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Nine months later, one late night down at Thanasi's Olympus Greek Restaurant, Zeus had a nice buzz going. Without thinking, he boasted that he had fathered a son, to be born any day now, who would be called Heracles (Glory of Hera), and rule the noble House of Perseus.

Say what? Hera was having none of this! First she made Zeus swear an unbreakable oath that any prince born before nightfall to the House of Perseus should be High King.

"No problemo", said Zeus.

Hera then raced to Mycenae and hastened the birth pangs of Nicippe, wife of King Sthenelus, who was seven months pregnant.

Next Hera hurried to Thebes and squatted cross-legged at Alcmene's door. All that was missing was the voodoo doll.

With her clothing tied into knots, and her fingers locked together, the squatting Hera delayed the birth of Hercules until Nicippe had delivered her premature son, Eurystheus. Don't try this at home, kids, these are trained professionals.

Shortly thereafter my nephew Herc was born, followed an hour later by his twin brother Iphecles, who was Amphytrion's son and the younger by a night. Some say that Zeus divinely illuminated the birth chamber, but at the most crucial moment was distracted.

I'm here to tell you that it wasn't a pretty sight when Hera returned to Olympus and haughtily boasted how she kept Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, from visiting Alcmene first.

According to Zeus' own oath, Eurystheus would be the High King of the House of Perseus, "having been primogenitured," in Hera's words. I've rarely seen my godfather more enraged! I don't know if Zeus was more pissed at once again having being bamboozled by Hera, or because he didn't have a clue in Hades what "primogenitured" meant...

He hated when that happened! Yo, Athena, what's "primogen.."...oh, forget it!

Seizing his eldest daughter, Ate, whose mindless chattering had blinded him to Hera's deceit, he whirled her by her golden hair and sent her hurtling down to earth.

"You'll never set foot again on Olympus, you conniving witch!" he roared at her, as she fell screaming to an earthly exile.

Lighten up, Zeus! Why can't you just discipline the poor girl, maybe take away her chariot privileges for a month? She was only acting on her mother's instructions, after all.

No need to 'ground' her for life!

Hera was experiencing acute deja-vu. Visions of being strung up from the heavens, with heavy anvils tied to her feet, raced through her mind. Turning his livid gaze on her, Zeus barked that he couldn't go back on his oath, but when his boy Hercules successfully performed 10 labors for that "puny punk Eurystheus", he should become a god.

"You got a problem with that, darling?" he icily hissed at Hera, readying his thunderbolts in case her response was not to his liking.

She reluctantly agreed, which was wise because Zeus had asked the kids to leave the room, always a sign of pending thunderbolt activity. You could set your weather forecast by it.

But haughty Hera wasn't going to go quietly. At that moment, she swore to herself that she would make the life of Hercules complete Hades. And, without belaboring the point, boy did she ever!

Heracles - "Glory of Hera" indeed! Is that ironic or what? No wonder the hero legally changed his name to Hercules early on in his career.

"I've tried hard to like that woman, and I've failed miserably," Herc once told me. "I'll be damned if I honor that wicked step-mother of mine anymore! It's Hercules from here on, unc!"

Yes, Hera would prove to be Herc's personal Nemesis, thwarting his every move and making life miserable for the greatest hero who ever lived.

The literary gang nearly came to blows over the true origin and identity of Hercules one late night down at Thanasi's Olympus. It was long ago and the memory is foggy, but to the best of my recollection, here's the basic context of the great debate:

Diodorus Siculus: "There were three heroes named Heracles: an Egyptian; a Cretan Dactyl; and the son of Alcmene. Anyone who claims otherwise possesses a room temperature IQ. A very cold room."

Cicero: "The number was six. Didn't I send you a copy of my latest book, 'On the Nature of the Gods', dear Dio? I must remember to do so!"

Varro: "Forty-two! Some drink from the fountain of knowledge but it appears that you two just gargled! There were forty-two Heracles! I can prove it!"

Diodorus Siculus: "Varro, you must have got into the gene pool while the lifeguard wasn't watching! There were three Hercs! Vicki, more Ambrosia please, and make Varro's de-caf!"

Varro: "Forty-two!"

Diodorus Siculus: "Three!"

Cicero: "Six!"

And so it went for hours, tempers flaring as dueling egos wrestled with the facts. Just as the Dio/Cicero tag team was about to strangle Varro, in stepped Herodotus, the voice of calm and reason.

Herodotus: "When I asked for Heracles's original home, the Egyptians referred me to Phoenicia, so I'm partial to Dio's argument."

Diodorus Siculus: "Thank you, Hero my man! The Egyptian Heracles, called Som, or Chon, lived ten thousand years before the Trojan War, and his Greek namesake inherited his exploits. I swear, these clowns are so dense, light bends around them, Herodotus!"

Varro: "Who you calling a clown, fool? Wan'na step outside?"

Oh my...just goes to show what happens when you read too many books, I guess. Good thing Hesiod and Homer weren't there that night, or there would have been a fistfight for sure.

March Myth of the Month continues here: Hercules Chapter Three