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From Slaying the Nemean Lion to Cleaning the Augean Stables: A Fascinating Tale of the 12 Labors of Hercules

Ancient Theory

Author: Ancient Theory

Published: March 19, 2023 / Updated: March 19, 2023

The 12 labors of Hercules are a series of tasks that the Greek hero Hercules had to complete as penance for killing his wife and children in a fit of madness.

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From Slaying the Nemean Lion to Cleaning the Augean Stables: A Fascinating Tale of the 12 Labors of Hercules

After Hercules killed his wife and children in a fit of madness, he sought guidance from the oracle at Delphi on how to atone for his sins. 

The oracle told him to serve King Eurystheus for 12 years and perform whatever tasks the king assigned him, which would become known as the 12 labors of Hercules.

These trials of Hercules were assigned by King Eurystheus and were considered nearly impossible feats. 

Some of the tasks included slaying the Nemean lion, capturing the Erymanthian boar, cleaning the Augean stables, and retrieving the golden apples of the Hesperides.

The First Labor of Hercules: Slaying the Nemean Lion

The first of the 12 labors of Hercules was to slay the Nemean Lion.

Eurystheus, the King of Mycenae, commanded the mighty Hercules to defeat the Nemean lion, a ferocious beast born of the monstrous Typhon and the viper Echidna, as soon as he learned that the son of Zeus had come to his palace. 

Despite the king’s belief that the lion would destroy the hero, Hercules set out for Nemea, where the lion lived in a cave deep inside a mountain.

According to legend, Hercules found the lion’s lair, but it was empty. He hid behind a boulder and waited until the lion returned, satiated after devouring an entire herd and a shepherd. 

The lion was colossal, with red, bloodshot eyes, sharp fangs glinted in the sunlight, and a menacing roar that could terrify even the most courageous heroes.

Hercules took his bow and fired an arrow, followed by several more, but the arrows bounced off the lion’s impenetrable hide. 

The lion’s skin was invulnerable; not even the sharpest sword or the hardest lance could penetrate it. According to legends, with Gaia’s consent, Typhon had charmed its hide. 

The lion roared loudly and attacked Hercules, who fought for all the people terrified of the savage beast that had wreaked havoc in Nemea.

Zeus, the ruler of Olympus, watched the battle from his golden throne, unwilling to intervene because Hera, his wife, was by his side. 

But Hercules fought for the people, not for the gods. When the lion charged at Hercules, the hero struck it with his club, but the enchanted skin of the beast absorbed the blow, causing the club to snap in half.

However, the force of Hercules’ strike terrified the lion, which ran towards its lair. The hero followed the beast, tearing a rock from the mountain and blocking one of the cave entrances before entering the other. 

Inside he found heaps of human and animal bones in the darkness, but he pressed on, undeterred.

The son of Zeus found the lion, whose blazing eyes and roaring shook the cave’s rocks. They fought fiercely, and the battle may have lasted for days. However, Hercules eventually overpowered the lion, grabbed it by the neck, and squeezed it until the beast died.

With the sharp claws of the beast, he skinned the lion’s hide, which he used to make an impenetrable armor. 

And so the first of the 12 labors of Hercules was completed.

The Second Labor of Hercules: Killing the Hydra of Lerna

The second of the 12 labors of Hercules was to kill the Hydra of Lerna.

Upon hearing of Hercules’ latest victory, Euristeus was filled with even greater dread. The king feared that the hero might again appear at the city’s gates, especially since the people were already chanting his name in the streets. 

Thus, Euristeus ordered Hercules to go and slay the Hydra, which dwelled in the marshes of Lerna. Like the lion, the Hydra was a spawn of Typhon and the viper Echidna. 

Euristeus demanded that Hercules kill the creature as it ravaged flocks, herds, fields of grain, and innocent people. 

None of the brave men who had dared to venture into the marshes of Lerna had ever returned alive, and the king did not believe that the son of Zeus and the beautiful Alcmena would fare any better.

This time, Hercules was accompanied by the young Iolaos, the son of Ificles, who begged the hero to allow him to follow him on his adventures, at least once.

Legend has it that the Hydra was slumbering when the two arrived. 

The beast was surrounded by countless piles of human corpses that it had killed and dragged to its lair. The beast could not consume all of them, and the remains were rotting in the marshes, producing a noxious stench that permeated the air.

Hercules and Iolaos gathered wood and straws, slowly approached the creature, and lit a huge fire. Hercules then lit his arrows in the fire and shot them at the Hydra, while it was still asleep.

The arrows struck the beast, and it rose from the marshes with its nine long necks and nine heads. 

One of the heads was thicker and more vicious than the rest – the immortal head. It spewed green flames from its nine mouths and nostrils, and its poisoned tongues hissed ghastly.

Upon seeing the monstrous Hydra, Hercules charged at it with a club in hand. He struck it with all his might, and one of the creature’s heads was severed. However, two more heads immediately grew in its place.

Undaunted, the courageous hero continued his assault, but every time he struck the Hydra’s heads, two more would sprout up in their place, until there were fifty heads in total. The hideous, slimy, hissing heads had snouts snorting and fangs like daggers.

Realizing that he could not defeat the Hydra by fighting fairly, Hercules commanded Iolaus to take burning wood and burn each of the creature’s necks, one by one. Iolaus promptly carried out the order, and no new heads could grow.

Despite this, the battle was far from over. 

The Hydra had wrapped its dragon tail around Hercules’ legs, and a monstrous crab, as large as a calf, had emerged from the marshes and attempted to sever one of Hercules’ legs with its sharp claws.

Witnessing the crab tear into the hero’s flesh, Iolaus hurled a boulder at the creature, causing it to plunge into the murky depths of the marsh.

Hercules continued to fight the Hydra, and the battle raged from sunrise to sunset. 

Eventually, the hero managed to crush the creature’s immortal head, the last remaining one that stood taller than all the others. Despite being crushed, the head continued to spew deadly miasmas and flames from its nostrils.

To end the creature’s reign of terror, Hercules lifted a heavy rock from the middle of the marsh, near the creature’s lair, and toppled it over the immortal head, finally defeating the Hydra.

Hercules then dipped all his arrows in its poisonous blood before embarking on his chariot alongside Iolaus and set off back to Tiryns.

And so the second of the 12 labors of Hercules was completed.

The Third Labor of Hercules: Capturing the Golden Hind of Artemis

The third of the 12 labors of Hercules was to catch the Golden Hind of Artemis.

In short order, news of Hercules’ triumph reached the ears of the King of Mycenae, igniting a seething fury within him. Wasting no time, the malignant ruler immediately hatched another scheme. 

With nary a moment’s respite, he ordered the hero to venture forthwith to the Arcadian Mountains to ensnare and return with a swift hind of unparalleled beauty, a sister of Apollo and the huntress-goddess Artemis.

But this was no ordinary creature. 

It possessed gilded antlers and silver hooves, racing like an arrow and designated by the maiden goddess to inflict great devastation upon the orchards and fields, meting out punishment to mortal men for their refusal to offer sacrifices at her temple. 

Thus, wherever it spied produce-laden gardens, verdant pastures, or fertile fields, the doe, at the command of Artemis, would trample, horn, and plunder with abandon.

Despite the desperate pleas of the local populace, the huntress refused to yield. 

After an arduous journey through the Arcadian forests, Hercules stumbled upon the abode of the golden-horned hind, which vanished from sight at the first glimpse of the hero. 

It appeared to move without running or touching the ground, like a whirlwind gliding, roaring across the plain, turning back and standing still for a moment before disappearing again.

Yet our hero was not one to be outdone. 

The poets tell of Hercules and the hind of Artemis, running and chasing one another incessantly, without rest, food, water, or sleep, without interruption from midnight until they reached the Hyperborean lands, the ends of the earth where the Ister River sprang forth.

They chased each other in this manner for an entire year, their lightning-fast movements noticed by many who wished to assist the valiant Hercules. 

But alas, no living being on the earth could match the fleetness of the doe, with the son of Zeus relentlessly pursuing it. 

Finally, after an exhausting and seemingly interminable chase, the doe arrived at the bank of a deep blue river, Ladon, where the temple of the goddess Artemis stood. 

The golden-horned doe would be safe from Hercules’ grasp if it could enter the temple.

Until this point, the hero had eschewed the use of his bow. 

But as the wounded animal approached the temple’s entrance, Hercules took aim at its left foot and let fly an arrow, which struck its mark. The injured doe came to a sudden halt, and in two quick steps, Hercules pounced upon it, seizing it by the antlers. 

After extracting the arrow from its foot, the hero securely bound the hind’s three remaining feet and hefted it onto his sturdy shoulders, commencing the journey back to Mycenae with his captive in tow.

And so the third of the 12 labors of Hercules was completed.

The Fourth Labor of Hercules: Capturing the Erymanthian Boar

The fourth of the 12 labors of Hercules was to capture the Erymanthian Boar.

The nefarious king, hopeful despite his prior defeats, conceived yet another scheme to challenge the valorous Hercules. 

He dispatched the hero to the mountains of Erimanthus, tasking him to capture the feral boar that wreaked havoc upon the region of Psofide, decimating settlements and murdering the innocent.

Thus, the hero embarked on his arduous journey, even though he had barely just arrived in Arcadia. 

Along the way, he encountered Folos the centaur, a congenial creature and close friend of Hercules, who extended a gracious invitation to a repast and moment of respite following his travails.

In addition to providing hospitality, Folos presented a cask of ambrosial wine gifted by Dionysus, the deity of viniculture. 

Reserved solely for the gods’ consumption, the heady aroma of this elixir wafted through the fields and valleys, intoxicating all creatures, be they mortal, monstrous, or beastly.

The scent caught the attention of Folos’ kin, who, in a thunderous gallop, descended upon the cave where Hercules and Folos feasted. 

Incensed that the thrall of King Eurystheus dared to partake in their coveted wine, the irate centaurs besieged the den with rocks and tree trunks, intent on slaying the son of Thebes’ queen. 

One hurled a massive boulder at his forehead, while another assaulted him viciously with an oak limb.

Confronted with the wrathful centaurs, the fearless Hercules leaped into action, bursting like a spark from a raging inferno that engulfed a hearth. 

Lithe as a swallow but fierce as a lion wounded by death, Zeus’ offspring charged the initial centaur, striking him with his fist and ending his life instantly. 

Next, wielding his formidable club, he dealt fatal blows, pulverizing the centaurs’ heads, chests, and shoulders and toppling them to the ground. Terrified for their lives, the centaurs fled Folos’ abode.

Nonetheless, Hercules was not satisfied with their retreat, and he pursued them, launching arrows and vanquishing them one by one.

Reeling from the chaotic event, he journeyed onward to Erymanth to hunt the boar. Eventually locating the animal, the hero faced a tremendous challenge as the creature’s long, white tusks, sharp as spears, were a formidable weapon.

The beast, forewarned by Artemis of Hercules’ approach, leaned against a tall, thick oak trunk and bellowed loudly. 

It uprooted the trunk from the ground and hurled it at the hero. 

Quick on his feet, Hercules evaded the assault, yearning to retrieve the felled timber and use it to dispatch the boar. However, he remembered his task: to capture the creature alive and unscathed for cowardly Eurystheus.

Realizing it could not overpower the hero, the boar attempted to flee toward the valley. But Hercules, bellowing and throwing enormous stones, impelled the creature to climb Erymanth’s peak.

The mountain was draped in a new layer of fluffy, freshly fallen snow, and the boar faltered and became ensnared in the drifts. Its breathing labored, and it was weakened and unable to advance.

Undeterred, our brave champion deftly skirted the snow-covered area and ascended some exposed rocks. From this vantage point, he vaulted directly over the beast, striking it in the neck and severing its breath, effectively subduing it. 

He then hoisted it on his back and began his journey back to Mycenae.

Capturing the Erymanthian Boar was the fourth of the 12 labors of Hercules.

The Fifth Labor of Hercules: Cleaning the Augean Stables

The fifth of the 12 labors of Hercules was to clean the Augean Stables.

Upon seeing that Hercules had emerged victorious once again, the king issued a demand in a threatening tone:

Travel to Elis, to King Augias, son of the mighty sun god Helios. The King of Elis possesses three thousand oxen, some of which have snow-like feet, others are entirely white like swans, and others are purple, akin to Sidonian cloth. 

Among them all, a bull named Faeton resembles a shining star of gold. In his stables, the refuse of the oxen has accumulated into mountains, untouched for centuries. 

These oxen, entrusted to the care of the sun god himself, have no more space in their stables. Your task is to go to Augias and cleanse the filth.

Knowing how many poor slaves had lost their lives because they could not clean the filth, our valiant hero also accepted this challenge.

Upon arriving in Elis, the hero was met by Augias, who scoffed:

The King of Euristeus has dispatched you to serve me for a year. Not even in ten years, perhaps not even in a lifetime, will you be able to cleanse my stables. And if you fail, know that you will meet your demise right here, in Elis.

However, the wise son of Alcmene knew precisely what to do, and he pledged to clean the stables not in a year, not in ten years, nor even in a lifetime, but in a single day.

Thus, the courageous hero led the oxen out and took them to a nearby field. He then seized his sturdy hoe and struck the tall wall behind the stables with tremendous force, creating two breaches.

At each breach in the wall, he dug two channels that led to the two adjacent rivers, Peneus and Alpheus. The waters of the rivers flowed through the channels that the hero had dug, through the breaches, and into Augias’ stables.

Beforehand, Hercules had made a large breach in the front wall. The water entered through the back of the massive stable and was discharged through the front, taking all the filth with it.

Before nightfall, the stables of Augias had been cleansed, and the breaches in the walls were sealed up. 

The Alpheus and Peneus were flowing once more, and the channels dug by Hercules were already filled with dirt and unnoticeable.

Cleaning the Augean Stables was the fifth of the 12 labors of Hercules.

The Sixth Labor of Hercules: Slaying the Stymphalian Birds

The sixth of the 12 labors of Hercules was to slay the Stymphalian Birds.

After arriving in Tiryns, Hercules received yet another order to embark on another mission. 

This time, for his sixth labor, he was tasked with destroying a breed of colossal birds that had taken residence in black swamps near Stymphalos – a city that lies on the shores of the sea. 

These birds were unlike any other. 

They were much larger than humans and had beaks made of brass and wings made of bronze. When they flapped their wings, they hurled feathers with the force of spears, which killed men and animals alike. 

They would then snatch their prey in their razor-sharp claws, take to the air, and devour it during flight. 

So much blood had been shed around Stymphalos that almost all the locals had fled, terrified of death.

No one dared to fight those birds, for they were said to serve the cruel god of war, Ares. 

He delighted in hearing their victims’ groans or seeing their blood dripping on the streets of Stymphalos.

This is precisely why the cowardly king had decided to send Hercules on that mission. He hoped the birds or Ares’ revenge would kill the brave warrior.

Undeterred by the danger, Hercules set out for the Argolic Gulf, where the nests were found. Along the way, people warned him of the dangers ahead, urging him to turn back. 

However, Hercules was determined to complete his task. 

He carried two large brass drums and wore the Nemean Lion’s skin as armor and a helmet on his head. 

When he reached the dark nests, he climbed a hill near the shore and began to beat the drums fiercely. The infernal noise raised flocks of thousands of Ares’ birds.

The sky darkened as the birds rose into the air, and their deafening screams filled the entire area, reaching the ears of Euristeus and his counselors, who laughed and rejoiced at the thought that Alcmene’s son would be slain. 

Nevertheless, Hercules remained undaunted.

The hero threw his lance, shot arrows that pierced a hundred birds at once, and even struck with his terrible club, if it was within reach.

Hercules fought relentlessly until the nests were covered with the black wings, outstretched, lifeless, of the thousands of slain monsters.

Mounds and mounds of dead birds littered the entire place, shrouding it like a black shroud. The few who managed to escape did so out of fear of death, flying towards the Euxine port and seeking refuge on a small island raised from the waters by Thetis at the request of the cruel god Ares.

According to legend, upon seeing Hercules’ deed, Ares appeared with a sword in his hand, eager for revenge. But the hero raised his mace, ready to strike, and the god of war was filled with fear and took off. 

He made himself invisible but swore to help Hera to kill Alcmene’s son.

And thus, the sixth of the 12 labors of Hercules was completed. 

The hero took with him the body of a bird, pierced by an arrow, as proof, and he left for Tirint.

On his way back, he encountered many groups of people returning to the city of Stymphalos. With tears in their eyes, they all thanked him, happy they could regain their abandoned home without danger for their children.

The Seventh Labor of Hercules: Capturing the Cretan Bull

The seventh of the 12 labors of Hercules was to capture the Cretan Bull (also known as Poseidon’s Bull).

Even after finishing six difficult trials, Heracles was not granted any respite. 

News of a white bull sent by Poseidon, god of seas and oceans, had reached the ears of the tyrant ruling over Mycenae. 

So the king commanded the son of Zeus to embark on a new journey to the kingdom of Minos on Crete, the mystical island where, according to legends, Gaia raised Zeus in secret.

As the story goes, this bull was as fierce as a thunderstorm. Its eyes blazed with fire, foam dripped from its mouth, and it bellowed a terrifying roar. 

Cretan Bull trampled over everything in its path, biting people, cattle, and other wild creatures. With its powerful horns, it demolished homes, stables, orchards, gardens, and barns. 

Even the king of Crete, Minos, son of Zeus and beautiful Europe, was trapped within his palace, terrified of the beast. None of his advisors nor soldiers dared to face the raging creature of Poseidon.

Enter Hercules, arriving on a boat, as commanded by Eurystheus to capture the bull from Argos unharmed. 

To do so, Hercules fashioned a net out of steel wire, much like those used to catch fish. 

The hero provoked the bull with shouts and stones, leading the beast into the trap. Then, he seized the animal’s jaw with his iron fists, bent its thick neck, and successfully subdued the creature.

Poseidon’s Bull was now obedient to the valiant Hercules, bowing its head and kneeling before him, mooing softly as if seeking forgiveness. 

After bidding farewell to King Minos and the people of Crete, who blessed him for freeing them from the bull’s curse, Hercules mounted the beast as if it were a horse. Holding its horns tightly, he directed the animal towards the sea.

The bull waded into the waters and swam toward the Peloponnese Peninsula. There, Hercules took the animal to the land of Argos and placed it in the stables of King Eurystheus. 

And thus concluded the seventh of the 12 labors of Hercules. 

Upon hearing of the creature’s arrival, fear gripped Eurystheus, and he hid inside a bronze barrel and instructed his servants to open the gate of the stables and allow the bull to escape.

The beast, upon gaining its freedom, vanished like a ghost. It fled as far as Attica to the field of Marathon, where it was ultimately slain by another legendary hero, Theseus.

The Eighth Labor of Hercules: Stealing the Mares of Diomedes

The eighth of the 12 labors of Hercules was to steal the Mares of Diomedes. 

After his return from Crete, Eurystheus sought out his mistress Hera to inquire about new and more challenging tasks for Hercules. 

Hera recounted to him the story of Diomedes, the son of Ares and lord of the bistones in Thrace. 

Diomedes had an extraordinary set of horses that were unlike any other in existence. These stallions had black coats resembling charcoal and moved with the speed and grace of vultures soaring through the skies. 

However, their ferocious appetite for human flesh meant that they were secured by heavy chains in their bronze stables.

Any unfortunate stranger who entered Diomedes’ lands would be swiftly captured and thrown to the beasts, who would tear them apart with the ravenous hunger of wolves. 

And so, the hero embarked on a new journey to finish the eighth out of the 12 labors of Hercules.

Upon arriving at the beautiful port of Argos, he was greeted by a large ship that awaited him, as requested by Zeus himself, to transport the horses if he could succeed in acquiring them. 

While en route, a fierce storm arose, forcing Hercules to land on the shore of Thessaly for a brief respite. In the city of Phara, it was here that King Admet reigned.

Despite unfavorable weather conditions, Hercules decided to visit Admet and spin tales with his good friend. 

However, upon arriving at the palace, he discovered that misfortune had already befallen Admet. Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, had sent his servant to take Admet to his subterranean realm, a fate that horrified the king. 

Admet desperately sought anyone willing to go in his place, but all declined except for his beloved wife, the young and beautiful Alcesta.

Thanatos, the god of death, agreed to take Alcesta instead of Admet. With a quick swipe of his sharp scythe, he severed a lock of her hair, and Alcesta passed away with only a sigh. 

Grief descended upon the palace, and Admet was torn apart with anguish as he witnessed the loss of his faithful wife.

As Hercules arrived at the palace, Admet concealed his pain from his friend and offered him the best hospitality available: delicacies, fine drinks, and fresh fruits from the gardens. 

During the feast, Hercules noticed that everyone around him was weeping and sought an explanation from the servants. Finally, he learned of Alcesta’s sacrifice.

That night, Hercules quietly rose from his bed, knowing that the god Thanatos would come to take the soul from the sleeping body on the first night after death.

Undetected by any witnesses, Hercules stealthily approached the private chamber where the beautiful Alcesta lay, as per the tradition which prohibited anyone from being present when Thanatos arrived to ferry away the soul of the departed.

However, the brave hero waited, biding his time until he heard the sound of wings fluttering. He then emerged from his hiding place and confronted the god of death. 

The two fought fiercely throughout the night until Hercules ultimately prevailed by overpowering Thanatos, pinning him to the ground with his chest and binding him with thick ropes. 

Death had been vanquished.

In light of his defeat, Thanatos agreed to revive the young queen and promised to leave Admet alone. 

As Hercules and Alcesta entered the palace at dawn, Admet was in the midst of ending his life with an iron dagger to join his beloved in the underworld. However, seeing Alcesta alive, smiling, and radiantly beautiful, he was at a loss for words.

Yet, the son of Alcmene had departed, leaving happiness behind in the palace of Phyrgia to embark on his next mission. 

He soon arrived in the lands of the cruel king Diomedes, the Bistonian, who had already been warned by Ares of the hero’s impending arrival.

Upon disembarking, Hercules was surrounded by hundreds of warriors, but he emerged victorious after a grueling battle lasting three days and three nights. 

He took the horses from the stables and bound their muzzles with steel chains before heading to the shore to board the boat. However, the king of Bistonia, with a new army of cavalry armed with swords, spears, and bows, launched another attack.

After an intense battle, the Bistonian army was defeated, and the few survivors were forced to flee. King Diomedes was captured and placed on board among the ravenous horses, who instantly devoured him.

Upon returning to Argos, Hercules brought the horses to Mycenae, where King Eurystheus hid again, in the same barrel, in terror, upon hearing of Diomedes’ gruesome fate. 

Hercules locked the horses in a secure stable, but Eurystheus commanded his servants to release them.

In their frenzied escape, the horses ran into the forest encircling Mount Olympus, where Zeus sent wolves to devour them all in his wrath.

Stealing the Mares of Diomedes was the eighth of the 12 labors of Hercules.

The Ninth Labor of Hercules: Acquiring the Girdle of Hippolyta

The ninth of the 12 labors of Hercules was to acquire the Girdle of Hippolyta.

Hercules had already managed to escape from his previous labors eight times, but Eurystheus, taking advice from Hera, had devised yet another plan to test the hero’s strength and endurance.

This time, Hercules was tasked with retrieving a precious and enchanted belt of immense power, even greater than those of the Olympian gods. The belt was worn by Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons.

Hippolyta, a valiant warrior, along with her sister Antiope, were the daughters of Ares, the god of war. They ruled over a community of fighting women who resided in the Euxine Pontus.

Upon hearing of Hercules’s adventures in his previous labors, renowned heroes such as Peleus from Telamon and Theseus from Athens gathered in the port of Argos. They offered to accompany him to the land of the Amazons. Hercules agreed, and they set sail for the Euxine Pontus.

After a long journey, the heroes disembarked on the broad, sandy shore guarded by the Amazons, fierce warriors who rode swift horses and carried bows and sharp spears.

Hippolyta was amazed at the sight of the handsome youths descending upon the shore, and she welcomed them. 

Hercules explained that he had come from Mycenae, sent by Eurystheus, to request her belt as a sign of her queenship.

Moved by Hercules’ story, the queen agreed to give him the belt without a fight. 

However, Hera, watching from the heavens, was not pleased with this outcome. Disguised as an Amazon, she rode in on a black horse and incited the other Amazons to battle against the heroes.

The Amazons were inflamed and prepared for battle despite Hippolyta’s attempts to appease them. The spears glistened, and a rain of arrows flew from the bows. 

Hercules and the other heroes fought back with arrows and spears, and the battle was intense.

When Hercules entered the fray, it was as if a storm had been unleashed. The renowned Amazons fell like hail, knocked to the ground with their horses.

The beautiful Antiope and a chieftain named Menalippa were taken captive in the chaos. 

Hippolyta, who held the maiden dear, exchanged her for the belt so that she could be taken to Admete, the daughter of Eurystheus and priestess of Hera. However, Antiope remained a captive of the hero Theseus.

After finishing the ninth of the 12 labors of Hercules, the heroes embarked on their journey back to Mycenae.

The Tenth Labor of Hercules: Getting the Cows of Geryon

The tenth labor of Hercules was to obtain the cattle of Geryon. 

Hercules accomplished nine feats of heroism with great honor. For his tenth task, he was commanded by Eurystheus to travel to the ends of the world, where the shining sun, Helios, descends each evening to rest. 

There, he was to capture the red-as-fire cattle owned by the giant Gerion, a nephew of Medusa. The cattle were given by the gods, and Hercules was to bring them all to Mycenae. 

Eurystheus warned him that failure to do so would result in his head being cut off.

With great determination, Hercules set off, sailing toward Africa on a raft built from a giant tree. He traversed all of Libya and the desolate deserts, all the way to the end of the world where there was a strait where the endless ocean, Africa, and Europe met. 

Exhausted from his journey, Hercules wanted to leave a reminder of his suffering for eternity, so he tore two big, blue stones from the rocky coasts of the shore and carefully placed them on each side of the strait that connected Africa and Europe. 

These rocks were henceforth known as “The Pillars of Hercules.”

However, the island of Erythia, where Gerion’s cattle were located, was out in the open sea, with no way to reach it. 

The evening had come, and the god Helios was descending with his blazing chariot in glory. The merciless heat spread from the rays burning on the forehead of the god was so much that Hercules could no longer endure it. 

Bitterly angered, he put his hand on his bow, ready to shoot at the Sun god, believing he wanted to purposely harm him. 

But Helios, moved by the hero’s valor, urged him to put his weapons aside and offered him his round boat made by Hephaestus of gold and silver.

The battle with Gerion was not an easy one. 

He had three bodies joined together in the middle, three heads, six enormous hands, and six legs, and could strike Hercules with three arrows and three spears at once. 

Despite Helios warning Hercules of the difficulty of fighting Gerion, Hercules did not let his courage falter. He fought valiantly and won.

With the cattle in tow, the hero set out for home. 

He traveled through Europe, over the Pyrenees, through Gaul, and finally through Italy. However, the vengeful Hera let one cow escape, which swam back to Sicily. 

Hercules had to search for it, and when he found it, he had to fight for it with a progeny of Poseidon who had hidden it in his own herd. He recovered the lost cow and drove the herd to the Ionian Sea, where Hera stirred up turmoil among all the cows. 

They scattered all over the world, in all four directions, and Hercules had to look for them. He had to fight all kinds of monsters, climb high mountains, swim across seas, traverse dense forests, and run over endless plains. 

With great difficulty, he gathered them all and brought them to King Eurystheus.

By doing so, Alcmene’s son successfully completed the tenth labor of Hercules.

But the cowardly king commanded that all the cattle be slaughtered and their meat offered as a sacrifice to his guardian goddess, Hera.

The Eleventh Labor of Hercules: Stealing the Apples of the Hesperides

The eleventh out of the 12 labors of Hercules was to steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.

Eurystheus, urged by Hera, had tasked Hercules with bringing back the Golden Apples from the Garden of the Hesperides nymphs, but no one knew where this enchanted Garden was located.

Hercules embarked on his servitude journey once again, wandering the world as requested by Eurystheus. 

Some say that Athena, witnessing Alcmene’s son’s struggle, revealed to him that only Nereus, an ancient sea god, knew the way to the Garden of the Hesperides. However, Nereus would only reveal the location if defeated in battle.

The hero waited on the shoreline’s fine sands until the old god emerged from the deep waters to bask in the sun. Then, Hercules leaped onto Nereus’s back without hesitation, and the two engaged in a fierce battle. 

Despite Nereus’s age, he was skilled and had muscles of steel. 

They fought intensely on the seabed, tumbled into the water, and finally emerged on the shore, where Hercules finally overpowered him by clenching his hands around Nereus’s waist and binding him in place. 

Though the sea god tried to escape by transforming into various animals, including a bull, a horse, a ram, and a dog, it was all in vain.

With no other options, Nereus revealed that the Garden of the Hesperides nymphs was located at the end of the world, where Atlas carried the sky on his shoulders. 

However, the Garden was heavily guarded by nymphs and a monster named Ladon, who had an ever-awake eye. Hercules would need to defeat the beast, navigate the nymphs’ enchantment, and reach the golden fruit. 

Unfortunately, he didn’t know the way to the Garden, even though he was a god.

Still, Nereus divulged that Prometheus was the only one who knew how to reach the Garden, who was chained to a jagged stone on Elbrus in the Caucasus at Zeus’s command. 

Hercules set out, crossing seas and countries to find the Garden.

On the way, he encountered Antaeus, a giant son of Gaia who possessed a secret that made him invincible – as long as he was in contact with the soil that had given birth to him. 

He lured many travelers into battle, killing them with ease. 

However, Hercules, known for his wisdom, noticed that Antaeus grew weaker each time he lifted him off the ground. By throwing him to the ground, the giant would only become stronger. 

Hercules then grabbed Antaeus’s thighs, lifting him high and squeezing him until his bones were crushed. Deprived of the strength he drew from the earth, Antaeus fell defeated and exhausted.

Upon arriving at Mount Elbrus, situated in the Caucasus region, the hero found Prometheus, the son of Iapetus, a Titan condemned by Zeus to an eternity of suffering for the crime of bestowing stolen fire to the people of Earth. 

Bound with his hands behind his back and impaled with an iron bar in his chest, the Titan endured the agony of the hungry eagle of Zeus, who relentlessly pecked at his liver with its bloodstained beak. 

The Titan refused to submit to Zeus and beg for forgiveness despite this torture.

Moved by the gruesome torment of this protector of mankind, Hercules fashioned an arrow and coated it with the venom of the Hydra. 

He then directed it towards the giant eagle, which had been clinging to Prometheus’ chest. The eagle released a deafening screech and plummeted into the tempestuous sea below.

It is said that a powerful wind was unleashed at that moment, and Hercules, planting his foot firmly on a rock, broke the chains forged by the great blacksmith of the gods, Hephaestus, with ease. 

He then removed the large iron pin from the Titan’s exhausted body, thus freeing him from his eternal agony. 

The sky split open as the storm raged on, and countless lightning bolts shot across the heavens. Hailstones, as large as eggs, rained down on the heroes, and the entire mountain shook as if it would collapse into the roiling ocean waves.

Some legends suggest that Zeus was so enraged at Hercules for freeing one of his most formidable enemies that, for a moment, he even contemplated killing his son. 

However, Athena, the wise goddess, intervened and reminded him that the sons of Gaia, the Titans, could potentially rise again to wage a cruel war against the gods of Olympus. 

In such a scenario, Zeus would require the power of his son to triumph. Upon hearing this, Zeus relented.

Prometheus expressed his gratitude to Hercules and taught him how to reach the Hesperian land. 

After arriving at the world’s edge, Hercules encountered Atlas, the Titan who bore the weight of the vast celestial dome on his shoulders. Beyond him lay a magical garden, where the golden leaves shimmered and enchanted apples emitted a sweet fragrance.

Atlas beseeched Hercules to hold the heavy dome for a brief period so that he could rest his weary back. In exchange for this favor, Atlas offered to retrieve the golden apples.

Without hesitation, the valiant Hercules agreed to hold the weighty celestial dome on behalf of the Titan Atlas. The sky was so heavy that the hero’s muscles swelled like towering peaks, and sweat cascaded down his face in torrents. 

Despite the immense strain, he did not utter a single groan.

Amazed by Hercules’ unwavering determination, Atlas returned with a handful of apples, seated himself beside the hero, and let out a boisterous laugh as he declared:

You have been deceived, Hercules. I shall leave you here in my stead, forever. I am exhausted from bearing the burden that Zeus himself laid upon me. You are free to remain here in good health while I make my way to Mycenae with the coveted golden apples.

For a moment, Hercules was uncertain of what to do, but he quickly devised an escape plan and spoke to Atlas:

Indeed, you have borne much suffering. However, I am not like you, a descendant of the Titans, and my shoulder aches. It would alleviate my pain if I could only lay this lion’s skin upon my shoulder. Therefore, please briefly take back the celestial dome while I place this skin on my shoulder.

The Titan was cunning but not wise enough to see through Hercules’ plan. 

As soon as Atlas took the sky back on his shoulders, Hercules seized the golden apples collected from the Hesperides’ Garden and ran towards Mycenae.

And so Alcmene’s son finished the eleventh out of the 12 labors of Hercules.

The Twelfth Labor of Hercules: Capturing Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades

The twelfth and final of the 12 labors of Hercules was to capture Cerberus, the fierce guard dog of the Underworld.

Upon realizing he could not triumph over Hercules, Eurystheus once again sought the aid of Hera. 

This time, the goddess advised him to dispatch Hercules to the underworld kingdom of Hades to capture the guard dog at the gates of the Underworld, Cerberus.

Without protest, Hercules set out again on his arduous journey. He searched for a deep cavern that descended into the depths of the earth, leading to Hades’ realm. 

Confronting geniuses and monsters that obstructed his path, he eventually arrived at the gates of Hades’ palace.

There, he encountered the hero Theseus, who had followed him to the Euxine Sea and the land of the Amazons, where he had attempted to steal Hades’ wife, Persephone, for his comrade, King Pirithous. 

Theseus was chained to a rock, bound in heavy chains as punishment for his folly.

Without delay, Hercules broke the chains and liberated Theseus. He then guided him out of the Underworld and back to the realm of the living.

Witnessing the events that had transpired, Hades realized, as did Ares, that contending with Hercules would not be a simple task. 

Though he dared not obstruct the hero’s mission, he issued a wager: he would relinquish the guard dog to Hercules if he could overcome him without weapons.

The hero accepted the challenge. 

He firmly grasped Cerberus by his three thick necks and exerted immense pressure, effectively strangling him. Despite the dog’s hissing and attempts to bite Hercules with his serpentine fangs and thrashing of his tail, it proved futile. 

Eventually, Cerberus succumbed to Hercules’ might and fell motionless, appearing dead.

With the faithful dog now in possession, Hercules slung him over his shoulder and began his journey back to Mycenae. As they traveled, venomous droplets dripped from Cerberus’ mouth, and foam oozed from his body.

Wherever the foam or green venom fell, it caused the growth of poisonous plants such as henbane and hemlock. Thus, according to legend, the existence of poisonous flora is attributed to this episode.

And so concluded the twelfth and last of the 12 labors of Hercules.

At Ancient Theory we only use trusted sources to document our articles. Such relevant sources include authentic documents, newspaper and magazine articles, established authors, or reputable websites.

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