According to research, Hercules lived from approximately 1280-1224 BCE, not too long before the start of the Trojan War (30 years). This story is set around the date of Hercules' death. The legends say that he was taken up to Olympus and became a full god. Hebe – the Goddess of Youth and the cup-bearer of the Gods – was given to him as his wife and she then bore him sons. There is never much said of Hebe in mythology, and I always wondered about her character. That inspired me to write this little one-shot story based off these mental wanderings.
This is set in the same universe as Darkness Becomes Her and Worthy of Love, albeit a couple of centuries later, well after the events of the other stories. Please enjoy and let me know what you thought of it!
Hebe was seated amidst the nymphs that served her ambrosia and nectar. At banquets such as these, or parties, there were always plenty of nymphs to serve the gods their treats and wine Being a cupbearer was more of a ceremonial position for her, since she spent far more time at her mysterious ambrosia-making than she did serving it to the gods. Usually at these banquets, she would serve first her parents then the important gods before sitting down and enjoying the rest of the meal.
She glanced curiously at the newest addition to the Olympians. Her half-brother Herakles, born as Alcides. It was strange that his new name meant 'Glory of Hera' when his stepmother had been responsible for much of his life's trials, but it had been an unsuccessful bid to placate Hera from Herakles' mother, Alcmene several months after Alcides' birth. Any woman who had been a lover of Zeus was duly advised to try to please Hera and Alcmene shad been no exception. One could say that Hera did show mercy by not transforming Alcmene into an animal or killing her, though that was a cold comfort to the babe himself.
He wasn't quite a God – but he was close enough. It was found by accident many years ago that feeding mortals ambrosia and nectar kept them young for a longer period of time. Herakles was a great-grandson of Perseus – the hero who slayed Medusa was also a son of Zeus himself – and the King of the Gods had found Perseus' granddaughter attractive. With his enhanced strength and a steady supply of ambrosia along with his food, Herakles was nearly a god in his own right.
The ambrosia had also erased the gray from Herakles' hair and taken years off his body, leaving him a tall and broad-shouldered man who appeared to be in his late twenties, his arms thickly muscled and his step heavy and powerful. He was a much-admired figure, and had beaten Ares himself in a wrestling match. He had always been kind to Hebe on their few encounters, and the Goddess of Youth saw no reason to not like him.
She rose from her seat, going to get some more food from the banquet table before she felt a hand touch her arm lightly. She looked down to see that Herakles had reached from his seat.
"Would you sit with me?"
"Certainly. Just let me get some food."
A few minutes later, she was seated next to him. For a man who had performed twelve spectacular labors and had performed many heroic deeds, he was strangely mum about his accomplishments. The other gods asked him questions about his deeds, but he always kept his answers short, preferring to not have to talk about anything. Hebe supposed that the questions must get tiresome, and refrained from asking him. Though he didn't talk with her, she didn't get the feeling that she was being ignored, either. He would just stare at her quietly for a while as they ate before glancing at the crowd or at his food, and Hebe took up what space was left on the divan by Herakles' muscular form, so nobody could sit down with them. Herakles seemed wistful.
"Is something wrong?" Hebe asked. "Of course, if you'd rather not talk, I understand. It's just, you seem so sad sometimes."
Herakles stared at her for a few quiet moments.
"Sometimes I can't help but wonder about what happened in my... old life. All the terrible things I did, and the labors and... " he let out an heavy sigh, "so many things. Sometimes I wonder if this time on Olympus is a dream."
"Rest assured, it's not. I'm as real as you are." Hebe was not unaware of the fact that Herakles had gone mad and killed his wife and sons, but it had been a madness cast by Hera, and Herakles had been remorseful of what had happened. He wasn't a bad person. "Just enjoy yourself. Your family has gone to Elysium. They are safe and cared for, and here you are, among us, enjoying the paradise of Mount Olympus. You have earned it. Lord Hades put off your death when you tried to burn yourself on the pyre."
"Thank you." Herakles replied simply. She smiled and nodded.
Hebe found herself taking nighttime strolls often as of late. She had been feeling restless, wanting something new. She was a goddess with minimal presence. How many worshipers did she have? How many lovers had she had? How many people had she met, places had she explored, new things had she seen or learned? She had been content to simply avoid the quarrels that plagued most of the Olympians, using her Gift to turn honey and flowers into ambrosia and nectar that had a rejuvenating effect on whoever drank it.
Hebe was several centuries old, but she looked no more than a maiden of sixteen or seventeen, her face a soft round oval of innocent features, big brown eyes and a cute little nose with soft, pouting pink lips. She was clad in a pale blue ankle-length chiton and a matching wrap, her face framed by dark, wavy locks of hair and the light blue gauze of her hood.
"Hebe?" she heard a deep, masculine voice call out, and she turned around. Herakles was sitting on a bench near a fountain, his elbows on his lap.
"Looks like I'm not the only one who can't sleep." Hebe replied with a friendly tone.
"Could we talk?"
"Of course." Hebe approached the bench, stopping several paces away.
"Zeus... he decided that I should have a wife. He said that I could pick whoever I wanted."
"Really? He just said that?"
"Yes, a few days ago. He said I seemed discontented."
Hebe had heard the stories of Herakles' failed relationships – Megara, Deianeira, Omphale, Iole... Wisely, Hebe chose to not mention any of that.
"Surely life on Olympus is pleasant?"
"Oh, it is, it really is. But..." Herakles stared forward with a thoughtful frown. "But I keep thinking about what I did in the past, and wonder if I deserve all this. I remember what you said before, but still..."
"Certainly." Hebe replied kindly. "If you don't want a wife, why not tell Zeus that? I mean, you haven't been here that long..." a month was nothing compared to the many centuries of Olympian life, "and there's quite a few goddesses and nymphs who would be willing to share their bed with you."
Herakles shrugged, stroking his thick, dark beard.
"I already chose a wife. Father approves."
"Oh, that's great." Perhaps the wife he had chosen would provide a soothing balm to his troubled soul. Provided that it wasn't Aphrodite, of course. "Who might it be, if I may ask?"
"Well, Zeus was going to announce it tomorrow, but I think best to tell you tonight, so you won't be shocked."
"I picked you."
Hebe stared at him for several long moments, unable to speak. Her? Why her?
"I like you. You're quiet and friendly."
Still, Hebe could not speak. She knew she ought to feel flattered... but she didn't. Yes, Herakles was honoring her with his choice. He could have chosen anybody else, and it was true, they did get along. But that was hardly grounds for taking a woman as wife, and her father hadn't thought to counsel her on the matter. Infact, why not Herakles, either? He wasn't asking her, he was giving her notice. As she stood there, she contemplated her entire life, and the possibilities for her future.
"I will not be your wife." she declared in a quiet but firm voice.
"You heard me, Herakles. It's nice that you would choose me, but no. Nobody asked me what I wanted."
"I will be a good husband, I swear it." His voice was honest and earnest.
"I said no. I am sorry. It's not that I think you would be a poor husband. But I have a life of my own. I suggest you look elsewhere, and if you see someone you like, then for Heaven's sake, ask her first. Don't say to Zeus, 'I want that one'. Good night."
Herakles was so stunned by Hebe's calm denial, and could only stare after her as she walked off purposefully, her gown fluttering around her ankles.
Her encounter with Herakles had been the catalyst to provide Hebe with an epiphany as she walked along the streets of Olympus. She had been planning to simply go back to her house, but she suddenly veered off to the left, her lips set in a firm line as her feet speedily carried her to Zeus' grand villa. Her heart pounded with fear and anticipation, but she would not be deterred from her goal.
Zeus' villa was near the very peak of Olympus itself, a grand structure of white marble, the path to his home lined with statues of lovely nymphs as well as statues of himself looking heroic and regal.
She pushed the door open, startling a nymph that waited inside. She was a pretty young thing with thick, curly brown hair and matching eyes, clad in a green chiton. From her appearance Hebe figured her to be a Dryad or perhaps an Oread. There was usually at least one of these pretty young maidens to be found about the villa, though they never stayed long due to Zeus' wide-ranging appetite.
"Lord Zeus is busy." the nymph said, rising to step in front of her, and Hebe quickly swerved slightly, neatly making her way around the obstacle.
"He'll find time." Hebe replied with steel in her tone. She would do it now, while she had anger and indignation surging through her veins. She might be calmed by tomorrow morning and lose the nerve to confront her father.
"No no, my lady, Zeus is very much occupied..." She felt the nymph's hand on her arm, and jerked away, following the sound of a sudden, boisterous laugh.
"Wait, wait, please..."
Hebe ignored her. If Zeus was having sex – not at all surprising – she didn't care. Let her father suffer a bit of humiliation. When she was much younger, she had adored her father. He was her mighty daddy, King of the Heavens! But she had grown jaded as she saw her mother's pain and her father's reckless treatment of women.
"You will hold your tongue, nymph!" Hebe spat out, and the force of her words caused the maiden to still, wavering between Zeus' wish to not be disturbed, and the anger of this Goddess. Hebe might look pretty and young, but the nymph had been here long enough to know that the Goddess of Youth was far older than she looked.
Zeus' bedchamber was decorated to his tastes. The bed and every piece of furniture in here was large and imposing, with no concessions towards femininity or delicate touches, the bedspreads and curtains made of deep and intense blue fabrics interspersed with touches of gold and silver in favorite motifs, such as the eagle.
The King of the Gods was on his bed with...
Not another nymph as she had expected, but a boy! Hebe stared for several moments at the scene of Zeus feeding some ambrosia to the handsome youth, his other hand stroking a rather sensitive part of the youth's anatomy. The boy in question looked to be perhaps fifteen or sixteen, his body soft and smooth yet slightly angled, as befit his age. Even Apollo might be jealous at this boy's beauty, and her heart thudded. It wasn't that she frowned upon homosexuality – she had heard tales of gods seeking boys and Aphrodite having some 'fun' here and there with pretty girls – but it was entirely another matter to see her own father with a boy. It only added fuel to her simmering wrath, seeing her father so flagrantly violate his wedding vows to her mother with a youth who from the looks of it., had barely hit puberty!
The youth had thick dark brown hair, and he gazed wide blue eyes upon her as he noticed her presence, his soft pink lips forming a little 'o', his tan skin contrasting beautifully with the blue bedspread. Hebe frowned, knowing that she recognized him from somewhere.
"What's wrong, Ganymede?" Zeus asked coaxingly, wearing a loincloth – much to Hebe's relief – before he turned his head. His grin froze before slowly fading away as he saw his daughter standing there, her eyes narrowed, her cheeks pinkened in an angry flush.
"I am not marrying Herakles." Hebe stated firmly, deciding to forgo any kind of greeting.
"Oh, you weren't supposed to know until tomorrow at the banquet... but we can talk tomorrow morning, eh? Just forget about what you've seen here."
His placating words only served to ire her further.
"Why did you tell Herakles that he could have me? Did it occur to either of you that you might have consulted me on this matter? Have you so little respect for women that you would just give me away?" she sneered, placing her hands on her hips.
Zeus was getting flustered, and he shot a glance back at Ganymede, who simply looked up at him innocently.
"Hebe, my darling daughter, we can speak in the morning. I am occupied right now, as you can see..."
"Yes. Occupied with driving another dagger into my poor mother's heart."
"My lord, perhaps I should get dressed." Ganymede whispered, feeling embarrassed in front of this petite woman who looked as if her gaze would immolate him on the very spot.
"Don't bother. I only came here to tell you that not only will I not marry Herakles, I am also leaving Olympus. For far too long I have lingered here, believing myself as nothing more than the role you... bestowed upon me." She was done with being the cupbearer of the Gods. No longer would she pour nectar for her father or attend to him. Or anybody else for that matter.
She was the Goddess of Youth, yet what had she done with her everlasting youth? She had no adventures, no memorable affairs, nothing to mark her long life with. She would go out and explore the world and see what it had to offer. She had always been shy, and she now saw that it had held her back. She was going to enjoy her youth – and show mortals how to enjoy theirs. She could use her Gift and help mortals. Besides, the Gods were immortal, so what was she doing up here, anyway?
"Wait, what? Leaving Olympus?" Zeus sputtered. Hephaestus had left a couple of centuries earlier, marrying a ocean Goddess who had borne him two sons, and the pair had remained faithful to one another. After Hephaestus had left, several other Gods vacated Olympus. Even when new Gods had been born, the absence of those who had left still bothered Zeus in a vague way he could not describe.
"Yes. I'm not happy here anymore. I haven't been happy in a long time, only I didn't realize it until now, because I've been too shy to speak up for myself."
Ganymede was gently easing behind Zeus, hiding himself from view using his God's muscular form. Hebe paid him no regard as she stared at her father. But it suddenly clicked in her head where she had seen him. He had attended to Zeus at the last party, pouring him nectar and feeding him grapes. Due to the beauty of his appearance, she had merely thought him one of the younger sons of any of the gods or goddesses. There were certainly enough young bodies to go around, the younger generation of gods generally chose to keep their appearance rather youthful, in their late teens or early twenties, and a few even pushed it down to their mid-teens, enjoying the kind of attention that kind of appearance got. She had barely given him any notice, but now, as she moved her eyes to the youth, she sensed that he wasn't a god. Had Zeus merely snatched this youth from somewhere on Hellas?
"But... who will make the ambrosia and nectar?" Zeus asked incredulously. How were Herakles and Ganymede supposed to remain youthful? Or Psyche, Eros' lovely bride? Ambrosia did more than just rejuvenate, it had a curious effect on mortals who were given a regular supply. The food of the gods enabled accelerated healing, making minor injuries nothing, and more serious injuries – such as broken bones or deep cuts – were less fatal, and healed at about twice the speed. Infections and illnesses were held at bay, further enhancing the lives of the few lucky mortals who were invited to live on Olympus.
"Oh, I suppose you'll be wanting some for Herakles, and that pretty boy of yours, or whoever is your favorite at the moment." Her voice now had a harsher, more mature edge to it, and Zeus did not like her tone. He was so unused to seeing his sweet, shy daughter like this. "I'll make some ambrosia and nectar, but don't expect me to stay around Olympus, waiting to serve someone. For too long my youth has been wasted on all of you. Especially you, Father." None of that 'Daddy' in that sweet, soft voice that Zeus remembered so well.
"Hebe." Zeus growled, trying to grasp some control of this entire situation. "I will not have you barging in on my private moments..."
"Had these been private moments with Mother, why, I would gladly oblige."
"My affairs are none of your business!"
"Do you pull the same crap on Mother?" Zeus noted that Hebe's utterance of 'Mother' had many degrees more respect than her mention of 'Father'.
"Hebe, hold your tongue..."
"No. You disgust me. When I was little, I adored you. When you made me your official cupbearer, I felt honored. But all these centuries, I've watched you and the other Olympians. I can't believe I wasted so much time on Olympus. I thought all I was good was for making ambrosia and nectar, and looking sweet and pretty. How stupid of me. But now I know better. I see why Hephaestus left. Hades and Persephone have no desire to be part of Olympus. Hestia stays out of it all. Athene and Artemis have vowed off men, and I certainly don't blame them. Herakles seems like a nice person, but..." She huffed. She simply felt no chemistry with him beyond friendliness, or a brother-sister bond. Not that being related really meant anything on Olympus.
"I refuse to let you decide my life for me. And I will not spend my life serving a man who didn't think enough of me to ask me first." she stated with finality. "Goodbye."
She spun around on one heel and retreated from the sight before her.
Philomenus had served his King faithfully, even when he thought that starting a war over a kidnapped bride was silly. He had been lucky enough to see Helen once, when she was still residing in Sparta, as Menelaus' Queen. Helen was indeed a beautiful woman, and he, a young guard, had felt stirring within his loins. Of course, that's all he let it be. He knew that Helen was desired by many, and he was loyal to his King.
It had been nearly fifty years since he had seen Helen. He had never forgotten the sight of that ethereal beauty, wondering if she had been the daughter of Aphrodite rather than Leda. And it was indeed the kind of face that would launch a thousand ships.
He had fought in the War. Ten long years. He had joined the army at the youngest age they allowed, having barely begun to notice girls. At the end of the War, he sometimes wondered how he had survived ten years. He would have headed back to Sparta to settle into a quieter life. He envisioned himself as an farmer, a strong man who could till the land and provide food for his glorious city. He would marry and have many sons to till the farm or join the army, and beautiful daughters who would be the pride of the Spartan warriors they married. But his return was brief. There were other battles to be fought, for the Trojan War was a major turning point in Greek history, forever altering the destinies of gods and mortals alike.
Unbeknownst to him, the Trojan War marked the end of an era. Within the next century, city-states would collapse or emerge anew, kingdoms were founded, royal houses established, flourished, or were condemned to a tortured bloodline through the generations for some sin of their progenitors. But the impact of the Trojan War on the history of Hellenic civilization was beyond this worn-out old soldier.
He had let his King's words pull him into what would become an lifetime in the Spartan army. Even with his Queen safely returned – and punished rather accordingly, according to a few stories – King Menelaus was not content to sate himself with his victory in the Trojan War despite everyone's heavy losses. He had let his deep sense of patriotism and his experiences – he had been fighting so long he barely knew how to stop – bind him to a military career. He fought, trained and tested Spartan youths when he was not in a battle. He had sheathed his swords in a few robust Spartan maidens, but nobody had ever claimed that he was the father of their child. He went through like like this, faithfully serving Menelaus' sons and grandsons. And when he became too old and withered, he was discharged from the ranks – honorably, of course. Youths came to him asking about his exploits in the Trojan War – he was now one of the few remaining survivors of that great war – and he was tired of their demands to hear grandiose and heroic tales of a bloody War that bloody well never should have happened in the first place. If Helen had deemed to betray Menelaus, then she wasn't worth having as a wife, though Philomenus certainly could understand the matter of honor involved. To cuckold a powerful and mighty King of a grand city-state! What had that woman – however beautiful she had been – thinking? He wondered if she was still as lovely now, or if she was just as susceptible to the ravages of time as everybody else.
The creaking of his bones as he settled down on a bench reminded him that Time had been no kinder to him than it had been to anybody else. He was in one of the plainly-landscaped Spartan plazas, where there were no flowers at all – oh, he remembered the flowers from his travels – and several bushes along with a marble fountain of the god Ares, the water flowing from just under his feet as he stood there, one arm raised high, holding a sword.
Philomenus let out a low sigh and rested his chin on top of his cane, his gnarled hands wrapped around the handle. There was nobody to care for him. He lived in a small room in a house for senior warriors such as himself, as part of their pension from the city-state for their years of service. He could talk with the other aged men, but they too spoke of their heroic exploits and what they had seen. He had no desire to hear of that. He wanted a wife, children, a family. He wanted a real home, a farm that he could walk through every day, see the fruit of his own labors. Family, fruit, land, he had dreamed of being surrounded by his own legacy. And he had nothing. He had squandered his youth and middle age – considered to be the prime by many Spartans for the combination of strength and wisdom – and had basically nothing to show for his efforts. The questions of the young Spartan warriors and the rambling of glory days by the seniors made him wish he was deaf.
The fluttering of a pale ocher hem caused him to lift his bleary eyes. Walking along the stone was a lithe Spartan maiden, her head draped with a thin linen shawl that matched her chiton. Her dark eyes sparkled warmly, and her cheeks were rosy. Had he been even ten years younger, his loins would have ached. As it was, now all he felt was a bare stirring of need that had been nearly forgotten, pushed aside to deal with the more practical concerns of his wizened body.
To his surprise, she sat next to him. Together, they listened to the soft splashing of the water in the fountain in companionable silence. A breeze wafted a faint scent to him, sweet and fresh, like a freshly budding flower. He was sometimes surprised that he still remembered what flowers smelled like.
"You look so lonely, sitting out here alone." The girl's voice was polite but kind and sweet, as if she would listen to all of his woes without even knowing his name.
"Mmm." he turned his head slightly, glancing at her with a gentle expression. It'd been so long since he was this close to a young woman.
"A man of your years must have some interesting stories."
"Just because they're interesting doesn't mean I'm happy." he mumbled.
"Oh, what's wrong? I'm listening." she replied warmly. Philomenus was surprised to find himself telling her about what he had just been thinking.
"All my youth, wasted. I dedicated myself to one pursuit and lost sight of all else. And now look at me!" he lamented as he concluded his story, "I have nothing to show for my life but a battered shield and sword. I would leave that all behind if I could." he frowned thoughtfully, knowing he did not have much time left. Speaking with her had felt like a load lifted off his chest.
"You would start anew?"
"Indeed. In a place far away from here. I have had enough fighting and battles to last me a lifetime. When I was not fighting, I was teaching others the ways of war. I wanted to have a farm. I wanted to chase the pretty girls and find myself a wife, and have sons and daughters. It was a dream of mine to sit by the fire with my family. I would like to see my life's work surrounding me. But instead I shall die in a small room and all that is left of me will be my shield and sword, with nobody to give it to. Why is it that wisdom can't be gained by youth?"
"It seems rather cruel, doesn't it?" the girl asked. He nodded gravelly.
"At least I haven't gone senile like some of those other men." Philomenus murmured. He might not have all of his teeth left, most of his hair was gone, he had become nearsighted, and he needed a cane to get around. But he wasn't a doddering, drooling old fool, making an idiot of himself like he had seen happen to a few of his comrades before they had finally died, escaping the dementia that had befallen them. His mind was as sharp as it had ever been. "That's one thing you want to hope for as you get old. No matter how decrepit your body will become, you want to keep your mind sharp." He pressed his finger to his temple, and she nodded.
"Seems you have learned a lot."
"Hey, you seem pretty wise for someone so young. Just who are you?"
"A second chance at life."
"Eh?" He glanced at her with open interest. She continued smiling as she pulled out a flask from under her cowl. With a graceful hand, she uncorked it. Something warm, fresh, and sweet assaulted his nostrils, nearly causing him to reel back. Over the last few years, his sense of smell and taste had dulled, leaving him unable to enjoy even the most basic pleasures of food. Only when the food was heavily spiced did he catch any indication of flavor, and his scent wasn't much better.
"Have a sip, sir. I promise you, you will feel much better."
She could be offering him poison for all he knew, but what did he have left? Besides, he sincerely doubted such a sweet and friendly girl would offer him death. He took the flask with a slightly shaking hand, and tilted his head back. He lifted the bottle slowly as the girl waited patiently, and he tilted the container carefully, his lips parting, his nostrils tingling at that wonderful scent.
"Just a sip, be careful. The flavor can be overwhelming."
Her advice was well-heeded. He could taste the stuff before he felt the cool liquid on his parched tongue. And then, his mouth burst with sweetness, infusing his limbs with vitality, warmth seeping deep in his stomach. He felt almost light-headed, but at the same time, he felt himself growing stronger, his flesh firming and filling out as the cane fell from his hand. Without any help, he rose from the bench, his stance steady, his back straight as he lifted his face towards the sun, feeling the warmth on his now smooth skin. When he looked over his shoulder, the girl was gone – but the evidence of her presence was unmistakable as he looked down at his large and powerful hands – now devoid of liver spots, swollen knuckles, and knobby veins.
He did not look back as he left Sparta, done with the ways of war, and determined to make the most of this unexpected but delightful opportunity.
Herakles was Hercules' Greek name – Hercules himself was Herakles' Roman counterpart, and had a few more deeds attributed to him than his older Greek version. He was born with a different name and had it changed later to appease Hera – fat lot of good that did him. His original name in some myths was Palaemon.
In Rome, Hebe was known as Juventas – an appropriate addition to our language for words such as rejuvenation or juvenile. Like in Greek mythology, Juventas did not have much mythology about her, but what is also interesting is that sometimes she was known as Ganymeda, a curious connection to Zeus' lover who replaced her in her cupbearing position. It made me wonder, this character is already ignored in mythology, and then upon marrying Hercules, is dismissed from the picture altogether, basically? Well, what if that was for a enjoyable reason?
Philomenus is nobody special. I just chose a Greek name that I liked the sound of. Ganymede was a great-uncle to Aeneas, and thus a distant relative of Romulus (c. 771-717 BCE), the founder of Rome. According to the myths, he was made immortal by Zeus, and now resides in the heavens as the constellation Aquarius, and Herakles was also given a place among the stars by Zeus.