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The Labors of Herakles

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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  1. Kill the Nemean Lion

  2. Kill the Lernian Hydra
    The Lernian Hydra was a many-headed snake which dwelt in a swamp and ravaged the country around Lerna near Argos. Each time Herakles severed one of its heads, two more sprouted from the stump. Iolaos and Herakles burnt the stumps and so overcame the monster.

  3. Fetch the Erymanthian Boar
    This savage boar was ravaging the countryside around Mount Erymanthos. Herakles' third Labor was to capture it and bring it home for his task-master Eurystheus to see.

  4. Capture the Hind of Keryneia
    The hind had golden antlers and was sacred to Artemis.

  5. Drive out the Stymphalian birds
    A flock of man-eating birds, allegedly able to shoot their feathers like arrows, infested a lake near Stymphalos. Herakles was sent to drive them away, which he did by attacking them with his sling.

  6. Clean the Augean Stables

  7. Capture the Cretan bull
    The bull had been ravaging the island of Crete until Herakles captured it and brought it to Eurystheus. Afterwards it was released; some sources allege it was recaptured by Theseus.

  8. Tame the horses of Diomedes
    The ferocious horses of Diomedes were fed on human flesh by their master. Herakles was charged with the task of fetching them. This he did by killing Diomedes and feeding him to the horses. Once they had consumed the flesh of their master, the horses became tame and allowed themselves to be harnessed.

  9. Fetch the girdle of Hippolyte
    Herakles was to capture the girdle of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. When Herakles arrived at the Amazon city of Themiskyra on the shores of the Black Sea, Hippolyta willingly agreed to surrender her girdle. However, the goddess Juno heard provoked a quarrel between Herakles' followers and the Amazons. A pitched battle ensued in which Herakles kills Hippolyta.

  10. Fetch the oxen of Geryon
    Herakles was sent to fetch the oxen of Geryon and had to fight their triple-bodied owner. Geryon's herdsman was Eurytion.

  11. Fetch Kerberos
    One of Herakles' last Labors was to fetch Kerberos, the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld. Hades, god of the Underworld, gave Herakles permission to lead the dog away providing he did not use force. Herakles wrestled with Kerberos and held on until the beast succumbed and he could lead it away.

  12. Fetch the Hesperides' golden apples
    The Hesperides had a tree whose golden apples were the source of the gods' eternal youth, and Herakles' own passport to immortal life.

Euryatheus, King of Tiryns, imposed twelve Labors upon Herakles. The Delphic oracle had foretold that after twelve years in this king's service, Herakles would become immortal. Thus, Herakles obliged.

Herakles' mortal life came to an end when he was accidentally poisoned by his wife Deianeira. He was then received into Olympos, where he enjoyed everlasting life amidst the gods. Herakles was the most popular of Greek heroes.

In addition to the twelve Labors, various other feats were attributed to Herakles. These are attested by literary and artistic representations.

Herakles is the easiest of the heroes to recognize in art as he is generally shown wearing the skin of the Nemean Lion, which he killed in his first Labor; he is also often shown grasping the Nemean Lion in a death grip. Herakles' patron, the goddess Athena, was often shown alongside him.

The Twelve Labors of Herakles

Horses of Diomedes
The Nemean Lion
The Erymanthian Boar
Girdle of Hippolyta
Oxen of Geryon
Hind of Keryneia
Cretan bull
Stymphalian birds
Lernian Hydra
Hesperides' Golden apples

Additional episodes

Herakles and Alkyoneus
Of all the giants who fought against the gods, Alkyoneus is the most famous. Sometimes the death of Alkyoneus is presented as one of the exploits of Herakles.

Herakles and Antaios
Antaios, an offspring of Ge (the Earth) was invincible so long as he remained in contact with the ground. Herakles, accompanied by Athena and Hermes, maneuvered to lift his opponent off the ground.

Herakles and Pholos
While a guest of the centaur Pholos, Herakles had called for wine. Pholos was afraid to open up the wine-store because of the maddening effect the mere smell of wine had on his fellow centaurs. A riot broke out amidst the centaurs when Harkles opened up a wine jar.

Herakles and Acheloos
Herakles and Acheloos were rivals for the hand of Deianeira. Acheloo was able to assume various forms, and was defeated by Herakles while in the form a half-man half-bull. Herakles deprived Acheloos of one of his horns.

Shirt of Nessos
Before he died at the hands of Herakles, the centaur Nessos had instructed Deianeira to keep some of his blood as a pure means of preserving Herakles' love for her. This she did, and when she later feared losing his affection she steeped Herakles' tunic in a potion made from the blood. This 'love-charm' turned out to be malignant and Herakles died in agony.

Herakles and the Delphic Tripod
Herakles went to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi to consult the famous oracle. When the oracle refused to answer his questions, Herakles attempted to carry off the sacred Tripod.

Death of Nessos
Herakles and his wife Deianeira encountered a river, over which the centaur Nessos offered to carry Deianeira. Mid-stream, however, Nessos attempted to rape her. Herakles intervened and clubbed the centaur to death.

Infant Herakles and the snakes
As the son of Zeus and the mortal Alkmene, Herakles encountered the wrath of Zeus' divine wife Hera. As Herakles lay in his cradle with his half-brother Eurytion, Hera sent a pair of snakes to attack him. Herakles quickly revealed his heroic potential by strangling one snake in each hand.

Herakles and Triton
There is no surviving Greek literary account of Herakles fighting the fish-tailed sea monster Triton. This subject is only known form vase-paintings.

Apotheosis of Herakles
After his death, Herakles went to live with the gods on Mount Olympus. He was given Hebe, the personification of Youth, as his wife.