Ancient Greece Mythology
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12 LABOURS

  1. *Slaying the Nemean Lion and bringing back its skin*: The Nemean lion had a skin so thick that it was impenetrable, so all of Heracles' weapons were useless against it. Eventually he managed to kill it by strangling it. His next problem was how to skin the lion, which he solved with help from Athene, by using the lion's own claws, the only things able to penetrate the skin. Heracles wore the lion's skin from then on as his armour.
  2. *Slaying the Lernaean Hydra*: The Hydra was a monstrous serpent with many heads that lived in lake Lerna, guarding an entrance to the Underworld. For every head Heracles cut off, two more grew back in its place. It was Heracles' nephew Iolaus who had the idea to burn the stumps after cutting off each head to stop it from growing back. This was successful, leaving the monster with only its one immortal head, which Heracles buried beneath a great boulder. He then dipped all his arrows in the Hydra's venomous blood, making his arrows poisonous and deadly. Eurystheus discounted this labour, saying that since Heracles had received help from Iolaus the task did not count.
  3. *Capturing the Ceryneian Hind*: This large deer was sacred to the goddess Artemis, and had antlers of gold as well as hooves of bronze. The hind was so fast that it could outrun an arrow, but Heracles pursued it on foot for a whole year. He finally caught it by shooting it with a (non-poisoned) arrow in the leg, either when it had stopped to drink or could run no further. King Eurystheus had intended for this task to bring Artemis' hatred on Heracles, but the hero begged forgiveness from the goddess who forgave him on the condition of the deer's safe return. King Eurystheus wished to keep the animal, but Heracles could no allow this and so outwitted him by telling the king to come and take the deer. As soon as Heracles let go of it, the deer ran back to Artemis, ensuring Artemis' forgiveness and infuriating Eurystheus.
  4. *Capturing the Erymanthian Boar*: This great beast lived on Mount Erymanthos, a place frequented by the goddess Artemis. Heracles sought the advice of the centaur Chiron for this labour, who told Heracles to force the boar into thick snow. Heracles was then able to capture the boar and take it back to King Eurystheus, who was so terrified by the beast that he hid in a storage jar and begged Heracles to get rid of it.
  5. *Cleaning the Augean stables*: Augeas was the king of Elis and boasted the greatest number of cattle in the country. The cattle were a divine gift to Augeas, and so were totally immune to disease, meaning that nobody had ever needed to clean the stables. King Augeas promised to give Heracles one eighth of his cattle if he could complete this seemingly impossible task in just one day. Heracles achieved this by redirecting the rivers Alpheus and Peneus through the stables. However Augeas went back on his promise so Heracles killed him and gave the kingdom to Augeas' son Phyleus, who had been exiled by his father for supporting Heracles. However, Eurystheus refused to count this as one of the labours saying that it was the rivers that had done the work and not Heracles.
  6. *Slaying the Stymphalian Birds*: These were man-eating birds with poisonous excrement and metallic feathers that they could fire as weapons. They lived in the dense woods surrounding lake Stymphalia, making it impossible to find them in the dark of the forest. Heracles climbed a nearby mountain and used bronze clappers given to him by Athena and Hephaestus to scare the birds out of the trees. He was then able to shoot them down with his arrows and they flew up out of the forest.
  7. *Capturing the Cretan Bull*: This great bull had been sent by Poseidon to King Minos and was intended to be given in sacrifice to the god. However Minos thought the animal too beautiful to kill and sacrificed another instead. Poseidon was so angered by this that he sent the bull mad, to terrorise Minos' kingdom. Heracles went to Crete, and captured it by strangling it. He took the bull back to King Eurystheus, who wished to sacrifice the animal to Hera, but the goddess refused the gift as it represented Heracles' glorious deeds. The bull was therefore released into Marathon, and became known as the Marathonian Bull.
  8. *Stealing the Mares of Diomedes*: The giant Diomedes, King of Thrace, owned these four savage, man-eating horses. When Heracles went to steal them he brought some young men to assist him, including one of his eromenoi, Abderus. They stole the horses and Heracles left Abderus to guard the horses while he fought Diomedes and his men, unaware that the horses were carnivorous. The horses ate Abderus, and so as revenge, Heracles fed Diomedes alive to his own horses. He then established the town of Abdera in remembrance of his lover.
  9. *Obtaining Hippolyta's Girdle*: King Eurystheus gave Heracles this task at the request of his daughter, Admete. Hippolyta was the queen of the Amazons, and possessed a magical girdle given to her by her father, the god Ares. She gave the girdle to Heracles willingly as she was so in awe of his physical prowess. However, Hera spread rumours amongst the other Amazons that Heracles was kidnapping the queen, causing them to run in and attack him. Heracles fought them off, and believing that Hippolyta had conspired against him, killed her as well. However some versions of the story tell that Hippolyta escaped and went on to marry Theseus
  10. *Obtaining Geryon's Cattle*: Geryon of Erytheia was a giant warrior with three heads, three bodies and six arms, all joined onto one set of legs (although some accounts state he had three sets of legs too). He possessed a herd of glorious red cattle, which were guarded by the herdsman Eurytion and the two-headed dog, Orthrus, the brother of Cerberus (the three-headed dog that guards the Underworld). Heracles had to travel to the other side of the world to reach Erytheia, but was assisted by Helios the Sun God who admired Heracles' courage after he shot an arrow at him, enraged by the heat of the sun. Heracles killed Orthrus and Eurytion with his club, and then fought Geryon, killing him with his poisoned arrows. Heracles then faced more trouble trying to bring the cattle back to Eurystheus. When one of the bulls escaped Heracles had to wrestle and kill Eryx, a son of Poseidon. Hera then sent a gadfly to scatter the cattle, and Heracles spent a year recovering them. When he eventually brought the cattle to Eurystheus, he sacrificed them to Hera.
  11. *Stealing the Apples of the Hesperides*: Eurystheus had originally only intended ten labours for Heracles, but since he had discounted the Lernean Hydra and the Augean stables, Heracles still had two more tasks to go. Heracles had to search for many years the find the garden where theses golden apples grew. They had been a wedding present from Hera to Zeus, and were guarded by the hundred-headed dragon Ladon, as well as nymphs called the Hesperides, daughters of Atlas. Heracles caught the sea god Nereus, who tried to escape by transforming into various shapes, but Heracles held tight until he told him the location of the garden. Heracles then sought out Atlas, the titan who eternally held up the weight of the earth and sky on his shoulders as punishment for trying to overthrow the Olympian gods. Heracles offered to hold the weight whilst Atlas got the apples for him. However, once Atlas returned with the apples he did not want to take the weight back, and said he would take the apples to Eurystheus himself. Heracles tricked Atlas by agreeing to this as long as Atlas would hold the sky for him while he placed some padding on his shoulders. As soon as Atlas took back the sky, Heracles took the apples and ran.
  12. *Capturing Cerberus*: Cerberus was a monstrous three-headed dog that guarded the entrance to the Underworld, stopping the living from entering. Heracles was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries before he took his journey, as this was supposed to ensure a safety in the Underworld. He then travelled down into the Underworld through a deep cave in Laconia, meeting many monsters and ghosts on the way, but always with the aid of Athena and Hermes. He went before Hades and Persephone and asked their permission to take Cerberus. They agreed on the condition that Heracles did not hurt him and was able to subdue him using only his own strength. Heracles succeeded in capturing the beast and took it back to a terrified Eurystheus, and Cerberus then safely returned to guarding the Underworld.

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