Yes, I finished up the twelve labors of Hercules in a recent Behind the Book feature, but that doesn’t mean I’ve covered all the myths that went into the story in The Trials of Hercules: Book One of The Osteria Chronicles.
One of those Herculean legends that just can’t be ignored is the story of Hercules’s birth. Although we meet Herc when he’s a grown man, I couldn’t resist working this myth into my novel…plus, the scene in which Iolalus (Herc’s cousin) tells an abbreviated version of the tale embarrasses Herc and it’s always fun to make your lead character’s squirm a bit.
In myth, Alcmena (or Alcmene) gets pregnant by Zeus when he comes to her bed disguised as her husband, Amphityron. Her sister, who seems to be a little bit wiser about who she’s sharing her bed with, is also pregnant, but her pregnancy by her mortal husband is legitimate. As usual, Hera (wife of Zeus) is fuming mad over Alcmena’s pregnancy. Somehow Hera almost always seems a bit angrier with the child born of the affair than with the mother or her husband. I guess even goddesses can be irrational.
When Alcmena goes into labor, Zeus starts bragging to all of Olympus that a child of his blood was about to be born and that that child would become king of Mycenae. You can almost hear Hera sniggering as she sees a loophole in his boasting. See, both the mothers are granddaughters of Perseus (you may remember him as the cheesy/hunky hero in the original Clash of the Titans movie). Perseus was (yet another) bastard child of Zeus making both Alcmena’s and her sister’s babies “of the blood” of Zeus. Hera may be irrational, but she is deviously clever.
To spite Zeus, Hera has Ilythia (goddess of childbirth) cross Alcmena’s legs to stop the birth of Hercules (because, you know, that works) and ensures Alcmena’s sister’s baby pops out no problem. This means Eurysthesus is born first while baby Hercules is still locked up in Alcmena’s uterus. What’s a baby to do? Luckily, Alcmena’s servant, Galanthis, is one step ahead of Hera and announces to Ilythia (who had been taking a smoke break) that Hercules has been born. Ilythia does a double-take (picture eyes goggling out a’la Bugs Bunny) and uncrosses Alcmena’s legs to check. Of course, Hercules shoots out like a cannonball from his mom and Galanthis gives a very Nelson-like “Ha ha.”
Alcmena, realizing quite wisely that Hera does not like to be tricked, tries to appease her by leaving little Hercules out in the wild to die (don’t judge, this was okay to do in Ancient Greece). Athena rescues the baby and takes him to – you guessed it – Hera. Since all babies pretty much look alike, Hera doesn’t realize who it is and nurses Hercules from her own breast. So, not only are half his chromosomes from a god, but he’s also getting a special power kick from Hera’s milk. In some myths, Hera, realizing who she is suckling, rips the baby away. The stream of milk that spews from her breast becomes the Milky Way.
Athena, not believing in the Finders Keepers Rule, takes Hercules back to Alcmena who raises him to be a big strong boy.
More Stars for Hercules
Speaking of the Milky Way, The Trials of Hercules has gained several more stars from reviewers over the past few weeks and currently boasts a 4.4-star average on Goodreads. One of the most recent reviewers had this to say:
“I found this novel to be fascinating and very engaging. I enjoyed the suspense, anxiously trying to guess how Hercules would get through each trial. I highly recommend this to fans of Greek mythology, alternate history and fantasy in general. I look forward to the second book in the Osteria Chronicles!“
Remember, reviews (and coffee) are the lifeblood for any author, so please rate or review any book you read.