HERCULES, one of the most illustrious heroes of antiquity, and the first of the Dii Minorum Gentium, or demigods. He was descended from the kings of Argos ; but in the Pagan mythology, he is said to have been the son of Jupiter by Alemena, the wife of Amphitryon, king of Thebes. The period of his birth is uncertain ; Hero dotus places it about the year 1282, before the commence ment of the Christian mra ; and in Blair's Chronological Tables, his death is placed in the year 1222 B. C.
The history of this celebrated personage consists of a tissue of prodigies. His first, or what may be called his infantine, exploits, were his strangling two serpents, which were sent to destroy him in his cradle ; and his killing a large lion, near his native city, Thebes. Next come those adventures, which are commonly known by the name of his twelve labours, wide! taken by order of Eurystheus, and of a decree of the Delphian oracle, as it is said, by way of expiation for the crime of killing the three chil dren which he had by his wife Megara, and in order to acquire immortality. The first of these was his combat and victory over the Cleonxan lion, in the forest of Nernza ; the second, his conquest of the hydra, by which he is said to have cleared the fens of Lerna, near Argos, of the ser pents that infested them, and which seemed to multiply as fast as they were destroyed ; the third, his destruction of the Erymanthian boar ; the fourth, his slaying the brazen footed stag on Mount Menalus; the fifth, his shooting the harpies, or stymphalides ; the sixth, his cleansing the stables of Augeas ; the seventh and eighth, his destroying the Cretan bull, and Diomede, the barbarous tyrant of Thrace, with his horses or mares who were fed on human flesh ; the ninth, his combat with Geryon, who is generally rept esented with three bodies ; the tenth, his conquest of the Amazons ; the eleventh, his dragging Cerberus up from the infernal regions ; and the last, his killing the ser pent, or dragon, and carrying off the golden fruit from the garden of the I Iesperides. The remainder of his ex ploits were those which he undertook voluntarily ; such as his slaying the giant Antxus, and Cacus, the notorious robber of Italy, fixing pillars in the Tretum Gaditanum, or Straits of Gibraltar, &c. It would appear, that tnis redoubled champion was by no means insensible to the in fluence of the tender passion, or proof against the allure ments of vicious pleasure. The principal scene of his
effeminacies was in Asia, whilst he lived with Omphale, queen of Lydia ; and he at length fell a sacrifice to the jealousy of his wife, Deganira, who, dreading the influ ence of his passion for Tole, the daughter of Eurytus, king of Echalia, poisoned his robe, so that he died in great agonies on Mount ()eta. Ovid represents him as preparing his own funeral pile, and laying himself upon it with great composure.
Such is the substance of the traditional histories of this celebrated hero of antiquity, whose adventures have afford ed ample materials to the sculptor and the poet. These traditions seem to contain a mixture of truth and fable. It appears from ancient authors, that there were several in dividuals of the name of Hercules, whose heroic actions were probably exaggerated, and ascribed to one man; and to him, as his fame increased and spread abroad, was likewise transferred the credit of all great and valorous enterprises, the authors of which were unknown. _Thus the Theban Hercules became, as it were, the representa ' tive of heroism and manly virtue, according to tne no tions of antiquity. Accordingly it has been observed, that none even of the twelve great pagan deities have so many monuments relating to them, as Hercules. The famous statue, called the Farnese Hercules, is well known. The hero is there represented as resting after the last of his twelve labours, leaning on his club, and holding in his hand the apples of the Hesperides. In this, and in all the other figures of him, he is formed by the breadth of his shoulders, the spaciousness of his chest, the largeness of his size, and the firmness of his muscles, to express pro digious strength, and a capacity of enduring great fatigue. His other attributes are, his lion's skin, his club and his bow. See Plate CCXXX IV. Fig. 2.
Hercules was peculiarly honoured among the Greeks, by the epithet of Musagetes, the conductor of the Muses ; arid among the Romans, by that of Hercules Musarum. In reference to these titles, he is represented, on medals, with a lyre in his hand ; and the reverse is marked with the figures of the nine Muses, with their appropriate sym bols. (z)