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The Twelve Labours of Hercules

Greece ● 18 October 2021
Hercules was a prominent figure of Greek mythology, and he was well-known for his extraordinary strength from the day he was born. Because of that strength and his fantastic story and adventures, he is considered the greatest of all Greek heroes. There are numerous myths about him, all showing his strength, bravery and intelligence. 

Hercules was the son of the god Zeus and mortal Alcmene. Alcmene was initially married to Amphitryon, but Zeus disguised himself as Amphitryon and slept with her one night. A few months later, Hercules was born. This outraged goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus, who got very jealous and wanted revenge. She decided to send two snakes to the cradle of Hercules to strangle him. But Hercules was firm and fearless from birth, so he strangled them first! 

Statue of the great hero Hercules

When he grew up, Hercules married Megara, the daughter of the king of Thebes. They also had three children together. Hercules was happy and successful, and Hera couldn't tolerate that. This time she decided to give him a temporary madness. Because of this madness, Hercules killed both his wife and children. When he recovered, he was devastated and didn't know what to do. Hercules decided then to visit the Oracle of Delphi to ask for guidance. He was told that to achieve his atonement, he should serve for some time the king of Mycenae, Eurystheuswho would assign him some labours. The labours were supposed to be ten initially, but then Eurystheus decided that two of them weren't carried out according to the rules, so they didn't count. As a result, Hercules had to carry out twelve labours in total. 

The Twelve Labours of Hercules include his most fascinating and adventurous stories. They were the following:

1. The Nemean Lion

The first labour assigned to him was to slay the Nemean Lion, a huge lion that was terrorising the area of Nemea. Beating this incredible beast seemed almost impossible, not only because of its strength but also its impenetrable skin. That meant that no arrow or other human gun could kill it. Hercules didn't know that, so he tried to use his arrows at first. This had no result. He had to try something else. He waited, and when the huge animal entered its cave, he blocked one of the two entrances and used the other to get close to the lion. When he got there, he used his incredible force and managed to slay it just with his bare hands! After killing it, Hercules wanted to take off its skin. He tried to do this with his knife, but it was impossible. Goddess Athena had to interfere and advised Hercules to use the lion's claws instead. He took her advice and managed to take the animal's skin. He then appeared back to Eurystheus wearing it, which terrified Eurystheus, as he thought the lion had come to the town!

Statue of Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion

2. The Lernaean Hydra

The second labour Hercules had to carry out was to slay the tremendous Lernaean Hydra. Hydra was a monster that lived in the lake of Lerna and looked like a serpent with nine heads. The monster was poisonous, and one of its heads was known to be immortal. 

The first problem Hercules had to solve was how to get it out of its hiding place - so he started shooting flaming arrows at it. This worked, but when the monster came out and attacked it, he realised he had a bigger problem. Every time he was cutting off one of its heads, two new heads were growing in its place! However, Hercules managed to find a solution - this time not alone, but with the help of his dear nephew Iolaus. After cutting one head, Iolaus would cauterise the stump by using a firebrand. The plan was a success, and they managed to slay the monster. Before leaving, Hercules made his arrows poisonous by using the toxic blood of the dead Hydra. However, Eurystheus decided that this labour should not count, as Hercules had the help of his nephew and didn't do it on his own.

3. The Ceryneian Hind

The third labour that Eurystheus chose for Hercules was to capture the Ceryneian Hind. The Ceryneian Hind was a beautiful deer with golden antlers under the protection of goddess Artemis. The deer was supposed to be very fast, so fast that it could even outrun an arrow. Eurystheus hoped that even if Hercules managed to catch it, this  would outrage Artemis, and she would punish him. 

Hercules had to chase and follow the animal for a whole year until it started getting tired, and he could capture it. According to the most popular myth, he caught it while sleeping. Artemis was outraged as expected, but when she confronted him, Hercules asked for forgiveness, explained his situation, and promised her that he would return the deer to her as soon as he completed his mission. Artemis forgave him and agreed to his terms. Hercules took the animal to Eurystheus and told him he must come out and receive it himself. He set the animal free when he came out, which ran back to Artemis. Therefore, he managed to complete the labour and at the same time keep his promise to her. 

4. The Erymanthian Boar

The fourth assigned labour was to capture the fearsome Erymanthian Boar. It was an enormous boar causing destruction and considerable problems to humans. Of course, it was challenging to catch this animal alive. Before going on his mission, Hercules decided to ask Centaur Pholus to give him some advice. He advised him to lead and chase the animal into the deep snow. So he did, and as the snow made it difficult for the animal to move, Hercules could catch it. When Eurystheus saw the huge animal was once again terrified and ordered Hercules to get rid of it. 

5. The Augean Stables

The fifth labour was to clean the Stables of the King Augeas in just one day. This was more difficult than it sounds, as Augeas had many cattle, which also produced a vast quantity of dung. And on top of that, the stables had not been cleaned for thirty years! However, Hercules completed the mission by diverting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus. As a result, the two rivers washed out all the dirt, and the stables were finally clean. 

Before cleaning the stables, Hercules had made a deal with Augeas. If he managed to complete the task in just one day, Augeas would give him one-tenth of his cattle. But after the mission's success, Augeas refused to pay him, saying he would have to do it anyway for Eurystheus and banished him. Hercules later returned, killed Augeas and gave his kingdom to his son Phyleus, who had supported him during his conflict with Augeas. Because of all these, Eurystheus didn't count this as one of the ten labours either. He said that Hercules tried to profit from the labour, which was against the rules.

6. The Stymphalian Birds

The sixth labour Hercules had to carry out was to slay the Stymphalian Birds. Stymfalian Birds were some frightening and aggressive man-eating birds that lived in Lake Stymfalia. What was so special about them was that their beaks were out of bronze, their feathers were metallic, and they were also poisonous. They were supposed to belong to either goddess Artemis or god Ares. 

Hercules went to Lake Stymfalia, and his original problem was to get them out of the area they were hiding to confront them. Luckily goddess Athena decided to help him. She gave him krotala, some loud noise-making clappers that god Hephaestus had made just for him. Using the krotala worked, and Hercules managed to kill many of them using his poisonous arrows, while the rest of them flew away and never disturbed the area again. 

7. The Cretan Bull

Hercules had to capture the famous Cretan Bull and bring it back to Eurystheus alive in this mission. According to the myth, this dreadful animal was the father of the Minotaur, the mythical creature that was half a bull and half a man. Hercules managed rather easily to capture it and bring it to Eurystheus. Eurystheus, of course, got very frightened at its view, so he set it free. However, the Bull started living in Marathon, terrorising the area, and it was later captured and killed by Theseus. 

8. The Mares of Diomedes

In his eighth labour, Hercules had to steal the four horses of Diomedes. Diomedes was the king of Thrace, and his father was god Ares. The horses were man-eating, and Diomedes fed them with strangers that arrived in his kingdom. There are many different stories about what happened when Hercules got there. In all of them, though, Hercules captures them and also has to kill Diomedes. In some versions, Diomedes is even fed to the animals by Hercules. After that, he took them to Eurystheus as he had to, and then again, there are many different endings to the story. According to the most popular, the horses end up on Mount Olympus, but Zeus doesn't want them either, so he kills them by sending wild animals to them.

9. The Girdle of Hippolyta 

Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons. Eurystheus's daughter, Admeta, wanted her famous girdle, so Eurystheus decided to send Hercules to bring it as part of his labours. The girdle was a beautiful belt, a gift from god Ares, and it symbolised Hippolyta's authority as queen of the Amazons. When he arrived in their land and explained his situation to Hippolyta, she sympathised with him and agreed to give him her belt. Hippolyta's agreement displeased Hera, who wanted Hercules to fail and  wasn't happy at all with the way things were going. She decided to disguise herself as an Amazon and started telling the other Amazons that Hercules planned to kidnap Hippolyta. The Amazons got outraged and were ready to start a battle. Once again, there are many different stories about what happened next. In some versions, Hippolyta dies, and Hercules takes the belt from her dead body. In others, he takes it from her while she is alive and captured. In all stories, though, Hercules is again a winner and accomplishes his mission.

Hercules and the Girdle of Hippolyta

10. The cattle of Geryon

In this labour, Hercules had to capture the cattle of Geryon. Geryon was a giant of great strength who had three heads and lived in Erytheia. When Hercules arrived in Erytheia for his mission, he had to face the two guards of the cattle: Eurytion, who was the herdsman of Geryon, and Orthus. Orthus was a monstrous dog with two heads. Hercules managed to kill them both by using his club. Geryon was informed about what happened and found Hercules to face him. But, unfortunately, he also got killed by Hercules, who used his poisonous arrows again. 

Returning to Eurystheus turned out to be quite an adventure too. He had to face many obstacles and lost part of the cattle in his way. However, after a whole year, he managed to finally return. Eurystheus sacrificed the remaining cattle to Hera. 

11. The Golden Apples of Hesperides

In this labour, Hercules had to steal the golden apples of Hesperides. These apple trees were a wedding gift to Zeus and Hera by Gaia. They were planted in Hesperides garden. There are many different stories about how Hercules managed to get the apples. According to the most popular, he met Atlas, a titan who held the sky on his shoulders. Atlas was also the father of Hesperides and had easy access to the garden. So, Hercules made a deal with him. He would take his position and hold the sky for a while, and Atlas would go inside the garden and take the golden apples for him. But when Atlas got out of the garden, he said to Hercules that he didn't want to return to his position holding the sky anymore. Hercules had no other choice but to trick him too. He told him that he agreed to take his place but asked him to hold the sky for a moment to place some soft padding on his shoulders. Atlas agreed, and at that moment, Hercules had the opportunity to take the apples and run away. After taking the apples to Eurystheus, he gave them to goddess Athena who returned them to the garden where they belonged. 

12. Cerberus

Hercules had to capture and bring Eurystheus the tremendous Cerberus in this last labour. This was the most challenging mission of all. Cerberus was a frightening dog with three heads who guarded the gates of the Underworld, the land of the dead. Hercules arrived in the Underworld and explained his request to Hades, the god of the Underworld. Hades agreed to let him try on one condition: Hercules could not use any weapon while trying to capture Cerberus. Hercules agreed and managed to capture Cerberus only using his hands. But, of course, when he got him to Eurystheus, Eurystheus got terrified. He immediately ordered him to take Cerberus back to the Underworld and finally released him from other labours. 

Statue of Hercules and Cerberus

Where to Stay

Pansion in Arachova, Greece Celena Maisonettes
Celena Maisonettes
Lakka Square, 32004 Arachova, Greece

Celena Maisonettes is located in Arachova, just a 10-minute drive from the archaeological site of Delphi. Amfissa is 31 km away while Athens is 172 km away.

Hotel in Argos, Greece Morfeas Hotel
Morfeas Hotel
2, Danaou str., 21200 Argos, Greece

Morfeas Hotel is in a central location in Argos, 14 km away from Mycenae and 12 km away from Nafplio. The property is close to supermarkets, shops and restaurants. The International Airport of Kalamata is 128 km away.

Hotel in Galaxidi, Greece Hotel Galaxidi
Hotel Galaxidi
11, Syggrou Str., 33052 Galaxidi, Greece

Hotel Galaxidi is built in a central location, close to the beach, shops, cafes and restaurants. The harbor is a 6-minute walk away. The Archaeological Site of Delphi is 33 km away.