Herc is without a doubt the most famous of the Greek heroes, so much so that other heroes’ stories have written him into their tales to gain more popularity. Jason brings Herc along for the quest of the golden fleece, at least part of the way. Theseus writes himself into the story of Hercules and Hippolyta. Herc is the man, but why? What sets him apart?
Hercules, like many heroes, has a life marked by tragedy. We can bring up any of the Greek heroes and show the tragedy in their lives with no difficulty. Odysseus was away from home for 20 years, Perseus had to stop his mom from getting raped, Achilles lost his BFF Patroclus, and so on and so on.
Tragedy alone is no big thing to the Greeks. They thrive on it. But Herc is different in himself. Whereas most Greek heroes invite tragedy because of their hubris, Herc is set upon by Hera from the outset. And instead of lashing back in anger and pride, he accepts that he must make amends for what he’s done—even though he isn’t responsible! If there was ever a case of temporary insanity, it was when Hera made him kill Megara and his children. Yet he feels responsible all the same.
He endures Eurystheus setting not just the labors themselves, but the conditions for successfully completing them. He must be humble. He must show wisdom over the use of prowess. It’s true that the Greeks value intelligence and cunning—just look at Odysseus—but humility and seeking redemption for a crime he’s not responsible for is not Greek.
Yet it is Hercules. He is unique among Greek heroes, reaching godhood because of his unique traits. These are what make him worthy; this is what Zeus saw in him. There were many heroes to come after Hercules, but none of them ever reached the same status because none of them followed the same ideals that Hercules espoused.