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The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, by Otto Rank, [1914], at


After the loss of his numerous sons, Electryon betroths his daughter, Alcmene, to Amphitryon, the son of his brother, Alcaeus. However, Amphitryon, through an unfortunate accident, causes the death of Electryon, and escapes to Thebes with his affianced bride. He has not enjoyed her love, for she has solemnly pledged him not to touch her until he has avenged her brothers on the Thebans. An expedition is therefore started by him, from Thebes, and he conquers the king of the hostile people, Pterelaos, with all the islands. As he is returning to Thebes, Zeus in the form of Amphitryon betakes himself to Alcmene, to whom he presents a golden goblet as evidence of victory. 3 He rests with the beauteous maiden during three nights, according to the later poets, holding back the sun one day. In the same night, Amphitryon arrives, exultant in his victory and aflame with love. In the fullness of time, the fruit of the divine and the human embrace is brought forth, and Zeus announces to the gods his son, as the most powerful ruler of the future. 4 But his jealous spouse, Hera, knows how to obtain from him the pernicious oath that the first-born grandson of Perseus is to be the ruler of all the other descendants of Perseus. Hera hurries to Mycenae,

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to deliver the wife of Perseus’ third son, Sthenelos, of the seven-months child, Eurystheus. At the same time she hinders and endangers the confinement of Alcmene, through all sorts of wicked sorcery, precisely as at the birth of the god of light, Apollo. Alcmene finally gives birth to Hercules and Iphicles, the latter in no way the former's equal in courage or in strength, but destined to become the father of his faithful friend, Iolaos. 1 In this way Eurystheus became the king in Mycenae, in the land of the Argolians, in conformity with the oath of Zeus, and the later-born Hercules was his subject.

The old legend related the raising of Hercules on the strength-giving waters of the Fountain of Dirce, the nourishment of all Theban children. Later on, however, another version arose. Fearing the jealousy of Hera, Alcmene exposed the child she had borne in a place that for a long time after was known as the Field of Hercules. About this time, Athena arrived, in company with Hera. She marveled at the beautiful form of the child, and persuaded Hera to put him to her breast. But the boy took the breast with far greater strength than his age seemed to warrant; Hera felt pains and angrily flung the child to the ground. Athena, however, carried him to the neighboring city and took him to Queen Alcmene, whose maternity was unknown to her, as a poor foundling, whom she begged her to raise for the sake of charity. This peculiar accident is truly remarkable! The child's own mother allows him to perish, disregarding the duty of maternal love, and the stepmother, who is filled with natural hatred against the child, saves her enemy without knowing it. 2 Hercules had drawn only a few drops from Hera's breast,

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but the divine milk was sufficient to endow him with immortality. An attempt on Hera's part to kill the boy, asleep in his cradle, by means of two serpents, proved a failure, for the child awakened and crushed the beasts with a single pressure of his hands. As a boy, Hercules one day killed his tutor, Linos, being incensed over an unjust chastisement. Amphitryon, fearing the wildness of the youth, sent him to tend his ox-herds in the mountains, with the herders, among whom he is said by some to have been raised entirely, like Amphion and Zethus, Cyrus, and Romulus. Here he lives from the hunt, in the freedom of nature. 1

The myth of Hercules suggests in certain features the Hindu saga of the hero Krishna, who like many heroes escapes a general infanticide, and is then brought up by a herder's wife, Iasodha. A wicked she-demon appears, who has been sent by King Kansa to kill the boy. She takes the post of wet nurse in the home, but is recognized by Krishna, who bites her so severely in suckling--like Hera, when nursing Hercules, whom she also means to destroy--that she dies.


48:1 Mommsen: Die Remus Legende (Berlin, 1881).

48:2 After Preller: Greek Mythology (Leipzig, 1854), Vol. II, pp. 120 ff.

48:3 The same transformation of the divine procreator into the form of the human father is found in the birth history of the Egyptian queen, Hatshepsut (about 1500 B.C.), who believed that the god Amen, in the form of her father, Thothmes I, cohabited with her mother, Aahames. (See Budge: A History of Egypt.) Later on she married her brother, Thothmes II, after whose dishonorable death she endeavored to eradicate his memory, and herself assumed the rulership, in masculine fashion. (See The Deuteronium, edited by Schrader.)

48:4 A similar mingling of the divine and human posterity is related in the myth of Theseus, whose mother, Aethra, the beloved of Poseidon, was visited in one night by this god and by the childless King Aegeus of Athens, who had been brought under the influence of wine. The boy was raised in secret and in ignorance of his father. (See Röscher, op. cit., article "Aegeus.")

49:1 Alcmene bore Hercules as the son of Zeus, and Iphicles as the offspring of Amphitryon. According to Apollodorus, they were twin children, born at the same time; according to others, Iphicles was conceived and born one night later than Hercules. (See Röscher, op. cit., articles "Amphitryon" and "Alcmene.") The shadowy character of the twin brother, and his loose connection with the entire myth, is again evident. In a similar way, Telephus, the son of Auge, was exposed together with Parthenopaeus, the son of Atalanta, nursed by a doe, and taken by herders to King Corythos. The external subsequent insertion of the partner is here again quite obvious.

49:2 After Diodorus Siculus, Book IV, p. 9 of Wurm's German translation (Stuttgart, 1831).

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