Hercules vs Achilles: What is the difference?

There are many great heroes in Greek mythology, but few could compare to greatness of either Hercules or Achilles. In their time they were believed to be the mightiest of all warriors.

But, how exactly do these two heroes match up. What is the difference between Hercules and Achilles?

Hercules was active earlier in the Greek myths than Achilles. He was the son of Zeus and Alcmene and is most famous for tragically murdering his family and then having to take on the 12 labors to rid him of his guilt. Achilles is the son of Peleus and Themis, and is famed for his role in the Trojan War where he fights and kills the Trojan hero Hector. Hercules is arguably the stronger of the two, as no other person would have been able to overcome the 12 labors, however Achilles significance in the Trojan War cannot be understated and he was believed to have had one of the key roles in the final Greek victory.

All of that being said, we are only really just scratching the surface of the difference between these two heroes, so lets dive in further.

What is the Difference Between Hercules and Achilles?

#1 – Family

Hercules

Hercules was the son of the Olympian god Zeus and the mortal women Alcmene. Alcmene was actually the wife of Amphitryon, the King of Thebes. It was said that Alcmene was descended from the Greek hero Perseus. When Amphitryon was away at war, Zeus visited and seduced Alcmene and together they conceived the child Hercules. The next day Amphitryon returned and also made love to his wife and conceived a son Iphicles. The two children Hercules and Iphicles were born as twins.

When Hercules grew older, he was married twice. First to a princess of Thebes Megara and together they had 8 children. Sadly, Hercules, in a fit of madness, killed his wife and 6 of his children. Hercules second wife was Deianira with whom they had one child, Hyllus. Deianira would end up accidentally killing Hercules.

Achilles

Achilles was the son of Peleus, a Greek hero who fought alongside Hercules in the great saga of Jason and the Argonauts, and his mother was Themis a sea Nymph who had been previously courted by both Zeus and Poseidon. Achilles married Deidamia and fathered Neoptolemus. His son would play an important part in the aftermath of the Trojan War.

#2 – Powers and Appearance

Hercules

Hercules was said to be a fearsome warrior with superhuman strength. He did however lack tactical thinking and a higher intellect. He could often be tricked by his foes if they couldn’t beat him in a fight. He would often fight with a club or sword and wore a lion’s skin a clothing when fighting in battle. He was able to fight some of the more fearsome beasts in Greek mythology often with his bare hands.

Achilles

Achilles was unmatched during the time he was alive and unbeaten in hand to hand combat. He fought with both sword and spear. His armour was made by the Greek god Hephaestus. His only real vulnerability was his heel. During the Trojan war he would often take on large groups of men single-handed and was able to rally significant numbers of Greeks to his cause.

#3 – Majors Myths and Roles

Hercules

  • The Snakes – Because Zeus had had an affair with Alcmene, his wife Hera was very jealous and for much of Hercules life she would torment him in one way or another. When he was a child she sent two serpents into his bed chamber to kill him. His brother Iphicles awoke and screamed when he saw the serpents. Hercules, alerted to the danger, grabbed the serpents and strangled them both. His step father rushed into the room and realised his son must be in fact a son of the Zeus. From this point onwards, his step father ensured his son had the best of training to be a great warrior.
  • The Lion and the Sheep – As Hercules was growing up in Thebes he became popular with the local people for his bravery and strength. One day he heard about a lion eating the local sheep so set off to kill it. He corned it in its cave near Mt. Cithaeron. He killed the animal and skinned it for its fur. From then on he would wear the fur in battle.
  • The Twelve Labors – As mentioned earlier, Hercules went mad and killed his wife and children. He was so guilty that he almost killed himself. His friend, Theseus, told him to seek the advice of an oracle in order to overcome his guilt. The oracle told him to seek out King Eurystheus of Argos. The king set him 12 almost impossible tasks. Only then would he be free of the guilt. Hercules took on the task and completed all 12. 
  • The Death of Hercules – Hercules married Deianira after rescuing her from a river god called Achelous. Together they had the child Hyllus. One day a centaur called Nessus tried to run off with Hercules’ wife so Hercules shot him. As he lay dying Nessus told Deianira to take his blood and told her that his blood could be used as a love potion if Hercules ever strayed from her. Later in the their life together, Hercules did take a liking to another women called Iole. Deianira became jealous and covered a shirt in the centaurs blood and gave it to Hercules. Innocently, she ended up poisoning the great hero. As he lay dying his father Zeus plucked him from the funeral pyre and transported him to Mt. Olympus. There Hercules was made into a god amongst the other Olympians.

 Achilles

  • Immortality from the River Styx – When Achilles was born his mother Themis wanted to make him immortal. She ventured to the River Styx and dipped him into the waters. The waters were believed to grant invulnerability. He was completely submerged except for his heel with which she held on to. This was to be his ultimate vulnerability and the reason he was defeated.
  • The Centaur for a Tutor – As she wanted her son to be a great warrior and fighter, Themis charged Chiron, the centaur, with his education. He taught Achilles in the art of fighting, archery, horseback riding as well as music and the healing arts.
  • The Trojan War – It was said in a prophecy that for the Greeks to win the war in Troy, that Achilles would have to fight but that he would also die on the field of battle. So, Achilles heads to Troy commanding his loyal warriors the Myrmidons. His army fights alongside the Greeks who were headed by Agamemnon. However, the two leaders do not get along. At one point Achilles refuses to allow his men to fight with Agamemnon. In the end with the Greek struggling, he sends in his troops, commanded by his close friend Patroclus. Patroclus is killed at the hands of Hector. Achilles seeks revenge for the death of his friend and he in turn kills Hector.
  • The Death of Achilles – A few days after Achilles killed Hector, Paris, the brother of Hector, ambushed Achilles on the battlefield. He fires an arrow at Achilles and with the guiding help of the god Apollo, the arrow pierces Achilles in the heel and dies on the battlefield of Troy as per the prophecy.

Did Achilles and Hercules Ever Meet?

Achilles and Hercules did not meet. Hercules had completed his 12 labors and died before Achilles gained fame in the Trojan War. However, certain characters who were important in their respective lives do cross paths.

Achilles father was Peleus, and Peleus took part in the hunt for the golden fleece along with Hercules. Also, when Hercules died he gave his bow and arrows to Philoctetes, who would go on to fight on the side of the Greeks and kill Paris who had himself killed Achilles.

How Did Hercules and Achilles Become Almost Invincible?

In the case of Hercules, he was the son of Zeus and therefore was imbued with many great powers and strengths that other mortals wouldn’t have including a sort of invincibility. In the case of Achilles, his mother dipped him in the River Styx. This river passed through the underworld and gave the power of immortality to anyone who swam in it.

Who Is Stronger Hercules or Achilles?

On the face of it, this is a kinda tricky question to answer. But, I suppose you’d have to look at it from the perspective of who completed the greatest feats and overcame most foes.

  • Hercules – He killed the Nemean Lion, the hydra and the Stymphalian Birds. He was also able to capture the Cerynean Stag, the Erymanthian Boar, the Cretan Bull and the 3-headed Cebrerus.
  • Achilles – Achilles fought and killed Hector along with some other lesser combatants during the Trojan War.

On top of that Hercules was able to take the place of Atlas and hold up the sky, if only for a short time. Hercules also fought the god Apollo on equal terms until Zeus had to intervene. Hercules also ended up as a god, while Achilles spent the afterlife in Elysium.

So, taking all of that into account, i’d have to say that Hercules was the stronger of the two.

Final Thoughts

So there we have a run down of the difference between Hercules and Achilles. Hercules was arguably the more powerful hero, while Achilles role in the Trojan War could be said to have had the greater impact on the fate of ordinary men.

In many ways, it doesn’t really matter. The two heroes are both fascinating characters from the Greek myths. I hope you enjoyed the discussion. Thanks!

Bonus – The Myth of Hercules

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