The baby Heracles lay fast asleep. Two serpents slithered around his crib and reared their ugly heads. Before they could strike, Heracles woke up, grabbed the giant snakes and strangled them.
The hero of Greece had just performed his first famous feat.
Heracles was the son of the great god Zeus and a mortal woman. This made him a powerful enemy: Zeus's wife Hera. It was she who had sent in the serpents. When Heracles grew into manhood, the jealous queen smote him with a frenzy of madness. The hero committed the unthinkable crime: he killed his wife and children.
To atone for his heinous deed, Heracles was condemned to perform 12 deadly labors. Any one of these tasks would have felled the mightiest of heroes. Heracles did not flinch. He quickly sought out his first challenge and wrestled a ferocious lion to death.
Heracles draped his eight-foot body in the lion's skin; he wore the wild beast's head as his hood. Then he waded through the swamp to find his next foe: the dreaded Hydra.
This hideous monster had the body of a wild dog and nine serpent heads. Its mere breath alone was poisonous and fatal. Heracles, armed with club and sword attacked. But each time he chopped off one of the Hydra's heads, two more fanged ones grew back. The battle raged, the hissing grew louder, the air was filled with the Hydra's venom. Finally, Heracles bested the monster. Each time Heracles lopped off a head, his servant seared shut the neck with a burning branch.
The peoples of many ancient civilizations bowed down to a remote or almighty god-king, whose rule they never questioned. The Greeks put human beings in this powerful position. Many Greek myths were about extraordinary, but mortal heroes (or half-mortal, like Heracles) from a past era. In their divine myths, the Greeks made their gods and goddesses immortal, endowed them with remarkable powers and gave them very human personalities!