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02024: Birth of Heracles. "Alcmena is relieved; her prayers are answered and her child is born." (Ov. Met. 9.312). Guillaume T. de Villenave, Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide (Paris, Didot 1806â€"07). Engravings after originals by Jean-Jacques François Le Barbier (1739â€"1826), Nicolas André Monsiau (1754â€"1837), and Jean-Michel Moreau (1741â€"1814).

"… Argos has long been the best city for women with beautiful hair; Zeus made this saying clear by visiting Alcmena and Danae …" (Pindar, Nemean Odes 10.10).

Niobe 1, daughter of Phoroneus, was the first mortal woman with whom Zeus lay, and Alcmena was the last (Dio.4.14.4). When Heracles 1, fruit of this union, was about to be born, Zeus declared among the gods that the descendant of Perseus 1 then about to see the light should reign over Mycenae. But Hera, angry at her husband's love affair, persuaded the goddess of childbirth Ilithyia to retard Alcmena's delivery, so that Eurystheus should be born a seven-month child. And since Eurystheus also was a descendant of Perseus 1, the proclamation of Zeus came to mean, against the god's wish, Eurystheus and not Heracles 1. In this way, Alcmena's son lost the kingdom of Mycenae and became the subject of his rival. But Alcmena, who in the course of her life, demanded vengeance twice, exacted retribution from Eurystheus.

Perseids and Pelopides

Perseus 1, the man who flew through the sky, beheaded Medusa 1, and delivered the beautiful Ethiopian princess Andromeda, whom he later married, also founded the city of Mycenae, which was ruled years later by Agamemnon, the most powerful king at the time of the Trojan War. Yet, Agamemnon was not a descendant of Perseus 1, but of Pelops 1, who, having come from Asia with vast wealth, and having added both courage and treachery to it, succeeded in acquiring such an enormous power that the whole of the Peloponnesus was called after him. In the course of one generation or two, the Pelopides (descendants of Pelops 1) infiltrated through marriage the dynasty of the Perseids (descendants of Perseus 1), finally replacing it on the throne of Mycenae. The rivalry between the two royal houses persisted during many years, and caused many conflicts. But it is only after the Trojan War that the Perseids, renamed HERACLIDES, returned to the Peloponnesus, destroying many of the kingdoms that had been ruled by the Pelopides or their vassals.

Perseus 1's granddaughter

When Perseus 1 died or went to live among the immortals, his son Electryon 1 came to the throne marrying his own niece Anaxo 1, or, as others say, a daughter of Pelops 1—either Lysidice 2 or Eurydice 11. By one of them, Electryon 1 had ten sons and one daughter, Alcmena. This girl surpassed many others in beauty and height, and had dark eyes on her charming face.

Mestor 1 and the Taphians

However, Electryon 1's brother Mestor 1 is also said to have married Lysidice 2, who bore him a daughter Hippothoe 3. This girl consorted with Poseidon, and gave birth to a son Taphius, known for having colonized the island of Taphos, off the coast of Acarnania (northwestern Greece). Taphius in turn had a son Pterelaus, who succeeded him as king of Taphos and whom Poseidon made immortal by implanting a golden hair in his head. Now, when Electryon 1 was still king, there appeared in Mycenae the sons of Pterelaus claiming the kingdom of their ancestor Mestor 1, brother of Electryon 1. And it is on account of the war that ensued for the sake of the kingdom, that Pterelaus lost all his sons but Everes 3 in battle, and Electryon 1 lost all his sons but Licymnius, whom he had by the Phrygian woman Midea 1. After this battle, the Taphians, realising that they could not remain in Mycenaean territory, sailed home, having entrusted the cattle they had stolen from Electryon 1 to Polyxenus 1, a king in Elis.

Death of Alcmena's father

King Electryon 1 then decided to wage war against Taphos, and having lost all his sons but one, he committed to Amphitryon the kingdom and his daughter Alcmena, making him swear that he would keep her a virgin until his return from war. However, Electryon 1 never left, because he was killed, as some say accidentally, by Amphitryon. For when Electryon 1 was receiving the cattle back, Amphitryon, who had just ramsomed it in Elis, threw against a disobedient cow a club which, having rebounded, stroke Electryon 1's head, sending its owner to the next world. But others say that Amphitryon and Electryon 1 quarrelled about the cattle, and that the former killed the latter in hot blood. This is why Heracles 1 could later declare:

"I am the son of a man who incurred the guilt of blood, before he married my mother Alcmena, by slaying her aged father." (Heracles 1 to Theseus. Euripides, Heracles 1260).

Amphitryon banished

Because of the way in which the second king of Mycenae met the end of his life, his son-in-law and nephew (for Amphitryon was son of Alcaeus 1, son of Perseus 1) lost authority, and the throne of Mycenae and Tiryns was seized by Electryon 1's brother Sthenelus 3, who banished Amphitryon from the whole territory, on account of his brother's death. Alcmena followed her fiancé into exile, and in the company of Licymnius, they came to Thebes where Amphitryon was purified by Creon 2, the man who ruled that city on several occasions. Later, in historical times, the house of Alcmena and Amphitryon could still be seen, along with an inscription which read:

"When Amphitryon was about to bring here his bride Alcmena, he chose this as a chamber for himself. Trophonius and Agamedes made it." (Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.11.1).

(Trophonius and Agamedes 1, sons of Erginus 1, are the builders who constructed the fourth temple of Apollo at Delphi.)

Marriage conditioned

When the engaged couple came to Thebes, Alcmena refused to marry Amphitryon until he avenged her brothers, who had perished in the battle against the sons of King Pterelaus of Taphos. So Amphitryon, wishing to marry Alcmena, asked Creon 2 and the Thebans for military aid, and after fulfilling certain conditions that Creon 2 demanded, Amphitryon formed a coalition, being supported by Cephalus 1 of Athens, by Perseus 1's son Heleus of Argos, and by Creon 2 himself. With these forces, Amphitryon attacked all the neighboring islands that were ruled from Taphos. But since King Pterelaus was immortal because of his golden hair and therefore Taphos could not be taken, Amphitryon made Pterelaus' daughter Comaetho 1, who had fallen in love with him, pull out her father's golden hair, causing his dead and letting Amphitryon subjugate the island.

Alcmena sleeps with god and mortal on the same night

This is how Amphitryon, in order to please Alcmena, avenged the sons of Electryon 1. But while he was on his way home to Thebes, Zeus, assuming his likeness and prolonging the night threefold, made love to Alcmena, telling her about the outcome of the war. As Amphitryon returned and lay with her wife on the same night that Zeus left, Alcmena did not seem to welcome him, for she thought that she had already been with her husband.

Zeus' proclamation

Some time after having slept with Alcmena, Zeus declared among the gods that the descendant of Perseus 1 about to see the light would become king of Mycenae. However, the god's wife Hera, disliking her husband's love affair with Alcmena, persuaded the goddess of childbirth Ilithyia to retard the girl's delivery, so that Eurystheus should be born first, though a seven-month child. And since Eurystheus also was a descendant of Perseus 1, the proclamation of Zeus was therefore made to mean, against the god's wish, Eurystheus rather than Heracles 1.

Ilithyia retards Alcmena's delivery

Ilithyia, goddess of childbirth and of frightened mothers in travail, came to Thebes when Alcmena was ready to give birth. But instead of helping her, the goddess, following Hera's instructions, retarded Alcmena's delivery, so that she was in torture during seven nights and seven days, bearing something so great that, as they say, it could be known that Zeus was the father of the unborn child. During this difficult time, Ilithyia sat upon Alcmena's door, listening to her groans

"... with her right knee crossed over her left, and with her fingers interlocked." (Alcmena to Iole. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.299).

Galanthis cheats Ilithyia

In this way, and by chanting charms, she prevented Alcmena's deliverance. It was then that Alcmena's attendant Galanthis, who passed in and out the house, feeling assured that a spell was working against her mistress, said to Ilithyia, whom she saw holding her clinched hands upon her crossed legs:

"Whoever you are, congratulate our mistress: … Alcmena is relieved … her child is born." (Galanthis to Ilithyia. Ovid, Metamorphoses 9.312).

Variations on Galanthis' performance

Deceived by these words, the goddess leaped up and unclinched her hands, and when her rite was interrupted, Alcmena gave birth. When Galanthis realised that she had cheated a deity, she laughed with all her heart. But Ilithyia caught her by the hair and dragged her on the ground, keeping her there and turning her into a weasel. According to some, Galanthis (who is also called Galinthias and Historis) was the daughter of a Theban called Proetus 3, whereas others say that her father was the seer Tiresias. It is also said that the rites preventing Alcmena's deliverance were performed not by Ilithyia but by a group of witches sent by Hera, and that these left when they heard Galanthis uttering a cry of joy. Then again, others say that the rites against Alcmena were performed by both Ilithyia and the MOERAE, all of them following Hera's instructions. Galanthis then, fearing that the birth pangs would madden her mistress, came out and informed them that Alcmena had given birth, and that their privileges had been abolished. On hearing the obvious lie, the MOERAE turned the insolent attendant into a weasel for having deceived the gods. But later Hecate, feeling pity for Galanthis, adopted the weasel as her sacred servant. And here on earth, Heracles 1, as a grown up man, remembered Galanthis' service, and let build a statue of her to which the Thebans, during a long time, offered sacrifices before celebrating the festivities in honour of Heracles 1.

Which is which

When the birth-saboteurs, whoever they were, suffered defeat in one of the ways described above, Alcmena bore two sons: Heracles 1, son of Zeus and the elder by one night, and Iphicles, son of Amphitryon. Who the father was of which son was soon discovered, for only a son of Zeus could, being still a child, strangle the two serpents that came to his bed, some say sent by Hera. But others tell that Amphitryon put the serpents in the children's bed himself, and when he saw that Iphicles fled and that Heracles 1 stood his ground, he knew who the son of Zeus was, and who his own.

Why Zeus lay with Alcmena

Zeus lay with Alcmena, some say, because he purposed to father one who would defend both gods and men against destruction. Mainly gods, probably, for as it is known, when later the GIANTS attacked heaven, a mortal was needed by law to fight against them, and then Heracles 1 was summoned. With regard to men, everyone has his own opinion about how mortals may meet or escape destruction. That Zeus' and Alcmena's love fruit was destined to be of an extraordinary kind could be seen, some believe, even before Heracles 1's birth, since Zeus increased the length of the night when he lay with Alcmena three times. And if proportions were followed, they reason, the might of the child must be in relation to the time employed in its procreation. Besides, they argue, Zeus did not effect his union with Alcmena from the desire of love, but only for the sake of procreation. Being so, they proceed, the god did not offer violence to her, nor attempted to persuade her chastity, but instead deceived her by assuming her husband's shape, thus giving legality to his embraces.

Agreements of Zeus and Hera

Despite Galanthis' triumph, the witches, or Ilithyia, or the MOERAE, succeeded in retarding Alcmena's deliverance enough time for Eurystheus to be born before Heracles 1. Thereby Zeus was outgeneraled by his own wife Hera, and the way was opened for Eurystheus to become king of Mycenae, a position which Zeus had intended for Heracles 1. Zeus could not betray his promise, but wishing to take care of his son, he persuaded Hera to agree that while Eurystheus should be king (for being the first born Perseid, as Zeus himself had proclaimed), Heracles 1 would be allowed to serve him and perform twelve LABOURS, to be prescribed by Eurystheus himself. But that after performing the LABOURS, Heracles 1 should be given immortality.

Heracles 1 exposed drinks from divine breast

Naturally, Alcmena knew nothing of these agreements, for although mortals sometimes imagine to know much about the intentions of Heaven, they normally ignore them. Nevertheless Alcmena, fearing Hera's jealousy, brought the babe to a place afterwards called Field of Heracles, and there exposed it to die. Now, it is told that when Alcmena exposed her son, Hera and Athena approached the place and the latter, being amazed at the vigour of the child, persuaded the former to offer it the breast. Hera did this, but Heracles 1 tugged upon the goddess' breast with such violence that she, in pain, cast him from her. Having witnessed this extraordinary scene, Athena took the child back to its mother, urging her to rear him.

Amphitryon's death

Alcmena reared then her son, whose life was full with extraordinary events, and witnessed these too, for she outlived him. But her husband Amphitryon witnessed just a small part, for it was near the beginning of Heracles 1's career that the war between Thebans and Minyans broke up for a matter of tributes. Heracles 1 led the Thebans to victory, but Amphitryon fell dead in the battlefield. Having performed his LABOURS and many other deeds, Heracles 1 died in Trachinian territory. He then ecame immortal and went to dwell among the gods.

Exile of the HERACLIDES

It was then that his tormentor Eurystheus turned against Heracles 1's descendants, deciding to banish the HERACLIDES from the whole of Hellas, since he considered them a threat to his throne in Mycenae. The HERACLIDES were first received by Ceyx for some time, but since Eurystheus demanded their surrender threatening war, they had to left Trachis and take refuge in Athens, where Ceyx sent them, arguing that he was weaker than the Athenians. In their new exile, the HERACLIDES sat down on the altar of Mercy and claimed protection, which Theseus' son Demophon 1 granted. Eurystheus then, realizing that Athens would not surrender his enemies, declared war and invaded Attica. In the battle that ensued Eurystheus's army was defeated, he and his sons losing their lives. Eurystheus' head, they say, was brought to Alcmena by her grandson Hyllus 1, and she, in her moment of victory and vengeance, showed her delight or her disgust by gouging out the eyes from her enemy's head with weaving-pins.

Eurystheus captive

Others have said that it was in this battle that old Iolaus 1, son of Iphicles and Heracles 1's former charioteer, was granted by Hebe to be young again for one day, so that he could exact retribution from his enemies. It is told that Iolaus 1, having received his vigour back, captured the four-horse chariot of Eurystheus near the Scironian cliffs (on the Saronic coast of the Isthmus of Corinth), bringing the Mycenaean king captive to Athens. These were excellent news, as Alcmena estimated them, for with Eurystheus defeated, her descendants could take their possessions back. They say that in order to give pleasure to Alcmena's heart, the imprisoned king was brought before the old woman, who called him hateful creature and villain, and reproached him each and every one of his deeds against her son and the children of her son. And she passed sentence on him, saying:

"You must die an evil death, and that will be all gain to you. For we should be killing you several times over, since you caused us so many griefs." (Alcmena to Eurystheus. Euripides, Heraclides 960).

Guardian spirit Eurystheus

Although Athens considered it an unholy act to kill an enemy that had been taken alive in battle, Alcmena managed to order his execution. Yet before dying, Eurystheus declared that his body beneath the earth would be most hostile to the descendants of Heracles 1, and most protective towards the city that shrank from killing him, adding that Alcmena's benefit from his death should be matched by the harm done to the HERACLIDES by the same dead body beneath the earth. But since those who wish to be avenged are not inclined to believe in such curses, warnings, and tales of guardian spirits, Alcmena, fearing the living enemy more than the dead one, sent him to his death.

Death of Alcmena (I)

Alcmena died at Megara, some say, as she walked from Argos to Thebes, a distance that few aged contemporary mortals would care to cover on foot. And since anyhing, be it a trifle or a serious affair, may be easily turned into a matter of dispute, the HERACLIDES could not agree as to what to do with her corpse, some wishing to carry it back to Argos, and others wishing to join the dead woman to her husband Amphitryon, who was buried in Thebes. And since when two parties disagree, a third may come and dictate what to do, they buried Alcmena in Megara, as the Oracle at Delphi ordained. Or so the Megarians say ...

8215: Red-figured bell-krater (wine-bowl) with Alkmena seated on an altar stacked with wood. Paestum c. 330 BC (left: Antenor; right: Amphitryon). British Museum, London.

Death of Alcmena (II)

Others affirm that Alcmena died as an old woman in Thebes, adding that when her funeral was being performed, Zeus sent Hermes to steal her body from the coffin and substitute a stone. It was then that the descendants of Heracles 1 who carried the coffin, feeling it particularly heavy, took off the lid, and having discovered that there was no corpse, took out the stone they found inside the coffin, and set it in Alcmena's shrine in Thebes. In the meantime, Hermes conveyed Alcmena to the Islands of the Blest, where she became Rhadamanthys' wife. For this reason, say the Thebans, Alcmena has no tomb. Despite Eurystheus threats and warnings, the HERACLIDES, sprung from Alcmena, conquered the whole of the Peloponnesus.


Pausanias (5.17.8) says that Asius, the epic poet from ca. 700 BC, affirmed that Alcmena was daughter of Amphiaraus and Eriphyle.
Roscher, Lex. 1.246.35.
A vase shows Alcmena seated on an altar stacked with wood. According to this version of the myth (which is depicted in yet another vase), Alcmena's infidelity was punished by her husband Amphitryon (the figure holding the torches to the right). Alcmena was saved by Zeus, who sent a storm. The HYADES ('sisters of rain') are seen pouring water on the pyre. The scene could be a representation of Euripides' Alcmena.
Roscher, Lex. 1.247.21, 1.2758.15.






Electryon 1 & Anaxo 1

Electryon 1 & Eurydice 11

Electryon 1 & Lysidice 2

Electryon 1 was King of Mycenae and son of Perseus 1 and Andromeda.
Anaxo 1 was daughter of Alcaeus 1, brother of Electryon 1, and her mother was either Astydamia 1, or Laonome, or Hipponome; Astydamia 1 was daughter of Pelops 1; Laonome was daughter of Guneus 1, and Hipponome was daughter of one Menoeceus, probably Menoeceus 1, father of Creon 2 and Jocasta, the wife of Oedipus.
Eurydice 11 was daughter of Pelops 1.
Lysidice 2 was daughter of Pelops 1.


Heracles 1



Iphicles, who is found among the CALYDONIAN HUNTERS, married Automedusa, daughter of Alcathous 3, son of Pelops 1, and had by her a son Iolaus 1, who being the charioteer of Heracles 1, shared with him most of his Labours. Iphicles was wounded in the first battle fought by Heracles 1 against the Eleans and Augeas, and died later of his wound.



After Amphitryon's death, Alcmena married Rhadamanthys, son of Zeus and Europa, either in this life, dwelling with him in Ocaleae in Boeotia, as some say, or else married him after her own death in the Isles of the Blest, as others say. The tombs of Rhadamanthys and Alcmena were shown in historical times in Haliartus, Boeotia.

Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Abas 2, Acrisius, Aegyptus 1, Agenor 1, Aglaia 2, Alcaeus 1, Alcathous 3, Alcmena, Aletes 2, Amphitryon, Anaxo 1, Anchinoe, Andromeda, Antiochus 1, Apollo, Atlas, Automedusa, Belus 1, Cassiopea 2, Cepheus 1, Chaeron, Creon 2, Danae, Danaus 1, Electryon 1, Epaphus 1, Eurydice 2, Heracles 1, Hipponome, Hippotes 2, Hypermnestra 1, Inachus, Io, Iolaus 1, Iphicles 1, Lacedaemon, Leipephilene, Libya, Lynceus 2, Mantineus 1, Meda 1, Megara, Memphis 2, Menoeceus 1, Nilus, Pelops 1, Perseus 1, Phoenix 1, Phylas 1, Phylas 2, Pleione, Poseidon, Proetus 1, Rhadamanthys, Taygete, Thero 2, Zeus.

Related sections

Apd.2.4.5, 2.4.8, 2.4.11, 2.8.1; Dio.4.9.1, 4.14.4; Eur.Hcl.211, 1026ff. and passim; Hes.SH.11ff., 79; Hom.Od.11.266; Nonn.7.126; Lib.Met.29, 33; Ov.Met.6.112; Pau.1.41.1, 9.11.3, 9.16.7; Pin.Pyth.4.170, 9.85; Plu.Lys.28.5; Plu.The.7.1.