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heracles' labours

The Labors of Hercules

The goddess Hera, determined to make trouble for Hercules, made him lose his mind. In a confused and angry state, he killed his own wife and children.

When he awakened from his "temporary insanity," Hercules was shocked and upset by what he'd done. He prayed to the god Apollo for guidance, and the god's oracle told him he would have to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years, in punishment for the murders.

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heracles' labours

The Nemean Lion

Initially, Hercules was required to complete ten labors, not twelve. King Eurystheus decided Hercules' first task would be to bring him the skin of an invulnerable lion which terrorized the hills around Nemea.

Setting out on such a seemingly impossible labor, Hercules came to a town called Cleonae, where he stayed at the house of a poor workman-for-hire, Molorchus. When his host offered to sacrifice an animal to pray for a safe lion hunt, Hercules asked him to wait 30 days. If the hero returned with the lion's skin, they would sacrifice to Zeus, king of the gods. If Hercules died trying to kill the lion, Molorchus agreed to sacrifice instead to Hercules, as a hero.

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heracles' labours

When Hercules got to Nemea and began tracking the terrible lion, he soon discovered his arrows were useless against the beast. Hercules picked up his club and went after the lion. Following it to a cave which had two entrances, Hercules blocked one of the doorways, then approached the fierce lion through the other. Grasping the lion in his mighty arms, and ignoring its powerful claws, he held it tightly until he'd choked it to death.

Hercules returned to Cleonae, carrying the dead lion, and found Molorchus on the 30th day after he'd left for the hunt. Instead of sacrificing to Hercules as a dead man, Molorchus and Hercules were able to sacrifice together, to Zeus.

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heracles' labours

When Hercules made it back to Mycenae, Eurystheus was amazed that the hero had managed such an impossible task. The king became afraid of Hercules, and forbade him from entering through the gates of the city. Furthermore, Eurystheus had a large bronze jar made and buried partway in the earth, where he could hide from Hercules if need be. After that, Eurystheus sent his commands to Hercules through a herald, refusing to see the powerful hero face to face.

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heracles' labours

The Lernean Hydra
The second labor of Hercules was to kill the Lernean Hydra. From the murky waters of the swamps near a place called Lerna, the hydra would rise up and terrorize the countryside. A monstrous serpent with nine heads, the hydra attacked with poisonous venom. Nor was this beast easy prey, for one of the nine heads was immortal and therefore indestructible.

Hercules set off to hunt the nine-headed menace, but he did not go alone. His trusty nephew, Iolaus, was by his side. Iolaus, who shared many adventures with Hercules, accompanied him on many of the twelve labors. Legend has it that Iolaus won a victory in chariot racing at the Olympics and he is often depicted as Hercules' charioteer. So, the pair drove to Lerna and by the springs of Amymone, they discovered the lair of the loathsome hydra.

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heracles' labours

First, Hercules lured the coily creature from the safety of its den by shooting flaming arrows at it. Once the hydra emerged, Hercules seized it. The monster was not so easily overcome, though, for it wound one of its coils around Hercules' foot and made it impossible for the hero to escape. With his club, Hercules attacked the many heads of the hydra, but as soon as he smashed one head, two more would burst forth in its place! To make matters worse, the hydra had a friend of its own: a huge crab began biting the trapped foot of Hercules. Quickly disposing of this nuisance, most likely with a swift bash of his club, Hercules called on Iolaus to help him out of this tricky situation.

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heracles' labours

Each time Hercules bashed one of the hydra's heads, Iolaus held a torch to the headless tendons of the neck. The flames prevented the growth of replacement heads, and finally, Hercules had the better of the beast. Once he had removed and destroyed the eight mortal heads, Hercules chopped off the ninth, immortal head. This he buried at the side of the road leading from Lerna to Elaeus, and for good measure, he covered it with a heavy rock. As for the rest of the hapless hydra, Hercules slit open the corpse and dipped his arrows in the venomous blood.

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heracles' labours

The Hind of Ceryneia
female red deer

For the third labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the Hind of Ceryneia. Now, before we go any further, we'll have to answer two questions: What is a hind? and, Where is Ceryneia?

Ceryneia is a town in Greece, about fifty miles from Eurystheus' palace in Mycenae.

You'd think it would have been easy for a hero like Hercules to go shoot a deer and bring it back to Eurystheus, but a few problems made things complicated. This was a special deer, because it had golden horns and hoofs of bronze. Not only that, the deer was sacred to the goddess of hunting and the moon, Diana; she was Diana's special pet. That meant that Hercules could neither kill the deer nor hurt her. He couldn't risk getting Diana angry at him; he was already in enough trouble with Hera.

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heracles' labours

Hercules set out on this adventure, and he hunted the deer for a whole year. At last, when the deer had become weary with the chase, she looked for a place to rest on a mountain called Artemisius, and then made her way to the river Ladon. Realizing that the deer was about to get away, Hercules shot her just as she was about to cross the stream. He caught the deer, put her on his shoulders and turned back to Mycenae. As Hercules hurried on his way, he was met by Diana and Apollo.

Diana was very angry because Hercules tried to kill her sacred animal. She was about to take the deer away from Hercules, and surely she would have punished him, but Hercules told her the truth. He said that he had to obey the oracle and do the labors Eurystheus had given him. Diana let go of her anger and healed the deer's wound. Hercules carried it alive to Mycenae.

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heracles' labours

The Erymanthian Boar

For the fourth labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the Erymanthian boar alive. Now, a boar is a huge, wild pig with a bad temper, and tusks growing out of its mouth.

The boar was called the Erymanthian boar, because it lived on a mountain called Erymanthus. Every day the boar would come crashing down from his lair on the mountain, attacking men and animals all over the countryside, gouging them with its tusks, and destroying everything in its path.

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heracles' labours

On his way to hunt the boar, Hercules stopped to visit his friend Pholus, who was a centaur and lived in a cave near Mount Erymanthus. Everyone knows that centaur is a human from his head to his waist, and a horse for the rest of his body and his legs. Hercules was hungry and thirsty, so the kindly centaur cooked Hercules some meat in the fireplace, while he himself ate his meat raw.

When Hercules asked for wine, Pholus said that he was afraid to open the wine jar, because it belonged to all the centaurs in common. But Hercules said not to worry, and opened it himself.

Soon afterwards, the rest of the centaurs smelled the wine and came to Pholus's cave. They were angry that someone was drinking all of their wine. The first two who dared to enter were armed with rocks and fir trees.

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Hercules grabbed burning sticks from the fireplace and threw them at the centaurs, then went after them with his club.

He shot arrows at the rest of them and chased after them for about twenty miles. The rest of the centaurs fled in different directions. One of the centaurs, Chiron, received a wound that no amount of medicine would heal...but what happened to Chiron is another story.

While Hercules was gone, Pholus pulled an arrow from the body of one of the dead centaurs. He wondered that so little a thing could kill such a big creature. Suddenly, the arrow slipped from his hand. It fell onto his foot and killed him on the spot. So when Hercules returned, he found Pholus dead. He buried his centaur friend, and proceeded to hunt the boar.

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heracles' labours

It wasn't too hard for Hercules to find the boar. He could hear the beast snorting and stomping as it rooted around for something to eat. Hercules chased the boar round and round the mountain, shouting as loud as he could. The boar, frightened and out of breath, hid in a thicket. Hercules poked his spear into the thicket and drove the exhausted animal into a deep patch of snow.

Then he trapped the boar in a net, and carried it all the way to Mycenae. Eurystheus, again amazed and frightened by the hero's powers, hid in his partly buried bronze jar.

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heracles' labours

The Augean Stables
Hercules Cleans Up

For the fifth labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to clean up King Augeas' stables. Hercules knew this job would mean getting dirty and smelly, but sometimes even a hero has to do these things. Then Eurystheus made Hercules' task even harder: he had to clean up after the cattle of Augeas in a single day.

Now King Augeas owned more cattle than anyone in Greece. Some say that he was a son of one of the great gods, and others that he was a son of a mortal; whosever son he was, Augeas was very rich, and he had many herds of cows, bulls, goats, sheep and horses.

Every night the cowherds, goatherds and shepherds drove the thousands of animals to the stables.

Hercules went to King Augeas, and without telling anything about Eurystheus, said that he would clean out the stables in one day, if Augeas would give him a tenth of his fine cattle.

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Odyssues and the cyclops

Odyssues and the cyclops

King of an island off the western coast of Greece; one of the heroes who fought in the Trojan War. On his trip home from Troy, Odysseus and his shipmates encountered a number of perils.

At one point their ship was blown far off course, and they fetched up on a small wooded island, where they beached the vessels and gave thought to provisions. Odysseus had noticed a larger island nearby, from which came the sound of bleating goats. This was encouraging to his growling stomach, and he detailed a scouting party and led it to the far shore. Here they found a huge goat pen outside a cave and, inside, all the cheeses and meat they could desire. They were lounging in drowsy contentment when the shepherd came home.

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Odyssues and the cyclops

The sight of him brought the Greeks to fullest attention. He was as big as a barn, with a single glaring eye in the middle of his forehead. He was one of the Cyclopes, giant blacksmiths who had built Olympus for the gods. This particular Cyclops was named Polyphemus. He and his neighbors lived like hermits with their flocks. If the Greeks were shocked, Polyphemus was pleasantly surprised. For here before him at his own hearth was a treat that would nicely vary his diet.

Taking care to roll a boulder into the mouth of the cave - a stone so huge that even a full crew of heroes could not stir it - he promptly snatched up the nearest two of Odysseus's men, bashed out their brains on the floor and popped them into his mouth. Then with a belch he curled up in a corner and drifted happily to sleep. Odysseus naturally was beside himself with concern. What had he led his men into?

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Odyssues and the cyclops

Taking care to roll a boulder into the mouth of the cave - a stone so huge that even a full crew of heroes could not stir it - he promptly snatched up the nearest two of Odysseus's men, bashed out their brains on the floor and popped them into his mouth. Then with a belch he curled up in a corner and drifted happily to sleep. Odysseus naturally was beside himself with concern. What had he led his men into?

There was nothing for it, though, but to wait out the night in terror, for the boulder blocked the door. In the morning the Cyclops rolled the massive stone aside, called his goats together and let them out, some to pasture and others to the pen in the yard. Then he sealed the entrance again. That night he had more Greeks for dinner.

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Odyssues and the cyclops

Desperate, Odysseus conceived a plan. To begin with, he offered the Cyclops wine. This was especially potent wine, which he and his men had brought ashore in skins. The Greeks customarily mixed water with their wine to dilute its strength. But the Cyclops had never drunk wine before, diluted or not, and it went straight to his head. Before he conked out, he asked Odysseus his name.

"Nobody," replied the hero.

"Well, Mr. Nobody, I like you," said the Cyclops drowsily. "In fact, I like you so much that I'm going to do you a favor. I'll eat you last.

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Odyssues and the cyclops

" With these encouraging words he fell fast asleep. Odysseus jumped up and put his men to work. They put a sharp point on the end of a pole and hardened it in the fire. Then, with a mighty "heave-ho", they rammed it into the Cyclops' eye.

In agony Polyphemus groped about blindly for his tormentors, but the Greeks dodged him all night long. "Help, come quickly!" he shouted at one point, and his fellow Cyclopes came running.

"What's the matter?" they called in at the mouth of the cave.

"I'm blinded and in agony," roared Polyphemus.

"Whose is it bilinding you?" they called  back.

"Nobody's," said Polyphemus.

"Well in that case," responded the Cyclopes as they departed, "you've got a lot of nerve bothering us."

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Odyssues and the cyclops

In the morning, as usual, Polyphemus called his flock together and rolled the boulder aside to let them out. He planted himself in the door to bar the Greeks' escape. Muttering at great length to his ram, he sought sympathy for his affliction. "Whatever you do," he told the beast, "don't trust Greeks."

So saying, he stroked the animal's wooly back and sent him from the cave. Little did he know that Odysseus himself clung to the ram's belly. And, in a similar fashion, his shipmates had escaped beneath the rest of the flock. When Polyphemus realized the deception he rushed to the seaside, where Odysseus and his men were rowing hard for safety. The hero could not resist a taunt.

"Just to set the record straight, the name's Odysseus," he called across the water. "But you have Nobody to thank for your troubles - nobody but yourself, that is."

With a mighty curse Polyphemus threw a boulder which almost swamped the ship. But the rowers redoubled their efforts. They left the blinded Cyclops raging impotently on the shore.

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