Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Twelve Labours of Hercules

The Twelve Labours of Hercules
Labours of Hercules – Greatest Hero of Greek Mythology

Hercules was the strongest man on the earth and the greatest of all heroes in Greek mythology. He had tremendous physical strength, great self-confidence and considered himself to be equal to the gods. Called by the Greeks as Heracles, he was not blessed with much intelligence but his bravery made up for the lack of it.

He would get easily angered with sudden outburst of rage which often affected the innocent people and when his anger would die down, he would be filled with sorrow and guilt for his offences and would be ready to make up for it by accepting any form of punishment for his misdeeds. Hercules was the son of Zeus and Alcmena, the wife of Amphitryon who was a distinguished Greek warrior and heir to the throne of Tiryns.

While her husband was away, one night Zeus disguised as her husband took advantage of her. When Amphitryon returned the next day and did not seem to remember anything about the previous night, Alcmena seemed concerned and consulted the blind prophet Tiresias who informed them that Alcmena would conceive a son from Zeus who would become a great hero. Alcmena later on bore twin boys, Hercules, the son of Zeus and Iphicles, the son of Amphitryon.

Grief/Guilt – Atonement for His Guilt

When the goddess Hera came to know that Zeus had fathered Hercules, she was very furious and being fiercely jealous of Zeus lovers as well as his children, she would harm them mercilessly. She tried to kill Hercules one night by placing two poisonous snakes in his crib but Hera was not successful in her plan since Hercules had grabbed the snakes and strangled them.

Hera continued to torment Hercules who faced many events leading him to great suffering and punishment. Hercules, while he was still young, fought the Minyans, a people who had been forcing Thebes to pay tribute and he conquered them. As a reward, the king of Thebes gave him his daughter, Megara in marriage and Hercules was very devoted to her and his children that she bore him. It was one of those days while he returned home from a journey, that Hera attacked him with a fit of madness in which he killed his children and his wife.

 When he realised his mistake, Hercules was filled with grief and guilt and went to the oracle at Delphi for atonement of his guilt who in turn told him to go to King Eurystheus of Tiryns and accept any punishments given to him. Moreover, the oracle also informed him that if the tasks would be completed, he would become immortal.

The Twelve Labours of Hercules 

The King gave Hercules a series of twelve difficult as well as dangerous tasks to perform which were known as the Twelve Labours of Hercules and his most famous feats.

Hercules and Nemean Lion
His first task was to kill the Nemean Lion, a monstrous beast which terrorized the countryside and which no weapon could kill it. Hercules strangled the beast with his bare hands and made its skin into a cloak.

 Hercules and Lernaean Hydra
His second task was to kill the Lernaean Hydra, a creature having nine heads which lived in a swamp and one of its head was immortal while the others grew back when cut off. Hercules with the aid of his friend Iolaus, cut off the beast’s all eight heads and burnt each would which prevented new heads growing back and since he could not cut off the ninth head, he buried the creature under a mighty rock.

Hercules and Cerynean Hind
The third task was to capture the Cerynean Hind, a golden horned deer which was sacred to the goddess Artemis. Hunting the animal for a year, Hercules managed to trap it and as he was taking it to Tiryns; Artemis prevented him, demanding that he return the deer. Hercules on promising her that the sacred deer would meet no harm was permitted to continue his journey.

Hercules and Erymanthian Boar
The fourth task was to seize the Erymanthian Boar, a monstrous animal which ravaged the land surrounding Mount Eryman-thus. Hercules after forcing the animal from its lair chased it until it became exhausted that he managed to catch it with ease.

The fifth task was to clean the Augean Stables in a day and King Augeas, the son of the sun god Helios had many herds of cattle where the stables had not been cleaned for several years. Hercules managed this task by diverting rivers through the filthy stables.

The sixth task involved driving the Stymphalian Birds, which were a flock of birds with claws, beaks and wings of iron which ate humans and were frightening the countryside. Hercules with the help of goddess Athena forced the birds from their nest and shot them with his bow and arrow.

The seventh task was to capture the Cretan Bull which was kept by King Minos of Crete that was said to be insane and would breathe fire. Hercules wrestled with the insane beast bringing it to the ground and brought it back to King Eurystheus but the king set it free and it roamed in Greece causing a lot of terror wherever it went.

capture the Mares of Diomedes
The eighth task was to capture the Mares of Diomedes, a herd of horses which belonged to King Diomedes of Thrace which ate humans. Hercules completed this task by killing Diomedes and let the mares feed on his flesh. Thereafter he tamed the horses and brought them back to Eurystheus.

The ninth task was to obtain the Girdle of Hippolyte, the queen of the Amazons who greeted Hercules warmly and was prepared to give him the girdle. Hera here caused trouble by making the Amazons think that Hercules had plans to kidnap the queen. They attacked and Hercules killed the queen taking the girdle with him.

The tenth task was to capture the Cattle of Geryon, a monster with three bodies which lived in the far west of the island Erythia. After following a difficult journey by sea and through the desert, Hercules managed to kill Geryon, a herdsman and a big guard dog. He then took the cattle and returned with them to Tiryns.

The eleventh labour was to bring back the golden Apples of the Hesperides, a group of nymphs which lived in the far west and Hercules sought help from Hesperides’ father, the giant Atlas who held up the sky. He offered to take the place of Atlas under the sky in exchange to get the apples from his daughters and Atlas agreed and brought the apples though he refused to take back the sky. Hercules requested Atlas to hold the sky for only a moment to get a pad to ease the burden on his shoulder to which Atlas agreed. No sooner Atlas took the sky back; Hercules grabbed the apples and fled away.

The twelfth and the final task of Hercules was one of the most difficult and dangerous one. He had to go down to the kingdom of Hades and capture Cerberus, the fierce three headed dog which guarded the gates to the underworld. Hades informed Hercules that he could take Cerberus without the use of any weapons to overcome the beast and he wrestled Cerberus into submission or gave him drugged food and thus carried him to Eurystheus.

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