Universe Guide

What are the Twelve Labours of Hercules in Ancient Mythology?

Hercules is the name of a constellation in the night sky. In addition to being a constellation, it is the name of a character ancient mythology. He is one of the most famous mythological characters from that period. Other characters from that period include Perseus and Andromeda

What is the mythology behind Hercules?

Hercules (Roman) or Heracles (Greek) was the son of Zeus, Hercules is more closely associated with Greek mythology than Roman. The television series Hercules starring Kevin Sorbo uses the Greek Gods but Roman spelling. Hercules was born to a mortal woman Alcmene and the god Zeus. The birth of Hercules enraged Hera, Zeus' wife who plotted to kill the young child. Hera plans included killing with a snake but it failed.

Hercules managed many feats including defeating the Manyans to rescue Thebes. He was awarded the hand of Megara, the Princess of Thebes. After his three sons were born, Hera extracted revenge on Hercules. In a fit of rage, Hercules killed his wife and three sons. Hercules was arrested and became a slave to Eurystheus, King of Mycenae. Eurystheus was also Hercules' brother. Eurystheus had been created after Hercules but born first so that he could be King and not Hercules. Eurystheus relied on Hera to devise a number of labours to punish Hercules.

Twelve Labours of Hercules

Slay the Nemean Lion and bring back the fur

Hercules had to slay the Nemean Lion which was terrorising the area near Nemea. The skin was so thick that weapons were unable to penetrate it. After using an array of weapons, he tackled the lion to the ground and either strangled it or choked it. Skinning the creature was impossible until Athena gave him the tools to do it. The lion became the constellation Leo.

Slay the Lernaean Hydra

The Hydra was a multi-headed sea-creature that lived in a lake near Lerna in the Argoid. Beneath the waters was reputed to be the entrance to the underworld which Hydra guarded. The creature was known for its poisonous gases which Hercules was well aware of. He fired arrows into the water to draw the creature out. He fought with a harvesting sickle, however it soon turned out to be useless. Whenever he chopped off one of the heads, two grew back to replace the lost head. He turned to his Iolaus for help in defeating the creature. They came up with the plan to burn the neck of the last severed head to stop it from growing back. This worked, Hercules would chop off the head and Iolaus would burn the neck. In some stories, Hera's crab made life hard for Hercules during the fight. The crab is immortalised in the stars as Cancer.

Capture the Ceryneian Hind

The Hind, a deer was so fast it could outrun an arrow. Eurystheus ordered that Hercules bring back the antlers. The chase lasted many months as he followed the Hind through Greece, Thrace, Istria and the land of the Hyperboreans. He is reputed to have caught the creature as it rested. Once he had captured the Hind, Artemis and Apollo turned up. He explained the situation to them and was allowed to take the Hind with him back to the King. Once he arrived at the Kings Palace, the Hind was released and escaped.

Capture the Erymanthian Boar

On Mount Erymanthos was a Boar that was sacred to the Mistress of the Animals also known as Potnia Theron. It was used when the Goddess was in anger, it would be sent down the hillside to destroy a farmers crop. On the way to capture it, he visited Pholus, a Centaur and a friend. When they dined, he opened a wine bottle which attracted other Centaurs. In the melee that followed, Hercules managed to drive them back using poisonous arrows he had with him. Pholus was stabbed in the foot after dropping one of the arrows he had picked up. Pholus is believed to be immortalised as the constellation Centaurus . Chiron, was hit by a stray arrow and although immortal, felt great pain. He gave up his immortality for Prometheus, who was being tortured by an Eagle in Tartarus, a part of the Underworld. Hercules killed the Eagle with a bow and arrow. Chiron advised Hercules on how best to capture the Boar. The plan was to drive the creature into snow thus rendering it unable to move. Hercules picked up the boar and carried it back.

Clean the Augean stables

This task was to demean Hercules. It was to clean out the stables of Augeas, the King of Elis and Husband to Epicaste. The stables housed the greatest number of cattle in the country and had never been cleaned. The cattle were immune to infection. The King promised to give Hercules 10% of his stock if it was completed in a day. Hercules did this by re-routing Alpheus and Peneus into the stables. Augeas couldn't believe it when he did this in such a short time then he reneges on his deal. Hercules took revenge and killed the King.

Slay the Stymphalian Birds

Around the lake of Lake Stymphalus were birds with claws of brass and sharp metallic feathers. Their dung was highly toxic. They would lay siege to any area that they arrived at. Hercules aided with tools from Athena and Hephaestus frightened them into the sky then shot at them with arrows. The constellation Sagitta is associated with one of the arrows that Hercules used to kill one of the birds. The birds maybe represented by the constellation Lyra.

Capture the Cretan Bull

The Bull lived on the Island of Crete and was terrorising the people. After seeking permission from King Minos, he went out and captured the bull by lassoing it. He rode the bull back to Eurystheus. Eurystheus was going to sacrifice the bull but Hera declined fearing it would increase the glory reflected upon Hercules. The bull is immortalised by the constellation Taurus.

Steal the Mares of Diomedes

On the shores of the Black Sea were four man-eating wild horses. They belonged to Diomedes, King of Thrace, son to Ares and Cyrene. Hercules called on the help of Abderus and other male friends to capture the creatures. They chased them into the sea which made their capture all the easier. Diomedes fought with Hercules over what he was doing because he didn't want to lose his horses. Whilst this was going on, Abderus was killed by one of the horses. Angered by what had happened to Abderus, he captured Diomedes and fed him to the horses. He managed to tie up the mouths of the horses and took them to Eurystheus. The horses were dedicated to Hera. What happened to the horses after that is contentious. Some say Hera took them to Argos, other says Zeus sent wild animals to kill them. Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalus is said to be a descendent of theirs.

Obtain the Girdle of Hippolyte

Hippolyte was an Amazonian Queen who was the daughter of Ares. Some say that Hippolyte just gave the girdle to Hercules because she fell in love with him. The other main story revolves around him kidnapping Melanippe and demanding the girdle in ransom. It works and he gets the girdle. Theseus, one of Hercules companions kidnaps Antiope, another sister of Hipployte. The Amazons attack Athens but the plucky adventurers escape with both the girdle and Antiople.

Obtain the Cows of Geryon

He got Helios, the Sun to help him cross the desert of Libya. Libya at the same was the generic term for the whole of Africa. On reaching Erythesia, he was confronted by Orthrus, a two headed dog which he despatched with at ease. Geryon, on herding what had happened, chased Hercules at river Anthemus. Hercules killed him with a poisonous arrow made from the blood of Hydra. He had to herd the animals back to Eurystheus but during the journey, some were stolen by Cacus. Along the journey, Hercules came across the stolen Cows and killed Cacus in the process of rescuing them. Hera sent a gadfly to scatter the cows and make Hercules job nigh impossible. She then caused a flood to occur to separate the cows. This did not put Hercules off. He used stones to cross the river and round up the cows. During the crossing, he had to kill a half-woman, half-serpent creature. Once he made it back to Eurystheus, the cows were sacrificed.

Steal the Apples of the Hesperidias

A tree or a collection of trees in the far west of the world that grew golden apples. The tree came from Gaia as a wedding present to Hera and Zeus. Originally, Eurystheus set only ten tasks but because Hercules had had help, the number of labours were increased to twelve. Hercules first caught Nereus, a shape-shifting sea god to find the location of the apples. Some other legends have him Nereus not being able to tell him where the gardens are. As such, he sort help from Prometheus which had been saved from torture. Once he had found the location, he had to deal with Ladon, a massive multi-headed dragon that guarded the garden. He killed the dragon by throwing a spear at it. The dragon became immortalised as the constellation Draco . Hercules got Atlas to retrieve the apples whilst he held up the skies for him. The apples were later returned to the garden by Athena.

Capture Cerberus, the guardian dog of Hades

Cerberus was a two-headed dog with a snake for a tail and snake heads all over his body. The creature guarded the entrance to Hades, the land of the dead. He had to get in and out so called upon Eleusis to be initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. This also enabled him to absolve himself of killing the Centaurs. Helped by Artemis and Hermes, he managed to transverse the entrance in each direction at Tanaerum. Whilst in the underworld, he freed Theseus but could not free Pirithous. They had been sent to Hades in revenge for the kidnap of Persephone. As to how Hercules captured, there are different stories. One says he shot Hades and walked out with it, another he persuaded Hades and the third is that he treated the dog with kindness.

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