AskDefine | Define Hercules

Dictionary Definition



1 (classical mythology) a hero noted for his strength; performed 12 immense labors to gain immortality [syn: Heracles, Herakles, Alcides]
2 a large constellation in the northern hemisphere between Lyra and Corona Borealis

User Contributed Dictionary



From Herculēs < Ήρακλης (Herakles) meaning "glory of Hera", from Hera + kles, (glory).


  • italbrac RP /ˈhɜːkjəliːz/|/ˈhɜːkjʊliːz/
  • italbrac US /ˈhɝːkjəliːz/|/ˈhɝːkjʊliːz/

Proper noun

  1. Son of Jupiter and Alcmene, a celebrated hero who possessed exceptional strength. Most famous for his 12 labors performed to redeem himself after killing his family.
  2. A summer constellation of the northern sky, said to resemble the mythical hero. It lies between the constellations Lyra and Corona Borealis.
  3. A crater in the first quadrant on the moon.


son of Jupiter

Related terms



From Ήρακλης (Herakles) meaning "glory of Hera", from Hera + kles, (glory).

Proper noun

  1. In the context of "greekmyth|lang=la": Hercules, heroic son of Zeus.

Extensive Definition

Hercules is the Roman name for the mythical Greek hero Heracles, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmena. His first wife was Megara and his second wife was Deianeira. When Hera found out about Zeus's illegitimate son, she placed two snakes in his bed to kill him. Hera was unsuccessful, as Heracles, being born with great strength strangled the snakes when he found them.


Hercules' Latin name is not directly borrowed from Greek Herakles ("glory of Hera" vel sim.) but is a modification of the Etruscan name Hercle, which derives from the Greek name via syncope. An oath invoking Hercules (Hercle! or Mehercle!) was a common interjection in Classical Latin.


In Roman works of art and in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art that adapts Roman iconography, Hercules can be identified by his attributes, the lion skin and the club: in mosaic he is shown tanned black, a virile aspect. While he was a champion and a great warrior, he was not above cheating and using any unfair trick to his advantage. However, he was renowned as having "made the world safe for mankind" by destroying many dangerous monsters. His self-sacrifice obtained him the ascent to the Olympian realms and he was welcomed by the gods.

Roman cult

The Romans adopted the Greek stories about Heracles essentially unchanged, but added anecdotal detail of their own, some of it linking Hercules with the geography of the Western Mediterranean.
In Roman mythology, Acca Larentia was Hercules' mistress. She was married to Tarutius, a wealthy merchant. When he died, she gave his money to charity. In another version, she was the wife of Faustulus.
In Aeneid 8.195ff., Vergil relates a myth about Hercules' defeating the monstrous Cacus, who lived in a cave under the Palatine Hill (one of the eventual Seven Hills of Rome).

Germanic cult

Tacitus mentions a special affinity of the Germans for Hercules, stating
they say that Hercules, too, once visited them; and when going into battle, they sang of him first of all heroes. They have also those songs of theirs, by the recital of this barditus as they call it, they rouse their courage, while from the note they augur the result of the approaching conflict. For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm. (chapter 3)
Roman era Hercules' Clubs appear from the 2nd to 3rd century, spread over the empire (including Roman Britain, c.f. Cool 1986), mostly made of gold, shaped like wooden apples. A specimen found in Köln-Nippes bears the inscription "DEO HER[culi]", confirming the association with Hercules. In the 5th to 7th centuries, during the Germanic migration, the amulet type rapidly spreads from the Elbe Germanic area across Europe. These Germanic "Donar's Clubs" were made from deer antler, bone or wood, more rarely also from Bronze or precious metals. They are found exclusively in female graves, apparently worn either as a belt pendant, or as an ear pendant. The amulet type is replaced by the Viking Age Thor's hammer pendants in the course of the Christianization of Scandinavia from the 8th to 9th century.


Roman images of Hercules were based upon Hellenistic Greek images and might be contrasted with the images of Hercules that appear in Attic vase-painting (see Heracles). One aspect of Greek Hercules was not adopted by Roman culture: the ambivalent relationship with his patroness/antagonist Hera that was "Hera's man", Hercules.

Hercules in popular culture

Since the Renaissance, Hercules has rarely been distinguished from Heracles, the Roman figure overshadowing the Greek. Later interpretations of Hercules' legend cast him as a wise leader and a good friend (many of the movie and TV adaptations cast him in this light, especially the 1995-1999 syndicated TV series). The legend of Hercules endures, though often co-opted to suit the political fashion of the day. Hercules has also had an undeniable influence on modern pop culture characters such as He-Man. The legend of Hercules has been described in many movie and television adaptations, including several comic series featuring the hero.

Hercules in numismatics

Hercules has been the main motive for many collector coins and medals, the most recent one is the famous 20 euro Baroque Silver coin issued in September 11 2002. The obverse side of the coin shows the Grand Staircase in the town palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy in Vienna, currently the Austrian Ministry of Finance. Gods and demi-gods hold its flights, while Hercules stands at the turn of the stairs.
Hercules in Arabic: هرقل الأمازيغي
Hercules in Bengali: হারকিউলিস
Hercules in Bosnian: Herkules
Hercules in Catalan: Hèracles
Hercules in Czech: Héraklés
Hercules in Welsh: Heracles
Hercules in Danish: Herakles
Hercules in German: Herakles
Hercules in Estonian: Herakles
Hercules in Modern Greek (1453-): Ηρακλής (μυθολογία)
Hercules in Spanish: Heracles
Hercules in Esperanto: Heraklo
Hercules in Basque: Herakles
Hercules in French: Héraclès
Hercules in Irish: Earcail
Hercules in Korean: 헤라클레스
Hercules in Croatian: Heraklo
Hercules in Indonesian: Hercules (tokoh)
Hercules in Italian: Ercole
Hercules in Hebrew: הרקולס
Hercules in Georgian: ჰერაკლე (მითოლოგია)
Hercules in Luxembourgish: Herakles
Hercules in Lithuanian: Heraklis
Hercules in Hungarian: Héraklész
Hercules in Dutch: Herakles
Hercules in Japanese: ヘラクレス
Hercules in Norwegian: Herakles
Hercules in Polish: Herakles
Hercules in Portuguese: Hércules
Hercules in Romanian: Heracles
Hercules in Russian: Геркулес (мифология)
Hercules in Simple English: Hercules
Hercules in Slovak: Herakles
Hercules in Slovenian: Heraklej
Hercules in Serbian: Херакле
Hercules in Finnish: Herakles
Hercules in Swedish: Herakles
Hercules in Thai: เฮอร์คิวลีส
Hercules in Tagalog: Hercules
Hercules in Turkish: Herakles
Hercules in Ukrainian: Геракл
Hercules in Chinese: 海格力斯

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Antaeus, Atlas, Briareus, Brobdingnagian, Charles Atlas, Cyclops, Gargantua, Goliath, Orion, Polyphemus, Samson, Superman, Tarzan, Telamon, Titan, bully, bullyboy, colossus, giant, gorilla, muscle man, powerhouse, stalwart, strong man, strong-arm man, the mighty, the strong, tough, tough guy, tower of strength
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