perseus who was himself, half-god, half-human and fathered by Zeus. This made Alcmene, Zeus’ great-granddaughter, but that didn’t stop the Greek gods. Legend says that Alcmene was an exceptionally gorgeous woman whose wisdom and beauty rivaled that of Aphrodite herself (the goddess of love).
When Zeus saw Alcmene, he was immediately attracted to her and wanted to lay with her. Alcmene, however, was betrothed to Amphitryon, who was also a Prince and a warrior in his own right. When Amphitryon was out on a mission for Alcmene (to avenge the killing of her brothers), Zeus came to Alcmene disguised as Amphitryon. Thinking that she was laying with her beloved, Alcmene had an affair with Zeus and out of that affair, Hercules was born: half god, half human.
It is said that Hera, Zeus’ wife found out about the affair. She was jealous and sent two serpents to kill the baby Hercules. Hercules being the mighty warrior that he was even in his infancy, strangled the two serpents as he lay in his crib.
What Role Did Zeus Play in the Life of Hercules?
It’s safe to say that as the king of the gods, Zeus could do pretty much whatever he wanted. As such, he fathered many children with a host of partners from goddesses, humans, nymph and other creatures. He had a habit of disguising himself when he came to these women. It’s safe to assume that Zeus wasn’t as present a father as one would like to have. Although he often intervened in the lives of his kids from time to time, the more present authority figures were often the child’s mother and some jealous goddess who felt slighted by Zeus’ infidelity and wanted to do the kid harm.
Such is the case with Hercules. His step-mother was Hera, Zeus’ wife and the goddess of marriage, women, family, and childbirth. Hera was one of the original twelve Olympian and Zeus’ sister-wife.
So it can be said that the two roles Zeus played in Hercules’ life were to give him his superhuman strength and skill as a demigod born to the King of the gods and to bring enemies into his life (in the form of Hera) even before the kid was born.
How Zeus Came to be the “King of the Gods”
To understand where Hercules got his good heroic genes, you first must understand how Hercules came to be the king of the gods. In Greek Creation Mythology, before the Olympians came to be, there were other gods. Two of those gods were Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (the Sky). Uranus took Gaia and fertilized her, thus leading to the birth of the twelve Titans among whom was Cronos.
Uranus wasn’t very proud of his kids, and as punishment, he hid them deep within Gaia herself. Needless to say, Gaia didn’t like this at all, and she plotted to overthrow Uranus and free her kids. None of her kids was brave enough to help her except, Cronos, who was the last born son. Once they had overthrown Uranus by castrating him, Cronos took his sister Rhea and mated with her giving birth to the twelve Olympians among whom was Zeus.
Like his father before him, Cronos was afraid that one of his kids would overthrow him and so he would swallow them whole as soon as they were born. Rhea, like her mother before her, didn’t like this and as a result, hid one of her kids, Zeus from Cronos as soon as he was born. Zeus was raised by nymphs and guarded by powerful warriors from whom he learned the art of war.
When he was ready, he fed his father a poisoned drink thus forcing him to cough out his siblings, freed his uncles the Cyclopes who were expert blacksmiths. As a way of appreciation, they gave Zeus his lightning bolt.
Once he had overthrown his father and imprisoned him in the Underworld, Zeus becomes the king of the gods, who were now the twelve Olympians and took up residence on Mt Olympus. From there he would do as he pleased with the human subjects who worshipped him and thus came Hercules thanks to Zeus’ lust for Alcmene.
This is to show you that Hercules came from a long line of heroic, albeit less than honorable figures.
The Exploits of Hercules
Hercules himself was an honorable man who was put through a myriad of tribulations by his step-mother Hera and his cousin, King Eurystheus who was favored by Hera. In the myths, some of the worst things to happen to Hercules did happen as a result of Hera’s interference. When Hercules was a young man, Hera cast a spell on him causing him to become temporarily insane. While in that state, he killed his wife and two of their kids.
Destroyed by guilt, Hercules tracked down one of his step-brothers, Apollo, the god of healing and truth. Hercules told Apollo all about his tribulations and terrible deed and begged him for punishment. Apollo wisely understanding that none of what Hercules did was his own fault, gave him 12 seemingly impossible tasks to redeem himself. Thus the 12 Labors of Hercules. In all this while, Zeus, Hercules’ father, watched from afar or was off on another one of his own quests for pleasure.