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Antimenes painter
530-500 B.C.
The John R. Van Derlip Fund

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Herakles was the son of the great god Zeus (zoose) and a mortal human, Alcmene (alk-MEE-nee). Zeus had tricked Alcmene by coming to her disguised as her husband. Zeus's wife, Hera, was so jealous of her husband's love for Alcmene that she made Herakles' life miserable. When Herakles was a grown man with a family of his own, Hera sent madness upon him and drove him to kill his entire family. He went to the ORACLE at Delphi (DEL-fie) to seek penance for his horrific crime.1 The oracle told him that he had to go see the king of Mycenae (my-SEE-nee) and do whatever the king told him to do. When he completed the deeds, his sins would be forgiven.

The king of Mycenae first ordered Herakles to kill the Nemean (nee-MEE-un) lion that had been threatening a nearby village for many years. The village people told him it could not be killed by weapon or arrow. Herakles tried to shoot the lion, but his arrows could not wound the beast. Finally, he wrestled the lion to the ground and strangled it with his hands. He kept the skin as proof and wore it as a cloak, which gave him even greater strength.

Detail of Lion from the Hydria


Detail of Boar from the Hydria

Detail of Lion from the Hydria


Detail of Boar from the Hydria

Herakles' second task was to capture a savage boar from the mountain of Erymanthus (err-a-MAN-thus). Herakles trapped the fearsome boar and brought it back alive to the king to prove he had accomplished his task. The king was so frightened by the beast that he ran and hid in a bronze jar.

Much to everyone's amazement, Herakles went on to successfully complete ten more seemingly impossible tasks. Because of him, many people lived without fear. Zeus was so impressed by Herakles' strength, courage, and hard work that he made him a god. Athena (a-THEE-na) the goddess of war, wisdom, and the arts, came down from Mount Olympus (OH-limp-US) in her chariot to carry Herakles to live among the gods.

1 The Delphic oracle (called the Pythia) was consulted in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi on various matters — economic, political, religious and personal. When presented with a request, she was inspired by the god while in a state of ecstasy, and pronounced her prophecy. The response was rephrased by the priest, usually in verse form, and delivered to the supplicant. Delphi was considered a sacred place by all the Greeks. Return to Text

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