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You've likely heard a number of references to the goddess Athena and her beauty, but her role as a protector of Hercules hasn't received as much attention. This Greek goddess of wisdom (born fully grown and armed, from the head of her father, Zeus) was also a warrior goddess. Strong and virginal, she repeatedly helped Hercules, the Greek mythological hero.
The semi-divine Hercules, the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, earned a name for himself by defeating fantastic beasts and making repeated trips to the Underworld. However, he also went mad, largely due to the wicked ways of his stepmother, Hera, who'd tried to kill him since he was a baby. Fearful that Hera would succeed at killing Hercules, Zeus sent Hercules to Earth and allowed a mortal family to raise him. Although his new family loved him, Hercules' divine strength prevented him from fitting in with mortals, so Zeus eventually revealed his origins to him.
To achieve immortality, like his father and other gods, Hercules performed the 12 labors for his cousin King Eurystheus, who, like Hera, hated Hercules. But Eurystheus and Hera hoped Hercules would die in the process. Fortunately, Athena, Hercules' half-sister, came to his aid.
The 12 Labors of Hercules
Which Herculean tasks did Eurystheus and Hera want the demigod to complete? The entire list of 12 labors is below:
- The Nemean Lion
- The Lernaean Hydra
- The Wild Boar of Erymanthus
- The Stag of Artemis
- The Augean Stables
- The Stymphalian Birds
- The Cretan Bull
- The Girdle of Hippolyta
- The Cattle of Geryon
- The Mares of King Diomedes
- The Golden Apples of the Hesperides
- Cerberus and Hades
How Athena Helped Hercules During the 12 Labors
Athena helped Hercules during labors 6, 11, and 12. To scare off the enormous flock of birds at a lake by the town of Stymphalos during Labor No. 6, Athena gave Hercules noisemaking clappers, known as krotala.
During Labor No. 11, Athena may have helped Hercules to hold up the world when the titan Atlas went to fetch the apples of the Hesperides for him. While Atlas was off getting the apples, Hercules agreed to lift up the world, a task that the titan normally performed. After Hercules brought the apples to his taskmaster Eurystheus to complete this labor, they had to be returned, so Athena took them back.
Finally, Athena may have escorted Hercules and Cerberus out of the Underworld during Labor No. 12. Specifically, she helped Hercules in his madness, preventing him from killing more people than he already had. After tragically killing his own children when madness overtook him, Hercules was about to kill Amphitryon, but Athena knocked him out. This stopped him from murdering his mortal father.
So while Athena has been heralded for her beauty, her efforts with Hercules reveal how much of a warrior she was.