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Hercules Constellation Myth Explained

Hercules Constellation Myth Explained
Since ancient times, the constellation of Hercules has inspired and reminded mankind of strength and valor. Read through this UniverSavvy article to know about the myth behind the constellation Hercules.
Anuj Mudaliar
Last Updated: Mar 1, 2018
Did You Know?
Before the constellation Engonasin was thought to symbolize the Greek hero Hercules, it was first attributed to Theseus, followed by Ceteus,Orpheus, Thamyris, and Ixion, all important heroes or villains in Greek mythology.
Hercules is one of the 48 constellations listed by astronomer Ptolemy, and the fifth-largest of the 88 modern constellations. It is visible in both the hemispheres during different times of the year. It is composed of many stars above magnitude 4, several double and binary stars, and many dim variable stars (those whose brightness as seen from the Earth, fluctuates). This constellation is named after Hercules, one of the greatest mythical heroes. It is representative of Hercules depicted as stepping on Draco's head with his left foot, and his left hand pointing towards the constellation Lyra.
Hercules Constellation in Greek and Roman Mythology
Heracles, known to the Romans as Hercules, is arguably the most famous hero known to man. His stories have enthralled people across the globe, since ancient times, and it is being built on even today through books, and mainstream movies. It can be said that Hercules is the original superhero. It is possible that the story of Hercules was borrowed from the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh. Let us look at the lore and myths, that are related to the mythology of the Hercules constellation.
Hercules In Yard Of Hofburg Palace
Hercules with the Nemean Lion
Dragon slayer at Schlosspark Karlsruhe
Hercules with Ladon the Dragon
Hercules was the illegitimate demigod son of Jupiter (Zeus) and Alcmene. Due to Zeus's infidelity, goddess Juno (Hera) saw the birth of Hercules as an insult, which resulted in repeated attempts on the life of Hercules. When he was just a baby, Hera sent two venomous snakes in Hercules' crib. However, because he was endowed with exceptional strength, he was able to overcome and kill the snakes.

This was followed by a long and adventurous youth, during which Hercules married the princess of Thebes, Megara. Again, Juno could not stand to see the happiness of Hercules, and so she drove him mad, making him kill his wife and children. Hercules was filled with remorse when he came back to his senses, and tried to atone for his sins by completing 12 impossible tasks, set by king Eurystheus, that brought Hercules immeasurable fame.
  1. He wrestled with the Nemean lion and killed it. Hercules cut open the lion's skin with its own teeth, and used the skin from then on as his armor. This is because the skin was impenetrable by any kind of weapon.
  2. Hercules fought and defeated the nine-headed Lernean Hydra, which was known for regenerating two heads in the place of one, when cut off. Once again Juno tried to foil this task, by sending a crab to attack and distract Hercules, while he fought with Hydra. However, Hercules killed the crab, cut off eight heads of Hydra, and seared the stumps with a burning torch, before new heads could grow back. The last head could not be killed, so Hercules buried the head under a large boulder.
  3. The next task was to capture the Ceryneian Hind, a stag with golden horns, that ran with the speed of the wind. Hercules managed to capture the stag after chasing it for an entire year.
  4. Next, he captured the enormous Erymanthian Boar, and also killed the centaurs, Chiron and Pholus who tried to stop him from completing the task.
  5. His next task was to clean the Augean stables, which held over 3000 oxen, and had never been cleaned, in a single day. To do this, Hercules redirected the rivers Alpheus and Peneus, through the stables, washing away the filth.
  6. Hercules destroyed the flesh-eating Stymphalian birds that were harassing and killing the people of Arcadia.
  7. He captured and subdued the huge fire-breathing bull of Crete.
  8. He fought with and killed the savage king Diomedes, he then captured his flesh-eating horses by feeding them with their owner's body.
  9. Hercules stole the golden girdle of the Amazon queen Hippolyta.
  10. He killed the two-headed ogre Geryon, and stole his golden, man-eating cattle, followed by a great battle with the Ligurians, who attempted to stop him from returning to Greece.
  11. He entered the underworld, and fought and captured Hades' three-headed guard dog, Cerberus.
  12. Finally, Hercules stole golden apples from the garden of Hesperides, by fighting and killing Ladon, the dragon that guarded the apple tree.

Following the labors, Hercules helped Jason and the Argonauts to find the golden fleece. He also helped the gods to fight off the giants, who tried to invade Mount Olympus. However, the story did not have a happy ending. Hercules died when he was accidentally poisoned by his new wife, Deianira.
Statue of Hercules and Pholus
Hercules and Pholus the Centaur
Cretan bull
Hercules and the Cretan Bull
Hercules and diomedes
Hercules and Diomedes
Zeus made Hercules immortal, and honored his great deeds by creating a constellation in the sky. If you study the constellations that surround the kneeling Hercules, you will see Leo, which signifies the Nemean lion, constellation of Cancer, the crab, constellation Draco, signifying the Dragon Ladon, and the Hydra constellation symbolizing the nine-headed serpent. The same story has been followed by the Greeks, only they would call Hercules by his Greek name, Heracles.
Other Lore
Before the star formation was attributed to Hercules, the ancient Greeks had other tales regarding the formation of this constellation.
  • Prometheus: The titan Prometheus was punished by Zeus for his defiance, by having him chained to Mount Caucasus, where an eagle would feed everyday on his regenerating liver. Heracles released the titan from this torture by shooting the eagle down with an arrow. To honor this deed, the constellation of Prometheus, the eagle and the arrow, are placed together in the sky, symbolized by the constellations Engonasin, Aquila, and Sagitta respectively.
  • Ixion: Ixion was a Lapith king who tried to molest goddess Hera. As a punishment, he was tied to a flaming wheel, and placed in the sky as Engonasin as an example of punishment for such a crime.
  • Thamyris: Thamyris, the Greek bard was punished with blindness by the Muses (goddesses of literature, science, and art) for arrogantly challenging them to a contest in music. The constellation depicts the blind bard, who is kneeling in surrender, with the lyre (constellation Lyra) in his hand.
  • Theseus: Theseus was the son of King Aegeus. The constellation shows Theseus lifting the rock which covered the weapons of Aegeus, thereby proving the king's paternity to Theseus.
  • Orpheus: Orpheus was a Thracian bard, who was brutally killed by the followers of the Roman wine god Bacchus, when he was caught spying on their secret rites. The Muses and god Apollo took pity on him and placed the bard in the sky with his lyre (constellation Lyra).
  • Ceteus: Ceteus was an Arcadian king, who is depicted in the constellation, as kneeling while lamenting for his daughter Megisto, who was turned into a bear (Ursa Major) by Zeus.
Orpheus Killed by the Followers of Bacchus
Orpheus Killed by the Followers of Bacchus
Detail of Zikmund bell in St. Vitus cathedral
Nemean lion
These stories are all the myths and legends surrounding the Hercules Constellation. The truth of the universe is still not fully known, and it is possible that some of these tales have a basis in facts of the past.
Temple Of Hercules Victor Rome
Sky map