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Who is Hercules in Greek Mythology?
HERACLES, the son of ZEUS and ALCEME, was the greatest of all the Greek heroes. To the Romans, he was known as Heracules, and they added various encounters in Italy to his already large cycle of adventures, otherwise popularly known as the labours of Hercules.
Brief Summary to the 12 Labours of Hercules in Greek Mythology
The 12 Labours of Hercules/Heracles are some of the most impressive tales in Greek Mythology. The son of Zeus and a descendant of Perseus, Heracles was destined to be a great Hero. He was favoured by many gods of Olympus, including Athena, Apollo, and Hermes.
However, one Olympian, the goddess Hera, hated him before he was even born and strived to make his life as difficult as possible. Using her magic, she made Heracles kill his family, forcing him to visit the Oracle of Delphi to seek redemption.
The Oracle informed him that he would have to carry out 12 Labours in penance, under the service of King Eurystheus of Mycenae.
The 12 Labours of Hercules/Heracles are as follows:
- Slay the Nemean Lion
- Kill the Lernaean Hydra
- Capture the Ceryneian Hind
- Seize the Erymanthian Boar
- Clean the Augean stables
- Exterminate the Stymphalian birds
- Capture the Cretan Bull
- Capture the Mares of Diomedes
- Obtain the Belt of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons
- Capture the Cattle of Geryon
- Steal the Golden Apples of the Hesperides
- Capture and Bring Back Cerberus
His labours were the ultimate test of strength and skill. But his labours would also require him to travel to distant lands, to capture animals that King Eurystheus wanted to observe. From Artemis’ Ceryneian Hind and King Minos’ Cretan Bull (the father of the Minotaur) to the guardian of the Underworld itself, the three-headed dog Cerberus, who was sacred to Hades.
His strength would be pushed to the limit when he offered to hold up the sky for the Titan Atlas, on his journey to retrieve the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. And his wits would be tested when he was tasked with cleaning the filthy Augean Stables in a single day.
After his Labours, Heracles would continue his heroic journey, setting up the Olympic Games as well as joining Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. However, although Heracles lived an amazing life full of adventure, he would ultimately suffer an agonising death.
After causing the death of the centaurs Pholus and Chiron, he would make an enemy of the centaur Nessus. Nessus would eventually get his revenge by tricking Heracles’ wife, Deianira, into giving the hero a poisoned robe, bringing his eventful life to an abrupt and painful end.
The Birth of Hercules
As Zeus, the king of the gods sat on his throne on Mount Olympus, he looked down upon the troubled land of Greece. It was ravaged by war and ferocious beasts prowled the land.
Zeus knew what had to be done. A hero had to rise! A hero that he would father, who could unite the people and liberate the world of these terrible monsters. This hero was to be Heracles—later known as Hercules to the Romans.
Zeus then chose the beautiful Alcmene to be the mother of Hercules. As she was a descendant of the famous hero, Perseus.
While her husband was at war, Zeus impregnated Alcmene planning to make his son the next great king of Greece. Little did he know that his wife, Hera, the queen of the gods had been watching these events unfold. In the past, she had sat idle while Zeus had fathered many illegitimate children, but this time she had finally had enough.
When Zeus swore an oath to give kingship to the next descendant of Perseus, thinking it would be his son Hercules, Hera saw an opportunity to get revenge on her husband.
When Hercules was about to be born, she used her magic to delay the birth, while also speeding up the birth of another descendant of Perseus. A child called the Eurystheus. As Eurystheus had been born just mere seconds before Hercules, he had become the next descendant of Perseus; with Zeus being forced to give him the kingship instead.
While Zeus could do nothing about his son’s lost kingdom, he did manage to get his own revenge on Hera. After Hercules was born, Zeus brought him up to Hera’s bed chamber on Olympus. As she was sleeping, Zeus placed the infant on Hera’s breast, where Hercules was able to feed on the goddess’s milk—stealing some of her divine power for himself.
Startled, Hera woke up and threw the baby off her chest with milk spraying across the heavens. This milk would settle out in space, becoming known as the ‘Milky Way.’
Zeus chuckled to himself and bought Hercules back to earth, placing him in a crib next to his mother. Back on Olympus, Hera was furious. This was too great an embarrassment for her to ignore, and so in an attempt to kill Hercules, she sent two snakes into his crib. To her surprise, Hercules just giggled and grabbed a snake in each hand, strangling them with the strength he had just stolen from her.
Hera looked down at the scene in rage, promising to make Hercules’s life as difficult as possible.
The Youth of Hercules
Growing up, Hercules received an education from some of the most renowned masters of Greece. In all things, from archery to music. One thing that became clear from a young age was that Hercules had a very short temper. This combined with his supernatural strength made him dangerous to both his friends and enemies alike.
Linus, his music teacher, found this out the hard way when he was teaching the young hero to play an instrument called the liar. Hercules lacked the finesse to play the instrument and became infuriated by the constant corrections of his teacher. After some particularly harsh criticism, he ended up smashing Linus on the back of the head with the instrument, killing him instantly.
While Hercules only received a minor punishment, his temper would go on to cause him issues in his later life.
The young hero got his first taste of battle, when his foster father Amphitryon, the leading general of the city of Thebes, was killed in a bloody war with the neighbouring minions. With his foster father dead, Hercules took his place as general and marched the Theban army against the minions.
Along the way, Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, appeared before him having been sent by Zeus to aid the young hero. She bought gifts from the gods, shining weapons, and armour from the forge of Olympus.
Hercules thanked the goddess and charged into battle with Athena’s gifts, avenging his foster father by destroying the minion armies.
Upon returning to Thebes Hercules, was greeted by the thankful Theban king, who gifted the hero his daughter, Megara, in marriage. Hercules and Megara lived several happy years in Thebes. Having three children and being admired by all the townsfolk—for Hercules’s role in protecting the city.
Hercules’ good fortune was seen by many on Olympus, but none watched as closely as Hera. This was not what she had planned for the bastard son of her husband. Not only had this illegitimate child stolen her power, but he was now in a happy marriage and was in line to become the next king of Thebes. This would not stand! The queen of the gods would not be disrespected.
Hercules, completely oblivious to the scheming of Hera, came home one day to find his door broken down. Running inside he found that his family was nowhere to be seen. When he cried out to them, several hideous monsters appeared from the back of the house and began to crawl towards him.
Finding himself overcome with an unnatural rage, Hercules lashed out at the monsters killing one instantly. The other monsters began to run away in a panic, but Hercules now in a blind rage would not allow any to escape, chasing them down and killing them with his bare hands.
It was only then, that Hera dispelled her magic, lifting her illusion from Hercules’ eyes. The hero watched in horror as the monsters transformed back into their original form. His own family now lay dead before him. He frantically shook their bodies, trying to wake them up, tears flooding from his eyes, but it was too late.
Hera’s magic had done its job and he would now forever live with the guilt of having murdered his own wife and children. As Hercules looked down at his blood-stained hands, he realized that he would have to atone for his crimes. The murder of a family member was considered one of the most serious crimes in ancient Greece.
If Hercules did not atone for his crimes, then the furies, monstrous creatures from the underworld would hunt and then torture him for eternity. The only person he knew that could give him guidance, was the famous oracle of Delphi. And so, he exiled himself from his home in Thebes and started his journey for redemption.
The oracle of Delphi was the mouthpiece of apollo—able to deliver prophecies and guidance from the god. On this occasion, however, Hera managed to use her magic to influence some of the oracle’s words. When Hercules asked what he should do to atone for his crimes, the oracle responded that he had to serve king Eurystheus of Mycenae for ten years—who was the descendant of Perseus, that had been born just mere seconds before Hercules.
Just as Hercules was about to begin the journey, the oracle stopped him saying that if he completed his service, then his father Zeus would make him immortal. Hercules bowed to the oracle, stood up and made his way to Mycenae.
The 12 Labours of Hercules Begins
Labour One: The Nemean Lion
King Eurystheus had known of Hercules for some time and was deeply jealous of him. The two were cousins as they shared dissent from Perseus. However, they were nothing alike. Hercules was strong and heroic, whereas Eurystheus was cowardly and weak, often sending others to fight his battles for him.
Arriving in servitude, Hercules bowed before his cousin Eurystheus, who could barely contain his joy. Quickly accepting Hercules’ subjection, the king instructed him to carry out 10 labours over a period of 10 years. These labours, however, would have to be completed without any assistance or payment.
Hercules hung his head in shame, asking what his first labour would be. King Eurystheus told him of a ferocious lion that had been terrorizing a village in the northeast part of his kingdom, named Nemean. The lion could not be stopped. Its golden hide was impervious to weapons, and its claws were sharper than any sword known to man.
It had killed all those sent against it, and the task would now lay with Hercules, who was sent to slay the beast. Aware that no sword or spear could penetrate the lion’s hide, Hercules trained for several months, uprooting trees and lifting boulders to increase his strength.
Stronger than ever, he could now confront the beast with his hands. Upon arriving at the lion’s den, Hercules passed the bodies of warriors, their swords and axes shattered on the floor. Walking through the lair, he began to strip away the armour and weaponry Athena had gifted him while calling out to the beast.
The lion appeared and began to charge towards him, but just before it was about to pounce, Hercules stepped to the side catching its neck in his arms. The two wrestled for hours, but when Hercules managed to get a good grasp on the lion’s throat, he squeezed with all his might until he heard a crack. The dead beast fell down to the floor— his first labour was complete.
Hercules then paid respect to the lion, bowing his head hoping he hadn’t caused any unnecessary suffering. Realizing the lion’s skin would aid him in his upcoming labours, he pulled out one of its razor-sharp claws, using it to skin the animal. He then threw the skin around his shoulders like a cloak and used the lion’s head like a protective hood.
As Hercules left the lair, he passed the armour Athena had gifted him, leaving it on the floor. Seeing it as a symbol of his old life. He then found a giant oak tree which he lifted from the ground and stripped of its branches, making it into a club. This would be his new weapon and the lion’s skin, his new armour—symbols of his path to redemption.
As Hercules returned to Mycenae, draped in the pelt of the Nemean lion, Eurystheus was shocked, never imagining he would make it back alive.
Labour Two: The Lernaean Hydra
For his second labour, Hercules was sent to kill the Lernaean hydra. And so, he travelled to lake Lerner, near the city of Argos, where the fearsome water serpent had made its home.
Known as the hydra, this beast had nine heads. One of which was immortal, with its blood the most poisonous substance known to man. Upon his journey to face the creature, however, Hera wanted to make the challenge more difficult, by hiding a giant crab deep within the lake.
When Hercules arrived, having gained confidence by his victory over the Nemean lion, he quickly ran towards the hydra with his club in hand. With a massive swing, he took one of the hydra’s heads clean off, but to his horror where one head had been, two new heads emerged in its place. Confused, Hercules began to cut off more heads, but this only made the situation worse.
Each time one head was removed, two more would spawn. To make matters worse, Hera’s giant crab then jumped out from the water, pinning Hercules to the ground. With the two monsters attacking him, Hercules was sure that his death was close. But as the hydra moved towards him, an arrow flew out of the bushes and struck it in the side.
Hercules turned around to see his nephew, Ayalaeas aiming a bow at the monster. The boy had followed his uncle to the lake, hoping to help in any way he could. With the monsters distracted, Hercules reached for his club, swinging it with such force that he crushed the giant crab in a single blow.
Moving out of harm’s way, Ayalaeas came up with a way to defeat the hydra. As Hercules sliced off ahead, Ayalaeas would then cauterize the hydra’s neck with a flaming torch, preventing more heads from growing. The pair worked together for hours, slicing and cauterizing until only the immortal head remained. Hercules then cut off the immortal head and with it still hissing, buried it under a large rock beside the lake.
He then knelt beside the hydra’s body, dipping the tip of his arrows and its poisonous blood. The slightest scratch from one of these arrows would prove fatal. Something that would aid him in his upcoming labours.
Despite defeating the hydra, Eurystheus did not count this labour, as Hercules had been assisted by his nephew Ayalaeas—I wondered who would have snitched! Additional labour would therefore have to be completed, but Hercules was unaware of this at the time.
As Hercules and Ayalaeas left the lake, to thank the crab for its service, Hera took its remains and cast its image up into the heavens, creating the constellation cancer.
Labour Three: The Ceryneian Hind
For his third labour, Hercules was ordered to catch the Ceryneian hind and bring it back alive to Eurystheus. The hind was a beautiful creature, much like a stag with bronze-like hooves and a magnificent pair of golden antlers.
Eurystheus had chosen the hind because not only was it extremely fast, being nearly impossible to catch, but it was also sacred to the goddess Artemis, who used the animals to pull her chariot. Eurystheus thought that even if Hercules was able to catch the hind, the goddess would in turn strike him down, with him being no match for an Olympian.
Hercules then set off to Mount Serania, chasing the hind for a full year before he was able to capture. It does not want to wound the animal, as the hind run towards the river Laidon. Hercules shot an arrow near it, scaring it into the river. This slowed the hind down, just enough so he could capture it, bind its legs and throw it over his shoulder.
Hercules then made his way back to Mycenae, but as soon as he stepped outside of mount Serania with the hind, the goddess Artemis descended from Olympus, aiming her bow at the hero’s chest, accusing him of trying to kill the animal.
Hercules dropped to one knee, quickly explaining that the blame lay with king Eurystheus. Her twin brother, apollo, then appeared and tried to de-escalate the situation. He argued that Eurystheus was under the command of Hera, who had resented them both, as they were just like Hercules, illegitimate children of Zeus.
Taking pleasure in helping Hera’s enemy, Artemis let Hercules pass, on the condition that he released the hind once his labour was complete. Hercules thanked the goddess and returned to Eurystheus, who was shocked to see his cousin return successfully for the third time.
After releasing the hind back into the wild as instructed, Hercules asked his cousin for his fourth labour.
Labour Four: The Erymanthian Boar
For his fourth labour, Eurystheus sent Hercules to mount Amaranthus to capture alive a giant boar that had been ravaging the area. Not thinking much of the task, Hercules set off with enthusiasm. Even deciding to visit his friend, the Centaur Pholus along the way. Centaurs were half men half-horse creatures, renowned for acting more like beasts than humans. Pholus was an exception, however, being both friendly and intelligent and had been friends with Hercules since his youth.
After Hercules arrived, Pholus decided to host a dinner party to honour his guest. Inviting a few of the local centaurs, one of whom was Hercules’s old intelligent and immortal archery teacher, Chiron. As the feast began, everything was going well. They dined on roast meat and Hercules reminisced with his old teacher, before deciding to take a walk.
On the way out, he came across a jar of wine on Pholus’s shelf, which he decided to crack open and take a large helping of. Little did he know that the wine was the communal property of all the centaurs. Something the god Dionysus had gifted them, four generations earlier.
The wine also had a powerful odour that the centaurs could smell for miles around. As Hercules returned, he was confronted by a huge crowd of centaurs, demanding to know why he had drunk their wine. His friends Pholus and Chiron tried to calm down the other centaurs, but the situation soon got out of hand, as the whole tribe had arrived drawn by the wine’s odour.
Enraged, the centaurs tried to kill Hercules, but despite their numbers, they were unable to overpower him. In defense, Hercules began shooting them with his arrows coated in the poisonous hydra blood, killing many with the rest of them fleeing. Unfortunately, in the chaos, Hercules had accidentally shot his teacher Chiron, who fell down screaming in agony.
As he was immortal, the wound did not kill him, but with the hydra’s poison coursing through his veins, he would spend an eternity in pain.
Zeus, however, had watched the events unfold and decided to take pity on the old centaur, taking Chiron’s spirit and casting it up into the heavens, creating the constellation Sagittarius.
Confused as to how such a small arrow had killed the other centaurs, Pholus picked up an arrow from the ground. As he lifted it up to his face to take a closer look, the arrow slipped from his fingers, landing on his foot killing him instantly.
After chasing the other centaurs away, Hercules returned, but when he found that he had killed both his friend and his teacher, he was overcome with shame and regret. Hercules solemnly buried Pholus’s body, paid his respects, and then continued his journey to capture the Erymanthian boar.
Unknown to Hercules, a centaur called Nessus was able to survive the massacre, running far into the mountains where he would spend over a decade planning his revenge on the hero.
Hercules completed his actual labour with ease, chasing the boar into deep snow where he bound it in chains to bring it back to Eurystheus. Upon seeing the giant monster, Eurystheus was petrified, quickly jumping into a large storage jar, refusing to come out until Hercules removed the boar from the room.
Hercules could barely hide his amusement but did as he was told and set the ball free. King Eurystheus then crawled out of the jar in embarrassment and quickly sent Hercules off on his fifth labour.
Labour Five: The Augean stables
For his fifth labour, Hercules was tasked to clean the Augean stables in a single day, using only his hands and without any assistance. Eurystheus believed the task to be impossible. Sending Hercules on his way, believing failure was certain.
The stables belonged to king Aegeus from the neighbouring kingdom of Ellis. They housed three thousand immortal cattle and had not been cleaned for 30 years. The stables were so overrun with animal dung, that in some places, the filth had piled several meters high and no one dared approached them due to their awful smell.
The dung had also overflown into nearby pastures, which could no longer be plowed for grain. Upon arriving in Ellis, Hercules was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of citizens. Word had spread of his labours and with these beasts that had tormented many villages now gone, people looked to him as a hero.
When he revealed that he had come to complete his fifth labour, the people encouraged him to visit king Aegeus and ask for some sort of reward. Hercules was convinced and soon visited the king, who was happy to promise the hero one-tenth of his immortal herd, if he was able to complete the task before nightfall. Thinking Hercules would fail, king Aegeus instructed his eldest son Philias to observe.
As he made his way over to the stables, Hercules was bombarded with a horrid smell. It was even larger and filthier than he had imagined. Spanning the length of a small city. After taking a look around, Hercules himself thought the task impossible to complete. He instead headed to the nearby rivers, Alpheus and Penaeus, which he hoped would do the job for him.
Obeying the restrictions Eurystheus had given him, Hercules used no tools. Instead, using his bare hands to dig a canal that flowed from the rivers down into the stables. Once completed, a great torrent of water came flooding into the stables, washing away years of filth in an instant.
The water continued to flow into the surrounding farmland, fertilizing the fields with an enormous amount of manure. This caused celebration in Ellis, with the people cheering for Hercules as their farms were to prosper for years to come.
When king Aegeus found out what Hercules had done, he was furious; only having agreed to give Hercules a reward as he thought the task impossible, while Hercules had technically kept to the restrictions, using only his bare hands.
Aegeus refused to acknowledge that he had completed the task properly, declining to pay him. Hercules proposed that the disagreement should be judged by leading citizens of Ellis, many of whom had witnessed the labour. As the trial commenced, Aegeus’ son, Philias, testified that Hercules had kept his side of the deal.
Outraged, King Aegeus stood up mid-trial and banished Hercules and Philias from Ellis. He claimed Hercules had cheated, as the river gods, not Hercules, had completed the task. To make matters worse and unknown to Hercules at the time, Eurystheus would refuse to count this labour as one of the ten. As he claimed the task had been accomplished for payment, in the form of a portion of the immortal herd.
Frustrated, Hercules began his journey back to Mycenae, so he could receive his next labour from king Eurystheus. While he could do nothing, for now, he would later return after his labours were complete to take revenge on king Aegeus, who he would kill before making the king’s son Philias, the new king of Ellis.
Hercules would mark this occasion by creating the famous Olympic games, which would occur every four years in Ellis.
Labour Six: The Stymphalian birds
For his sixth labour, Hercules was tasked with driving away a flock of man-eating birds from lakes Stymphalos. These birds were sacred to Ares and with sported iron beaks, capable of tearing through the toughest of armour.
When Hercules arrived at the lake, a problem had emerged. It would not be killing the birds that would prove difficult, but rather finding them amongst the dense swampy marshland surrounding the lake. Even if he was able to find and kill some every day, it would take him well over a year to hunt them all down. —time he simply didn’t have, if he was to complete all of his labours within 10 years.
Luckily for Hercules, his father Zeus had been keeping an eye on him from the heavens. While Zeus didn’t interfere directly, for fear of upsetting Hera further, he did ask other gods to assist Hercules when they could.
In this instance, Athena was keeping watch on Hercules and saw an opportunity to help her half-brother. As Hercules was surveying the area, he suddenly heard the clanging of metal behind him. When he turned around, he saw a godly figure disappear into the dense wood. When he approached, he found a set of bronze rattles resting on the fallen trunk of an old willow tree. The quality of which could only have been made on Olympus.
Thanking whatever gods had aided him, Hercules took the rattles to a nearby hill that overlooked the marsh. While the rattles did not sound like much to the hero, as he began to shake them, the noise they produced caused the birds enormous pain, with hundreds of them rising from the lake, crying out with frightening screams.
As the birds sawed up into the sky, they formed a great flock to which Hercules took his aim. He drew back his bow, using the arrows dipped in the hydra’s blood to kill the birds instantly. Those that survived fled the lake—with Hercules labour now complete.
Labour Seven: The Cretan Bull
When king Eurystheus saw his cousin returning successfully yet again, he realized that he had exhausted all of the difficult tasks within his kingdom. Needing more time to come up with one, he sent Hercules to Crete, an island near the Greek mainland, where king Minos would give him his next labour.
King Minos had been gifted a beautiful white bull from the sea god, Poseidon, with the expectation that he would sacrifice the bull in Poseidon’s honour. Instead of doing this, however, king Minos decided to keep the ball for himself, thinking it too beautiful to kill.
In revenge, Poseidon made the king’s wife fall in love with the ball. This union eventually led to the birth of the half-man half-bull, a creature known as the Minotaur—a creature that king Minos kept in a labyrinth beneath his palace.
After the bull impregnated the king’s wife, Poseidon turned it mad, with the bull running around Crete, destroying everything in its path. While Hercules was not destined to kill the minotaur beneath the palace—that was a task destined for the hero Theseus— King Minos did want Hercules to capture the mad ball, which was causing havoc in his kingdom.
Having already wrestled with the Nemean lion, Hercules was confident that he could overpower the bull. When he found the giant creature, it charged towards him he was able to skilfully grab it by the horns, wrestling it to the ground. The two fought for hours until the exhausted beasts finally submitted to Hercules.
As the bull was a child of Poseidon, it could walk on water and so Hercules jumped on its back and rode it across the ocean to Mycenae.
When Hercules arrived with the bull, Eurystheus was terrified to see yet another mythical animal in his palace, again hiding in a storage jar refusing to come out until Hercules had removed the beast. Not wanting to kill an animal sacred to Poseidon, Hercules released the ball outside of the palace, where it went on to rampage around the Greek mainland until it was finally caught and killed by the hero, Theseus.
Labour Eight: The Mares of Diomedes
For his eighth labour, Hercules was tasked with bringing Eurystheus, the Mares of the Thracian Kind, Diomedes. These horses were fearsome creatures, known to breathe fire, with their aggression made worse by Diomedes feeding them, the flesh of unsuspecting guests and strangers to his kingdom.
As Hercules made his way to Thrace, he would be accompanied by his friend and lover Abdurus, the son of Hermes.
As they arrived, the pair made their way to the palace of Diomedes, where they witnessed the fire-breathing horses Hercules was tasked with collecting. The mares were bound to the palace wall with cast iron chains, put on display for all to see, thrashing around and foaming at the mouth.
Beside them lay a bucket of human flesh, making Abduras distressed and hesitant to enter the palace. He decided to wait outside, while Hercules entered the palace to begin negotiation.
Hercules then approached king Diomedes, who was a foul-looking man with a nauseous stench. His eyes darted around in madness and had blood caked under his fingernails—human flesh leftover from feeding the mares. While Hercules was nauseated by the king, he managed to compose himself enough to open negotiations for the horses.
Not long into the discussion, Hercules heard a scream from outside. Rushing out to see what had happened, he watched in horror as the horses ripped into the corpse of his young lover, Abdurus, who had gotten too close to them in his curiosity.
Filled with rage, Hercules charged back into the palace, killing the guards and grabbing Diomedes by the hair, dragging him outside. Giving the king a taste of his own medicine, Hercules threw Diomedes to the monsters, who began to devour their master.
The flesh of Diomedes was so found, however, that the horses stopped eating him halfway through—forever put off the taste of human flesh. With the horse’s quiet, Hercules grabbed their chains and brought them back to Eurystheus.
Disappointed by their passivity, king Eurystheus put the beasts in his personal stable, keeping them for his royal collection.
Labour Nine: The Girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons
For his ninth labour, Hercules was tasked to retrieve the girdle of Hippolyta, a gold and leather belt that ensured victory in battle. This task, however, was not given by king Eurystheus but instead the king’s daughter Admitti.
Admitti admired Hercules, but there was someone she admired more, the fabled queen of the amazons, Hippolyta. The Amazons were a race of warrior women, who lived at the edges of the known world. They could fight better than any man, with them routinely raiding local tribes to assert their dominance.
Their leader was queen Hippolyta, daughter of the war god, Ares, who had received a magic girdle from her father, ensuring that she never fell in battle. It was this girdle that Admitti desired Hercules to retrieve, as it was something that belonged to her hero.
So, Hercules set off east bringing with him a small band of warriors in case he had to fight the amazons. On arrival, Hercules was surprised by the Amazon’s hospitality. With them offering his men food and shelter. This was far from the ferocious and hostile reaction he had expected.
Hippolyta herself was particularly interested in Hercules, as she had heard of his great quests and labours. She invited Hercules into her private residence, where she quizzed him about his legendary adventures. The two found that they got on very well with Hercules suddenly reluctant to take the girdle from her.
He decided to tell the truth, explaining his ninth labour and Admitti’s wish. To his surprise, Hippolyta was all too happy to gift him the girdle. Immediately place it in his hands as a sign of friendship.
Hera could not believe her eyes. The task was going too well. Her hatred for Hercules had grown stronger, with each labour he completed. So, to make this labour more difficult, she decided to intervene.
Disguising herself as an amazon, she made her way into the camp walking amongst the women sowing seeds of distrust. She slowly convinced the entire tribe that Hercules had come to enslave them, with his ultimate objective to kidnap Hippolyta and take her back to Greece.
The amazons were outraged, mounting their horses they charged towards the men they had let into their camp. Hercules heard the commotion and rushed outside, where he saw the amazons slaughtering his friends. He turned around in a rage, thinking that Hippolyta had tricked him, keeping him away from his men so they could be slaughtered.
Before the queen could explain, Hercules lifted his club and struck her dead. Her girdle did not protect her as she had already gifted it to Hercules. Hercules then ran outside, striking down any amazon who challenged him. He managed to save a small handful of his companions and the group hastily left camp, heading home to Mycenae.
When Hercules returned, he gave the girdle to Admitti, sparing her the details of how he acquired it. Eurystheus had grown tired of Hercules beating any task laid before him and so decided to send him to the furthest place he could think of—the island of Erethea—so he didn’t have to deal with his cousin for a while.
Labour Ten: The Cattle of Geryon
For his tenth labour, Hercules was sent to Erythea, to steal the cattle of a three-headed giant known as Geryon.
And so, Hercules began the long journey to the edge of the world to what he thought would be his tenth and final labour. Heading southwest, he travelled along the African coastline, but it did not take long for Hercules unused to the intense and scorching heat of the continent to become annoyed with the sun itself.
Halfway across the Libyan desert, he took out his bow and threatened to shoot the sun with one of his poisoned arrows, if it continued to torment him. Quite distressed at this, the sun came down in its human form, as the god Helios begged Hercules not to shoot him. He promised to shine less intensely while Hercules was on his journey. Also offering to give the hero his great golden cup, a vessel shaped like a water lily, that Helios used to sail around the ocean in at night.
Accepting the god’s gift, Hercules was able to quickly sail and continue his journey in the magic cup. When he reached the entrance to the Atlantic Ocean, he decided to celebrate his great voyage, by setting up two pillars. One on the African side of the entrance and the other on the European side.
These would later be called the pillars of Hercules known today as Ceuta on the African side, and the rock of Gibraltar on the European side.
As Hercules continued, he found himself caught in stormy waters and so again pulled out his arrows, this time threatening the great titan, Oceanus. Frightened by the poisoned arrows, Oceanus calmed the waves, with Hercules continuing his journey.
Finally reaching the island of Erythea, Hercules was quick to see the herd of cattle he had to steal, along with Geryon, their giant three-headed owner. Before Hercules could fight the three-headed giant, however, he was confronted by the cattle’s giant herdsmen Eurydian, the son of Ares, and Orthos, the two-headed dog and brother of Cerberus. But such threats proved trivial to Hercules, who simply crushed them both with his club.
Wanting to be done with his final task as swiftly as possible, Hercules didn’t bother to fight Geryon. Instead, shooting the three-headed giant with a poisoned arrow—killing him within seconds.
Hercules herded the cattle into Helios’s cup and started to sail home. When he arrived in Greece, however, Hera decided to intervene yet again. She sent a swarm of gadflies to disturb the cattle, with their painful stings causing the cattle to disperse. Some of whom run off into the Thracian mountains.
Hercules chased after the cattle but was unable to capture all of them. Arriving back in Mycenae, a month or so later, Hercules returned the magic cup to Helios and delivered what remained of the herd to Eurystheus, who decided to sacrifice them to Hera.
Hercules let out a sigh of relief—he was done ten years and ten labours later; he could finally walk away a free man. Cleansed of his past crimes.
Little did he know that his hardest labours were yet to come. For Hera had visited Eurystheus the night before and reminded him about the original terms of the labours. Hercules was to complete his tasks with no assistance and no payment.
As for his second labour, Hercules had received help from his nephew, Ayalaeas in defeating the linear hydra, and in his fifth labour had accepted payment from king Aegeus to clean the Augean stables. Even though he never received payment.
So much to Hercules’ distress, Eurystheus revealed that the hero still owed him two labours, refusing to pardon or release him until he completed a new total of twelve. Not only this but his next task was to be the most difficult yet.
Labour Eleven: The Golden Apples of the Hesperides
For his eleventh labour, Hercules was tasked with travelling to the garden of the Hesperides—the daughters of the night—collecting the golden apples that grew on a tree there which granted immortality to anyone who ate them. Not only was the location of the garden unknown, but Hera had sent a hundred-headed dragon called Leydon to guard the tree from which the apples grew.
As Hercules set off to find the mythical garden, he first visited the titan Prometheus, who he thought would know of its location. Prometheus had stolen the fire of the gods and given it to humanity near the beginning of creation, providing humans with warmth as well as the ability to cook food and forge metal.
As a punishment for this theft, Zeus tied Prometheus to a large rock on the side of a tall mountain, sending an eagle there to eat his liver every day for eternity. as Prometheus was immortal, the liver would grow back every night, only to be devoured by the eagle the next day.
By the time Hercules found him, this cycle of punishment had been going on for centuries. Taking pity on Prometheus, Hercules broke his chains and shot down the eagle from the sky.
Grateful for being set free, Prometheus was happy to share the location of the garden. Although, he warned Hercules that no mortal could pick the golden apples from the tree. Instead, he suggested that Hercules seek help from the titan, Atlas, as he lived near the garden.
Ignoring the advice, Prometheus had given, Hercules was confident he could pick the apples himself. When he arrived, he climbed over a great wall that surrounded the garden and was then confronted by Laydon, the hundred-headed dragon.
He shot the dragon with one of his poisoned arrows, killing it instantly, and then approached the apple tree. When he tried to take an apple, however, it disappeared. His fingers moved through where the apple once was. Prometheus had been telling the truth. Hercules needed an immortal to do it for him.
He then went to find Atlas, which was not difficult due to the titan’s immense size. Atlas had fought against the Olympians in the war between the gods and the titans, but as he was defeated, Zeus forced him to hold up the sky for eternity as punishment.
Approaching the titan, Hercules explained his situation and offered to make a trade. He would temporarily hold up the sky and give Atlas a much-needed break and in exchange, Atlas would collect the golden apples.
Thankful to be free of his burden, even for a short time, Atlas accepted the deal and went to collect the apples. Transferring the weight of the heavens onto the shoulders of Hercules.
Although he had achieved the impossible before, even Hercules struggled to bear the immense weight he now had to hold. As time went on, his muscles began to cramp, his body began to shake, and he contemplated whether this would be the task that would finally break him.
As the sun began to set, Atlas finally returned with a basket full of golden apples. With a grunt of relief, Hercules thanked the titan. Moving to give him back the sky, not wanting to take it back, Atlas offered to take the apples to Eurystheus himself, promising he would return and bear the weight of the sky once more.
But Hercules would not be fooled, he thanked the titan for his generous offer to deliver the apples and offered to hold the sky for a little longer but asked if atlas would take the sky back, just for a moment so he could put on his pelt to cushion his shoulders and head.
Knowing the pelt would make a great difference and none the wiser, Atlas placed the apples on the ground and took back the sky from Hercules. As soon as he was set free, Hercules picked up the apples and bit Atlas farewell. Atlas was enraged, cursing at the hero as he left, with his roars shaking the ground for miles around.
Returning to Eurystheus, Hercules presented him with the fabled golden apples. Even Eurystheus seemed impressed at this, though, he did his best not to show it.
Hera had warned him that he could not keep the apples, as they belonged in the sacred garden and so he left them in Athena’s temple overnight, with the goddess returning them to their rightful place.
Labour Twelve: The Capture of Cerberus
For his twelfth and final labour, Hercules was tasked with capturing Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld.
As Hercules began his journey, the messenger god Hermes appeared before him, knowing that Hercules would not be able to navigate to the dark and winding halls of the dead by himself, Hermes had come to help guide his half-brother in his final task.
He warned Hercules that it would be wise to ask the permission of Hades and Persephone, the king and queen of the underworld, before taking their dog as to not incur their wrath. Thanking the god for his advice, Hercules and Hermes made their way to hades palace.
Approaching the king and queen, Hercules explained that he had been tasked with collecting Cerberus as his final labour. Knowing that helping Hercules would infuriate Hera who had always looked down on him, hades allowed Cerberus to be taken but two conditions had to be met.
First, Hercules must use no weapons to capture Cerberus, and second, once his task was complete, Cerberus must be returned. Agreeing to the terms, Hercules set out to face the beast. Just as he had done with the Nemean lion and the Cretan bull before, Hercules grappled with the dog, wrestling it for hours until the beast was utterly exhausted.
With his club in one hand and Cerberus in the other, he dragged the dog by its chains and made his way back to the realm of the living.
Just before crossing back over the river Sticks, the spirit of Medusa appeared before quickly disappearing into one of the underworld’s many tunnels. Turning around in shock, Hercules drew his sword but when he looked around, he saw standing the spirit of his old friend, Meleager. Meleager revealed his recent death and the two engaged in conversation.
Hercules then offered to marry Deianira, Meleager’s sister in honour of his death. Thanking the hero for his offer, Meleager faded back amongst the spirits of the dead.
Hercules then delivered Cerberus to King Eurystheus, who once again chose to cower in his jar—Now, a permanent installation next to his throne. The king poked his head out to the top of the jar and while shaking in fear agreed to release Hercules from his servitude—granting him pardon for his past crimes.
Hercules was filled with joy. He had finally atoned for his crimes and was to be a free man. But before embarking on his next journey, he fulfilled his promise and returned Cerberus to the land of the dead.
The Death of Hercules
Hercules took some time to celebrate when he returned. Enjoying all the pleasures of a free life. He was now a well-renowned hero and had admirers wherever he went. He would go on several more adventures, even joining the hero Jason and the Argonauts on their quest for the golden fleece.
Hercules soon decided to fulfil the promise that he had made to the spirit of Meleager in his final labour. Finding his sister, Deianira, and taking her as his wife. As the newlywed couple was making their way to their new home in the city of Tiryns, they came across a rapid river that they had to pass.
On the other bank stood a Centaur, who made his way over and offered to carry Deianira across on his back. Hercules accepted the offer not recognizing the Centaur as Nessus, the sole survivor of the massacre Hercules had committed against the Centaur tribe on his way to his fourth labour.
Nessus had been plotting his revenge against Hercules for over a decade, with him now seeing the perfect opportunity to execute his plan. As soon as Nessus reached the other side of the river, he threw Deianira to the floor and attempted to violate her.
Seeing this from the other bank Hercules pulled out his bow and shot Nessus through the chest with a poisoned arrow. Sending the centaur to the ground in agonizing pain. In his last breaths, Nessus apologized to Deianira and offered her a gift as a means of apology.
He claimed that his blood had magic love properties, telling Deianira to discreetly collect it up in a vial in case Hercules ever fell in love with another woman. As Nessus finally died, Deianira collected up his blood keeping it hidden in case she ever needed to win Hercules back. Little did she know that she had just begun the chain of events that would lead to the death of her husband.
The couple lived happily in Tiryns for a time and had several children. However, after a few years, Hercules became tired of such a peaceful life and craved some of the action of his youth. Seeking some adventure, he left his family behind and set out to the kingdom of Arcelia where his old archery tutor, Auratus ruled as king.
Once he arrived, it took only a few days for Hercules to fall in love with the daughter of king Auratus, a woman named Aioli. King Auratus was currently holding an archery tournament to decide who would marry Aioli, a contest Hercules decided to enter. However, when Hercules won, Auratus refused to hand his daughter over, as he had heard of how Hercules had murdered his first family and had no desire to put Aioli in similar danger.
Hercules stormed out of the palace in a rage but would later return to kidnap Aioli along with other women from the city. He would bring them back home to where his children and wife, Deianira were living.
While Deianira was initially happy to see her husband return, she had become worried when she saw him arrive with a group of captive women. The way he looked at Aioli in particular was troubling. Making her correctly suspect that Hercules had been unfaithful.
In her desperation to win Hercules back, Deianira retrieved the blood of the Centaur Nessus that she had been hiding, hoping that its love properties would help her. she Smeared their blood on a robe, which she then gifted to Hercules asking him to wear it to dinner that evening.
When Hercules put on the robe later that evening, he immediately knew that something was wrong. Nessus’s blood began to stick to his skin, causing a horrible burning sensation. Hercules began to scream in agony and tried to rip off the robe, tearing out large chunks of his flesh in the process.
The Centaur Nessus had planned this all along. He knew that Hercules would shoot him with a poisoned arrow when he attempted to attack Deianira. By convincing Deianira to gather his blood that was tainted with the hydra poison, Nessus had craftily ensured that Hercules would suffer the same agonizing death that he had inflicted on the other centaurs.
Hercules torment lasted for hours, with his wife Deianira hanging herself upon realising what she had done. Knowing his death was close, Hercules frantically ran around his courtyard ripping up trees to construct a funeral pyre.
Once assembled, the hero lay down upon it and asked one of his friends to set it flaming. As the fire seared through his skin and his body went up in flames, a smile appeared on Hercules’s face, as he was finally released from the horrific pain.
It was at this moment, a great storm cloud gathered around the funeral pyre. In the cloud sat Zeus who watched as the mortal part of his son burnt away. The god then grabbed Hercules spirit, taking his son up to Olympus where he transformed him into an immortal.