Twelve Labors of Hercules

Hercules is a Roman god and a hero. He is the son of Jupiter (Zeus) and Alcmene (a mortal). In Greek mythology, Hercules is equivalent to the demigod and hero Heracles. Similar to his father, Zeus, Hercules possessed extraordinary and god-like powers.

His sheer strength was unmatched and far beyond any man of his days, according ancient Greek myths. With these semi-divine powers, Hercules embarked on several arduous and extremely risky adventures. He was a multi-talented man with contradictory features. This enabled different artists to choose their own way of depicting him in their artworks. Symbolically, Hercules (a god of strength and heroes) is represented by a club, bow and arrow, and a Nemean lion.


Twelve Labors of Hercules | Image: The bronze statue of Hercules.

Hercules’ name is typically associated with the 12 very great, but extremely difficult adventures. The adventures were described as the twelve impossible labors. Although, the list of the Twelve Labors of Hercules varies slightly across different societies, the generally accepted version of the order of Hercules’ list of labors is as follows:

Slaughtered the Nemean Lion

This was a strong lion which could not be killed with any weapon. Hercules used his power to trap the lion in a cave. He then killed it by strangling it with his bare hands. After killing the lion, Hercules removed its skin and used it as his cloak.

Murdered a monster named Hydra

Hydra was a nine-headed monster with unimaginable venom. It has been said that the moment a head of Hydra was cut off, two or more heads sprung up to replace the one that was cut. Legend has it that, Hercules successfully  cut off every single one of Hydra’s heads while his nephew Lohaus burnt its neck. This prevented the heads from growing back again.

Captured the Cerynitian Hind

This was female a deer with golden horns which was sacred to Artemis – the goddess of the hunt and the moon. Hercules toiled for more than a year to capture the deer alive. Subsequently, the deer met its sad fate after it was brought down by Hercules’ arrow. Artemis, however, hesitated to allow Hercules to have it.

Captured the Erymethian Boar

Hercules traveled to Centaurs and used wine to attract a boar. When the boar attacked Hercules, he caught it alive and brought it to Eurystheus.

Used one day to clean the Stables of Augeius

Augeius had a plentiful herd of horses such that no one could finish cleaning the stable in one month. Hercules convinced Augeius that he could do the job within one day, based on the condition that Augeius would give him one-tenth of the herd. Hercules surprised Augeius by diverting two rivers to flow through the stable. The stables were cleaned in one day.

Killed the Stymphalian Birds

These were birds which destroyed the countryside. Hercules used a rattle given to him by Athena to achieve this mission. The rattle made some noise which made the birds fly away. Hercules shot some of them down with his arrow.

Restored the Cretan Bull

This bull was owned by king Minos of Crete. The bull mysteriously impregnated the wife of Minos and gave birth to a Minotaur. King Minos decided to give out the bull to Hercules. Hercules rode the bull through seawaters and brought it to Eurystheus.

Restored the Mares of the Diomedes

Diomedes was a king who used human flesh to feed his horses (mares). In an interesting turn of events, Hercules used Diomedes to feed the horses fully. He then brought the horses back to Eurystheus.

Got hold of the Girdle of Hippolyta

A queen of the Amazons named Hippolyta had a belt (girdle) which symbolized her right to rule. The Amazons invited Hercules to their place, but Hera disguised herself as one of the Amazons and spread falsehoods that Hercules was there to steal the girdle. A fight broke out and Hippolyta got killed. Hercules took the belt away.

Retrieved the cattle of Geryon

Geryon was a king of Cadiz (Spain) who had a lot of cattle. Hercules planned some side-adventures for this labor, including his threat to shoot down the down sun. He claimed it made him too hot. Hercules had a tough time trying to gather the cattle when they reached Cadiz. It wasn’t easy to round up the entire herd without leaving some behind. When Hercules succeeded in bringing the cattle to Greece, Hera sent flies to sting the cattle and scatter them.  A princess of Celtine got attracted to Hercules and hid the cattle so that Hercules would have sex with her before she would release the cattle. Hercules obeyed; they gave birth to Celtus. Hercules then took the cattle back to Eurystheus who endorsed the labor as legit.

Stole the Golden Apples of Hesperides

Hercules went to a sacred grove to harvest apples which didn’t belong to him. On his way to the grove, Hercules freed Prometheus who was bound to a rock. Prometheus revealed a secret to Hercules that the apples were guarded by Ladon – an undefeated dragon. Hercules sought assistance from the titan Atlas (a god who held up the heavens with his shoulders). Before Atlas could get the apples for Hercules, Hercules had to bear the weight of the earth on his shoulders. When Atlas returned from collecting the apples, he did not want to take back the weight of the world. Hercules deceived Atlas to take back the weight. He picked his apples and vanished.

Captured and restored Cerberus

Eurystheus gave Hercules another mission which he deemed would be impossible to achieve. Hercules was asked to fetch a three-headed dog named Cerberus – a fierce dog that guarded the Underworld realm. When Hercules reached the underworld, Hades (the Greek god of the Underworld) promised to allow him to take the dog if only he would not harm it. Hercules wrestled the dog with his strength and brought it back to Eurystheus. Eurystheus was fearful of the dog, so he concluded that all the labors were done.

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In addition to the above 12 labors, here are some very spectacular feats of achievements and famed stories associated with Hercules:

  1. He killed a fire-breathing giant called Cacus.
  2. When he was an infant, he strangled a snake which was sent to kill him.

The term ‘herculean task’, which means a difficult mission, owes its origin to Hercules’ remarkable exploits and labors.

After successfully accomplishing those mind-boggling twelve labors, one would have expected Hercules to retire. He did exactly the opposite. He endured a lot of additional troubles, most notable among them was the killing of the prince of Ochaelia.

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