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Αλχμηνη

The wife of Amphitryon and mother of Heracles (Table 31). She belonged to the line of Perseus. A girl of exceptional beauty, she had been married to Amphitryon but had not allowed him to consummate the marriage until he had carried out a certain act of vengeance. Meanwhile she lived in exile with him in Thebes. Amphitryon left on an expedition against the Teleboeans, and at the very moment of his return, Zeus seduced her: in order to accomplish his purpose the god had assumed the appearance of Amphitryon, since Alcmene's chastity was well known to him. One tradition has it that Zeus caused the nuptial night to last for three full days, having ordered the sun not to rise before that length of time had passed. (Alcmene was said to have been the last of the mortal women with whom Zeus was united.) When Amphitryon returned he was astonished not to be welcomed more joyfully. When he bagan to tell Alcmene of his campaign she replied that she already knew all the details of it. Tiresias was consulted on this mystery and told Amphitryon of his extraordinary misfortune. Amphitryon first decided to punish his wife by burning her on a pyre but Zeus caused a downpour which put the flames out. Faced with this direct divine intervention, Amphitryon forgave her. Alcmene gave birth to two male twins, on successive days, Heracles, the son of Zeus, and Iphicles, the son of Amphitryon.

As the time of the birth drew near Hera, as goddess of childbirth, out of jealousy for her mortal rival made evert effort to prolong Alcmene's pregnancy as long as possible. She had another reason for doing so: an oracle of Zeus allowed her, in arranging the moment when the birth should take place, to make Heracles a slave of Eurystheus.

Later on Alcmene became a widow and she went with Heracles, once his Labours had been accomplished, when the hero, with his brother Iphicles and the latter's son Iolaus, tried to recapture Tiryns, their original native land. But Heracles was thwarted by Eurystheus. Nonetheless, at the time of the apotheosis of Heracles, Alcmene was settled in Tiryns with some of her grandchildren (the others were at Corinth and Trachis). Once Heracles was dead Eurystheus forced Alcmene to leave Corinth and persuaded Ceyx, the king of Trachis, to undertake to expel the descendants of Heracles who were in his realm. All of the fled to Athens, where they found protection. When Eurystheus demanded that the Athenians should also expel the descendants of Heracles, the refused, and in the war which followed, Eurystheus was killed. His head was carried to Alcmene, who tore out his eyes with spindles. Thereafter Alcmene lived at Thebes with the descendants of Heracles. She was very old when she died. When she was dead Zeus sent Hermes to look for her body in order to take it to the Islands of the Blessed where she married Rhadamanthys. Other accounts say that she was raised to Olympus, where she shared in the divine honours of her son. It is also sometimes asserted that after the death of Amphitryon, killed in battle besides Heracles, Alcmene married Rhadamanthys, at that time in exile, and lived with him at Ocaleus in Boeotia.

{E2 DICTIONARY OF CLASSICAL MYTHOLOGY}

Table of Sources:
- Hesiod, Scutum 1ff.
- Apollod. Bibl. 2, 4, 5; 2, 4, 8; 2, 8, 1ff.
- schol. on Hom. Il. 19, 116
- schol. on Hom. Od. 11, 226
- Pind. Nem. 10, 11 (20); Isth. 7, 6f (8f); Pyth. 9, 85 (149)
- Euripides, Alcmene (lost tragedy, Nauck TGF, edn 2, pp. 386ff.)
- Hyg. Fab. 29
- Paus. 5, 18, 3; 1, 16, 7; 1, 41, 4; 1, 19, 3
- Plautus, Amphitryo passim
- Arnobius, Adv. Nat. 4, 26
- See also Amphitryon; Heracles; Eurystheus; Heraclids.