The division of work on Earth exists for a reason. At least, that will be your thought after reading this. Keep on… We are enveloped by a plethora of tasks and its doer as well. Some of them demand power, some intelligence and some demand greater-superhuman strength. There are tasks that can only be performed by someone with superhuman strength, such as facing a multi-headed serpent or a furious bull or horse for instance.
In Greek-Roman mythology, one such superhuman existed- Hercules. The son of a mortal with Zeus, the chief of the gods, his birth provoked the wrath of Hera, the official wife of Zeus. She sent two snakes to kill the newborn.
However, he strangled the snakes showing an overwhelming strength at an early age without any great effort. Hercules grew, but Hera continued to chase after him and used his powers to provoke madness in the hero, as a result he ended up killing his own wife and children. When Hercules regained his senses, he sought the guidance to the Oracle of Delphi (the most famous temple of consultation with the Greek deities) on how to deal with the tragedy.
The Oracle ordered him to be delivered into servitude to Eurystheus, king of the city of Mycenae, who ordered the accomplishment of the 12 famous labors (tasks). According to historian Renata Beleboni of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), “The 12 works were done so that Hercules could redeem himself from the murders he committed and also to elevate him to the divine condition at the end of his journey.”
After he was done, Hercules married a woman named Dejanira. On one trip, the centaur Nésus tried to rape her and the hero killed him. Before he died, however, and prepared to take revenge, Nessus told Dejanira that her blood was an elixir of love and advised her to save a little if her husband failed to love her. When in fact, Hercules fell in love with another woman, Dejanira sent him a cloak with drops of the blood of Nésus. When he dressed him, the hero felt the poison and realized he was going to die.
According to mythology, his human body was burned on a pyre, but his essence ascended to Olympus – the abode of the gods. Although it’s a myth, some historians suspect the story of Hercules to be inspired by a real man, a powerful leader enslaved by some Greek kingdom.
Not many are aware of the Greek-Roman beliefs and the traditions that followed. We bring out to you the 12 labors of Hercules that he had to do to gain divinity and pay for the sins he committed.
1 Kill The Nemean Lion
The Nemean region was terrified of a gigantic lion that scared and killed cattle and people. The animal was digging into a cave with two exits and made it very difficult for anyone to approach. King Eurystheus was asked to help by the local hunters for the animal who had proved invulnerable to their weapons.
This was when Hercules had his first job: to exterminate the lion of Nemean. The hero closed one of the exits of the cave, leaving the animal to abandon it on the other side. Hercules was waiting for him and struck him with a violent blow with his club. When the animal went dizzy, he mounted upon it in quick action and strangled him to death.
Hercules cut off one of the claws of the lion and with it managed to pull the hard skin of the animal and then used its sturdy leather as a protective cover.
2 Kill The Lernean Hydra
The region of Lerna (in the Peloponnese) was frightened of a colossal hydra. Lerna’s Hydra was a serpent that destroyed herds and plantations. The Hydra had nine heads, and the middle one was immortal. Hercules planned to get rid of her by cutting off their heads, but each time he cut one, two were born in place. To carry on his work, he relied on the help of his faithful friend Iolaus.
To avoid the continual resurgence, Hercules cut them off and Iolaus cauterized the place with fire, preventing the appearance of the new heads. After eliminating all mortals, Hercules raised a huge rock to bury his immortal head, when Hera sent a huge crab to stop him, but the hero only crushed him with one foot and managed to complete his work.
Iolaus set fire to the monster’s stronghold burning its remains, thus preventing it from resurfacing. Finally, Hercules bathed his arrows in the blood of the Hydra to be poisoned.
3 Capture the Erymanthian Boar
A wild boar terrified the neighborhoods of Mount Erimantus. Enormous and ferocious as he was, he would kill anyone who crossed his path. He had to be captured. He was fatigued after chasing for hours and was then surrounded and dominated by Hercules. Eurystheus, seeing the animal on the hero’s shoulder, was so afraid that he hid inside a bronze amphora.
4 Capture The Cerynian Hind
Doe of Cerinia was a legendary beast with golden horns and brass feet. The Hind was tireless and ran with a flashing rapidity. The Hind was Taigete, a nymph that was transformed to animal by Artemis in order to escape the persecution of Zeus. Hercules unceasingly followed her for a year, until one day, exhausted, the deer stopped to drink water in a stream, and Hercules seized the opportunity and threw a right arrow that struck the doe on the front paw.
Shrieking with joy, he finally imprisoned her and was taking her to Eurystheus when he met Artemis, who was very angry and threatened to kill him for the daring to capture the animal that was consecrated to him; But the hero explained that he was obliged to do so, putting all the blame on Eurystheus, so the goddess agreed to let Hercules take the animal with the condition that Eurystheus would release him as soon as he had seen it.
5 Kill The Stymphalian Birds
It was a swamp, plagued by black birds that had wings, claws and beaks of iron. The hero first used a cymbal (ancient instrument of music) to attract them and began touching them. Immediately numerous birds appeared above the swamp, blocking the sunlight and turned the day into night.
Then Hercules lit a torch and caught the attention of the birds, which began to descend violently against him, so the hero could reach several of them with their poisonous arrows and scare the rest to countries far away.
6 Clean The Augean Stables
Augias, king of Elida, had large herds of horses but did not care for his stables, and this accumulated a colossal amount of manure over the years. A deadly scent exuded. Hercules managed to wash it in one day, using the water of two rivers whose courses he diverted with his strength.
7 Capture The Cretan Bull
Poseidon, the lord of the waters, offered Minos, King of Crete, a beautiful white bull. The bull turned furious because the king did not offered a sacrifice to God. It devastated the fields of the region and Hercules went there to dominate it. After controlling the bull, Hercules not only captured it but mounted on its back, and took him to Eurystheus.
8 Capture The Horses Of Diomedes
Hercules this time had to go to Diomedes, son of Ares and king of Thrace, to tame his terrible carnivorous horses that set fire by the mouth. Diomedes, like every son of Ares, was a cruel man. His chief amusement was to cast any foreigner to feed his horses, but to Hercules this represented nothing. The hero went toward Thrace, getting there searched for Diomedes, who immediately launched horses against Hercules, but he captured the animals and, noting that they were hungry, served them as Diomedes meal.
9 Take the Girdle of the Amazon Queen Hippolyte
The Queen of the Amazons- Hippolyta , was a tribe of female warriors who hated men. They descended from Aresand were great warriors. The valor is evident from the fact that they cut one of their breasts to better handle the bow and arrow. Hippolyta had a beautiful belt that had been given to her by her father Ares.
The ninth labor of Hercules was to get that belt, desired by Admete, daughter of Eurystheus. Hippolyta, seduced by the beautiful and muscular hero gives him the object. But the old enemy of Hercules, Hera, disguised as Amazon, urges women to attack Hercules by running the rumor that he is there to kidnap his queen. The goddess manages to blind the women with anger and begins a fierce and bloody battle against the heroes. Hippolyta tries to intervene, but the wrath and the horse-trotting upset her orders. The Amazons then attacked him and the hero, to escape with his belt, had to kill them all.
10 Capture the Cattle of Geryon
Geryon was a giant, with three bodies in a single pair of legs and had a large herd of oxen, which were guarded by a monstrous shepherd, Eurytion, and his two-headed dog, Orto. Hercules easily killed the pair, but was surprised by Geriao. After a long battle, he realized that the waist down the giant was just like him. Using a powerful blow, he hit one of the legs and knocked him to the ground, and without mercy crushed all the giant’s bodies, thus winning the battle.
When Hercules brought back the oxen of Geriao, exhausted, he decided to stop for some sleep. That night, the giant Caco, who lived in the caves there, stole six of the best oxen that Hercules had taken from Geriao. When Hercules awoke, he searched for lost cattle, but in vain. When he was passing by the cave where Caco was hiding, one of the bulls roared loudly. Hercules, following the sound, found Caco and killed him, thus recovering the cattle.
11 Take the Golden Apples of the Hesperides
Eurystheus wanted the golden apples that were born in the garden of the Hesperides. The Hesperides were daughters of Atlas, one of the titans who fought against the gods, and after being defeated, condemned by Zeus to eternally carry the sky in the back. Hercules was almost on the verge of giving up as he could not find the fruits, but on his way he met no one else but the titan Atlas, and then thought that surely he should know the location of the tree. Hercules then asked the old man where the tree was located, but the titan did not want to give away the information for free, so the hero offered to carry the world instead of the titan while he fetched the golden fruits.
After a few hours carrying the world in the back, Heracles felt how horrible it must have been for the titan, and finally he could see Atlas returning with the golden apples after killing the dragon that kept them. But then Atlas felt incredibly relieved that he was not carrying all that weight, and told Hercules that he would leave him there forever, and the hero agreed. Much to the astonishment of Atlas, he asked only that he should first accomplish his mission with the apples. Soon Atlas put the world on its back again. Hercules left but never came back.
12 Capture Cerberus
Cerberus, a three-headed dog with a serpent-shaped tail, guarded the entrance to Hades, the world of the dead, allowing all to enter, but not letting anyone out. Hercules went down to Hades and captured him easily. After showing Cerberus to Eurystheus, he returned the guardian dog to hell, and finally, having performed all the tasks successfully, he was free, but his story does not end there.