Alcmene

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In Greek mythology, Alcmene or Alcmena (Greek: Αλκμήνη) was the mother of Heracles.

Contents

Background

Alcmene was born to Electryon, king of Mycenae and a granddaughter of Perseus.[1] Her mother was either Anaxo, daughter of Alcaeus and Astydamia,[1] or Lysidice, daughter of Pelops and Hippodameia.[2] Hesiod describes Alcmene as the tallest, most beautiful woman with wisdom surpassed by no person born of mortal parents. It is said that her face and dark eyes were as charming as Aphrodite's, and that she honoured her husband like no woman before her.[3] She was involved in an affair of Zeus.

Exile to Thebes

According to Apollodorus, Alcmene went with Amphitryon to Thebes, where he was purified by Creon for accidentally killing Electryon. Alcmene refused to marry Amphitryon until he had avenged the death of her brothers.[4] However, during Amphitryon's expedition against the Taphians and Teleboans,[5] Zeus visited Alcmene disguised as Amphitryon. Extending one night into three, Zeus slept with Alcmene (his great-granddaughter) (thereby conceiving Heracles) and recounted Amphitryon's victories against the Teleboans. When Amphitryon finally returned to Thebes, Alcmene told him that he had come the night before and slept with her; he learned from Tiresias what Zeus had done.[6]

Birth of Heracles

In Homer's Iliad, when Alcmene was about to give birth to Heracles, Zeus announced to all the gods that on that day a child, descended from Zeus himself, would be born who would rule all those around him. Hera, after requesting Zeus to swear an oath to that effect, descended from Olympus to Argos and made the wife of Sthenelus (a son of Perseus) give birth to Eurystheus after only seven months, while at the same time preventing Alcmene from delivering Heracles. This resulted in the fulfilment of Zeus's oath by Eurystheus rather than Heracles.[7]

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