Hercules at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna

Pretty palaceThe legend of Hercules is a favorite of many – including, apparently, the Habsburgs. The southern entrance of Hofburg Palace in Vienna (pictured from the inside) is flanked with a series of totally awesome statues known as “The Labors of Hercules” by Lorenzo Matielli.

There are many fables about Hercules, son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmena, and many of the tallest tales come from his Twelve Labors.

Hera, Zeus’ wife, was none too fond of her husband’s mortal mistress’ son. One of her attempts to ruin his life was to make him temporarily insane so that he killed his own wife and children. Naturally, he was devastated when he came back to his senses, and he prayed to Apollo for guidance. Apollo told him his punishment should be to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae for twelve years. Eurystheus sent him on twelve quests, including battling a hydra, cerberus, The Cretan Bull and others, which he accomplished with the help of Hermes and Athena. Click here for more info on each of those quests.

The coolest story, if you ask me, is not a labor, but how he died: a tricksy centaur tried to rape Hercules’ wife Deianeira, and Hercules shot him with a poison arrow. The centaur, while dying, told Deianeira to keep a vial of his blood, stating that if she ever thought Hercules was being unfaithful, it would restore his love. As fate would have it, she did eventually think he was being unfaithful, so she smeared some of the blood on a shirt and sent it to him. The blood was poisoned (the same poison from the arrow which killed the centaur) and when Hercules donned the shirt, it caused him so much pain he made his friends burn him alive. Whoa.

Moral: never trust a centaur who says his blood is a love potion. Now, enjoy the muscular, manly, glorious sculptures from the Hofburg Palace.
My visit to Vienna was sponsored by the Vienna Tourist Board and Cool Capitals, but the opinions expressed in the article are 100% my own.