I. THE NEMEAN LION (site: north of the Plain of Argos, in the hills):
not an ordinary lion, but a child of Orthos and Echidna or of Typhon (thus, a
descendant of Poseidon and Medusa. On his way, Herakles stopped at Cleonae, where
Molorchos offered to sacrifice to Herakles as if to a divinity after 30 days (This
assumed Herakles would be dead or a god). On his successful return to Tiryns,
EURYSTHEUS hid in a bronze jar (womb/tomb) and would only deal with his cousin
Herakles through the State Herald Kopreus (a son of Pelops). The lion became a
constellation in the sky (LEO), thanks to Hera. Its invulnerable skin became a cloak
and emblem of Herakles.
II. THE HYDRA OF LERNA (site: five miles south of Argos, on the coast road to
Arcadia and Sparta) :
The Hydra is half-sister to the Nemean Lion through Typhon or the Echidna, and is
said to have been nourished by Hera. It lived near a spring (Amymone) with a crab for
a friend (in a cave with two entrances); it had nine heads that grew back when cut off,
and it was partially invulnerable. IOLAOS, the son of Iphicles (Herakles' half-brother)
acted as charioteer for his uncle Herakles, and helped him by cauterizing the wounds
where the necks of the Hydra were cut through before a new head could be grown
back. The central stalk was immortal (= Death) and Herakles could only bury it along
side of the road. The body provided Herakles with a deadly poison for his arrows (Cf.
the story of Philoctetes, by Sophocles); this poison later helped to cause Herakles'
death. The crab which helped the Hydra was made into a constellation by Hera
(CANCER). On Herakles' return to Tiryns, Eurystheus refused to count this as one of
the Labors (thus 10 = 12) because Herakles had received help.
III. THE CERYNITIAN HIND (site: roamed around the territory of Oenoe in northwest Argos):
This deer was sacred to Artemis. Herakles chased it for a year, and finally ran it down
in Arcadia, beside the River Ladon in northwest Arcadia [Remember: Ladon is the
name of the Serpent that guards the Apples of the Hesperides, and is thus a deathsymbol, like the Dragon that guards the Golden Fleece). Herakles caught the
Cerynitian hind in nets and brought it back alive to Eurystheus; it was then released.
IV. THE ERYMANTHIAN BOAR (site: the territory of Psophis, a city in north-east
Arcadia, near Mount Cyllene, the birthplace of HERMES)
[On the way, Herakles visited the home of centaur Pholus. Other centaurs invited to
dinner got wildly drunk, and Herakles in alarm killed them; cf. St. Patrick and the
snakes of Ireland. There are no longer centaurs in the Peloponnesus or snakes in
Herakles trapped the boar in the deep snow of mount Erymanthos, and brought it back
alive to Eurystheus, who hid in the bronze jar again (cf. Greek vase painting)
V. THE STABLES OF AUGEAS (site: Elis, near Olympia, in western
Herakles agreed to remove dung from the huge herds of cattle in exchange for a 10%
commission. He diverted the River Alpheus ('...where Alph the sacred river ran/
through caverns measureless to man/down to a sunless sea'--S.T. Coleridge) and/ or
the River Peneus, and succeeded. King Augeas refused to honor the contract. When
Heracles arrived in Tiryns, Eurystheus refused to count it as one of the Labors, since
Heracles had demanded payment (Thus, 10 Labors = 12 Labors).
VI. THE STYMPHALIAN BIRDS (in north-central Arcadia) :
cannibalistic birds, a nuisance. Heracles borrowed from Athena a set of bronze
castinets that Hephaestus had made. When the birds heard the noise and flew upward
in surprise, Herakles shot them with his arrows.
(This bull was the father of the Minotaur out of Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of
Crete) Herakles captured the bill, brought it back to Tiryns, and then freed it. The bull
wandered eventually to Attica, to the plain of Marathon, where it was finally captured
by Theseus and sacrificed (to Athena).
Hippolyte (or Antiope) was the daughter of ARES and a queen of the AMAZONS.
An expedition to the Black Sea area. Hera posed as an amazon and stirred up trouble
for Herakles. Herakles killed Hippolyte (who later had an affair with King Theseus of
Athens and was the mother of Hippolytus), or maybe he only captured her and her
sister Antiope.
Nestos River):
The mares were fed by King Diomedes of the Bistones on human flesh. Herakles
overpowered their grooms and drove the mares down to the sea. Turning back to deal
with pursuers, he left the mares with his current lover ABDERUS. When he returned,
however, he found that Abderus had become their lunch. So Herakles (in some
versions) fed them their master Diomedes to cure them, or (in other versions) he took
the animals to Tiryns and then released them; later they were eaten by wild animals
on Mount Olympus.
X. THE CATTLE OF GERYON (site: Spain: Geryon was king of Erytheia, now
Cadiz in southern Spain, the sherry wine country) :
Geryon had three heads, or maybe three bodies from his waist down--in any event his
physiognomy was unusual. He had a watchdog named Orthus (which had 2 heads).
On the way to Spain (by way of Libya) Herakles set up the Pillars of Herakles
(Gibraltar and Ceuta). He killed the watchdog with his club and likewise the Royal
Shepherd, Erytion.
An Earth Observatory photograph of the Straits of Gibraltar
When Geryon came after Herakles, Herakles shot him with arrows. He then drove the cattle
back to Greece, by way of southern France and Italy (where he ran into robbers Ialybion and
Dercynus, and (at the future site of Rome) CACUS. Herakles founded an altar at Rome which
was still being tended by two aristocratic Roman families in the third century B.C. It stood at
the entrance to the Circus Maximus (near S. Maria in Cosmedin)
(golden fruit: a wedding present to HERA from GAIA) Guarded `at the ends of the
earth' in a sacred grove by a hundred-headed serpent LADON and by the nymphs
called the HESPERIDES (`The Western Ones'). This is a transformation story (cf.
Odysseus and Proteus) of Nereus, the `Old Man of the Sea', until he tells Herakles
how to get to the Islands of the Hesperides (Azores? Canary Islands?) A visit to Atlas
(brother of Prometheus) takes place during the journey; he helps Herakles (in some
versions of the tales) by actually going himself to the Hesperides and getting the
apples from the tree. In other versions, Herakles goes to the garden and kills LADON,
who becomes the constellation SERPENS. Herakles dedicates the apples to Athena
upon his return, and she returns the apples to the Hesperides (Cf. Gilgamesh and the
flower that gives old men back their youth).
Herakles went to the Underworld (House of Hades) and returned with the Threeheaded Dog. He entered the underworld by way of the cavern at Taenarum in Spartan
territory (the same entrance which was used by Orpheus, q.v.). He released
THESEUS and his friend PERITHOOS, king of the Lapiths, who were alive in the
House of Hades, but were being held captive in Chairs of Forgetfulness; they had
tried to steal Persephone (which is what all heroes have to do, in one system of
symbology or another), but were captured and stayed for what almost became an
eternal meal. (Note: Theseus and Perithoos had also killed centaurs, in Thessaly, like
Herakles did.)