The 12 Labors OF Hercules

Mythology Corner!

Losing his mind, no thanks to Hera, Hercules killed his wife and children. After awakening from his temporary insanity, he prayed to the god Apollo whose oracle told Hercules he had to serve Eurystheus for 12 years. Hercules became the embodiment of the Greek idea called pathos, which is the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which would lead to fame and immortality!

Labor 1: The Nemean Lion

The first task given to Hercules was to bring Eurystheus the skin of an invulnerable lion that terrorized the hills around Nemea. Once Hercules reached Nemea, he stayed at the house of a poor workman who wanted to sacrifice an animal to pray for a safe lion hunt. Hercules did not want him to sacrifice an animal quite yet, but rather he would sacrifice to Hercules if he did not return in 30 days, and if Hercules did return, the pair of them would sacrifice to Zeus.

Onto his journey to find the lion; once he found him he learned that his arrows were useless, and instead went for his club. He blocked one of the doorways and went after the lion from the other. Hercules managed to choke the lion to death.

After 30 days, Hercules and the poor working man sacrificed to Zeus together, and when Hercules returned to Eurystheus, Eurystheus was amazed by Hercule's feat, and thus became afraid of him.

Labor 2: The Lernean Hydra

Hercules' second task was to kill the Lernean Hydra. The hydra would rise up and terrorize the countryside. What is a hydra? A hydra is a monstrous serpent with nine heads that attacked with poisonous venom. Oh, and one of the nine heads was immortal.

Hercules' trusty nephew, Iolaus, accompanied him on many adventures, and even on a few of the 12 labors.

The pair of them discovered the lair of the Hydra.

Instantly, the monster wrapped one of it's coils around Hercules' foot, making it impossible to escape. Hercules was able to beat many of the heads with his club, but for every head he smashed two more would come from it's place. The hydra had a friend, a huge crab bit Hercules' trapped foot.

Iolaus was able to help Hercules out of the situation, every time Hercules beat a head, Iolaus would hold a torch to the headless tendons - the flames prevented new heads from growing.

Once the eight mortal heads were destroyed, Hercules chopped off the immortal head and buried it at the side of a road, and just to be sure, he covered it with a heavy rock. Hercules also dipped his arrows into the venomous blood from the hydra's corpse.

However, Eurytheus was not impressed and declared that this labor did not count because he had his nephew's help.

Labor #3: The Hind of Ceryneia Diana's Pet Deer

Hercules' third labor was to bring Eurystheus the Hind of Ceryneia. This could become very problematic. A hind is simply a female red deer, but the hind of Ceryneia was not just any hind, t was Diana's special deer. It had golden horns and hoofs of bronze. Diana was the goddess of hunting and the moon.

Over the course of a year, Hercules hunted the deer. Right before the deer got away, Hercules shot and caught her. He put her on his shoulders and started to head back to Eurystheus. However, Diana was very angry. She was about to take the deer away from Hercules when he told her the truth. Diana let go of her anger and healed the deer's wound. Hercules carried it back to Eurystheus.

Labor #4: The Erymanthian Boar

Hercules was told to bring Eurystheus the Erymanthian boar alive. Every day the boar would come crashing down from his lair on the mountain, attacking men and animals all over the countryside, gouging them with it's tusks, and destroying everything in it's path.

Hercules chased the boar around the mountain, shouting as loud as he could frightening the boar that took refuge in a thicket. Hercules poked his spear into the thicket driving out the boar, easily trapping it in a net. He carried the boar all the way back to Eurystheus.

Labor #5: The Augean Stables Hercules Cleans Up

Eurystheus ordered Hercules to clean up Kind Augeas' stables. To make the task even more difficult, he had to clean up after the cattle in a single day.

Augeas was very rich, owning many herds of cows, bulls, goats, sheep and horses.

Hercules went to the King, and told him that he would clean out the stables in one day if he would give him a tenth of his fine cattle. Augeas agreed, sending his son with Hercules to watch.

Hercules had a brilliant plan, first he tore a big opening in the wall of the cattle-yard where the stables were, and made a hole in the opposite wall. Then, he dug two wide trenches leading to two rivers nearby. The rivers rushed through the stables, all of the mess flushing out with the river.

Although Hercules got the job done, Augeas had learned that Eurystheus was behind this, and refused to pay Hercules, denying he had even promised a reward in the first place. This went to court. Augeas' son testified, swearing that his father had agreed to give Hercules a reward. In a fit of rage, Augeas ordered his son and Hercules to leave his kingdom at once.

Eurystheus refused to count this as one of Hercules' labors since Hercules was paid for having done the work.

Labor #6: The Stymphalian Birds

Hercules was to drive away an enormous flock of birds which gathered at a lake near the town of Stymphalos. Hercules did not know how to accomplish this task, even as he was arriving to the lake. To Hercules' luck, Athena came to his aid providing him with bronze krotola - noise making clappers similar to castanets.

Hercules used the krotola, scaring the birds out of the trees, shooting them with bow and arrow as they took flight.

Labor #7: The Cretan Bull

Cretans had a certain fondness of bull-leaping, which was considered a sport in which contestants grabbed the horns of a bull and were thrown over it's back. Minos, the King of Crete, promised Poseidon, the sea god, that he would sacrifice any animal the god sent him from the sea. Poseidon sent a bull. But, Minos would not sacrifice that bull because it was too beautiful and thus sacrificed another bull. In a fit of rage, Poseidon made the bull rampage all over Crete, and even caused Minos' wife to fall in love with the animal. Minos' wife ended up giving birth to a Minotaur, a monster with the head of a bull and a body of a man. Minos shut this beast up in the labyrinth below the palace, and fed it prisons from Athens.

Hercules' job was to dispose of the Cretan Bull. When Hercules arrived in Crete, he easily wrestled the bull to the ground and drove it back to Eurystheus who then let the bull go free. The bull wandered around Greece, terrorizing the people.

Labor #8: The Man-Eating Horses of Diomedes

Hercules was told to get the man-eating mares of Diomedes. Hercules sailed with a bad of volunteers, when they arrived in Bistonia, he and his companions overpowered the grooms who were tending the horses and drove them out to sea. Bistones realized what happened, and sent a band of soldiers to recapture the animals, in order to free himself to fight, Hercules entrusted the mares to a youth. However, the mares got the better of the youth, dragging him around until he was killed.

Hercules fought the Bistones killing Diomedes, and the rest fled. Once the mares were taken back to Eurystheus, he set them free and they wandered around until they came to Mount Olympus where they were eaten by wild animals.

Labor 9: Hippolyte's Belt Hercules Fights the Amazons

Eurystheus wanted the belt of Hippolyte. Hippolyte was queen of the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors. Amazons lived apart from men, and if they gave birth to children, they only kept the females and raised them to be warriors as themselves. Hippolyte had a special piece of armor, a belt, that was given to her by Ares, the war god, since she was the best warrior of all the Amazons. She wore this belt across her chest in order to carry her sword and spear. Eurystheus wanted Hippolyte's belt to give to his daughter as a gift.

Hercules' friends knew that he wouldn't be able to fight all of the Amazon army by himself, so they joined him on a single ship. Once they reached the harbor of the Amazons, Hippolyte visited the guests.

Hippolyte promised to give Hercules the belt. The goddess Hera knew of Hercules arrival at the Amazons, Hera did not approve of Hercules, so she disguised an Amazon. Hera spread the word quickly that the strangers that just arrived were going to carry of the queens, so naturally the Amazons put on their armor and went down to the harbor.

When Hercules saw the Amazons coming down in battle gear, carrying their weapons he quickly killed Hippolyte. He undid her belt and took it from her.

Hercules and the Greeks fought the rest of the Amazons in a great battle.

Labor #10: The Cattle of Geryon

Hercules had to travel to the end of the world. Eurystheus wanted Hercules to bring him the cattle of the monster Geryon. Geryon had three heads and three sets of legs all joined at the waist. He kept a heard of cattle guarded by Cerberus's brother, Orthus - a two headed hound - along with the herdsman Eurytion.

Once Hercules reached the island, Orthus attacked him, so he bashed him with his club. Then came Eurytion, who Hercules also bashed in the head. Just when Hercules was getting away, Geryon attacked him. Hercules shot him dead with his arrows.

The stealing of the cattle was the easier part of the labor, bringing the herd back to Greece proved to be very difficult. A bull got loose and jumped into the sea, it was later found by a son of Poseidon who put it into his own herd. In order to search for the missing bull, he entrusted the rest of the herd to the god Hephaestus.

Hercules found it in Poseidon's son's herd, but he was not quick to give it over. He requested a wrestling contest, if Hercules beat him he could have the bull. Hercules beat the son of Poseidon three times, then killed the king and took back the bull returning it to the rest of the herd.

Hera, the goddess who did not favor Hercules' tasks, once again made this task difficult. She sent a gadfly to attack the cattle and the herd scattered. Once he was able to regroup the herd, he blamed it on the river Strymon in Thrace and thus filled the river with rocks.

When Hercules returned the herd to Eurystheus, he sacrificed the herd to Hera.

Labor #11: The Apples of Hesperides

Since Eurystheus did not count two of the labors Hercules performed, Hercules was doomed to serve two more labors.

His eleventh labor, Eurystheus wanted Hercules to bring him golden apples that belonged to Zeus.

These apples were kept in a garden at the northern edge of the world, guarded by a hundred-head dragon, but also the Hesperides which are nymphs who were daughters of Atlas, the titan who held the sky and earth upon his shoulders.

Hercules found his first problem with this task, he had no clue where the garden was.

Hercules traveled to many places, having many adventures along the way. However, thirty years after this labor began, Hercules stumbled upon Prometheus who was chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus. Prometheus was doomed to have a monstrous eagle peck away at his tortured body. After the eagle flew away, Prometheus' liver grew back and was forced to live through it all the next day. When Hercules found Prometheus, he ended up letting Prometheus go by killing the eagle. Prometheus was so pleased that he told Hercules the secret to getting the apples. Her would have to send on Atlas, instead of going himself.

Atlas hated holding up the sky and earth so much that he agreed to fetch the apples if Hercules would take the burden off of him. Atlas went and got the apples. When he returned, he told Hercules he would take them to Eurystheus himself, asking Hercules to take his place for the rest of eternity. Hercules agreed, asking Prometheus if he could take his place for a short moment as he got shoulder pads and such. When Prometheus took it back, Hercules stole the apples and ran off.

Since the apples belonged to the gods, Hercules had to return them to Athena, who took them back to the garden.

Labor #12: Cerberus

Eurystheus ordered Hercules to kidnap Cerberus from the Underworld. Cerberus was a strange mixture of creatures, he had three heads, a dragon for a tail, and heads of snakes along his back.

Before traveling to the underworld, Hercules decided it would be best to take precautions since this was a journey no mortal had ever returned from. Once you enter the kingdom of Hades you are not allowed to leave and rejoin the living.

Hercules visited a priest who began what is known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. They were sacred religious rites which celebrated the myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. The ancients believed that those who understood the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone could have happiness in the Underworld.

After meeting a few conditions, Hercules was able to begin. Through a deep, rocky cave he was able to make his way down to the Underworld. After encountering monsters, heroes and ghosts on his way through Hades he finally found Pluto and asked the god for Cerberus. Pluto would only allow Hercules to take Cerberus with him if he overpowered the beast with nothing but his mere brute strength.

Thus, weaponless Hercules sought to find Cerberus. Hercules was able to get his arms around all three of the beast's heads, wrestling Cerberus into submission. Nothing could stop Hercules, not even when the dragon on the tail of the monster bit him. Eventually, Cerberus had to submit to the hero, therefore Hercules brought Cerberus to Eurystheus.

Cerberus was safely returned to the Underworld where he guarded the gateway to the Underworld.