Very few heroes in ancient Hellas had quite the impact of Hēraklēs. Both mythologically speaking as as a practical part of the religion, Hēraklēs has a special place and he is honoured during the Herakleia. Will you honour him with us on August 5 at the usual 10 am EDT?

Hēraklēs was conceived by Zeus upon Alkmene, as He disguised Himself as her husband, returning early from war. Alkmene accepted Him in her bed gladly, as she was happy to see her husband again. When the real Amphitryon did return later that night, Alkmene realized what had happened, and told her husband. Amphitryon accepted her in his bed, regardless, and so she became pregnant with twins, one fathered by Zeus, and one by her mortal husband.

Hera, hearing of the affair, took an instant disliking to the unborn child. When it became time for Alkmene to give birth, Hera made Zeus swear a vow that a child born in the line of Perseus on this day would become King. Zeus agreed, and Hera hurried off to delay the birth of Hēraklēs and Iphikles, and hurry along the birth of Eurystheus (Εὐρυσθεύς), grandson of Perseus. The two had unknowingly become part of a contest of wills between Zeus and Hera, to decide who would be the hero to drive off the last of the great monsters and pave the way for the Olympians.

Eventually, Hera was tricked into allowing the children born, as She would have postponed their delivery indefinitely. Alkmene, aware of the divine spark in one of her sons, took her distance from him, but the young Hēraklēs was taken up by Athena and taken to Hera, who did no recognize the newborn nemesis of Her candidate, and took pity on him. She fed him from Her breast, but when he suckled so hard that he caused Her pain, She realized who he was, and cast him off. Athena rescued the infant and took him back to his mortal parents. Alkmene took him back and raised him with her husband.

Hēraklēs was a strong child, so strong, in fact, that he inadvertently killed his music teacher Linos (Λῖνος) with a lyre, for which he was tried and found not guilty. He was still made to leave the city, however. Hēraklēs set out to perform feats of strength, starting by defeating the lion of Kithairon, which had been a bane to his stepfather for far too long. Thespios, King of Thespiae, housed Hēraklēs for fifty days as he hunted for the lion, and every night Thespios placed one of his fifty daughters in his bed, although Hēraklēs thought he was only sleeping with one. Hēraklēs eventually vanquished the lion. He dressed himself in the skin, and wore the scalp as a helmet. The Gods lavished him with gifts: a sword from Hermes, bow and arrows from Apollon, a golden breastplate from Hēphaistos, and a robe from Athena. His famous club he made himself at Nemea.
Next, Hēraklēs was drawn into a war between the Thebans and the Minyans. He happened upon heralds from King Klymenos, who had won a previous battle with Thebes and now demanded tribute from them. Hēraklēs, who had been living in Thebes, cut the ears, noses and hands off of all but one of the heralds and told the last remaining one to take them back to his king as tribute. In the battle that followed, Hēraklēs fought bravely with the king's army, and his side eventually won, earning him his wife Megara, eldest daughter of King Kreōn of Thebes.
Due to Hera's jealousy, he was stricken mad and killed the five sons he had by his wife. When he was released from his madness by a hellebore potion--provided by Antikyreus--and realized what he had done, he cried out in anguish, and went on a long journey to cleanse himself of the miasma caused by these killings. First, he visited the oracle at Delphi, who, unbeknownst to him, was whispered to by Hera. The Oracle told Hēraklēs to serve the king of Tiryns, Eurystheus, for ten years and do everything Eurystheus told him to do. Eurystheus gladly provided Hēraklēs with these labors--ten of them, one for each year--and eventually ended up adding two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Hēraklēs.

The Herakleia (Ἡράκλεια ἐν Κυνοσάργει, Herakleia en Kynosargei) were ancient festivals commemorating the death of Hēraklēs. In Athens, the celebration was held just outside the city walls, in a sanctuary dedicated to Hēraklēs. His priests were drawn from the list of boys who were not full Athenian citizens (nothoi, illigitimate children, like him) and were named 'parasitoi'. The Attic cults of Hēraklēs were often closely connected with youth: at several of his cult sites there was a gymnasion attached, and there was a mythological tradition (perhaps originating in Boeotia) that after Hēraklēs died he was taken up to Olympus, where he married Hebe, the personification of youth. Because of this, Hēraklēs is sometimes worshipped as a God and sometimes as a dead hero.

In Thebes, the center of the cult of Hēraklēs, the festivities lasted a number of days and consisted of various athletic and musical contests (agones), as well as sacrifices. They were celebrated in the gymnasium of Iolaus, the nephew and eromenos of Hēraklēs, and were known as the Iolaeia. The winners were awarded brass tripods.

Will you join us in honouring Hēraklēs on this day? You can join the community here and find the ritual here.