Now then, many thousands of years came and went and it came to pass that Zeus, the King of the gods desired a mortal virgin by the name of Alcmene born to the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, the son of Perseus and Andromeda. Beautiful as a goddess, her wisdom was not surpassed by any mortal.
Now on the night of her wedding Alcmene’s husband Amphitryon was called off to war. A month went by and seeing his opportunity, Zeus disguised himself and appeared unto her as her husband and tricked her by saying he had returned home early from the war. And he lay with her as her husband. So much did he enjoy her passions that he extended the night to three times its normal length. As a result of the extended passion play Heracles was conceived. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the oracle who said: Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son and they shall call his name Heracles which means the glory of Hera, the wife of Zeus.
Now it came about that Amphitryon, the true husband of Alcemene, returned from war and also lay with her and she came to carry twins. And Hermes, the messenger of the King of the Gods sayeth unto her: Behold, you have conceived from two sires, your husband and Zeus, the King of Gods and you shall bring forth two sons, one from each father.
The first born will be the son of the Gods and the son of man and thou shall call him Heracles. The second born shalt be called Iphicles. Rejoice unto thee, thou that are highly favored, Zeus, the King of kings is with thee and will bestow his beloved son with immortality.
And the following night Alcemene gave birth to Iphikles, Herakles younger twin brother and the true son of Amphitryon.
And up high from above, Zeus rejoiced in the first born and said prepare ye the way of the lord, for I am your lord, the king of kings and Heracles is my son. And so it was that Heracles’ very existence was proof to Hera of at least one of Zeus’ many illicit affairs.
Now then, the jealous Hera often conspired against Zeus’ mortal offspring as revenge for her husband’s infidelities. Aware of the animosity with which Hera persecuted all those who rivaled her in the affections of Zeus, Alcmene feared that Hera’s vengeance would be visited upon her innocent child.
Soon after his birth, Alcmene entrusted her beloved son to the care of a faithful servant, Agathe and instructed the servant to prepare a papyrus basket and coat it with tar and pitch. Following the Queen’s instructions, the servant placed the baby by the reeds of the river Haliacmon. And it was known in those days, that sheep who drank from this river became white. She floated the baby down the river running through Thebes knowing in full faith that if Zeus was indeed the father, he would protect his own divine son.
Seeing that the child had been abandoned, Athena, the patron goddess of many heros, suggested that Hera descend to earth and take a walk with her. Athena led her to the river where they were drawn towards the child’s cries rising from the reeds. Having pity on the starving baby, Athena took the infant in her arms, and prevailed upon Hera, the queen of heaven, to nurse him; but as soon as Hera put the innocent babe to her breast, the strong child caused her great pain and she angrily threw him to the ground. The force of her rejection was so strong that milk flew from his mouth and her breast and up to the sky. And to this day we call our galaxy the Milky Way.
Hera returned to Olympus and Athena, moved with compassion, carried the child back to Alcmene, who at once recognized her infant son and joyfully took him in her arms. Athena’s scheme had worked. The child, having suckled from the breast of the goddess Hera, was now immortal.
It came to pass that soon afterwards Hera, to her extreme annoyance, discovered whom she had nursed – her husband’s illegitimate son with a mortal – and became filled with jealous rage. Once darkness fell, she planted two large venomous serpents in the nursery where Heracles and his baby brother Iphikles slept. When one of the serpents put its tongue in Heracles ear, the child awoke with a cry, and grasping a snake in each hand, strangled them both. An unintended consequence of Hera’s murderous plot, was to endow Heracles with the gift of understanding the language of animals when he was able to pick up their speech in his left ear.
Alcmene and her attendants, whom the cry of the child had awakened, rushed to the nursery, where, to their astonishment and terror, they beheld the two serpents dead in the hands of the infant Herakles.
When Amphitryon beheld this astounding proof of supernatural strength, he acknowledged that the child must have been sent to him as a special gift from Zeus. Accordingly, he consulted the famous seer Tiresias, who revealed the divine origin of his stepson, and prognosticated for the child a great and distinguished future.
It came to pass that seeing the potential of his gifted son, Amphitryon hired the most famous practioners of all the arts as the boy’s tutors. He himself taught him to guide a chariot, Eurytos, the world’s best archer, how to handle a bow, Autolykos dexterity in wrestling and hand to hand combat, and Kastor the art of weapons and armed warfare, whilst Linos, the brother of Orpheus and son of Apollo, instructed him in music and letters. Heracles excelled in everything that required physical strength and athleticism, but was a less apt student in the arts. When Linos lost patience and thrashed him for not practicing the lyre, Heracles flew into a frustrated rage, smashed Linos over the head with the instrument and accidentally killed him.
The mighty but sensitive adolescent became overwhelmed and incapacitated with remorse and retreated inward, rejecting the company of others. His stepfather Amphityron took the boy into his house and explained that great strength is a sword with two edges for with it comes great responsibility and the necessity for self-control in equal measure. Respectful of the adolescent’s strength but alarmed by the violence, Amphityron feared and was now threatened by the boy’s divine origins.
In efforts to separate the young man from civilization and bring him closer to his true divine father the lord god Zeus, Amphityron banished Heracles to the distant plains of Thespai to herd cattle with his most trusted herdsman. Here, as he grew to manhood, his extraordinary stature and strength became the wonder and admiration of all beholders. His aim whether with spear, lance or bow was unerring and at the age of 18 he was considered to be the strongest and most beautiful youth in Thrace. His fame went throughout the whole countryside and all of Greece.