Greek Mythology/Stories/Labours Of Heracles

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Roman depiction of the 12 Labors of Heracles.

The Labours of Heracles (also Labours of Hercules) was given to Heracles as his penance for unintentionally killing his wife and children because of his great anger. In order to purge his sin from doing that crime, he voluntarily became the servant of his cousin who is also the king of Mycenae, Eurystheus. It was said that the labours were actually urged by Hera to Eurystheus and she devised the difficult tasks.

The First Labour

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Slay the Nemean Lion

The Nemean lion was a fierce creature which could not be hurt by any mortal weapon. Heracles finished it by beating it with his club and strangling it. Upon killing the animal, Hercules used the lion's own claw to remove the weapon-proof skin, providing an impenetrable cloak seen in many paintings and sculptures of the hero.

The Second Labour

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Slay the Hydra

The Hydra was a huge serpent which lived in a swamp in Lerna. The Hydra had 9 heads, with very long necks. It had a poisonous bite which was fatal. Its central head was immortal. When one of the mortal heads was cut, two additional heads would grow immediately to replace it. Heracles finished them off by burning the eight mortal heads, and then with the help of his nephew, Iolaus, he buried the only immortal head under a huge rock.

The Third Labour

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Bring back a Stag with Golden Horns and Bronze Hoofs alive

The stag had to be brought back alive, when Heracles could have easily killed it. Thus, for him bringing it back was not an easy task. The stag, which lived in the forests of Cerynitia, was scared easily and fled to Artemis. Heracles hunted the stag for a whole year before he succeeded. He then captures the animal, puts it in a net and carries it back to king Eurystheus.

The Fourth Labour

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Captured A Great Boar in Mount Erymanthus

Heracles chased the boar from one place to another for a long time, until he was exhausted of running and having to chase the boar. He finally succeeded when he drove the boar into deep snow and trapped it there.

The Fifth Labour

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Clean the Augean Stables in One Day

Cleaning the Augean Stables would take thirty days because it held thousands of cattle. The stalls had not been cleared out for a year. Heracles accomplished the fifth labour by diverting the flow of two rivers through the stables, creating a great flood which instantly washed out the stables, cleaning them. Hercules finished this labour quickly enough to have a little extra free time, with which he started the early Olympic Games to honour Zeus who granted Hercules a wish because of it.

The Sixth Labour

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Drive Away the Stymphalian Birds

The Stymphalian birds are plaguing the people of Stymphalus of its number. They are man-eating birds with bronze beaks, claws, and wings. Heracles accomplished this labour with the help of Athena. Together they drive the birds out and while flying away he shot them.

The Seventh Labour

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Caught the Savage Bull

The savage bull was sent by Poseidon to Minos to terrorise Crete. Hercules released the bull into the countryside of Tyrins, where it caused damage and wreaked havoc until it arrived in Marathon where Theseus caught it and sacrificed it.

The Eighth Labour

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Bring Back the Mares of Diomedes

Heracles killed Diomedes, King of Thrace. He fed the king to the horses, which cured them of their man-eating ways, then he drove away the no longer man-eating mares, to Mycenae. Mycenae dedicated to give them to Hera. The goddess chose to turn them loose on Mount Olympus where they were eventually eaten by wild beasts.

The Ninth Labour

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Bring Back the Girdle of Hippolyta

Hippolyta was the Queen of the Amazons. When Heracles met her, she was willing to give her girdle. But Hera intervened and convinced the Amazons that Heracles had come to abduct their queen. Heracles killed Hippolyta thinking she was the responsible for the attack and was able to fight off others and take the girdle away. Eurystheus wanted the girdle of Hippolyta as gift for his daughter.

The Tenth Labour

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Bring Back the Cattle of Geryon

Geryon was a three-bodied monster living in Erythia. As a memorial of his journey, Heracles built up two great rocks, called the Pillars of Hercules. He got the cattle and took them to Mycenae in a golden cup, loaned to him by Helios (the Sun).

The Eleventh Labour

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Bring Back the Golden Apples of Hesperides

The eleventh labour was the most difficult so far. Heracles did not know where to find the golden apples. Hesperides was the daughter of Atlas and she guarded a tree which was said to have golden leaves and golden apples, guarded by a dragon. Heracles asked Atlas where to find the golden apples. He offered to support the world, which Atlas always supported, while Atlas retrieved it for him. Atlas, who saw a chance to relieve the heavy burden of carrying the world, gladly agreed to the offer. When Atlas came back with the golden apples, he did not give it to Heracles but Heracles was to continue carrying the world while Atlas would be the one to bring them back to Eurystheus. But Heracles tricked Atlas, Heracles said to Atlas that he will give all his strength and power for carrying the world if Atlas would carry it for a moment so that he could put a pad on his shoulder to ease the burden of the pressure from the weight of the world. Because of Atlas' stupidity, he agreed and Heracles picked up the apples and went off to Mycenae.

The Twelfth Labour

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Bring Cerberus Up From the Underworld of course

This is the most difficult task of all. Heracles went off to the underworld to take the three-headed dog, the Cerberus, up from the underworld. Hades gave him permission if Heracles would not use any weapons. Heracles managed it and captured Cerberus, went to Mycenae, and later brought Cerberus back to the underworld.

After finishing the twelve labours Heracles felt peace and tranquility with his life because he had repented from killing his wife and children. But Heracles never was peaceful after the labours.