Hercules: 12 Labors Of Hercules Essay, Research Paper
Hercules: 12 Labors of Hercules
Hercules, in Greek mythology, was a hero known for his strength and
courage and for his legendary adventures. Hercules is the Roman name for the
Greek hero Heracles. He was the son of the god Zeus and a human mother Alcmene,
wife of the Theban general Amphitryon. Hera, Zeus’ jealous wife, was determined
to kill Hercules, and after Hercules was born, she sent two great serpents to
kill him. Hercules, while he was still a baby, strangled the snakes. Hercules
conquered a tribe that had been demanding money from Thebes. As a reward, he was
given the hand in marriage of the Theben princess Megara and they had three
children. Hera, still filled hatred of Hercules, sent him into madness, which
made him kill his wife and children. In horror and remorse at what he did,
Hercules was about to kill himself. But he was told by the oracle at Delphi
that he should purge himself by becoming the servant of his cousin Eurystheus,
king of Mycenae. Eurystheus, urged by Hera, planned as a punishment the 12
impossible tasks, the “Labors of Hercules.”
The Twelve Labors
The first task was to kill the lion of Nemea, a lion that could not be
hurt by any weapon. Hercules knocked out the lion with his club first, then he
strangled it to death. He wore the skin of the lion as a cloak and the head of
the lion as a helmet, a trophy of his adventure.
The second task was to kill the Hydra that lived in a swamp in Lerna.
The Hydra had nine heads. One head was immortal and when one of the others was
chopped off, two grew back in its place. Cancer, one of the Hydra’s guards, bit
Hercules on the foot when he came near, and was crushed by Hercules, but she was
rescued by Hera. Hercules scorched each mortal neck with a burning torch to
prevent it from growing two heads and he buried the immortal head under a rock.
He then dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s blood to make them poisonous.
Hercules’ next labor is to capture alive a stag with golden horns and
bronze hoofs that was sacred to Artemis, goddess of the hunt.
The fourth labor was to capture a great boar in Mount Erymanthus.
Hercules used the poison arrows with the Hydra’s blood to shoot at the
Erymanthian boar. One of the poison arrows wounded Hercules’ friend Cheiron, an
immortal centaur, half-horse and half-man. Cheiron feared the poison arrow would
hurt him for eternity, but Zeus rewarded him for his service to the gods by
changing him to Sagittarius the Archer. The boar got killed by the arrows.
In the fifth labor, Hercules had to clean up in one day the 30 years of
filth left by thousands of cattle in the stables of king Augeas. He turns the
streams of two rivers, making them flow through the stables.
For the next labor, Hercules has to drive off huge flocks of man-eating
birds with bronze beaks, claws, and wings that lived near Lake Stymphalus. He
shot them with poisonous arrows and killed them.
The seventh labor was to capture the man-eating mares of Diomedes, king
of Thrace. To bring back the man-eating mares, Hercules killed king Diomedes,
then drove the mares to Mycenae.
For the ninth labor, Hercules needed the girdle of Queen Hippolyta.
Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, was willing to help Hercules with the ninth
labor. When she was about to give Hercules her girdle, which Eurystheus wanted
for his daughter, Hera made Hippolyta’s forces believe that Hercules was trying
to abduct the queen. Hercules killed Hippolyta, thinking that she ordered the
attack, and escaped the Amazon with the girdle.
On his way to the island of Erythia to capture the oxen of the three
headed monster Geryon, Hercules set up two great rocks, the mountains Gibraltar
and Ceuta, which now flank the Straight of Gibraltar, as a memorial of his
journey of capturing the oxen.
The 11th labor was to steal the golden apples of Hesperides, the
daughter of Atlas and husband of Hesperus. The apples grew in the garden of
Hesperides, which is in the western edge of the world, beyond the Island of
Hyperborea and on the border of Ocean. The garden is guarded by Ladon, the
dragon with 100 heads. The apples were very important because they were grown by
Mother Earth as a wedding present for Hera and Zeus. Hercules reached Ocean and
found Atlas holding up the sky. Hercules offered to hold the sky while Atlas
killed Ladon and got the apples. But Atlas was tired of holding the sky and told
Hercules that he might continue holding it. Hercules pretended to agree but said
the weight of the sky was hurting his shoulders and asked Atlas to take over for
a while so he could make pads to protect his shoulders. When Atlas took over, he
took the golden apples. Later he gave the apples to Athena, who returned them to
The 12th and most difficult labor was to bring back Cerberus, the three-
headed dog, from the underworld. Hades, lord of the underworld, allowed Hercules
to take Cerberus if he used no weapons. Hercules captured Cerberus, brought him
to Mycenae, and then carried him back to Hades, therefore, completing the Twelve
After completing the Twelve Labors, Hercules fought Antaeus, son of the
sea god Poseidon, for the hand of Deianira. As he was taking her home, the
centaur Nessus attacked Deianira. Hercules wounded him with an arrow poisoned in
the blood of the Hydra. The dying centaur told Deianira to take some of his
blood, which he said was a powerful love charm and anyone wearing clothing with
his blood rubbed on it will love her forever. The centaur’s blood was actually a
poison. Years later, Hercules fell in love with Iole, daughter of Eurytus, king
of Oechalia. Deianira found out about Iole and sent Hercules a tunic with the
blood of Nessus. When Hercules put on the tunic, the pain caused by the poison
was so great that he killed himself and was placed on a funeral pyre on Mt. Oeta.
Hercules went to heaven, where he was approved by Hera and married to Hebe,
goddess of youth.
Hercules was worshipped by the Greeks as both a god and a mortal hero.
In Italy, he was worshipped as a god of merchants and traders, although others
prayed to him for rescue from danger or good luck. The most famous statue of
Hercules is in the National Museum in Naples.