About The 12 Labors of Hercules

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Hercules is arguably the most famous demi-god of Greek mythology. He and his deeds are represented in art, literature, and film over the centuries. His deeds were even cataloged in a comic book in the 1950s and dozens of films have been made in the last 100 years depicting his quests.

Although much more myth than man, several dynasties, such as the royal houses of Sparta in ancient Greece and the Argeads of Macedonia, claimed to descend from Hercules. According to the parable, “The Choice of Heracles”, when Hercules was young he was visited by two nymphs—Pleasure and Virtue—who offered him a choice between a pleasant and easy life, or a severe but glorious life: he chose the glory.

The twelve labors of Hercules (Heracles is Greek mythology), also known as the dodekathlon, are how Hercules gained much of his mythological fame as a demi-god. Those twelve labors took him around the known world, performing impossible tasks that no one but the son of Zeus could have ever completed. But the twelve labors were not active acts of fame seeking. They were, in fact, his penance for killing his wife Megara and six children after being driven mad by the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus and Hercules’ father. Hera had one before unsuccessfully tried to kill Hercules, proof of her husband’s infidelity, when he was 8 months old by sending two snakes to poison him. Hercules strangled them in his crib, saving both his own life and the life of his twin brother Iphicles (whose father was a mortal, the husband of Hercules’ mother whom Zeus seduced.)

After regaining his sanity Hercules went to the oracle at Delphi to learn how he could atone for his actions. The oracle commanded Hercules to serve King Eurystheus of Tyrins for twelve years. In return for his service, Hercules would be rewarded with immortality.

During his time working for King Eurystheus, Hercules initially performed ten labors, but after completing them, Eurythesus declared he had cheated on two of them by getting help from others and added two more, resulting in the final Twelve Labors of Heracles.

A traditional order of the labors found in the Bibliotheca, a compendium of myths and heroic legends from the first and second century AD, includes Hercules’s successful attempts to:

  • Slay the Nemean Lion.
  • Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
  • Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
  • Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
  • Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
  • Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
  • Capture the Cretan Bull.
  • Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
  • Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
  • Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
  • Steal the apples of the Hesperides
  • Capture and bring back Cerberus.

The twelve labors are only the beginning of a very impressive list of deeds and tales that Hercules completed over his life. He also traveled with Jason and the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece, was tricked into holding up the world by Atlas, freed the titan Prometheus from his bonds (bound by Zeus for giving fire to man), and more.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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