The Golden Age of Denial: Hercules, the Bisexual Demigod

Hercules has been the icon of alpha-masculinty for centuries — do you know about his gay love life?

BY Christopher Harrity

August 14 2013 6:05 AM ET


Hercules, Iolaus, and Eros, Cista Ficoroni

Hercules was also a legenday stud with the ladies. Invited by King Thespios to stay at his palace before a hunt and "meet the family," Hercules deflowered 49 of the king's 50 daughters in one night. Nine months later, Hercules had 49 new kids.


Above: Hercules and Iolaos after the capture of the Erymanthian boar. Mosaic from a fountain from Neronian times (ruled 54 to 68 C.E.), now located in the Palazzo Massimo, Rome.

His love life with the boys is no less active. Custom was that most male same-sex relationships were between men and boys (not children — young men of the age of legal consent in modern Greece today would be about the same age). These boys often went on to marry and have children. These were not solely sexual relationships – they were deep and devoted friendships full of love and passion, but probably less insertive than what the modern-day gay man would expect.


Above: Hermann Wilhelm Bissen, Hylas, 1846

Plutarch, the Greek historian (and eventual Roman citizen), wrote that Hercules' list of male lovers was beyond numbering. Among his lovers were said to be the young heroes Admetos, Iphitos, Euphemos, Elacatas, and Abderus, son of Hermes, whose love for Hercules cost him his life (see above). Also Nireus, Adonis, Jason, Corythus, Stychius, and Phrynx.

Male love may be central to the 12 Labors of Hercules as well. In some academic circles there are rumored versions of the story pairing Hercules and King Eurystheus, the man for whom he performed the Labors.


Above: Philoctetes, by Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard, 1775

Notable standouts in his love stable were Philoctetes, who upon Hercules' death inherited his bow and arrows, and Nestor, the youngest son of King Neleus.

Of all his loves, Iolaos of Thebes and Hylas of Argos still have slivers of contemporary academic recognition as friends and lovers. Iolaos was also his nephew and, though still a youth, assisted in his Labors. It was said that Hercules performed his Labors with pride when Iolaos watched.

According to Plutarch, "But those who think that Iolaos was one of them do to this day worship and honor him, and make their loved ones swear fidelity at his tomb." Plutarch also wrote, "And Aristotle observes that even in his time lovers 'pledged their faith at Iolaos' tomb.'" The Thebans thought so highly of Iolaos that they worshipped him together with Hercules and named their gymnasium after him.

Tags: Bisexuality, Art

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