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Who Was the Wife of Hercules?

Hercules had not one wife, but as many as four! Keep reading to find out about how each of the brides of Hercules impacted his story!

Most Greek writers claimed that Hercules was married a total of three times. Roman authors added a fourth marriage which took place shortly after the completion of his twelve labors.

His first wife was Megara. They had many sons together, but the children were tragically killed by Hercules himself in a fit of madness.

His second marriage, according to Roman writers, was to a Libyan queen. Little was said about how the relationship ended, but Hercules eventually found his way back to Greece.

Many years later he fought a river god to win the hand of another beautiful princess. This marriage, however, would lead to his downfall.

A series of unfortunate events lead to his jealous wife accidentally killing her husband. Hercules died not in a great battle, but from the venom of a creature he had killed decades before.

Death was not the end of his story, however. Hercules became a god and married for the last time. His new bride was Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera and his own half-sister.

With Hebe, Hercules would finally have a long-lasting marriage. The two were said to have a happy and loving relationship defined by loyalty and mutual affection.

The Four Marriages of Hercules

Hercules was, according to legend, married a total of four times.

His first marriage occurred early in his life and set the stage for his most famous adventures.

After helping to defend the city of Thebes from invasion, Hercules was rewarded with a bride. King Creon gave his daughter, Megara, to Hercules to be his wife.

Little is written about Megara’s life with the hero beyond the fact that they had several sons together. Sadly, the family would not be happy.

Hera, constantly jealous of her husband’s mortal offspring, struck Hercules with a terrible form of madness. Gripped by insanity, he murdered his own children.

This was the end of his marriage to Megara. Many writers claimed that she was killed as well, while others said she survived the tragedy and remarried Hercules’ cousin many years later.

The murders of his children resulted in Hercules placing himself in service to another cousin, the king of Tiryns, for a decade to atone for his crime. His twelve labors were meant to prove his penance and earn atonement.

Writers in the Roman Era claimed that a second marriage occurred shortly after the twelve labors. During a year in service to the queen of Lidya, Omphale, Hercules was made to wear women’s clothes and perform menial household tasks.

Omphale freed Hercules and married him. Some writers claimed they had at least one son together, tying the royal line of Lydia to those of the Greek kingdoms.

Another marriage took place later in his life when he met a princess named Deianira.

The river god Achelous also loved the young princess and Hercules wrestled the god for the right to win Deianira.

Deianira was being helped across a deep river by a centaur, Nessus, who tried to kidnap her as Hercules crossed behind them. The hero quickly shot one of his arrows, poisoned with the venom of the Hydra, and killed the centaur.

Before Nessus died, however, he gave his tunic to Deianira. He claimed that his blood was imbued with a powerful love spell that would make Hercules remain faithful to her if he was ever tempted by another woman.

Over ten years later, Hercules was indeed tempted. He had an affair with another princess named Iole and, Deianira believed, meant to abandon his family to marry her.

Deianira smeared the potion made from the centaur’s blook on her husband’s famous lionskin cloak. Instead of a love spell, however, it was imbued with the Hydra’s potent venom.

Hercules was eaten alive by the poison, driven to madness once again by his pain. His last act as a human was to build his own funeral pyre so that his suffering would end.

Deianira was said to have killed herself when she learned of her husband’s fate.

The death of Hercules was not the end of his story, however. The pyre burned away the last of his mortality and he ascended to Mount Olympus as a god.

Hercules was welcomed into his father’s household immediately. Even Hera set aside her enmity once Hercules was made divine.

His last marriage was to his half-sister, Hebe. The daughter of Zeus and Hera was the goddess of youth and, prior to their marriage, served as her father’s cup bearer.

While Hercules had carried on many affairs as a human, most accounts claimed that he was a loving and faithful husband to Hebe. The pair lived peacefully in their father’s household as a picture of marital fidelity and happiness.

My Modern Interpretation

The love life of Hercules was, in many ways, a parallel to that of his father. Hercules as a mortal was very similar to his father as a god.

Before marrying Hera, Zeus had been involved with a series of other goddesses. These relationships had been doomed, however, by fate.

His first wife was Metis, a Titaness. She was killed by Zeus to avoid a prophesy that her son would one day overthrow his father.

Hercules, too, killed his first wife according to most accounts. No children survived from that marriage.

Metis and Megara both served as minor points in a more important story about their respective husbands. While Metis’s death resulted in the birth of Athena, Megara’s led to Hercules undertaking his most famous quests.

Zeus narrowly avoided a second marriage that would have led to his death. He courted Thetis, but ended the relationship when he learned that her son would become more powerful than his father.

Hercules was not so lucky in his later marriage. While a prophecy foretold that involvement with Iole would lead to his death, he continued the affair and died at the hands of his own wife.

The many affairs had by both were another obvious parallel between father and son in Greek mythology. Hercules was nearly as prolific as his father, having dozens of children of his own.

One famous story, sometimes called the hero’s thirteenth labor, had him impregnate the fifty daughters of Thespius in a single night. The fifty sons born from this single event were said to be ancestors of almost every ruling family in the Greek world.

Both Zeus and Hercules would eventually find a lasting marriage with a sister. The marriages to Hera and Hebe, however, provided contradiction rather than similarity.

All four lived on Mount Olympus as part of the same family unit, but the marriage of Hercules and Hebe was described much differently than that of Hera and Zeus.

Hera was known for her constant jealousy, but Hebe had no reason to ever be jealous. With his final marriage, Hercules ended his affairs and became a devoted and faithful husband.

As the goddess of marriage, Hera could be expected to have an ideal relationship with her own husband. But it was Hercules and Hebe, not Zeus and Hera, who were seen as the perfect and happy married couple of Mount Olympus.

In Summary

Most Greek myths recounted three marriages of Hercules. Later Roman writers added a fourth union with a Lydian queen.

His first marriage was to Megara. Struck with madness by Hera, Hercules killed their children.

Accounts varied as the whether Megara was killed as well. Whether she lived or died, though, her marriage to Hercules ended with the deaths of her children.

In penance, Hercules undertook his famous twelve labors. Megara’s tragedy served as little more than a set-up for her husband’s greatest achievements.

Later in life, Hercules married Deianira. Believing he was going to leave her for one of his many mistresses, Deianira coated her husband’s lionskin cloak with what she believed was a love potion.

In reality, the liquid was infused with the venom of the Hydra. The treacherous lie had been concocted by a centaur who had been killed by that very poison while trying to abduct Deianira.

The Hydra’s toxins resulted in the hero’s painful death. When the funeral pyre burned away his mortal body, however, he was taken to Olympus as a god.

It was there that Hercules had his final marriage. He married Hebe, his half-sister and the goddess of youth.

The marriage of Hercules and Hebe, like much of his personal life as a mortal, paralleled that of Zeus. While their father’s marriage was marked by infidelity and jealousy, however, the marriage of Hercules and Hebe was said to be the most loving and peaceful of all the gods of Olympus.

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Mike Greenberg, PhD

My name is Mike and for as long as I can remember (too long!) I have been in love with all things related to Mythology. I am the owner and chief researcher at this site. My work has also been published on Buzzfeed and most recently in Time magazine. Please like and share this article if you found it useful.

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