Born of an affair between Zeus, king of the gods and Alcmene, Hercules grew to be one of the most formidable heroes of Greek legend. He defeated mighty monsters and aided the common person. He was lauded for his heroic acts throughout the Greek city-states and earned the enmity of the goddess Hera, not only for being Zeus' son but for earning such accolades. Angry with the demigod, she punished him by driving him mad. In his madness, he slew all six of his sons. Devastated, he traveled to Delphi to consult the oracles and his father, for penance.
The oracles told Hercules he must submit himself to his cousin, the King Eurystheus, a man Hercules despised and believed to be far beneath him. But the deep regret for losing his children and obedience to his father, Zeus, set Hercules on the task.
The Labors of Hercules
Most of the legends of Hercules' labors come from multiple sources, nearly every city-state in Greece offered up versions of the labors Hercules performed there. While the Oracle told Hercules he must only perform ten labors, the King rejected two of Hercules tasks (the cleaning of the Aegean stables and the killing of the Lernaean Hydra) citing that Hercules had aid.
it is important to remember that the tasks set before Hercules were considered impossible even for the powerful demigod and that Eurystheus hated Hercules and desired greatly that he should fail. He was most bitter with Hercules success.
The twelve labors included:
1. Killing the Nemean Lion
2. Defeating the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra
3. Capturing Artemis' golden hind
4. Trapping the Erymanthian Boar
5. Clean the Aegean Stables
6. Slay the Symphalian Birds
7. Bringing in the Cretan Bull
8. Robbing the Mares of Diomedes
9. Steal Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazon, girdle
10. Steal the monster Geryon's cattle
11. Loot the apples of the Hesperides
12. Fetch the three-headed Cerebus from the gates of Hades
For the Greeks, Hercules' labors represented the ultimate pathos, impossible tasks to pay penitence for the loss of his children. His devotion to completing the tasks, no matter how arduous or long led to forgiveness by Hera and Zeus. The King of the Gods bestowed immortality on the demigod and Hera gave him his half-sister Hebe, goddess of youth, for his bride.