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Greek Mythology: The 12 Labours of Hercules


The Twelve Labours of Hercules
The Twelve Labours of Hercules


Everybody loves a hero, but, in these times of modern heroes, namely Batman, Spider man, Superman et al, the greatest, most famous and loved hero of ancient Greece, Hercules, has all but been forgotten.


I would have forgotten Hercules myself, if it were not for my frequent trips to the small, typically Greek town of Nemea, where the proud residents repeatedly acquaint me with its history.


“Did you know?” is the usual start to the history lesson, to which I dutifully answer;


 “Yes, I know, over forty three wineries, producing some of the best wine in Greece are located in Nemea, and, oh yes, I have seen the amazing ancient ruins, dominated by The Temple of Zeus, and it’s well-known that The Nemean Games were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, founded by Hercules after he defeated the Nemean Lion”



The Temple of Zeus Ancient Nemea Photo Carole Raddato
The Temple of Zeus
Ancient Nemea
Photo Carole Raddato


When in Nemea, if you don’t have much time, avoid mentioning the Nemean Lion, you will get the story, chapter and verse, if you do have time, sit down and listen, a wonderful story it is.


This is how I came to hear about Hercules and his twelve labours, I only ever heard the first one, which is, of course, the slaying of the Lion of Nemea, I’m not too sure they were interested in the other eleven, as they didn’t take place in their neck of the woods.


 Well, maybe they liked the one about the Stymphalian Birds, as Stymphalia is only a stone’s throw away from Nemea.


 Anyway, I decided to find out about “The Twelve Labours of Hercules” for myself.


This is the story of a woman scorned, and we all know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.


Hercules was the result of an illicit affair, between Zeus, King of the Gods of Mount Olympus, and Alcmene, who was nothing but a mere mortal.


It was bad enough for Hera, Zeus’s wife, to know she was married to an unfaithful old goat, but to see the living proof of his infidelity, right under her nose every day, in the shape of Hercules, whom she hated, made her blood boil.


Zeus tried to smooth things over, he even went to the extent of changing the child’s name, who had been born Alcaeus, but was given the name Hercules, meaning "Glorious gift of Hera" in Greek, in the hope it would mollify Hera, but, to no avail!



Hera Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
Hera
Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)



Hera, Queen of the heavens, Goddess of marriage, women and childbirth, daughter of Cronus and Rhea, was out for revenge, and poor Hercules was the one about to pay.


Hercules, it seems, was no angel either, after killing his music teacher, Linus, with a lyre, he was sent to tend cattle in the mountains, and later, whilst living in Thebes, he fell in love with Megara, daughter of Creon, King of Thebes, whom he married and went on to have children with.


For Hera, out of sight did not mean out of mind, with her super powers, she managed to get inside Hercules’ head, and sent him completely crazy, where upon, in a fit of frenzy, Hercules murdered his wife and children.


When his madness had been cured with hellebore by Antikyreus, (founder of Antikyra), Hercules realized what he had done, his remorse knew no bounds, how was he to atone himself of this dreadful act?


Like any Greek worth his salt at that time, Hercules knew he would find the answer from the oracle at Delphi, Pythia, so off to Delphi it was, little did Hercules know though, Pythia was guided by Hera!



Pythia the Delphi Oracle  J. Augustus Knap
Pythia the Delphi Oracle
 J. Augustus Knapp


Pythia instructed Hercules to go to Tiryns, a major Mycenaean citadel, located in Argolis, near Mycenae, where his cousin, Eurystheus, was King, and to do all the King’s bidding, if he managed to do this for ten years; he would be free of his remorse, purified of his sins and granted immortality.


Hercules was not at all pleased with this, for he knew himself to be a much greater man than Eurystheus, and the thought of being his servant was mortifying, but, a hero has to do what a hero has to do, and so, Hercules headed down the road for Tiryns.


Once at Tiryns, Hercules was received by King Eurystheus, who thought Hercules to be a dirty little upstart, and now had the chance to take him down a peg or two, he set about doing so, by giving Hercules ten tasks to fulfill, one for each of the ten years he was to remain in the king’s service.


The Farnese Hercules a copy of original by Lysippos. Copy made for Baths of Carac, Rome. 261 AD
The Farnese Hercules a copy of original by Lysippos
. Copy made for Baths of Carac, Rome. 261 AD


Yes, yes, I know, “The Labours of Hercules” are twelve, read on; you will see how the ten became twelve.


This is rather a long post, but, if Hercules could endure his twelve labours, and I could endure writing about them, then surely, you can endure reading about them!


This is the traditional order of the labours.


The Twelve Labours of Hercules


1. Slay the Nemean Lion.

2. Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.

3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind.

4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar.

5. Clean the Augean stables in a single day.

6. Slay the Stymphalian Birds.

7. Capture the Cretan Bull.

8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes.

9. Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.

10. Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.

11. Steal the apples of the Hesperides.

12. Capture and bring back Cerberus.



1.   The Nemean Lion



Pieter Paul Reubens Hercules and the Nemean Lion
Pieter Paul Reubens
Hercules and the Nemean Lion


For his first task, Hercules was instructed by Eurystheus, to bring him the pelt of the Nemean lion, which was said to roam the hillsides around Nemea, taking women to his cave as hostages, where he would then lay in wait for their rescuers to appear.


Once the brave warriors entered the lion’s den, in search of their kidnapped maidens, the lion hid the hapless women at the back of his cave, transformed himself into their likeness, and the moment the warriors came close, grabbed them by the neck, gobbled them up and gave their bones to Hades (God of the underworld).


Hercules arrived in Cleonea, near Nemea, where he lodged with a poor shepherd, Molorchus, who has lost his son to the lion, Molorchus offered to sacrifice a ram, to assure success for Hercules’ mission, but Hercules refused saying, “No, wait thirty days, if I return with the lion’s pelt, we will sacrifice the ram to Zeus, my father, King of the Gods, if I don’t return, sacrifice the ram to me, as a hero”.


After tracking the lion for days, Hercules found his arrows were useless, the lion’s pelt was impervious to all weapons.


After many days and much ado, Hercules managed to back the lion into its cave, blocking one entrance, (Of which there were two) and entering through the other, whacked the lion unconscious with his club and strangled it with his bare hands.


Hercules’s elation at slaying the lion was short lived, when he discovered that no way could he skin the lion with his knife, no matter how hard he tried.


 Athena, Goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, who had been watching Hercules’ efforts, suggested he use one of the lions own claws to remove the pelt, this he did, with great success, and returned, with the pelt, to Molorchus, where they triumphantly sacrificed a ram to Zeus.


Thirty days later, on seeing Hercules return to him with the lion’s pelt, Eurystheus was terrified, who was this man of such courage and strength?


Not wishing to lose face, Eurystheus, informed Hercules, that seeing it was his first task, he had been given an easy one, in future, they would escalate in difficulty, task by task, and forbade him ever to enter the city again, from now on, his was to leave the fruits of his labours outside the city’s gates.


2. The Lernaean Hydra



The Lernean Hydra Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)
The Lernean Hydra
Gustave Moreau (1826-1898)


Eurystheus sent Hercules to slay the Lernean Hydra, a terrible monster, created by Hera, with only one thing in mind, to slay Hercules.


On entering the swamp at Lake Lerna, where the Hydra, had its lair, at the Spring of Amymone, Hercules was knocked sideways by the putrid poisonous air, but determined to carry out this second task, he covered his nose and mouth with a cloth, shot flaming arrows into the creature’s lair, whose only choice was to make a run for it, which it did, only to have its head chopped off by Hercules’ sword.


To Hercules’ dismay, two heads instantly sprouted in its place, this meant calling for back up, Hercules yelled for his cousin Lolaus, who was on the scene before you could say boo to a goose, and, as Hercules sliced off the Hydra’s many heads, Lolaus cauterized the stumps with a firebrand.


When the last immortal head was severed, but still alive and writhing on a rock, Hercules dipped his sword (A present from the Goddess Athina) into the poisonous blood of the Hydra, which he later used to kill a myriad of future enemies.


3. The Ceryneian Hind


The Hind of Ceryneia   by Erica Williams.
The Hind of Ceryneia
 by Erica Williams.


After Hercules had slain the Hydra, Eurystheus realized no creature was any match for him, so he thought he’d try another tack, and demanded that Hercules catch The Ceryneian Hind, also known in Greek mythology as Ceryinitis or The Golden Hind.


The Ceryneian Hind, with its golden antlers and bronze hooves, said to be able to outrun an arrow, belonged to the hunter Goddess Artemis, and was sacred to her.


Knowing how Artemis treasured her Ceryneian Hind, Eurystheus was sure, that when she discovered who had stolen it, Artemis would bring great wrath upon Hercules.


After a year of seeking high and low for The Ceryneian Hind, on a chase that took him through Greece, Thrace, Istria and the land of the Hypeboreans ( mythical people who lived "beyond the North Wind").


 Hercules was about to give in, when he spotted its golden antlers, glinting in the sunlight.


Quick as a flash, Hercules pulled out his net, flung it through the air, capturing The Ceryneian Hind.


On his way back to present his trophy to Eurystheus, Hercules bumped into Artemis, out walking with her brother Apollo.


Artemis was furious to see her sacred hind in Hercules’ clutches.


Hercules explained what was going on, and, vowed to return the hind, if Artemis forgave him, a counter blow to Eurystheus’ plan.


On his return, Hercules learnt the hind was to be part of the King’s menagerie, so he demanded the King come out and take possession of the hind himself.


As soon as the King had one foot outside the city gates, Hercules let go of the hind, which sprinted back to Artemis.


Hercules commiserated with Eurystheus, telling him he had not been fast enough, and went upon his way.


4. The Erymanthian Boar


The Erymanthian Boar Francisco de Zurbarán  Museo Nacional del Prado
The Erymanthian Boar
Francisco de Zurbarán
 Museo Nacional del Prado 


The Erymanthian Boar was a fearful wild creature, which lived on Mount Erymanthios, a mountain in the desolate highlands of Arcadia, who, every day would come crashing down from his cave on the mountain, attacking men and animals, gouging them with its tusks, and destroying everything in its path.


On his way to find the Erymanthian Boar, Hercules stopped off at his friend’s, Pholus the centaur, (One of those mythical creatures, with the body of a man, and legs of a horse), for a bite to eat.


Hercules asked for wine, but Pholos, who only had the one jar, a gift from Dionysus, was reluctant to open it, but, with a little persuasion from Hercules, he gave in and pulled the cork.


The smell of the wine immediately attracted the attention of all other centaurs living on the mountain, who, following the scent, arrived at the house of Pholos, where they proceeded to quaff down the wine like there was no tomorrow, causing them to become exceedingly drunk.


We all know how bolshy a drunk can be, the centaurs were no exception, and they turned out to be the belligerent type, attacking all and sundry.


To save himself from the centaurs, Hercules let his arrows fly left, right and centre, wounding his friend Chiron, Chief centaur, who quickly hot-footed it back to the safety of his cave.


Hercules ran after Chiron, who luckily was not too badly injured, and, on telling Chiron the reason why he was in the area, Chiron advised Hercules to drive the boar into thick snow, which would slow the creature down, enabling Hercules to catch it.


Hercules soon came across The Erymanthian Boar, which wasn’t difficult, considering the loud snorting and sniffling it made, while rummaging for food.


 Heeding Chiron’s advice, Hercules drove The Erymanthian Boar into deep snow, where he once again, pulled out his trusty net and with it, trapped the ferocious animal.


Hercules had once again prevailed, Eurystheus, amazed and frightened by the hero's powers, hid in a half-buried bronze jar, which he had positioned at the gates of the city, as protection from Hercules.


5. The Augean Stables


The Augean Stables.  Morgan-Snell 1975
The Augean Stables.
 Morgan-Snell 1975


Hercules’ fifth chore was calculated to humiliate, rather than impress, as well as being nigh on impossible.


In the stables of King Augean, lived his immortal livestock, over a thousand in number, well-known, for the unbelievable amount of dung they produced, these stables had not been mucked out in over thirty years!


Before beginning this mammoth task, Hercules struck a deal with King Augean, If Hercules finished the task in one day, King Augean would reward him with one-tenth of his cattle.


Quick thinking Hercules, diverted the nearby rivers of Alpheus and Penus, re-routing them through the Augean stables, where the flowing waters swept away the filth of thirty years.


Dreaming of his reward, rubbing his hands in glee, Hercules went to King Augean to inform that the job was finished, and had been done in the allotted time of one day, and could he now please have his reward.


King Augean, it turned out, was not a man of his word, and tried to reason with Hercules that he would have cleaned out the stables any way, with or without reward, as the chore had been ordered by Eurystheus.


Hercules was having none of this and, with the support of Augean’s son Phyleus, took King Augean to court.



Hercules won his case, received his reward, and together with Phyleus, were both subsequently banished from the kingdom by King Augean.


6. The Stymphalian Birds



Hercules Kills the Symphalic Birds   Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528 Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg
Hercules Kills the Stymphphalian  Birds
 Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528 Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg


The Stymphalian Birds, sacred to Aries, God of war, were birds which had migrated to the Lake of Stymphalia, Arcadia, where they bred like rabbits, taking over the countryside.


These man-eating birds, with beaks of bronze and sharp, metallic feathers, and highly toxic dung, destroyed crops, fruit trees and even the townspeople themselves, who they shot at with their sharp metal feathers.


On arriving at Stymphphalia  swamp, Hercules saw he could not venture near enough, to reach the birds, the swamp would not support his weight, but, the Goddess Athina, seeing his plight, once again saved the day.


Athina gave Hercules a rattle, especially made for the occasion by Hephaestus, Greek God of Blacksmiths.


Hercules shook the rattle with all his might, frightening the birds so much, they flew into the air, only to be struck by Hercules’ arrows, those which were not hit, flew away, never to return to Stymphphalia .


7. Cretan Bull


Cretan Bull, the  Minotaur,  half bull, half man
Cretan Bull, the  Minotaur,
 half bull, half man


For the seventh labour we see Hercules sailing to Crete, in order to catch the famous Cretan bull, the Minotaur, a bull presented to King Minos by the God of the sea, Poseidon, as a sign that Minos  had the right, and was more worthy than his brothers, of being the King of Crete.


Poseidon sent the snow-white bull, to Minos with orders that it be sacrificed to the Gods, Minos though, took a shine to the Snow-white bull, and in its place, sacrificed a bull of his own which sent Poseidon into an absolute rage.


To teach Minos a lesson, Poseidon had Aphrodite, Goddess of love; cause Pasiphae, wife of Minos, to fall in love with the bull, a passionate love affair ensued, the result was Pasiphae giving birth to the minotaur, half bull, half man, which went on the rampage, destroying anything that got in its way.


After consulting Pythia, the oracle at Delphi, Minos had Daedalus, father of Icarus and a skillful craftsman and artist build a labyrinth, in which to imprison the Minotaur.

On reaching Crete, King Minos gave Hercules permission to take away the wretched bull, in fact, he even offered to pay him for the job, which Hercules, out of pride, refused.


Hercules wrestled the bull into a strangle hold, choking the huge creature until it fell unconscious, whence he quickly trussed it up and had the bull shipped to Tiryns, where cowardly Eurystheus, at first sight of the bull, hid in his half-buried pot.


Eurystheus would have liked to sacrifice the bull in honour of Hera, the woman scorned, the cause of Hercules’ woes, Hera refused, as this act would only reflect glory on Hercules.


The bull was set free, and found its way to Marathon, where it became known as the Marathonian Bull.


8. Mares of Diomedes


Diomedes King of Thrace Killed by Hercules and Devoured by his own Horses.  1752. Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre.
Diomedes King of Thrace Killed by Hercules and Devoured by his own Horses.
 1752. Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre.


King Diomedes of Thrace owned four mares, Podargos ("swift-footed"), Lampon ("the shining"), Xanthos ("the blond"), and Deinos ("the terrible"), who he had trained to eat only human flesh, the consequence of this “human flesh only diet”  were that the mares were totally mad, and had to be kept tethered to a bronze manger.


One version of this story states Hercules took Abdera with him (A divine hero, reputed by some to be one of Heracles' lovers), to help captures the mares.


While getting on with the business of fighting Diomedes, Hercules left Abdera in charge of the mares, who was at once devoured by the mad mares, on learning of Abdera’s misfortune, Hercules, in revenge, fed Diomedes to his own horses, then founded the city of Abdera next to the boy's tomb.


Another version has Hercules staying awake all night, so as not to have his throat cut by Diomedes, he then sets the mares free by cutting the chains that hold them, drives them on to a peninsula, quickly digs a trench through the peninsula, which filled with water, creating an island.


When Diomedes turned up, looking for his mares, Hercules felled him with the same axe used to dig the trench and fed Diomedes body to the mares, calming them down, as eating human flesh had this effect on them.


Both versions indicate that eating seemed to calm the mares, giving Hercules a chance to bind their mouths shut, enabling him to safely take them back to Eurystheus, who dedicated the mares to Hera.


9. Belt of Hippolyta



Vittore Carpaccio - Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons (1495)
 Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons (1495)
Vittore Carpaccio


Eurystheus' daughter, Admete, was sick for the Belt of Hippolyta, (Queen of the Amazons, a race of women warriors) which had been a gift to Hippolyta from her father Ares, God of war.


. To please his daughter, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to retrieve the Belt as his ninth labour.


Hercules, taking a group of friends with him, set sail for Themiscyra, home of Hyppolyta, on the way stopping at the island of Parros, home to sons of Minos, King of Crete.


While on the island of Parros, Minos’ sons killed two of Hercules men, in retaliation, Hercules killed two sons of Minos, and took two of Minos’ grandsons, Alcaeus and Sthenelus in place of his two murdered companions.


Hercules and his men continued their journey, and landed at the court of Lycus, who happened to be in battle with King Mygdon of Bebryces, Hercules, being the hero he was, defended Lycus, and killed King Mygdon, whose land he then gave to Lycus, who named the land Heraclea, in honour of Hercules.


Hippolyta, who had sneakily been watching the goings on of Hercules, was mightily impressed with his exploits, and at once agreed to give him the belt.


Enter Hera,(Throwing spanners in the works again), who had disguised herself as one of the Amazons, and walked amongst them, claiming the strangers were here to kidnap Hyppolyta.


Fearing for their Queen’s life, the Amazon women set off on horseback to find and kill Hercules.


When Hercules saw the raging Amazons heading his way, he thought this was what Hippolyta had in mind all along, and she would never have given him the belt; there was only one thing to do, kill Hyppolyta, which he did, then he snatched the belt and returned with it to Eurystheus.


10. Cattle of Geryon



The Cattle of Geryon Jun-Pierre Shiozawa
 The Cattle of Geryon
Jun-Pierre Shiozawa


Geryon, a monster with one body, three heads with human faces, and the appearance of a warrior was the grandson of Medusa, and lived on the island of Erytheia in the Western Mediterranean.


Geryon owned a herd of impressive red cattle, which were guarded by his two-headed dog, Orthus, (Brother of Cerberus, the hound of hell) and a herdsman, Eurytion.


Hercules travelled to Erytheia, also known as the Hesperides, forced to cross the Libyan Desert, where the heat was so intense, Hercules, in a fit of anger, shot an arrow at the Sun God, Helios.


Helios, taken aback by this courageous act, assigned to Hercules, his golden chariot, the one he used each night, to cross the sea from East to West.


Jumping into the golden chariot, Hercules sailed for Erytheia , where, upon landing; he came face to face with the savage two-headed dog, Orthus, who he took out with one swift swipe of his olive-wood club, when the herdsman, Eurytion, on  seeing the commotion, rushed to the scene, and was dealt with in the same way.


The news of Hercules’ arrival and the deaths of Orthus and Eurytion, soon reached the ears of Geryon, who, carrying three shields, three spears, and wearing three helmets, caught up with Hercules at the River Anthemus.


Hercules shot Geryon, with an arrow dipped in the poisonous blood of the Lernian Hydra, herded the cattle into the golden chariot, and set off on the return journey to Greece.


The homeward journey was not an easy one, at Liguria, two sons of Poseidon tried to steal the cattle, Hercules killed them, at Rhegium a bull escaped, swam to Sicily, and then, on to the neighboring country, where the word for bull was “Italus”, and so, the country came to be known as Italy.


Leaving the cattle of Geryon in the hands of Hephaestus, God of Blacksmiths, Hercules went to recover the escaped bull, which had been found by King Eryx (Another son of Poseidon), who refused to return the bull, unless Hercules wrestled with him, they went three rounds before Hercules killed Eryx, seized the bull and returned to the herd.


All went well, until Hercules reached the Ionian sea, where Hera, in attempt to thwart Hercules, sent a gadfly to attack the herd, scattering them left and right, after running all over Thrace, Hercules regrouped the cattle, managed the last leg of his journey without more interruption, presented the cattle of Geryon to Eurystheus, who, to Hercules disgust, sacrificed them to Hera!


Halleluiah, the end, or is it?


Ten years have passed, ten labours completed, that was the deal between Hercules and King Eurystheus, now Hercules could be released from the clutches of Eurystheus, he would be free of his remorse, purified of his sins and granted immortality.


With a happy heart, and freedom on his mind, Hercules approached Eurystheus, to bid him goodbye and good riddance, but Eurystheus, who had thoroughly enjoyed these past ten years, was loathe to set Hercules free, and informed Hercules there had been a breach in their contract.


Firstly, Eurystheus explained to Hercules, while executing Labour number two, “The slaying of the Lernian Hydra”, you received physical help from your cousin Lolaus, which was not in our agreement, you were to act alone.


Secondly, while executing labour number five, “The Cleaning of the Augean Stables”, you received payment from King Augean, also not in our agreement, therefore, these two labours, are null and void, I have no alternative but to set another two labours.


Hecules’s heart sank, but, he had to concede, Eurystheus was correct, and, being a man of honour, he had no choice other than to accept the challenge of two more labours.


11. Apples of the Hesperides


 Apples of the Hesperides Remnev, Andrey (1962- ) - 2008
 Apples of the Hesperides
Remnev, Andrey (1962- ) - 2008


 Eurystheus ordered Hercules to steal the golden apples of Hesperides, apples which were a wedding present from Hera, to Zeus, and were guarded by a hundred-headed dragon, Ladon, and the Hesperides, (Nymphs, daughters of Atlas).


After terrible trials and tribulation, while trying to locate the Hesperides, Hercules finally arrived at his destination, and encountered Atlas, (A Titan condemned to hold up the sky for eternity).


 Prometheus, (A Titan in Greek mythology, Greek mythology, the creator of mankind, who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to mankind), had told Hercules, the only way to obtain the golden apples, was to persuade Atlas to bring him them.


Atlas hated holding up the sky and the earth, so when Hercules requested that Atlas brought him the apples, he was happy to give the weight of the world to Hercules to bear, while he went off to gather apples.


“What a relief to be rid of the weight of the world,” thought Atlas, “It’s about time someone else took a turn”


Returning to Hercules with the apples, Atlas informed Hercules, he’d had enough of holding up the sky, “you hold it for a while, and I’ll take the apples to Eurystheus”.


Hercules had been afraid of something like this happening, he had a plan ready, and said to Atlas “ Fair’s fair old chap, I’ll give it a go, but, before you leave, will you just place this padding on my shoulders, the weight’s killing them”


As soon as Atlas placed the apples on the ground, and took the world off Hercules shoulders, in order to put the padding in place, as quick as flash, Hercules grabbed the apples, and ran off to give them to Eurystheus, leaving Atlas, once again, with the weight of the world on his shoulders.


12. Cerberus



Ceryneian Hound Frizz-Bee DevianArt
Ceryneian Hound
Frizz-Bee DevianArt


Hercules’ twelfth, final and most dangerous labour (No man had ever returned from the underworld) was to catch Cerberus, the 3-headed hound that was guardian of the gates of the underworld.


To prepare for his journey to the underworld, Hercules felt he needed to be initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries (Initiations held every year for the cult of Demeter and Persephone based at Eleusis in ancient Greece, the most famous of the secret religious rites of ancient Greece).


The aim of the  Eleusian Mysteries, founded by priest Eumolbus, was intended to lay the groundwork for people about to enter the underworld, to be initiated in Eleusis, was considered by the ancient Greeks, to assure happiness in the underworld.


After being initiated at Eleusis, Hercules entered the underworld, through a cave in Taenarum in Laconia, taking Hermes and Athena as guides, where he searched for Hades, God of the underworld, to ask his permission to take Cerberus up to the world above.


“On one condition” answered Hades, “You must overcome the hound without the use of weapons”


Hercules came across Ceberus, near the gates of Acheron, one of the five rivers of the Underworld (The five rivers of of Hades, are Achero -the river of sorrow, or woe, Cocytus-lamentation, Phlegethon-fire, Lethe-oblivion, and Styx-hate), and knocked him out with his bare hands.


With Cerberus slung over his shoulder, Hercules left the underworld, and delivered him to Eurystheus, who had once more, terrified by the site of the three-headed beast, retreated to his half-buried earthen pot, from where he begged Hercules to return it to the underworld, promising, in return, to never, ever impose on him, any other labours. Hercules, at last, was free.



Mythological frieze sarcophagus showing the Labors of Hercules. Ca. 240-250 AD. Rome, Palazzo Altemps (inv. 8642).
Mythological frieze sarcophagus showing the Labors of Hercules
. Ca. 240-250 AD. Rome, Palazzo Altemps (inv. 8642).


Tradition has it, that after fulfilling these twelve “Herculean” tasks, (Now you know where that phrase originated!), and was purified of his sins and granted immortality, Hercules went on to join Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.


 Eventually, after many years, the Greek super hero was poisoned and died on a funeral pyre.


 Hercules’ immortal spirit ascended to Mount Olympus. 


There is a debate as to whether Hercules was a divine God or a mere mortal, did the locations of his adventures exist, and did he himself ever exist?


I can’t help but wonder, that if after the next three thousand years, Historians and archeologists will be asking the same questions about Superman, Spider man and Batman, and did the city of Gotham actually exist?





For anyone wanting to learn more about ancient mythology, Edith Hamilton's book;


covers everything, Greek, Roman, and Norse myths and legends.

It's an easy to read book, dived into seven sections, all including wonderful wood-cut illustrations by Steele Savage.



It's interesting to realize, how myths from different countries, all seem to connect to each other, in one way or another.

Since its first publication in 1942, the book has sold millions of copies worldwide, and has received many glowing reviews.
"No one in modern times has shown us more vividly than Edith Hamilton 'the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome.' Filtering the golden essence from the mass of classical literature, she proved how applicable to our daily lives are the humor and wisdom of more than 2,000 years ago." "New York Times"


More glorious Greek myths:


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