Constellation 101: Hercules

He was known as the strongest man in the world. Hercules is probably the most famous hero of ancient, mythological times. I think it’s safe to say we all know a version of Hercules’s life. The cinema always depicts him as this heroic warrior, and even Disney made us love him more as he swooned over Meg and saved her from Hades. As wonderful as the tales we’ve come to know and love are, they aren’t exactly as I remember the story. This is the story I was told growing up:

The Mythology

Hercules was born a demigod. He was the son of Zeus and he was so brave that he lived among the gods on Mount Olympus. The name Hercules means “glorious gift of Hera”. When Hera found out that her husband had fathered a child with another woman, Hera was furious. The name of the child didn’t help his situation either. She attempted to get rid of Hercules when he just a baby by putting snakes in his crib.

Her attempts were futile as Hercules was just too strong. He choked the snakes with his bare hands. Hera was determined to get revenge on Hercules. However, instead of physically harming him, she devised a scheme that would last a lifetime. It would not only affect Hercules, but Zeus as well, as he would be forced to watch his son suffer for many years.

Hera did everything in her power to make Hercules’s life miserable. She waited until just the right moment, and instilled a rage in him, causing him to murder his beloved family. Once the rage had subsided, he realized what he had done and sought out repentance. He asked Apollo for assistance in cleansing his soul, so the god of the Sun gave Hercules 12 tasks to complete. Only then would he be forgiven.

He was promised that when these 12 tasks were complete, he would become immortal. He completed the tasks and went on to have various adventures. He married and upon his return home from another adventure, his new wife surprised him with a new cloak. Unbeknownst to him, the cloak was covered in a thin balm that his wife was told would force Hercules to love her forever.

What they both didn’t know was that the centaur who sold it to her was a liar, and the substance was in fact a poison. His body began to burn, even once the cloak was removed, and he accepted that he would surely die from this. He instructed his friends to gather wood and build him a funeral pyre. He climbed on top of it and told them to set it ablaze. As he lay there, burning alive, Zeus finally told Hera that it was time to put a stop to her revenge. Hercules had suffered enough.

Hera gave in and sent Athena to retrieve Hercules and bring him to Mount Olympus where he remained for eternity. Many of his victims from his 12 tasks were also placed among the stars. Leo the lion, Cancer the crab, the Hydra serpent, and Draco the dragon are some of the more recognizable beats Hercules fought.

Hercules A

The Facts

The shape of this constellation often resembles a body with its arms flexing upward. It is best seen in the spring and summer sky and can actually be seen in both hemispheres. In the northern hemisphere, he appears in the east and works his over to the west as the months pass by.

If you are in the southern hemisphere, he is low in the north sky. This cluster of stars is full of beautiful space images that we have been able to capture via powerful telescopes. Hercules A is an active galaxy located in this constellation. At the center of this galaxy is an ultramassive black hole. Another amazing space entity in Hercules is PSR B1509-58, which is a spinning neutron star surrounded by a cloud of energetic particles. This cloud of energy is so remarkable and interesting for the reason that it resembles the Hercules we know. In the image, you can clearly see what resembles the body, head, and arm of a muscular man.

Hercules had many adventures of which (thanks to Hera) he surely wanted to forget. He was a beloved hero to all and you can find his face, and depictions of his adventures, all over Greek pottery. He suffered many injustices due to his father’s infidelity, but I think an effective moral of this story is that he always came out on top.

He fought and was brave and he overcame all the challenges Hera put in his way. I think that’s why my mom loved telling us this story, so we’d grow up to be strong, too. Do you know more about Hercules or the 12 tasks he was assigned? Have you learned a different version of this story? Tell me below!


Competing with Apollo, god of the Sun? SunLifelight tries: