Tuesday 27 January 2015

Twelve Labors of Hercules

12 Labors of Hercules

                                                 Hercules was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, granddaughter of Perseus. Zeus swore that the next son born of the Perseid house should become ruler of Greece, but by a trick of Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera, another child, the sickly Eurystheus, was born first and became king; when Hercules grew up, he had to serve him and also suffer the vengeful persecution of Hera. His first exploit, in fact, was the strangling of two serpents that she had sent to kill him in his cradle.  Later, Hercules waged a victorious war against the kingdom of Orchomenus in Boeotia and married Megara, daughter of Creon, king of Thebes. But he killed her and their children in a fit of madness sent by Hera. In desperate remorse he sought the advice of the oracle at Delphi where the Pythian priestess told him to expiate his crime by serving King Eurystheus for 12 years. During this 12-year period Hercules had to perform the 10 labors the king would require of him.

Labor 1 - Slay the Nemean Lion.
                                             Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the skin of the Nemean Lion. In Greek mythology, the Nemean lion took women as hostages to its lair in a cave near Nemea, luring warriors from nearby towns to save the damsel in distress. After entering the cave, the warrior would see the woman (usually feigning injury) and rush to her side. Once he was close, the woman would turn into a lion and kill the warrior, devouring his remains and giving the bones to Hades. 
                               Hercules wandered the area until he came to the town of Cleonae. There he met a boy who said that if Heracles slew the Nemean lion and returned alive within 30 days, the town would sacrifice a lion to Zeus; but if he did not return within 30 days or he died, the boy would sacrifice himself to Zeus. According to other version, Hercules met Molorchos, a shepherd who had lost his son to the lion, saying that if he came back within 30 days, a ram would be sacrificed to Zeus. If he did not return within 30 days, it would be sacrificed to the dead Hercules as a mourning offering.
Hercules and Nemean Lion

                  Hercules wondered for many a days before he came to the cave of the Nemean lion. Hercules hid behind a rock and laid in wait for the lion to return home. Later in the evening the lion returned home. Hercules jumped out from his hiding and shot the lion with his bow and arrow. Hercules was shocked and surprised when the arrow hit the lion and bounced off.
                  Hercules ran and the lion chased. Eventually Hercules was able to get away from the lion. The next day the Nemean lion left his cave and Hercules blocked off the back entrance to the lions cave and hid waiting for the lion to return. Later that night the lion returned home and went into his cave. Hercules jumped into the cave and stood between the lion and the front entrance. Already blocking off the back entrance the lion had no place to go. In the dark of the cave Hercules wrestled the lion and eventually slayed the lion with his bare hands.         
                        After slaying the lion, when Hercules tried to remove the lions fur he could not cut it. Hercules sharpened his knife with a rock and tried again, he even tried the rock, but nothing would cut the lions fur. Eventually Athena showed up and told Hercules to use the lions own claws to remove the fur. With great success with the help Athena's advice, Hercules was able to remove the lion's fur.
                            Hercules left and headed back to the king to show him the lions pelt as proof of his task being complete. When Hercules showed the lion's fur to the king, the king was afraid and forbid Hercules from coming into the city again. Hercules was told that he could prove the remained of his tasks outside the city gates. The king warned Hercules that the tasks would become harder and harder. He then sent Hercules off to complete his next quest, which was to destroy the Lernaean hydra.

Labor 2 - Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
                                   After the slaying of the Nemean lion, Eurystheus sent Hercules to slay the Hydra, which Hera had raised just to slay Hercules. Hercules set off with a bow and arrows and his magic gold sword (a gift from the goddess Athena) to find and slay the hydra. Hercules came across the swamp where the hydra lived. Hercules covered his mouth and nose with cloth so he wouldn't get harmed (or have to smell) the nasty hydra breath. He shot a flaming arrow and the hydra, and the hydra came after Hercules. Hercules made quick work of the 8 magic heads, and went to strike the final blow when the magic heads sprung back to life now 16 heads. Hercules tried again, and each time he cut a head of 2 more heads appeared. Hercules realizing that this wasn't going to work retreated into the forest.
Hercules and Hydra
                                              Hercules found his nephew Lolous and asked him to help. The plan was Hercules would cut off the head, and before 2 more would grow back it was Lolous job to burn the cut neck of the hydra. So Hercules with his nephew in toe traveled back to the swamp to beat the hydra.
                                                            Hercules and his nephew arrived at the swamp and were met by the hydra that had too many heads to count. Hercules sprang to work cutting off the heads of the hydra with his magic gold sword. Right behind him with a torch was his nephew Lolous who would then burn the necks.
                                      Enraged with Hercules’s progress of slaying the hydra Hera sent a giant crab to distract and pinch Hercules’s. The crab was no match for the hero and he quickly crushed the crab with his foot. When all but one head was gone, Hercules dipped an arrow into the poisonous blood of the hydra, and shot the hydra's last remaining head. With the poisoned arrow piercing the hydra's last neck, it died. Hercules collected the poisonous blood of the hydra to add to his arsenal of magical tools.
                                                             Hercules returned to the king to tell him of his victory. The king told Hercules that because he received help that slaying the Hydra didn't count and he would have to do another labor. Hera was so upset about her special "pets" she decided to immortalize the hydra and the crab in the stars, and that’s why how we have the constellations cancer and the hydra.

Labor 3 - Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
                                                   After Hercules successfully slayed the Nemean Lion and the Nine-Headed Hydre of Lerneaen he returned to the king for his 3rd task. King Eurystheus and goddess Hera, were angry that Hercules was able to escape his death both times. After some consideration they decided to give Hercules the task of hunting down the special gold deer of Artemis. The golden deer was very sacred to goddess Artemis, and Eurystheus and Hera hoped that by having Hercules capture her sacred golden deer, that this would anger Artemis and she would put an end to Hercules.
Golden stag of Artemis
                                      Hercules set out to hunt down and capture the golden stag of Artemis. Hercules spent many days and nights wondering the forest in search of the stag. One morning he was awoken by the glistening rays of the sun of the stags antlers. Hercules took chase after the deer. He chased the deer for a year all around Greece and the neighboring countries.
                                                       Finally one night while the deer was sleeping, Hercules crept up to the sleeping animal and was able to catch him by throwing a net over the sleeping animal. At once Artemis appeared before Hercules. Hercules begged forgiveness from the goddess. Hercules explained how he needed to capture Artemis deer for redemption of his crimes. He promised to let the stag go once he had shown it to the king.  Artemis forgave Hercules and said as long as he lets the deer go she will not harm him.
                                                                Hercules returned to the city gates with the deer. The king told Hercules that the deer was to become part of the kings pets, Hercules knew if the deer didn't return Artemis would hurt Hercules. So thinking fast Hercules agreed to give the king the deer under one condition, that the king come outside the city gates and get the deer himself. The king agreed. When Hercules let the deer go to hand to king Eurystheus the deer sprinted back to Artemis. King Eurystheus was furious, but Hercules told the king the reason the deer got away was the king was not fast enough.   Eurystheus, upset that Hercules had managed to overcome yet another creature, told him to bring the fearsome Erymanthian Boar back to him alive.

Labor 4 - Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
                                      In Greek mythology, the Erymanthian Boar was a giant wild boar, which was also sacred to Artemis at one time. The boar lived high on top the Mount Erymanthos. This boar was a favorite of the gods. The Erymanthian boar was sent to do all of the gods and goddess dirty work. The Erymanthian Boar killed Adonis and would be sent to destroy villages for not paying homage to certain gods.
                                                                Winter had come and Hera and King Eurystheus decided that for Hercules next task he would have to capture the Erymanthian Boar. In terms of difficulty this labor turns out to be pretty easy.
Hercules and Erymanthian Boar
                                   So Hercules set off to capture this boar. Along the way Hercules decided to stop by and visit his friend Pholus, a friendly centaur. Pholus and Hercules sat down to dinner and talked. Hercules asked Pholus for advice on how to defeat and capture The Erymanthian Boar. Pholus told Hercules that he would be able to capture the boar if he chased him into the deep snow.
                                 With his friend’s advice, Hercules set off to find the boar. With some searching and a little luck Hercules found the boar. Hercules charged the boar and sent it running. Hercules did just as his friend had suggested and chased the giant boar into the deep snow. The Erymanthian Boar became stuck within the deep snow and was unable to move. Hercules moved in and captured the boar.
                          Hercules took the boar back to King Eurystheus. When the king saw the boar he became frightened and told Hercules to get rid of the Erymanthian Boar. As commanded Hercules picked up the boar and hurled it into the sea.

Labour 5 - Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
                                  The fifth Labor of Hercules was to clean the Augean stables. This assignment was intended to be both humiliating (rather than impressive, as had the previous labors) and impossible. These particular stables housed thousands of cattle, sheep, goats, and horses and the stable had not been cleaned in 30 years. The Augean king was said to have more cattle then any man in Greece.
                             When Hercules showed up he offered to clean the stables in a single day for one tenth of the Augean king's entire cattle. Hercules did not say anything about how he was sent by Eurystheus or about his labors of redemption. The Augean King was so shocked at his fortune he agreed to pay Hercules, if he could do it in one day.

                                             Hercules took the Augean king's son (Phyleus) with him to witness the stables being cleaned. Hercules set to work tearing a big hole in the front of the stable yards. Next Hercules made a hole in the back wall of the stable yards. Hercules then dug a trench between 2 rivers flowing nearby. He then diverted the 2 rivers into the front of the stable yards and out the rear of the stable yards and back into the river with taking all the filth along with it.

                                           Hercules returned to the Augean King to collect his payment. The Augean king had found out that Eurystheus had been the one to send Hercules and refused to pay him saying that if Hercules did not agree he could always take the Augean King to court. So Hercules did just that. Hercules even had the Augean King's son testify that his father did indeed promise to pay Hercules one tenth of all his cattle. The King reluctantly paid Hercules and then promptly banished him from his kingdom.
                                                     Hercules returned to Eurystheus to inform the king of the completion of Hercules labor. Eurystheus had found out that Hercules was paid for his cleaning out of the stables, and therefore told Hercules that this labor (just like the 2nd labor) didn't count.

Labor 6 - Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
                                                After cleaning the Augean Stables, Eurystheus sent Hercules to defeat the Stymphalian birds, man-eating birds with beaks of bronze and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims.  Furthermore, their dung was highly toxic. They had migrated to Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia, where they bred quickly and took over the countryside, destroying local crops, fruit trees and townspeople. Hercules could not go too far into the swamp, for it would not support his weight.  

Goddess Athena, noticing the hero's plight, gave Hercules a special noise maker which Hephaestus had made especially for the occasion. Hercules arrived at Lake Stymphalia and  hundreds of Stmphalian birds, nesting all over the lake, and in the trees. Hercules pulled out his new gift and filled the air with the loud and melodious sound. The Stymphalian birds where scared and took flight into the air. Hercules pulled out his bow and Arrow, and set the arrows on fire. He then shot the Stymphalian birds while in the air. One by one the Birds fell dead. Hercules slayed 100 of the Stymphalian birds, and the rest flew off into the sky never to be heard of or seen again.                                                                                                                                                           According to some versions, Argonauts would later encounter them.
Hercules picked up a dozen of the birds, and took them back to King Eurystheus. 

Labour 7 - Capture the Cretan Bull.
                                           Hercules was then sent to capture the Cretan Bull by Eurystheus as his seventh task. In Greek mythology, the Cretan Bull was a gift from Poseidon to King Minos of Crete. The Cretan Bull also was father of the Minotaur by Pasiphae. The Cretan bull was a very sweet and gentle beast that is until king Minos upset Poseidon. Poseidon struck the bull driving the bull insane and then the Cretan bull ran wild through all Crete knocking down orchard walls, and destroying crops. 
Hercules and Cretan Bull
                               Hercules sailed to Crete, whereupon the King Minos gave Hercules permission to take the bull away and offered him assistance, but Hercules refused King Minos help. Hercules set off to find the bull. He found the bull drinking from a water spring, and snuck up behind the bull. Grabbing the bull by the horns, Hercules wrestled the bull to the ground and tied the bull up so it could not escape.
                                     With the bull successfully subdue, Hercules took the bull with him and sailed back to King Eurystheus. When the king saw how massive the bull was he was frightened. He told Hercules, that they should sacrifice the bull to goddess Hera.  Hera refused the sacrifice because it reflected glory on Hercules. The bull was released and wandered into Marathon, becoming known as the Marathonian Bull. In some versions, Theseus later sacrifice the bull to Athena or Apollo. Eurystheus next sent Hercules to bring back the man-eating Mares of Diomedes.

Labor 8 - Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
                                         After capturing the Cretan Bull, Hercules was than sent to steal the Mares of Diomedes. Hercules travelled to the shores of the Black Sea to meet King Diomedes. Diomedes was  the son of the god Ares and Cyrene. King Diomedes was a savage. Diomedes mares were four man eating horses - Podargos (swift-footed), Lampon (the shining), Xanthos (the blond) and Deinos (the terrible).  Diomedes enjoyed feeding strangers and prisoners to his mares.  His mares could not be controlled, they were savage, just like the King. The mare needed to be tethered to a bronze manger by chains, so they would not escape.

                     Upon arrival Hercules, knowing how King Diomedes treats strangers, wrestles with him, trying to bring King Diomedes to the stables, where the mares live. Even though Heracles is said to have unmatched strength, it is a long and reasonably even match, since Diomedes himself is the son of the god of war. He soon loses to Hercules. Hercules then feed Diomedes to his own  man eating horses. Being half god the flesh of Diomedes made the horses calm and wild no more.  Hercules was easily able to bring the mares back to King Eurystheus.  Eurytheus dedicates the mares to goddess Hera. According to other version, the mares were released and free to roam Argos. One of their descendants was said to be the horse of Alexander the Great. 

Labor 9 - Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
                                  Eurystheus' daughter Admete wanted the belt of Hippolyta, a gift to the queen of the Amazons from the war god Ares. To please his daughter, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to retrieve the belt as his ninth labour. Taking a band of friends with him, Hercules set sail, stopping at the island of Paros, which was inhabited by some of Minos' sons. The sons killed two of Hercules' companions, an act which set Hercules on a rampage. He killed two of Minos' sons and threatened the other inhabitants until he was offered two men to replace his fallen companions. Hercules agreed and took two of Minos' grandsons, Alcaeus and Sthenelus. They continued their voyage and landed at the court of Lycus, whom Hercules defended in a battle against the king of the Bebryces, Mygdon. After killing King Mygdon, Hercules gave much of the land to his friend Lycus. Lycus called the land Heraclea. The crew then set off for Themiscyra where Hippolyta lived.

                                          Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, impressed with Hercules and his exploits, agreed to give him the belt and would have done so had Hera not disguised herself and walked among the Amazons sowing seeds of distrust. She claimed the strangers were plotting to carry off the queen of the Amazons. Alarmed, the women set off on horseback to confront Hercules. When Hercules saw them, he thought Hippolyta had been plotting such treachery all along and had never meant to hand over the belt, so he killed her, took the belt and returned to Eurystheus. Eurystheus, shocked that Hercules survived his encounter with the Amazons, immediately sent him to capture the cattle of Geryon.

Labour 10 - Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
          Hercules was required to travel to the far-off western Mediterranean island of Erytheia, in order to obtain the Cattle of Geryon as his tenth labour. On the way there, he crossed the Libyan desert and became so frustrated at the heat that he shot an arrow at Helios, the Sun. Helios "in admiration of his courage" gave Hercules the golden cup he used to sail across the sea from west to east each night. 
                           As soon as Hercules landed at Erytheia, he was confronted by the two-headed dog, Orthrus. With one huge blow from his olive-wood club, Hercules killed the watchdog. Eurytion the herdsman came to assist Orthrus, but Hercules dealt with him the same way.
Hercules and Geryon
                                         On hearing the commotion, Geryon sprang into action, carrying three shields, three spears, and wearing three helmets. He pursued Hercules at the River Anthemus but fell victim to an arrow that had been dipped in the venomous blood of the Lernaean Hydra, shot so forcefully by Hercules that it pierced Geryon's forehead, "and Geryon bent his neck over to one side, like a poppy that spoils its delicate shapes, shedding its petals all at once". Hercules then had to herd the cattle back to Eurystheus. 
To annoy Hercules, Hera sent a gadfly to bite the cattle, irritate them and scatter them. The hero was within a year able to retrieve them. Hera then sent a flood which raised the level of a river so much, Hercules could not cross with the cattle. He piled stones into the river to make the water shallower. When he finally reached the court of Eurystheus, the cattle were sacrificed to Hera.

Labor 11 - Steal the apples of the Hesperides
                                                        After Hercules completed his first ten Labours, Eurystheus gave him two more claiming that neither the Hydra counted (because Iolaus helped Hercules) nor the Augean stables (either because he received payment for the job or because the rivers did the work). The first of these two additional Labours was to steal the apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Hercules first caught the Old Man of the Sea, the shape-shifting sea god, to learn where the Garden of the Hesperides was located.
                           In some versions, Hercules, either at the start or at the end of his task, meets Antaeus, who was invincible as long as he touched his mother, Gaea, the earth. Hercules killed Antaeus by holding him aloft and crushing him in a bearhug.
                        In some versions, Hercules stopped in Egypt, where King Busiris decided to make him the yearly sacrifice, but Hercules burst out of his chains.
Hercules and Atlas
                                     Finally making his way to the Garden of the Hesperides, Hercules tricked Atlas into retrieving some of the golden apples for him, by offering to hold up the heavens for a little while. This would have made this task – like the Hydra and Augean stables – void because he had received help. Upon his return, Atlas decided that he did not want to take the heavens back, and instead offered to deliver the apples himself, but Hercules tricked him again by agreeing to take his place on condition that Atlas relieve him temporarily so that Hercules could make his cloak more comfortable. Atlas agreed, but Hercules reneged and walked away, carrying the apples. According to other version, Hercules slew Ladon, the dragon-like guardian of the apples. Furious that Hercules had accomplished something that Eurystheus thought could not possibly be done, he sent Hercules off to his final task, the capture of Cerberus, the three-headed guardian hound of the gates of the Underworld.

Labor 12 - Capture and bring back Cerberus.
                           Capturing Cerberus alive, without using weapons, was the final labour assigned to Hercules by Eurystheus, in recompense for the killing of his own children by Megara after he was driven insane by Hera, and therefore was the most dangerous and difficult.
                                     After having been given the task, Hercules went to Eleusis to be initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries so that he could learn how to enter and exit the underworld alive, and in passing absolve himself for killing centaurs. He found the entrance to the underworld at Tanaerum, and Athena and Hermes helped him to traverse the entrance in each direction. He passed Charon with Hestia's assistance and his own heavy and fierce frowning.Whilst in the underworld, Hercules met Theseus and Pirithous. The two companions had been imprisoned by Hades for attempting to obtain Persephone. In some versions, the snakes coiling around their legs then turning into stone. In other version, that Hades feigned hospitality and prepared a feast inviting them to sit. They unknowingly sat in chairs of forgetfulness and were permanently ensnared. When Hercules had pulled Theseus first from his chair,  but the earth shook at the attempt to liberate Pirithous, whose desire to have the wife of a god for himself was so insulting he was doomed to stay behind.
Hercules and Cerberus
Hercules found Hades and asked permission to bring Cerberus to the surface, which Hades agreed to if Hercules could overpower the beast without using weapons. Hercules was able to overpower Cerberus and proceeded to sling the beast over his back, dragging it out of the underworld through a cavern entrance in the Peloponnese and bringing it to Eurystheus. Eurystheus asked Hercules to return it to the underworld in return for releasing him from his labors. After completing the labours Hercules joined the Argonauts in the search for the Golden Fleece.


  1. Thank you for the 12 labors, great artwork as well

  2. Why did Heracles perform difficult tasks?