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Heracles and the twelve labours




Just as different regions of Greece had their own cults, they also had their own heroes, some of whom were claimed as ancestors of important regional families.Stories of heroes were enough interesting to become a part of the common stock of Greek myths that could have been well-known to everyone. For me as a big Greek-heroes fan are the Greek myths about heroes very interesting.That is why I did not have any problems with choosing the topic for my work. I decided to specialize on one well-known Greek heroe called Heracles. In this work I would like to aim the attention on the specific 12 labours he had to complete. I have been always interested in books with enjoyable myths about the heroes. That means I had no problems with finding my sources. Our family library contains many books connected with the topic I chose, from tales about Greek heroes to book specialized on gods and myths of the ancient world. For this time I decided not to use the Internet, because I had quite enough sources to gather information from. Heracles ( Hercules in Latin) He was born in Thebes in Boeotia, but his stepfather Amphitryon was actually a prince of Tiryns who was temporarily exiled in Thebes. In gratitude for his valour during the war, the King of Thebes gave Heracle his daughter, Megara, as his wife. (1) They had children and lived happily, until Hera struck him with a fit of madness that caused him to kill all his family. Polluted by this deed, Heracles had to leave Thebes, go to Mycenae and submit himself to King Eurystheus for twelve years.(2) During this time Eurystheus gave him twelve labours or tests that he had to complete. The Nemean Lion (site: north of the Plain of Argos, in the hills)
His first task was to bring back the skin of the Nemean lion, a skin that could not be pierced by weapons. Herakles choked the lion in his strong arms, then used its own claws to skin it, and returned to ciy with the skin slung across his shoulders. Because of this, he is usually shown wearing a lions skin as well as carying a club.(3)
The Hydra of Lerna (site: five miles south of Argos, on the coast road to Arcadia and Sparta) :
He was next sent to Lerna to destroy the Hydra, a many headed water monster that lived in a swamp.

Every time Hercules cut off one of its heads, two new ones replaced it.After Hercules cut off the last head and buried it, he dipped his arrows in the bile of the Hydra so that they would inflict deadly wounds.
The Erymanthian Boar (site: the territory of Psophis, a city in north-east Arcadia, near Mount Cyllene, the birthplace of HERMES)
Then he had to capture and bring back alive huge boar that ranged over Mount Erymanthos. On his way he was offered help by a Centaur called Pholos. Heracles continued in his search for the boar, which he cornered in a snow drift. He caught it in a noose, then tied it up and carried it on his shoulders to Eurystheus, who took refuge in a large bronze jar as soon as he saw it.(1*)

The Ceryneian Hind (site: roamed around the territory of Oenoe in north-west Argos):

This was a marvellous creature that had golden antlers. Heracles spent a year pursuing it until he caught it in Arcadia when it was exhausted.
The Stymphalian Birds (in north-central Arcadia) :
Heracles had next to destroy some birds that were increasing in number on the shores between Mycenae and Arcadia.(4) He found difficult to shoot them while they were roosting in trees, but Athena gave him a bronze rattle. The noise of the rattle startled the birds into flight and Heracles shot them down.
The Augeian Stables (site: Elis, near Olympia, in western Peloponnesus):


Heracles had to clean the stables of King Augeias of all the dung that had gathered there over many years. Heracles diverted two rivers and channeled them together in a way that they flooded through the stables and cleaned them out in one day. To undertake next three labours Heracles was forced to go further afield, away from his native Peloponnese.(2*)
The Cretan Bull. A mad bull was loose in Crete and Heracles had to capture it and bring back to Eurysthetus. Heracles captured it and brought it home. The horses of Diomedes (site: Thrace, at mouth of Nestos River):
Heracles had to go to Thrace to capture the horses of King Diomedes, which the king fed on human flesh. There are many versions of these stories, my favorite one and the most common one tells that Heracles slew Diomedes, fed his flesh to the horses and then drove them back to Mycenae.
The Girdle of the Amazon
It is not clear whether this was actually a girdle or a piece of bronze waist armour, but it belonged to Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. (3*) She was a female warrior and received the girdle from her father for bravery. Eurystheusś daughter wanted to have it, so Heracles was sent to get it. It is not sure whether he had to kill Hippolyta to get it or not.

Heracles now had to go to the western edges of known world, and even to the Underworld itself.(4*)
The Cattle of Geryon (site: Spain: Geryon was king of Erytheia, now Cadiz in southern Spain, the sherry wine country) :
Geryon was a giant who had three heads and shoulders all growing from one trunk. He had six arms with weapons. Heracles was sent to get his herd of cattle. He had to kill a guard dog, the herdsman and finnly shot Geryon. The problem for him was how to bring home the cattle. One tales tells that he used the Heliosś cup to transport the cattle across the river.(5) Than he had number of adventures on his way back home. Cerberus. Heracles was told to bring the dog Cerberus up to earth from Hades.The dog was set in the Underworld and was very dangerous. Zeus sent Athena and Hermes to help Heracles. He overcame Cerberus by squeezing him round the neck. The Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Heracles was next sent to gather golden apples from a tree guarded by the nymphs Hesperides. In Libya he had to fight the giant Antaeus, in Egypt he had to kill King Busiris and his son. He persuaded the Giant Atlas to go and collect the apples for him. Eurystheus feared to keep the golden apples that belonged to Hera, so Heracles gave them to Athena, who had helped him. After accomplishing these labours, he was free. Heracles then took part in many military expeditions, which are too numerous to be detailed here. The gods granted him the gift of immortality. Heracles is the most important of the adventuring heroes, and was probably the most popular of them in the ancient world. He is a hero of conflicting qualities: he has strenght, appetites and unthinking brutality of wild nature and is subject to occasional fits of madness, but he can also show a desire to right wrongs and perpetuate civilzed ideas.(5*).
I hope that everyone who gets to reading this, will find this topic interesting and amazing and I recommend to everyone to read something more about Heracles adventures and experiences.



1. Barnett Mary, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world
Grange Books, London 1997
2. Bickerman, Elias Joseph, Chronology of the Ancient World,
Ithic, N.Y.: Cornell University Press 1968
3. Biermann Karol, Hanus František, Kronika ľudstva
Fortina Print, spol. s r. o., Bratislava 1992

Souček Ján, Dejiny v pravěku a starověku

(1*) – Barnett Marry, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world, page 178
(2*) - Barnett Marry, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world, page 178
(3*) - Barnett Marry, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world, page 179
(4*) - Barnett Marry, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world, page 180
(5*) - Bickerman, Elias Joseph, Chronology of the Ancient World, page 95

(1) - Souček Ján, Dejiny v pravěku a starověku
(2) - Barnett Mary, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world
(3) - Barnett Mary, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world
(4) - Barnett Mary, Gods and Myths of the Ancient world
(5) - Bickerman, Elias Joseph, Chronology of the Ancient World.

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