Hercules, or in Greek, Heracles, was a great hero renown for his feats of strength and adventure. He was the son of Zeus and the human Alcmene, whose husband, Amphitryon, raised Hercules as his own. The baby was originally named Alcides after his foster father’s father, but his name was changed as an infant.
Hercules had a number of enemies and rivals since the moment that he was born until the moment he died. He also had several wives, marriages which generally ended tragically. Here are some of his most significant foes.
Enemies, Opponents and Rivals of Hercules
Zeus’s wife and Hercules’s step-mother was his first enemy. Enraged by the fact that he was born at all, she sent a number of curses to attempt to kill the baby. First, she tried to delay his birth entirely, then she sent two snakes to bite and poison him in his crib, which he killed with his strength.
Alcmene was so scared of Hera that she exposed the baby to the elements, but his half-brother Hermes saved him and brought him to their half-sister Athena. She gave him to Hera to suckle, but when Hera realized who he was, she pulled him away so quickly that her milk spilled and created the Milky Way galaxy.
Athena brought Hercules back to earth. His mother and foster father changed his name to Heracles, Hera’s glory, to try to appease the goddess, but it didn’t work.
As an adult, Hera cursed Hercules and drove him mad, causing him to kill his wife, Megara, and their children. As a result of this crime, he had to undertake his Twelve Labors. She also sent the Hydra to destroy his home city, hoping it would kill him in the process. As well as this, Hera ordered the Amazons to attack him, and sent the dragon Ladon to guard the golden apples.
Hera once again drove Hercules mad after his second marriage, causing him to throw his best friend and brother-in-law Iphitus to his death.
Later, though, Hercules saved Hera’s life, earning her grudging respect.
2. The Twelve Labors of Hercules
As punishment for the deaths of Megara and his children, Hercules was sentenced to twelve impossible feats. The enemies he faced during these trials were:
- The Nemean Lion, a fierce monster who resembled a lion but had impenetrable golden fur. Hercules fought him for more than twenty days, then was helped by Athena, who advised him to slay the Lion with its own claw.
- The Lernaean Hydra, a serpentine water-monster that regrew two heads for every one that Hercules chopped off. Hercules asked his nephew Iolaus for help, and they began to cauterize the wounds before the heads could regrow. Hera tried to interfere, but Hercules was successful in killing the creature.
- The Ceryneian Hind, which he had to capture, not kill.
- The Erymanthian Boar, which he captured with the help of Prometheus.
- King Augeus, whose stables were filled with poisonous feces. Hercules cleaned the stables, but when Augeus refused to keep their bargain and give Hercules a tenth of his cows, he killed Augeus.
- The Stymphalian birds, which he slayed with the help of Athena and Hephaestus.
- The Cretan Bull, which he captured by strangling but not killing it.
- Diomedes, who had giant horses which Hercules had to capture. The animals were wild, so Hercules slayed Diomedes and his men and fed them to the horses.
- Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who didn’t want to fight Hercules but was tricked into trying to kill him by Hera. Hercules slayed her instead, and took her girdle.
- Geryon, who kept monstrous cattle. Hercules slayed him with an arrow, along with his cattle hand and dog, then recaptured all of the cattle.
- Ladon, a dragon that guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides. Hercules slayed him when nobody else could.
- King Eurystheus, who set the labors in the first place. He finally released Hercules when Hercules brought him Cerberus straight from the Underworld.
3. Alcyoneus and Porphyrion
These were two of the Gigantes, the monstrous offspring of Gaia who were huge and savage. Hercules slayed Alcyoneus during the Gigantomachy, and faced Porphyrion when the giant captured Hera.
Though he originally intended to kill Hera, Porphyrion soon fell in love and tried to rape her. Hercules rescued her and teamed up with Zeus to kill the giant. After this event, Hera finally stopped trying to kill Hercules.
4. King Eurytus
Eurytus was the father of Iole, who Hercules came to love. He hosted an archery competition to find the perfect suitor for his daughter. Eurytus knew about Megara’s death and told Hercules to quit the contest. When Hercules didn’t and won, Eurytus broke his promise and refused to give Iole’s hand in marriage.
Angry, Hercules slayed Eurytus and all of his sons except for Iphitus, the same one he killed under Hera’s curse later. He took Iole home as his consort alongside his wife Deianira.
This centaur was Hercules’s last enemy, and the one directly responsible for his death. He was a ferryman on the Evinos River who took a fancy to Hercules’s wife, Deianira. He carried her across the river and attempted to rape her.
Hercules found them and, with an arrow poisoned by the venom of the Hydra, he killed Nessus. As Nessus lay dying, he tricked Deianira into believing that a vest washed in his blood would act as a love charm for Hercules.
Deianira had been fearful of losing Hercules’s love for some time, ever since he had brought home his concubine, the foreign, younger Iole. She did as Nessus bid her, gifting Hercules with a vest washed in the blood of Nessus. He wore it to a party where heroes gathered, and Deianira waited at home.
Deianira accidentally spilled a bottle of the centaur’s blood, and when it began to fume, she realized it was poison. She tried to send a messenger to save Hercules’s life, but it was too late. Ashamed by her mistake, she killed herself. Hercules died too, and was welcomed to Olympus as a god.
6. The City of Troy
Hercules once slew a sea monster sent by Poseidon to destroy Troy. Laomedon, King of Troy, would otherwise have had to sacrifice his daughter to it. Hercules agreed to the task in exchange for horses that Laomedon had been gifted by Zeus for the previous capture of Ganymede.
After the monster was dead, Ladomedon went back on his word and gave Hercules nothing. As a result, Hercules and his men later sacked Troy and killed all the sons of the king, except for Podarces, who later took the name Priam and became king and the father of Hector and Paris.
Hercules challenged the god of wine and revelry to a drinking contest, which he promptly lost. As a result, Hercules had to join Dionysus’s retinue, the thiasus.
After leaving the retinue, Hercules was later approached by Dionysus to help him get to the Underworld, where he intended to rescue his mother. Hercules joked with his half-brother, suggesting methods of suicide before eventually giving the true answer to help get him there.
8. Personal Vendettas
Hercules slayed a number of people due to his own personal vendettas, some of which were noble, and others seemingly petty. Some of these included:
Amycus/Mygdon. This king was a ruler of the tribe known as the Bebryces. Hercules killed him and gave his land to King Lycus to build the city of Heraclea.
- Termerus, a bandit who killed people by smashing them with his head. Hercules killed him in return by breaking his skull to pieces.
- Amyntor of Ormenium and Emathion of Arabia, both kings killed by Hercules after refusing to let him into their land.
- King Busiris and his followers, who tried to sacrifice Hercules to their gods.
- Lityerses, who challenged people to harvesting contests and beheaded those he beat. Hercules challenged, beat, and killed him in return.
- Periclymenus, an Argonaut who could shapeshift into animals. Hercules killed him while he was escaping as an eagle.
- Lepreus, a friendly rival who was killed by Hercules in a drunken combat match.
- Cacus, a fire-breathing giant and son of Hephaestus.
- Antaeus, a giant who was immortal while touching the earth. Hercules lifted him in the air to kill him.
- Linus, his childhood music tutor, who corrected his mistakes and was beaten to death by Hercules’s lyre.
- Syleus, who was forcing strangers to tend to his vineyard and was killed for it.
- Cygnus, son of Ares, who was bloodthirsty and cruel. He took pleasure in killing, and so Hercules challenged him to single combat and bested him.
- Augeas, who denied Hercules his promised reward for cleaning his stables. Hercules later killed Augeas and his sons in vengeance.
- Hippocoon, who overthrew Tyndareus as King of Sparta. Hercules killed the pretender and his sons and returned Tyndareus to the throne.