Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) brings you this greek heroic legend of Heracles- son of Zeus who had anger issues.
One interesting myth about the origin of the Olympic Games involves Heracles, the son of the God of Thunder and Lightning, Zeus. Being the son of a God, Heracles had super human strength but with that, he also had flashes of raging temper. One of the earliest incidents occurred when Heracles was in the midst of a music lesson.
Heracles’ music teacher, Linus, told him that he wasn’t playing the lyre very well. Heracles flew into a fit of rage, swung his lyre and killed his teacher with one blow. Over the years, due to his temper, Heracles killed various creatures, but the gods finally stepped in when in a fit of rage, Heracles killed one of his own children.
As punishment, Heracles was told to serve the king of Mycenae, Eurystheus, for 12 years. During these 12 years, he was given 12 extremely difficult tasks to carry out, which later became known as “The Twelve Labors of Heracles.” These tasks were as follows:
1. Slay the Nemean Lion (A lion monster that could not be killed by mortal weapons)
2. Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra (A serpentine water monster)
3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind (An enormous deer which could outrun an arrow)
4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar (A giant, fear-inspiring boar)
5. Clean the Augean stables in a single day
6. Slay the Stymphalian Birds (Man-eating birds with beaks of bronze with sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims)
7. Capture the Cretan Bull (A magical, snow-white bull)
8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes (They were four man-eating horses)
9. Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (A magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the God of War)
10. Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon (A fearsome giant)
11. Steal the apples of the Hesperides (The Garden of the Hesperides was the Goddess Hera’s orchard, which produced golden apples that granted immortality when eaten)
12. Capture and bring back Cerberus (A three-headed hound that was the Guardian of the Gates of the Underworld)
According to the Odes of the poet Pindar, it was after performing the fifth task of labor (to clean the stables of King Augeas) that Heracles set up the Olympic Games. This fifth task was meant to be both humiliating and impossible. King Augeas’ stable had over 3,000 oxen whose dung had not been cleaned for over 30 years. Heracles achieved this impossible task through another equally impossible feat— he diverted the flow of the river Alpheios (which ran along the southern side of Olympia) and cleansed the land.
In celebration of successfully completing this task, Hercules made a clearing in the grove, fixed the distance of the original race (and, ultimately, the stadium) by placing one foot in front of the other six hundred times, and instituted a competition so that all men could come and display how strong and quick they were.
He called this competition the Olympic Games and dedicated them to his father, Zeus. Legend also has it that he planted the sacred olive tree that was later the source of crowns for the Olympic victors.
These ancient games, unlike their modern version, were more like religious festivals than sporting events. While there were running, wrestling and throwing events, the games were dominated by the praying and sacrificing that was done to honour Zeus.
This fact eventually led to their demise. In 391 AD, Emperor Theodosius abolished the games as he was a devout Christian and objected to the games which honoured a pagan God, Zeus.
Centuries later, in 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited the ancient ruins of Olympia and decided to resurrect the games to build character physical, strength and courage amongst the youth. Thus, the world was reintroduced to the Olympic Games.
Note: Ancient Crowns for the Olympic Victors
At the great international games, the victors only received a crown of leaves: an olive crown at Olympia, laurel at Delphi (the evergreen laurel tree was sacred to Apollo), a crown of pine branches and later dried celery at the Isthmian games, and a green celery crown at the Nemean games.
The Roman Capitolia had a crown of oak leaves.
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