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The 12 Labors of Hercules

    The 12 Labors of Hercules

    The mythical hero Heracles was tasked by King Eurystheus with completing a series of duties, which are known as the Twelve Labours of Heracles. Hera, who despised Heracles because he was a live illustration of her husband’s adulteries, drove the hero insane and caused him to kill his wife Megara and their children. 

    He immediately regretted what he had done and rushed to the Oracle of Delphi to seek atonement. He was instructed to serve Tiryns’s King Eurystheus for twelve years there; if he accomplished all the tasks, he would gain immortality. Heracles did not agree with this because he saw Eurystheus as a lesser being than himself, but he chose to heed the Oracle’s counsel.

    Labour one: slaying the Nemean Lion

    The terrifying Nemean lion prowled the Nemean region, taking women as prisoners and tempting courageous warriors to save them. She would transform into the lion and devour the warrior alive if he ventured into the lion’s cave and attempted to release the woman. 

    A youngster implored Heracles to slay the lion when he arrived in a town in the area. He also warned the youngster that if Heracles failed to kill the lion within a month, a lion would be sacrificed to Zeus in place of the boy.

    After finding the lion out in the open, Heracles shot numerous arrows at it. The lion’s skin was impenetrable, and only then did he realize that his arrows would be useless. So he made the choice to go with it to its den. 

    He blocked one of the cave’s two entrances and went in via the other. Heracles finally located the lion after some stumbling in the dark. He stunned it with his club and then strangled it with his bare hands.

    wearing lion skin skin

    He considered using the lion’s impregnable hide as armor after he had already killed it. So, with the assistance of the goddess Athena, who suggested that he use the lion’s claw to remove the pelt, he was able to skin it. 

    On the thirty-first day, Heracles entered the city while covered in the lion’s skin. Eurystheus was originally scared when he saw him because he thought the lion might be prowling around the city’s streets.

    Labour two: slaying the Lernaean Hydra

    A terrifying beast called the Lernaean Hydra resided in the lake Lerna’s swamp. Hera had purposely raised it to assassinate Heracles. Nine heads made up the Hydra, one of which was immortal while the others were not.

    Hercules entered the marsh and immediately covered his mouth and nose with a handkerchief because the area was enveloped with a deadly mist. The hero used flaming arrows to accomplish his goal of luring the Hydra out of its hiding place. But as he severed the Hydra’s head, he horrifiedly realized that two more heads would grow back.

    Some assistance from his nephew

    The hero turned to his nephew, Iolaus, for assistance because he felt helpless at that point. Iolaus came up with a concept and implemented it; as soon as Heracles chopped off one of the monster’s heads, Iolaus would cauterize the stump with a flame. 

    This was possibly recommended by the goddess Athena, who favored the hero. The strategy worked; no more heads would materialize. Hera sent a large crab to divert Heracles because she was upset that her side was losing the battle, but Heracles just crushed the crab under his foot. 

    When it came time to remove the immortal head, Heracles used a golden blade that Athena had given him, and the two heroes were successful in killing the monster by employing the same method.

    Heracles poisoned his arrows with the Hydra’s blood before he went, using one of them to murder the centaur Nessus. This would eventually be Heracles’ downfall, when the hero died from the Shirt of Nessus, which was covered in the centaur’s blood and some of the poison from the Hydra. Hera changed the crab into the constellation Cancer while changing the monster she had killed into the constellation with the same name.

    Eurystheus used Heracles’ assistance from Iolaus as a pretext for not including Heracles’ success in dispatching the hydra as one of the labors.

    Labour three: capturing the Ceryneian Hind

    Eurystheus and Hera agreed that Heracles’ next job should be to seize the Ceryneian Hind in an effort to put a halt to his victories. With golden antlers and bronze hooves, this sacred deer belonged to the goddess Artemis. It was thought that because of its speed, it could overtake an arrow that was flying.

    Heracles put a lot of effort into finding the animal. After spotting it, he pursued it for an entire year through Greece, Thrace, Istria, and the Hyperborean region. One version of the legend claims that he managed to capture the hind when it was dozing. 

    Artemis and her twin brother Apollo showed up in front of Heracles as he was returning. Eurystheus assigned Heracles to complete this duty in the hope that the goddess would become enraged and punish him. 

    Hercules asked her for forgiveness when she appeared in front of him and told her that this was a part of his penance for killing his wife and children. In addition, he assured her that he would give her the hind back as soon as he had shown Eurystheus. His apologies was accepted, and Artemis released him.

    Eurystheus informed Heracles that the animal now belonged to him when he arrived back at the king’s court. Heracles duped Eurystheus into believing he should take the animal himself and carry it to the palace in order to keep his pledge to the goddess. 

    The deer was released by the hero when Eurystheus came out to capture it, and it ran back to Artemis. Eurystheus only received the simple comment from Heracles that he wasn’t quick enough.

    Labour four: capturing the Erymanthian Boar

    On Mount Erymanthos, which was also devoted to the goddess Artemis, lived the enormous Erymanthian Boar. Eurystheus believed that killing the hero would be the ideal result of his attempt to capture this beast. Heracles left for the mountain, but he made the choice to pause at the home of his buddy Pholus, a good-natured centaur. 

    After eating together, Heracles asked his companion to open a jug of wine that he possessed, which attracted the other centaurs to Pholus’ house. The centaurs immediately grew intoxicated and attacked Heracles because they were unaware that wine was intended to be diluted before consumption. 

    The remaining centaurs fled to Chiron’s cave after the hero shot his poisoned arrows at them, killing the majority of them.

    error in hitting Chiron

    Pholus was perplexed as to why these arrows were so deadly. He picked one up out of curiosity, but it dropped on his foot and poisoned him as well. According to an another story, one of the arrows accidentally struck Chiron as well. Despite the fact that Chiron, who is immortal, did not perish, he could still experience excruciating pain.

    The intelligent centaur, unable to endure it, offered to exchange his immortality for relief from the suffering and to take the place of the Titan Prometheus, who was chained to the summit of a mountain and had his liver eaten by an eagle every day. Zeus agreed to the trade. Afterwards, Heracles used one of his arrows to kill the eagle, ending Chiron’s suffering.

    Chiron provided advice on how to catch the Erymanthian Boar, telling the hero that luring the animal into deep snow would make it a breeze. Chiron gave Heracles some guidance, and he quickly caught the boar. He then went back to Eurystheus, who was so terrified upon seeing the beast that he locked himself inside a big jar and begged Heracles to kill it.

    Labour five: cleaning the stables of Augeas

    The stables of King Augeas of Elis housed a sizable herd of cattle. They were all endowed with eternal life and great health, and since they were all so active, they produced an enormous amount of manure. Eurystheus asked Heracles to clean Augeas’ stables in a day because they hadn’t been cleaned in thirty years. This humiliating task was designed to damage Hercules’ reputation.

    Creator of the Olympics

    When Heracles arrived at King Augeas’ court, he requested a tenth of the livestock in exchange for cleaning the stables in a single day. The monarch granted his request. By directing the rivers Alpheus and Peneus to pass through the stables and wash them out, the hero was able to finish the mission. 

    Heracles sued Augeas in court after the latter failed to pay him, and with the support of Augeas’ son Phyleus, the hero was successful in his claim. Prior to the court’s decision, Augeas exiled both Phyleus and Heracles. Angry, Heracles went back to Elis and killed Augeas before giving Phyleus the kingship. He is credited with founding the Olympic Games at this time.

    Despite Heracles’ accomplishment, Eurystheus did not consider it a victory because he claimed that the rivers had completed the task for him and that he had been paid for it.

    Labour six: slaying the Stymphalian Birds

    The Stymphalian birds were enormous flying creatures that devoured humans with their bronze beaks. Their wings were constructed of metallic feathers that could be flung at their prey, and their dung was extremely poisonous. 

    Eurystheus’ next assignment to Heracles was to slay the Stymphalian birds. They belonged to the battle god Ares and resided near Lake Stymphalia, where they obliterated the entire region, including the towns.

    Hercules was unable to delve too far since he would inevitably perish in the marsh. He was aided by Athena, who gave him a rattle. The rattle’s noise startled the birds, causing them to flee from where they were hiding. 

    They were easy pickings for Heracles to take out with his deadly arrows while they were in the air. The remaining birds took to the air to terrorize other lands; in fact, the Argonauts eventually came across them.

    Labour seven: capturing the Cretan Bull

    Heracles’ sixth assignment from Eurystheus was to seize the Cretan Bull. This fabled beast wrecked havoc on the island of Crete by destroying the land and crops. Heracles was able to capture the bull with his own hands after receiving King Minos’ approval and returned it to Eurystheus’ palace. 

    Eurystheus chose to offer the animal as a sacrifice to Hera after witnessing the beast and hiding in his jar. The goddess declined the proposal because it would have further enhanced the success of Heracles. 

    Instead, it was released into the wild where it eventually settled in the Marathon region, earning the name Marathonian Bull. Theseus later caught it, and it was offered as a sacrifice to Apollo and Athena.

    Labour eight: stealing the Mares of Diomedes

    The Mares of Diomedes were vicious creatures bred to devour human flesh. Diomedes, the king of Thrace, was the owner of them. It was thought that the horses’ abnormal diet caused them to become insane, unmanageable, and occasionally even capable of breathing fire. One source claims that Heracles brought several young men with him to assist him in his job. 

    They were all pursued by Diomedes and his troops when they were successful in stealing the beasts. When he was fighting Diomedes, Heracles instructed his companion Abderus to take care of the horses. Hercules discovered Abderus had been devoured by the mares upon his return. Heracles, who was overcome with rage, eventually created the city of Abdera in honor of his buddy Diomedes after feeding him to his own horses. 

    The horses calmed down after being fed, and Hercules took advantage of the opportunity to tie their mouths shut. He returned them to Eurystheus, who either let them go free or offered them as a sacrifice to Hera because they were now quiet all the time.

    Labour nine: stealing the girdle of Hippolyta

    The Amazon queen Hippolyta received a girdle as a gift from her father Ares, and Admete, Eurystheus’ daughter, discovered this and decided she wanted the girdle for herself. Eurystheus made the decision to make this Heracles’ ninth labor to accomplish.

    Heracles went off for the Themiscyra region, where the Amazons lived, with a group of companions. They made a pit break on the way there at the island of Paros, where two of Heracles’ friends were murdered by the sons of King Minos of Crete. 

    Angry, Heracles murdered Minos’ sons and asked that two more citizens take the place of his deceased allies. Two of Minos’ grandsons joined the group as a result, and they all set sail once more.

    At the Amazonian region

    They arrived at the home of the Amazons after a little detour through the court of Heracles’ friend Lycus. Hippolyta was so amazed after hearing about the magnificent deeds that Heracles had accomplished that she readily agreed to accept her girdle. Hippolyta happily complied when Heracles invited her to join him on board the ship for lunch. But, a disguised Hera went to the Amazons at the same time and began circulating rumors that Heracles intended to kidnap their queen. The Amazons rode toward the ship after deciding to fight Heracles. Heracles believed that Hippolyta had set everything up and that she had no intention of giving up the girdle when he saw them. As a result, he killed her, seized the belt, and sailed back to Tiryns.

    Labour ten: stealing the cattle of Geryon

    Heracles’ ninth labor involved robbing Geryon, who resided on the western island of Erytheia, of his animals. When Heracles set out on his mission, he had to first traverse the Libyan desert. He eventually shot an arrow at the sun because he was so annoyed by the heat. 

    The sun god, Helios, was so moved by Heracles’ bravery that he decided to lend a hand by giving him his own golden chariot, which he used to travel nightly across the sea from west to east. Heracles boarded the chariot and traveled all night to get to Erytheia.

    The two-headed dog Orthrus, brother of the three-headed hound Cerberus and keeper of the Underworld, was his first challenge there. Orthrus only only one strike from Heracles’ club to end his life. When Eurytion, the herdsman, learned what had transpired, he attempted to confront Heracles but was similarly dispatched. Geryon assaulted the hero right away, grabbing his three shields, three spears, and three helmets. But, a strong arrow launched from Heracles’ bow was sufficient to penetrate Geryon’s forehead and bring about his death.

    returning the livestock

    Returning the livestock to Tiryns was a separate operation in and of itself. The Roman version of the legend claims that Heracles traveled through the Aventine Hill, on which Rome would eventually be founded. A giant there by the name of Cacus stole some of the livestock, but Heracles’ surviving herd of cattle shouted out for the cattle to be rescued. 

    Hera sent a gadfly to agitate the animals and scatter them as an additional barrier. In less than a year, Hercules was able to retrieve them. But Hera had brought a flood before he came to Tiryns, and the river was so high that he could not cross it. Heracles then began to fill the river with stones and built a bridge across the two riverbanks. He eventually arrived in Tiryns, the site of the goddess’s sacrifice of animals.

    After completing the tenth labor, Eurystheus informed Heracles that he believed two of the tasks were invalid because Iolaus assisted Heracles in slaying the Hydra and because he had already been paid for cleaning the Augean Stables. Hence, two additional labors had to be performed. Which were:

    11. The Hesperidean Apples must be stolen.

    12. to seize Cerberus, the Underworld’s watchman.

    Labour eleven: stealing the apples from the garden of Hesperides

    The Hesperides were nymphs of the setting sun who looked after a garden in the far western region of the globe. In order to determine the precise location of the garden, Heracles was able to catch the shape-shifting sea god known as the Old Man of the Sea. 

    Heracles also faced the half-giant Antaeus on this quest, who was impervious to harm because he drew strength from his mother, Gaea (the ground), whenever he touched it. Hercules crushed him with his hands after holding him high so his feet wouldn’t touch the ground.

    There are two stories of how Heracles got the apples. According to one story, he arrived in the Hesperidean Garden, where he killed Ladon, the dragon who guarded the apples, and seized them. In another account, he encountered Atlas, the Titan deity doomed to bear the sky on his shoulders. As the Hesperides’ father, Atlas also had access to the garden at all times. Hercules convinced Atlas to temporarily switch places so that Atlas might go get some of the apples. 

    In agreement, Atlas did indeed take a few of the apples. On his return, he made the decision that he did not want to once again bear the weight of the sky. He was duped by Heracles into saying that he would be keeping the sky but first needed to alter his cloak. Atlas consented to temporarily return the sky, but Heracles left carrying the fruits.

    Labour twelve: capturing Cerberus, guardian of the Underworld

    Heracles’ last task was to catch Cerberus, the three-headed dog who served as the Underworld’s watchdog. Heracles made the decision to become initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries before entering the Underworld so that he may learn how to traverse between the worlds of the living and the dead while still alive. 

    Afterwards, with the assistance of Athena and Hermes, he traveled to Tanaerum, the location of one of the Underworld’s entrances. Hestia, a deity, also assisted him in his negotiations with Charon, the man who drove the souls’ boats across the River Acheron and into the Underworld.

    When he got to the Underworld, he ran upon Theseus and Pirithous, two heroes who had been imprisoned there by Hades because they had tried to kidnap Persephone. One version of the tale claims that snakes curled around their legs before turning into stone. According to a separate account, the god of the underworld pretended to be friendly and invited them to a feast. The heroes were kept there, though, since the chairs they were sitting in magically induced forgetfulness. 

    Theseus was saved by Hercules when he was lifted from his chair, but his thigh was glued to the chair, which explains why Athenians are said to have thin thighs. The earth began to tremble as the hero attempted to save Pirithous, however, and it appears that this was because the earth found his yearning for Persephone to be so offensive that it forbade him from leaving.

    Hades was located by Heracles, who asked him to transport Cerberus to the surface. The god agreed, but only on the condition that no weapons be used in the process. Heracles was able to control the hound with his hands and carried it to Tiryns on his back. Upon seeing the monster, Eurystheus fled in terror inside his jar and begged Heracles to take it back to the Underworld in order to free him from further labor.