The Tales of Heracles, Leo, Cancer,
Sagittarius, Centaurus, Draco, Sagitta and Cerberus
Chapter 1: Revenge
As the red mist of dawn lit the land of Mycenae,
it shrouded a blood-soaked beach and the bodies of a hundred princes.
On one side were the fifty sons of King Pterelaus of Taphos. They
came to Mycenae to reclaim the land of their grandfather, Taphius.
On the other side were the fifty sons of King Electryon of Mycenae.
"We're here to reclaim this territory," the Taphian princes said
as they visited the court of King Electryon.
"Nonsense," responded the laughing king. "I'm the son of Perseus.
You're only the sons of Pterelaus." The Mycenaen princes joined
their father's enjoyment of the pompous princes and mocked the young
men. The Taphian princes, their egos wounded, devised a plan to
get even. They waited until the middle of the night and herded Electryon's
cattle to the shore where they planned to sail the herd back to
Taphos upon their ship.
Electryon's sons woke to the racket made by the mooing herd. The
brothers jumped upon their horses, their outstretched swords shaking
above their heads as they rode straight to the beach. Their bronze
blades slashed through the Taphian princes' bellies while their
brothers grabbed their swords and shields to defend the honor of
the dead. The battle continued until dawn and, as light spread across
the beach, both sides had all been killed. After the battle, each
king had only a single son left alive. King Electryon's son Licymnius
didn't fight because he was just a child, and King Pterelaus' son
Eureus had been aboard the ship. After the battle, Eureus sailed
home to Taphos with the cattle, but it was a poor replacement for
After the death of his sons, King Electryon was lonely and adopted
a young man named Amphitryon. The adopted son wished to please his
new father and went to Taphos, paid a ransom and returned King Electryon's
cattle. To Amphitryon's surprise, the king was displeased. He didn't
care about the cattle. What he wanted was revenge.
"I will go to Taphos myself," said the king. "I will get my revenge.
Take care of my kingdom and my daughter, Alcmene, until my victorious
return." Not only did Electryon not return in victory, he never
even left. He idly threw a stick at a cow and it bounced off her
horn, hitting him in the head and killing him instantly. No sooner
had the king died, than his brother Sthenelus seized power. As soon
as he became king, he banished Amphitryon and Alcmene from Mycenae.
The exiles lived in Thebes and, shortly, Amphitryon asked Alcmene
to marry him, which she agreed to if first he would avenge the deaths
of her brothers. Amphitryon reluctantly agreed, but he knew he needed
help, so he went to Creon, king of Thebes, for troops. "Yes," said
Creon, "but first you must rid my land of the child-eating fox."
The people of Thebes sacrificed one child each month so the fox
would leave the rest alone. The people were angry and King Creon
had vowed to kill the fox. First, Amphitryon went to Crete and borrowed
King Minos' dog, which was the only dog to catch whatever it chased.
Amphitryon let the dog loose at Thebes. The dog chased the fox and
Zeus turned both the dog and the fox to stone. Though this was not
how he had planned to do it, he rid Thebes of the fox so King Creon
fulfilled his bargain and gave him the troops. Amphitryon was ready
for his war of revenge.
A battalion of kings led the expedition to Taphos, for joining Amphitryon
were King Creon, King Cephalus, King Panopeus, and King Heleius
along with all their armies. King Pterelaus was powerful and even
with such an army Amphitryon knew he could not win as long as King
Pterelaus was alive. He went to Tiresias, the blind seer, who said,
"The king is kept alive by a single golden thread. Remove the thread
and he will die." What was the golden thread? Amphitryon disguised
himself as a fisherman and went to the market of Taphos to find
As he wandered through the market stalls, he noticed a young woman
watching him. She dressed in fine clothes and her maid stood next
to her, whispering behind a fan. "Who is that young woman?" he asked
the flower vendor.
"She is Comaetho, the daughter of King Pterelaus," the woman responded.
Amphitryon bought a bouquet of white roses and honeysuckle blossoms
and boldly took them to the princess.
"A girl as lovely as you should have fresh flowers every day," he
said, presenting them to her and bowing. He stood and smiled, then
The next morning, Amphitryon was at the market again. When he saw
the princess, she smiled and waved and he brought her a bouquet
of lilies and iris. Once again, as he presented her with the flowers,
he bowed and left. On the third morning, he hid and watched as she
anxiously searched the crowd for him. He brought her a bouquet of
gardenias and cherry blossoms, but this time he picked one of the
gardenias and pinned it in her long brown hair. "I think I love
you," she whispered to him. "I have never been in love before."
He smiled at her and said, "If you love me, you will bring me a
golden thread from your father." Again he bowed and left.
That night at dinner, as she sat next to her father, she noticed
a single golden hair on his head. "Maybe this is what my young man
wants," she thought and she plucked it out. Her father immediately
Bells rang and the people cried, "Our king is dead." The news spread
quickly as Amphitryon and his warrior kings lost no time descending
on the island, killing the noble families and stealing their possessions.
In his single-minded treachery, Amphitryon killed the innocent Comaetho,
and left King Heleius and King Cephalus to rule Taphos while he
returned to Thebes to claim the only prize he sought.
On the night before Amphitryon returned to Thebes, Zeus disguised
himself to look like the triumphant warrior and went to Alcmene's
bedroom. "Your brothers are avenged," he said. He told her details
of the battle as he removed his armor. He climbed into her bed and
made the night three times as long as normal.
On the following day when Amphitryon returned, Alcmene did not seem
surprised to see him. "You were here last night," she said. "Surely
you remember last night."
Amphitryon was angry. After all he had done for her he didn't expect
this type of homecoming. There was something confusing about it
all, for Alcmene told him the details of battle. "How could she
have known this?" He asked himself. "I will go to Tiresias," he
decided, "the seer will know."
"Don't blame Alcmene," Tiresias said, "she was tricked by Zeus.
He disguised himself to look like you and told her of the battle."
As Amphitryon turned and took his first steps to leave, Tiresias
added, "a child will be born who will rule Mycenae. He will be a
descendant of Zeus and Perseus."
Amphitryon soon learned that Alcmene was pregnant and kept thinking
about the seer's words. Would their child rule Mycenae? He was not
the only one anxiously awaiting the birth. Hera watched too, for
she knew about her husband's trick. "That child won't be king,"
she said, "I won't allow it." Then she noticed that Alcmene's uncle
Sthenelus, who had stolen the throne of Mycenae after her father's
death, had a wife who was also pregnant. "Perfect," Hera said, and
she held back Alcmene's labor while forcing Stenelus' wife to give
birth after only seven months. Sthenelus' child was a boy named
Eurystheus and would become king of Mycenae. Then Alcmene gave birth
to twins. On the first day of her labor she gave birth to Zeus'
son, Alceides, and on the next day to Amphitryon's son, Iphicles.
Amphitryon always suspected that only one of the twins was his,
but he was never sure which one it was until one night, when they
were eight months old, Hera sent two giant snakes to the infants'
bed. Alcmene screamed when she saw them and Iphicles cried and crawled
away, but Alceides grabbed one snake in each hand and squeezed them
both to death. Amphitryon heard his wife's cries and came running
into the room. There, he saw Alceides shaking the dead snakes like
toys. He knew immediately that this was no mortal child, but was
instead the son of a god.
Accomplished tutors trained Alceides in chariot-driving, wrestling,
archery, and armed fighting. He enjoyed these sports. But when Orpheus'
brother Linus tried to teach him how to play the lyre, he was anything
but obedient. One day, frustrated with Alceides' disobedience, Linus
spanked Alceides and the child hit him back with the lyre. Alceides
swung the lyre so hard he killed Linus instantly.
"The boy committed murder," his tutors said. "He must be punished."
Alceides checked the laws and said in his own defense, "There is
a law that a person is innocent of murder if they are resisting
an unjust punishment. This man was wrongfully punishing me, therefore
I am not guilty of murder." Legally there was no recourse but to
let the boy go free. He was already so uncontrollable that many
in Thebes, including Amphitryon, were afraid of the boy. They sent
him to the hills to care for the herds. He grew up like a wild animal.
By the time he was eighteen years old he had grown to seven feet
tall and he still lived with the animals. At that time a lion regularly
came out of the mountains to raid the herds of both Amphitryon and
Thespius, King of the Thespians. With a gleam of fire in his eyes,
Alceides wished for nothing more than to track and kill the lion
and he went to King Thespius with a plan.
King Thespius listened patiently to the savage young man as he detailed
how he would track and kill the lion. Although the king nodded in
agreement every few minutes and said that he would give Alceides
a comfortable home while he tracked the lion, the king was primarily
impressed by the young man's strength and good looks and he came
up with a plan of his own.
Alceides was given a room in the palace, where he was given fine
food and elegant clothes. Then, each night, under the veil of darkness,
a daughter of Thespius appeared at Alceides' bed and made love with
him until sunrise. Exhausted, Alceides slept through the day. When
night fell, she again came to wake him with her kisses. Night after
night the same thing happened, but some nights the princess was
shy while on other nights she was like a wildcat. "She must be the
most incredible woman on earth," he thought.
After fifty nights had passed, she didn't come to him again. "This
must mean I now have to kill the lion if I want to see her again,"
he thought. Rebuilding his strength over the next few days, Alceides
went to the mountain where he tracked and found the lion and easily
ripped its jaws apart.
Throwing the carcass over his shoulders he carried it home to Thespius
and asked the king for his daughter in exchange. The king replied,
"Which one? I have fifty daughters and every one spent a night with
you so each could have a child."
Alceides, disappointed and upset with being tricked, left dressed
in the lion skin, with the lion's skull as his helmet and the jaw
as his mask. Meanwhile the people carried stories of wild young
Alceides who could kill any animal and make love to any woman.
Alceides took the road to return to the herds but he soon learned
that once you go away, the road home is never the same again. Upon
the road he met the Minyan heralds of King Eriginus. They were going
to Thebes to collect their king's yearly tribute of one hundred
head of cattle.
Years earlier, King Eriginus' father had been watching a chariot
race at the Games of Poseidon when a stone from a Theban charioteer
hit him in the head and killed him. "Promise you will avenge my
death," he said to his son as he died. Eriginus sent an army to
Thebes and after beating the enemy, he made them sign a treaty paying
him one hundred head of cattle a year for twenty years. Now, the
heralds were doing their yearly job of collecting his debt.
"Stand aside for the heralds of King Eriginus," they said.
"Stand aside, indeed," grumbled Alceides. "I won't stand aside for
any king!" Alceides stood firmly in the middle of the path.
The heralds kept marching as though he wasn't there and his anger
grew. Grabbing his sword, he started slashing off their ears, noses
and hands. He met with no resistance for they weren't prepared to
fight. Then he strung their body parts on cords and hung them like
necklaces around their necks and said, "Take these to your king
as his tribute." Alceides didn't look back at the injured heralds,
but changed his direction and went to Thebes to see his mother and
Amphitryon, still living there in exile.
He had been in Thebes only a month when King Eriginus arrived at
the gates of the city. He had an army at his side. "Give us our
hundred cattle and the man dressed like a lion," Eriginus yelled.
"Why do they want you?" King Creon asked.
Alceides told him how he had encountered the heralds and what he
had done to them. "They want me," Alceides said, "so let me fight
them. You won't need to pay them tribute anymore."
A flash of light appeared between the men, and Athena materialized
in her golden armor. "Even you cannot defeat an army alone," she
said to Alceides. "First, you must have proper weapons." On the
floor in front of him appeared a sword and shield, a golden dagger
in a scabbard, a javelin, and a bow and arrows. "Then you will need
protection," she said as a beautiful suit of armor materialized
before him. "Finally, even all of this will not be enough. You will
need to lead a well-trained army," she said, looking at King Creon.
"I'll supply the army," the king responded, and called his guards
to make the preparations as Alceides dressed in the armor and strapped
on his weapons.
The gates of Thebes opened and King Creon's army, led by Alceides,
poured into the enemy ranks. The battle lasted until dusk, but when
it was over Eriginus' forces were massacred and Alceides himself
had killed the king. He made the Thebans sign a treaty with the
Minyans paying a double tribute to Thebes of two hundred head of
cattle per year for twenty years.
As the treaty was signed, Alceides became the hero of Thebes and
Creon gave him his eldest daughter, Megara, for his wife. The king
also gave Alceides' brother, Iphicles, his younger daughter as his
wife, even though Iphicles already was married to Automedusa and
they had a son named Iolaus. But Alceides' mother, Alcmene, was
dressed in black and watched all the ceremonies from a distance,
for her husband, Amphitryon, had been killed in the battle.
In honor of his wedding, the gods bestowed gifts upon Alceides;
Hermes gave him a magic sword whose blade would never dull, Apollo
gave a bow light as air with arrows that would never miss their
mark, Hephaestus made him golden armor etched with pictures of his
deeds, and Athena gave him a shield that would deflect any arrow,
sword or evil word.
Through the next few years Alceides and Megara had three sons named
Therimachus, Creontiades, and Deicoon. Even Alceides' mother, Alcmene,
was happy for she married a son of Zeus named Rhadamanthys, who
loved his step-son and taught him the finer points of archery. With
three young sons, a new skill to learn, and the adoration of all
of Thebes, Alceides was busy and content. But Hera jealously watched
her husband's son and decided to give him her own belated wedding
gift. "I will give him something that none of his other god-given
gifts can protect him from," she said maliciously. Then she planted
the evil seed of jealousy deep within his heart.
Alceides wife, Megara, was a graceful beauty who drew men's attention
whenever she passed. She was always faithful to her husband, but
year-by-year as Alceides watched the men as they watched her his
jealousy grew until it's thorny vine strangled his heart. The moon
was full on the night he went mad, for he built a fire and while
his children and those of his brother slept, he carried them from
the safety of their beds and threw them all into the flames.
Watching the fire consume his sons and his nephew and niece, tears
broke through his icy rage, melting in his eyes and through their
cloudy drops he witnessed the distorted images of reality and emotion.
Screaming like a mortally wounded animal, he banished himself forever
and went to the Temple at Delphi to seek the oracle's advice.
The sky held a new moon by the time Alceides reached Delphi and
in the total darkness he saw a fire burning in the distance. It
was the temple fire and his arrival was announced by the sentinel
owls. As he stood before the open pillars of the temple and the
torches flickered in the gentle night breeze, he read the inscriptions
above the doorway: KNOW THYSELF it said, and NOTHING IN EXCESS.
He walked through the portal and his nose burned with the pungent
incense filling the temple air. With his head bowed, he approached
the flame. Behind it sat the Pythis, the voice of the oracle.
"Be seated, Alceides," she said calmly.
He sat down opposite her as the fire burned between them. The flames
lapped at the air and through their rough tongues he gazed into
the oracle's all-knowing eyes.
"Look into the fire," she said.
The events of his life appeared in the dancing flames and as he
watched, separated from emotions which he saw himself enact, he
could see the distortion those emotions caused. "What can I do?"
he asked the oracle.
"To find redemption you must be reborn and act in service to humankind.
You will relinquish your former life and now be known as Heracles.
The name means 'Hera's Glory' and it will remind you that Hera wishes
to control you through jealousy and rage. It is your mission in
life to learn to control yourself.
"You will travel to Tiryns where you will be in servitude to King
Eurystheus for twelve years. He is your cousin and became king of
Mycenae in your place. He will be your master and you must complete
ten labors that he assigns you before your sins are forgiven."
The sacred owls of Delphi led him to Tiryns, to the gates of the
palace of Eurystheus. "Welcome to the house of Eurystheus. I am
Copreus, his herald," a young man at the gate said. "I understand
the importance of your mission as I, too, was sent here in atonement
for murder. My master awaits with your first labor."
Heracles followed the herald through the gate and into a garden,
where a man with clear ice-blue eyes was seated in the arbor, eating
a pear and listening to the morning worksongs of doves and canaries.
Copreus motioned for Heracles to be seated on a bench next to a
basket of freshly picked fruit. Heracles selected a plump fig and
ate as his new master addressed him.
"You will be in my service for twelve years," began Eurystheus,
"and in those years you will complete ten labors of my choosing
and to my satisfaction. There will be no argument. My word is law.
You will either complete your assignment in its entirety or your
mission will be unsuccessful." Heracles gave no response but to
grab an apple from the basket and he listened and continued to eat.
"Your first labor is to bring me the skin of the Nemean lion," Eurystheus
said simply, then rose and walked out of the garden, leaving Heracles
with the herald.
Copreus' face went pale while Heracles registered no emotion, but
continued eating grapes. "The Nemean lion is an invulnerable beast,"
Copreus said excitedly. "They say neither metal nor stone can kill
him. His father was the Titan monster Typhon, and some people even
say that he came here from the moon! You have been given an impossible
assignment and it will probably kill you. You must have committed
a terrible crime to be given such a task." Copreus watched Heracles,
but no emotion betrayed Heracles' secret. Without even looking at
the herald, he picked a plum from the basket and silently walked
toward the gate, stopping for a moment to grab a limb from the pear
tree and tearing it off as though it were a twig. Copreus watched
as Heracles took his sword and hacked at the wood until he formed
a club, then he slung it over his shoulder and calmly walked away.
The frightened herald quickly locked the gate behind him.
the Immortal Night ©2003, J.J. Kuhl