In Greek mythology Alcmene, or Alkmênê ("might of the moon") was the mother of Heracles. She was the daughter of Electryon, king of Mycenae and a son of Perseus, and was the wife of Amphitryon in his exile, though he had accidentally killed her father. Some mythographers identified her mother as Eurydice (Graves, 110.c).
With Amphitryon she fled to Thebes, where Creon purified her husband of his blood-guilt. However, Alcmene's eight brothers had been killed in a cattle raid, and she would not lie with Amphitryon until they had been avenged.
Thus at Thebes she was the mother of Heracles by Zeus, who assumed the likeness of her husband during his absence to lie with her and stayed Helios, to make one night into three; and she was the mother of Iphicles by Amphitryon, when he returned, giving birth to Heracles' twin, younger by a day. In this way Alcmene is one among several mothers of mythic twins of whom the sire of one is mortal, of the other a god, the most famous of them being the Dioscuri, two from the double set of such twins of Leda. Theseus combined in his person a double fatherhood, a human father and a divine: see Theseus. In this case Alcmene's son Iphicles was mortal, while Heracles became immortal.
While Alcmene was pregnant with Heracles ("glory of Hera"), Hera (sometimes her daughter Eileithia) herself tried to prevent her from giving birth to the hero who would help establish the new Olympian order. She was foiled by Galanthis, Alcmene's servant, who told Hera that she had already delivered the baby. Hera turned her into a weasel.
After the death of Amphitryon, Alcmene married the Cretan Rhadamanthus, who was exiled in Boeotia. Their "tombs" were shown to travellers in classical times at Haliartus (Graves, 88.i); such "tombs" were generally sites for propitiatory ancestor cults.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica 1911: "Alcmene"
- Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion: "Clan and Family Mysteries pp 278ff.
- Graves, Robert, 1960. The Greek Myths (revised edition)