The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology

By Robin Hard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT

THE LIFE OF HERAKLES AND RETURN OF THE HERAKLIDS

THE BIRTH OF HERAKLES AND HIS EARLY LIFE AT THEBES

Alkmene arrives in Thebes with Alkmene, and mounts a campaign against the Teleboans

Although Herakles was an Argive of Perseid stock by descent, he was born abroad in Thebes after his putative father AMPHITRYON departed into exile with his mother ALKMENE. As was described at the end of the last chapter, Amphitryon was exiled by his uncle Sthenelos for having killed another uncle, Elektryon, king of Mycenae (by accident in the usual account); and Alkmene, the daughter of Elektryon, who was already betrothed to him, accompanied him to his new home, as did Likymnios, her only surviving brother. Her other brothers had all been killed by Teleboan raiders shortly before the death of her father (see p. 244 for the circumstances). Kreon, the current ruler of Thebes, purified Amphitryon of the man-slaughter and welcomed him to his city. Although Amphitryon now pressed Alkmene to marry him (or to consummate their marriage if they were already married), she declared that she would not accept him into her bed until he had exacted vengeance on the Teleboans for the death of her brothers. 1 So he made immediate preparations for a campaign against the Teleboans, who lived in a group of islands just outside the entrance of the Corinthian Gulf; and his forthcoming absence would provide Zeus with an ideal opportunity to approach Alkmene to father his great son Herakles.

When Amphitryon asked Kreon to assist him on the expedition, the king promised to fight as his ally if he would first rescue the Thebans from the depredations of the TEUMESSIAN FOX, a large and ferocious vixen which had established its lair on Mt Teumessos, about five miles north-east of Thebes; it had been sent by the gods to ravage the land and presented an exceptionally difficult problem because it was fated never to be caught. Knowing that Kephalos, son of Deion, owned a dog that was fated always to catch its prey (see p. 372 for its origin), Amphitryon visited him at his home in Attica, and asked him to allow it to be used against the fox in return for a share of the spoils from the forthcoming war. Or in another version, Kephalos

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