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The Twelve Labors Of Heracles

Who doesn't know the legendary deeds of Heracles, even if with time the Roman variant Hercules, one of the most famous and celebrated heroes in Greek myths, has imposed himself? The myth has it that he was born from the union between the mortal Alcmena and Zeus (who had taken the form of her husband, Amphitryon). Precisely because of this umpteenth escapade of her husband, Hera, wife of Zeus and goddess of the household, put in the cradle of the child a snake to kill him. But Heracles took him by the neck and strangled him, revealing immediately his superhuman strength.

"Heracles Child Chokes the Two Serpents”, white marble of Roman manufacture, 2nd century b.c. Capitoline Museums, Rome

Educated in warfare and weapons, in adulthood Heracles was guilty of the murder of the sons of Eurystheus. In order to serve his sentence and to hold on to his immortality, Heracles would have to overcome what are known as the "twelve labors". Among the most famous are the killing of the Nemean lion and the Hydra of Lerna, the cleaning of the stables of Augia, the theft of the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides and having ridden the hound Cerberus from the underworld to Mycenae.

Glycone of Athens, Hercules Farnese, 3rd century AD from the original bronze by Lysippus, 4th century BC, marble, 317 cm. Naples, National Archaeological Museum

Despite his immortal nature, Heracles died in a "natural" way: the centaur Nessus fell in love with Deianira, the hero's wife, and tried to rape her. Shortly before being killed by Heracles, however, the centaur deceived the woman, convincing her to dip a robe with his blood in order to bind her husband to her. Deinara followed the advice and gave the robe soaked in blood to her husband who, as a result of the poison (the blood of the Centaurs was notoriously poisonous), began to suffer from pain and not to prolong their agony built a pyre and set himself on fire.

Hercules kills a centaur

Jean de Boulogne, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence.

His soul was taken by Zeus who welcomed him into Olympus and gave him in marriage the cupbearer of the gods, Hebe.

The myth of Heracles gave birth to the seminal archetype of the strong and invincible man, endowed with extraordinary powers and impressive strength. Already in ancient times Euripides included him among the protagonists of Alcesti, where, however, he appears in a somewhat parodic version, being represented as a drunkard. The theme of strength and invincibility came in handy to Gabriele d'Annunzio when in 1914 he collaborated on the screenplay for the film Cabiria by Giovanni Pastrone, creating the character of the giant Maciste. The best known versions of the hero are obviously the Disney film Hercules, where the story of the hero is obviously reworked for an audience of young people and is surrounded by an atmosphere of soul and funk, and the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Finally, the incredible strength of the Hulk, Superman and many other superheroes can not deny that it is a legacy of the famous semi-divine hero.


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