In a bout of insanity, Hercules slew his wife, daughter, and son. The goddess Hera, wife of Zeus was responsible for this. She was jealous of Zeus’ lovers and his illegitimate offspring. As a demi-god, and son of Zeus, Hercules attracted her ire. He regained his sanity after the slaughter, and regretted what he had done. Hercules was desperate for a way to atone for his sins, and visited Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi. Pythia advised him to travel to Tiryns, and serve the King Eurystheus for 12 years, completing whatever tasks he was given. In exchange, he would be granted immortality. This left Hercules conflicted. 12 years was a long time to serve serve a man he felt was clearly inferior to himself. In the end, Hercules felt he had no choice and went to serve Eurystheus. There, Eurystheus gave him 10 tasks to perform. If he performs them all successfully then he would be free. This is an in depth account of the 12 labors of Hercules. Over the time it took to complete the 12 labors Hercules, the demi-god had managed to become one of Greece’s greatest heroes.
The first task was to slay the Nemean Lion
A monstrous lion was terrorising the Nemea, capturing women as hostages and taking them back to its den. Many warriors would seek to kill the lion, often lured there by the lion itself. But, mortal weapons couldn’t kill the creature. Its golden fur was tougher than steel, its claws were sharper than any mortal weapon and strong enough to cut through any armour. Since Hercules was a demi-god he might have been able to defeat the lion. When Hercules arrived in a town in the region he met a boy. The boy said that if Hercules killed the monster in 30 days, they would sacrifice a lion to Zeus, but if Hercules failed, the boy would be sacrificed instead. Hercules went into the lion’s cave, struck it using his club, and then strangled it to death. Now Hercules had slain the animal, he wanted to wear its skin as armour, but wasn’t sure how to remove it. The goddess Athena suggested Hercules use the lion’s own claw to skin the animal.
Slaying The Lernaean Hydra
The second labour was to slay an even more fearsome beast. The Learnaean Hydra, located at the swamp of lake Lerna. Hercules went to swamp, and lured out the Hydra. He chopped off one of its nine heads, only to see two new ones grow out of the same neck. Hercules was at a loss, and asked his nephew Iolaus for help. Iolaus suggested that after Hercules chop off one of its head, Iolaus cauterised the wound. This solution worked, and the tide of the battle shifted in Hercules’s favour. The goddess Hera flew into a rage and sent a giant crab to distract the hero. However, Hercules crushed the crab under his foot. Before leaving Hercules dipped an arrow in the blood of the Hydra. Hera had raised the Hydra for the sole purpose of defeating Hercules, but instead Hercules had now gained a powerful weapon.
Capture The Ceryneian Hind
The Ceryneian Hind, a legendary red deer in the town of Ceryneia. Hercules chased for a whole year, hoping to capture the creature. After all this time, the deer had gotten tired of the chase, and decided to escape by the river Ladon. Hercules feared it would escape, and so he shot the deer with an arrow. He then put it on his shoulders and began to walk back to Eurystheus. While on his way back he was confronted by the gods Diana, and Apollo. Diana was infuriated as the Hind was her sacred animal. However, once he explained the situation to her, she forgave Hercules, and healed the deer, so he could return it alive.
Capture the Erymanthian Boar Alive
On Mt. Erymanthia dwelled a dangerous boar who would come down from the mountain to attack men who lived below, and cause carnage. Hercules was sent to capture the boar alive, and on the way he stayed at his friend Pholus’s house. Pholus was a centaur who lived in a cave not far from the mountain. While there Hercules opened a jar of wine, and drank from it. Many centaurs smelled the wine, and became enraged that someone was drinking there wine. They came to attack Hercules and he fended them off killing many of them. Later, Pholus examined one of the dead centaurs who had been struck with an arrow. He picked up the arrow and marvelled at how something so small could kill something so large. Pholus let the arrow slip from his fingers, and it impaled him on his foot, killing him. Hercules buried Pholus, then proceeded to complete his labour. He located the boar from the sounds of its snorting, and stomping. Hercules chased the boar until it became too exhausted to run, and hid. He forced it from its hiding spot with a spear, and then captured it with a net. He returned the live boar to Eurystheus, who had become so afraid of Hercules’s might, that he hid himself in a bronze jar.
Clean The Augean Stables
Hercule’s fifth task was to clean the Augean stables in only a day. Hercules put his life on the line in the previous tasks, and in comparison this task didn’t seem nearly as daunting, however there was a catch. King Augeas owned more cattle than anyone in Greece. With literally thousands of animals to clean up after, even Hercules would have a tough time. Hercules went to King Augeas and told him that he would clean out his stables in a single day, in return for one tenth of his cattle. Hercules diverted the course of a nearby river to wash away the mess, to the amazement of the King’s son who was watching. Augeas, however, refused to pay Hercules his fee. Hercules went to a judge, who demanded that Augeas pay him, which he did.
Stymphalian birds, fierce, man-eating creatures, with bronze beaks, and knife-life feathers. They had taken over the countryside near Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia, destroying crops, and attacking townspeople. They incredibly dangerous birds, who could shoot their metallic feathers at a target. Hercules attempted to wade into their territory, but couldn’t proceed because he was too heavy for the swampland. The goddess Athena, and the god Hephaestus came to his aid, and bestowed on him a rattle. When he shook this rattle, the birds flew into the air, and he shot them down with his bow.
Hercules had to capture the Cretan Bull which had been terrorising the people of Crete. King Minos gave him permission to take the bull. Hercules snuck up behind the bull, and then strangled it until it passed out. He brought it back to Eurystheus who was hiding in a pot from the creature. Eurystheus wanted to sacrifice the bull to Hera, but Hera didn’t want it because she hated Hercules. Instead they released the bull, and it wandered into Marathon, becoming known as the Marathonian Bull.
Stealing Diomedes Horses
Hercules was ordered to steal the horses of King Diomedes of Thrace. He put together a small group of trusted friends to do so, and they set sail across the Aegean to Bistonia. They fought off the grooms looking after the horses, and stole the animals. Diomedes sent his men after them, and Hercules left the horses with his men, in order to fight them off. While he was away fighting the soldiers, Diomedes’ mares revealed their true nature. The horses had been driven mad from years of eating human flesh . The uncontrollable and man-eating horses were too much for Hercule’s men, and they killed one of his friends. Hercules fed Diomedes to his own horses, and then founded a city in his friends name; the city of Abdera.
Stealing the Belt of Hippolyta
Hercules set sail to the land of the Amazons to find the Belt of Hippolyta which belonged to the queen of the Amazons. The queen decided to welcome Hercules upon his arrival, and because she thought highly of hi accomplishments, she even offered to give him the belt. Hera wasn’t about to let things go this smoothly. She disguised herself, and began to spread a rumour among the Amazons. The amazons flew into an uproar, and set out to stop Hercules who they believed was plotting to kidnap the queen of the Amazons. When Hercules encountered the mob he assumed that the queen had been deceptive all along. He killed the queen of the amazons and took the belt by force.
Stealing The Cattle of Geryon
For his 10th and final task, Hercules was forced to fight the strongest man in the world, Geryon, and steal his cattle. He was the descendent of Medusa, and two Titans. He had three heads and three legs. His cattle was guarded by a two-headed hound, which was also the brother of Cerberus the guardian of hell. Along his journey Hercules was gifted a goblet to sail in; it was gifted to him by the sun, because it admired him. After Hercules arrived he quickly dealt with Orthus, and stole the cattle. Geryon got wind of this, and went after him. A presumably epic fight ensued, and Hercules slew Geryon with his bow. However, the truly hard part of the journey occurred on the sea, where he incurred the wrath of Poseidon’s sons. The sons tried to steal his cattle, and so he killed them both. However, one of the herd named Italus, managed to escape. It found its way into the hands of Eryx, one of Poseidon’s sons. After defeating him in a wrestling competition, and killing him. Hercules managed to return the bull to the herd. On his way back, he was attacked one last time by Hera, who sent a gadfly to scatter the herd. This delayed Hercules for some time. The difficulty of this task almost seems fitting for what should have been his last labour.
Hercules returned with the Cattle but Eurystheus refused to let him go. Anyone would be reluctant to loosen their grip on such a powerful warrior. Eurystheus claimed that the killing of the Hydra didn’t count since he had help from another, and that the cleaning of the Augean stables didn’t count because the river did all of the work. He ordered Hercules to perform two more tasks for him, and so Hercules, bound by guilt, set off to the garden of Hesperides, and later to hell.
The Garden of Hesperides
Eurystheus forced Hercules to undertake his most challenging endeavor yet. Eurytheus ordered Hercules to sneak into the Garden of Hesperides, and steal a Golden Apple. Hera had given the Golden Apple to Zeus as a present. A hundred headed dragon known as a Lathon protected the apple, alongside nymphs called Hesperides. Hercules set out to learn where the garden was located, which proved to be a challenge in itself. But the truly terrifying part of this task would be to defy the gods Zeus, and Hera. He eventually found the location by forcing it out of Nereus the shape-shifting sea god. He then asked the god Atlus, who was carrying the world on his shoulders, to go and retrieve the apple for him. Since Atlus was the father of the Hesperides it would be easy for him to retrieve it. Atlus agreed but under the condition that Hercules hold the world while he was gone. Hercules agreed, but when Atlas returned with the apple, he didn’t want to take the world back, and offered to delivered the apples for Hercules. Hercules agreed, but asked if Atlas could take the world back for a moment, while he adjusted his cloak. Atlus took the world back, but then Hercules ran off and left him. Eurystheus was furious as Hercules had succeeded in performing a task he thought was impossible. Next was the final one of the 12 labors of Hercules.
Now he was finally undergoing the last of the 12 labors of Hercules. Hercules entered Hell to perform the last labour: slaying Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hell. He entered the underworld with Hermes, and Athena as his guides. In hell he found two of his friends who had been captured by Hades while trying to save Persephone who had been abducted by Hades. Hades invited the two sit, and they unknowingly sat on the chairs of forgetfulness and never got up. Hercules helped Theseus up, but part of his thigh remained stuck to the chair. Regardless, he had still been rescued. However, when he tried to save Pirithous who wanted to keep the goddess for himself, the earth shook. His greed was so offensive that he had been doomed to stay in the underworld forever. After speaking with Hades, they came to an agreement, that Hercules could bring Cerberus to the surface, if he were able to beat it with his bare hands. Hercules took up the challenge and succeeded in subduing the three-headed monster. When Hercules brought it back to Eurystheus, the king was so scared that he hid away in his pithos, and asked Hercules to send it back, and promised that if he did, Hercules would be free once and for all.
It seemed that Eurystheus never intended to let Hercules go, and wanted to keep him under his thumb no matter what, but Hercules defied his expectation at every turn and managed to gain his freedom. The 12 labors of Hercules took a total of 12 years, but Hercules could finally live without the guilt of killing his wife.