Hercules (Roman), also known as Herakles (Greek), is one of the most popular Greco-Roman legendary heroes. As per Greek mythology, Hercules was the son of Zeus, the king-god, and Alcmene, a mortal woman, and Perseus’ grandson. Being born as a son of a demi-god, Hercules had incredible strength and stamina.
Hercules was the illegitimate son of Zeus and Alcmene, so he had to serve Eurystheus( his stepbrother) while growing up and face Hera’s ( his stepmother) wrath. Once, she sent two serpents to kill him when he was just an infant in his cradle.
Note: Hercules was born with the name Alcaeus but later changed his name to Herakles (Greek), which meant “Glory of Hera,” implying that his troubles with the goddess would make him famous.
Even though Hercules’ various adventures spread throughout Greece and later in Rome, the most famous Greek myth and folklore about Hercules was his ’12 labors’. It is said that those 12 labors were life-threatening and nearly challenging to complete, even for a man with superhuman strength like Hercules. However, Hercules emerged as the legendary Greece Hero at the end of these labors.
The 12 Labors of Hercules
After time passed, Hercules became a hero to the Greek people and had three strong and healthy sons with his wife, Megara. This success and happiness of Hercules were unbearable for Hera, so she decided again to destroy everything Hercules had.
She sent upon him a madness in which he unconsciously killed his sons and wife Megara.
After coming to temporary consciousness, he was devastated when Hercules came to know what disaster he had made. He tried to take his own life under the grief of murdering his family. However, his cousin, Theseus, persuaded him that doing so would be cowardly and that he needed to find a way to atone for his faults. Hercules sought advice from the Oracle of Delphi, who advised him to accompany his cousin Eurystheus, king of Tiryns and Mycenae, who would invent labors to atone for his sins.
Even then, Hera played a trick and made her son task Hercules with the most arduous labor he had to execute. Hera imagined Hercules would perish while striving to finish these labors, which were impossible to complete. Still, eventually, it was only these 12 labors that made Hercules the most muscular man of his time.
1. The Slaying of the Nemean Lion
Hercules’ first labor in the series was to kill and present to the king the skin of the indestructible lion who wrought havoc and terrorized the people in the town of Nemea. Hercules utilized his superhuman strength and cunning bravery to suffocate the lion and deliver the lion’s skin to Eurystheus.
2. The Slaying of the Nine-Headed Hydra of Lerna
Now, Hercules had to kill the nine-headed Hydra of the swamp around Lerna. Nevertheless, it had one immortal head that nobody could kill, and it was venomous. This Hydra was tracked down and imprisoned by Hercules and his nephew Iolaus.
Even if the Hydra was imprisoned, defeating this demon was not simple. When Hercules slams one of the Hydra’s heads, two more emerge from the same neck origin. It was getting worse until Iolaus focused the torch’s flames on the Hydra’s smashed head, and to their surprise, the head stopped growing all over again. As a result, he and Hercules were able to kill the deadly Hydra and rid the region of his dread.
3. The Capture of the Elusive Hind (or Stag) of Arcadia
Eurystheus was tasked with bringing the Hind of Ceryneia. Now the question arises, ‘what is Hind of Ceryneia?’
It is said that there was the town of Ceryneia in Greece, which was 50 miles away from the palace where Hind, a female red deer, used to live. This deer was unique because it had golden horns and bronze hooves. Not only that, but the deer was Diana’s pet and was devoted to the goddess of hunting and the moon. Since he couldn’t kill the deer, he hunted this deer for almost a year, and one day he shot it, and it died. To keep Diana calm, he explained his situation, and then she forgave him, and Hercules accomplished this task.
4. The Capture of the Wild Boar of Mount Erymanthus
For the fourth labor, Eurystheus challenged Hercules to catch rather than kill a boar, a ferocious beast that terrorized the people of Mount Erymanthus. For Hercules, this task was difficult even with his superhuman abilities.
He pursued the wild boar up the mountain and into a snowdrift. He then captured it in a net and delivered it to Tiryns’ monarch, who was terrified of the beast and sought refuge in a large bronze jar. As a result, Eurystheus and Heracles’ rivalry became even more intense.
5. The Cleansing, in a Single Day, of the Cattle Stables of King Augeas of Elis
Since Hercules overcame all deadly tasks, it was unbearable for Hera. This time instead of giving a life-dangerous task, Hercules was challenged to clean the cattle stables of King Augeas of Elis. The animals in the cattle were dirty for 30 years, and Hercules had to clean them, all of them, in one day.
He accomplished this by bending two rivers such that they flowed into the stables, clearing the filth away. Eurystheus later claimed this didn’t count because the rivers cleansed the stable, not Hercules.
6. The Shooting of the Monstrous Man-Eating Birds of the Stymphalian Marshes
The sixth labor was to kill the man-eater birds of the Stymphalian marshes. The claws and beaks of this murderous bird were razor-sharp, and its feathers flew through the air like arrows. Heracles used a rattle to scare them out of their nests, then killed them with poison arrows made from Hydra’s blood.
7. The Capture of the Mad Bull that Terrorized the Island of Crete
Capturing the mad bull that terrorized the island of creation was the seventh labor Eurystheus gave to Hercules. This ferocious bull, which Crete’s King Minos kept, was reputed to be insane and breathe fire. On the other hand, Heracles dragged the terrible beast to the ground and delivered it to King Eurystheus. Unfortunately, the king let it loose, and it roamed around Greece, terrorizing everyone it encountered.
8. The Capture of the Man-Eating Mares of King Diomedes of the Bistones
Hercules was given the eighth labor of capturing King Diomedes of Bistones’ man-eating mares. Diomedes used to feed human flashes to this marse, so Hercules had to feed flash to him to control it. He fought and killed Diomedes and gave his flashes to the man-eater mares. The mares became submissive due to this, and Heracles was able to take them to King Eurystheus.
9. The Taking of the Girdle of Hippolyte (Queen of the Amazons)
Next, he had to bring the girdle of the queen of the Amazons, Hippolytus. When Hercules visited the Amazons, the queen warmly welcomed him and treated him as her guest. When Hercules told her why he came, she gave her girdle to the daughter of Eurystheus to Hercules.
Thought, Hera was not happy that Hercules did the task so effortlessly and spread the rumors of him returning as an enemy, so Hercules had to fight and conquer Amazon and steal the girdle of the queen.
10. The Seizing of the Cattle of the Three-Bodied Goliath Geryon
As the tenth labor, Eurystheus challenged Hercules to bring the cattle of three gigantic-bodied Geryon. Geryon was a winged demon with three human bodies and kept a magnificent herd of red cattle.
He guarded his valuable herd with the support of a giant and a frightening two-headed dog. Hercules slew the monster Geryon and the hound, then delivered the herd to King Eurystheus.
11. The Bringing Back of the Golden Apples Kept at the World’s End by the Hesperides
The eleventh labor of Hercules to atone for his guilt was to bring back the golden apple that was kept at the world’s end by Hesperides, a nymph. The golden apple was protected by Ladon, a dragon with a hundred heads. Hercules made a deal with Atlas, the god of the Earth.
The fruits were brought from Erytheia by Atlas, the nymphs’ father, while Hercules carried the Earth on his troops. Atlas then attempted to impose the duty on Hercules indefinitely but was either misled or persuaded to return to his previous position.
12. The Fetching up from the Underworld of the Triple-Headed Dog Cerberus, Guardian of its Gates
The last and final labor Hercules was given was to catch the beast Cerberus. Cerberus, a three-headed hound, protected the underworld from humans. Knowing he couldn’t enter by the main entrance, Hercules descended into the underworld via underground caves taking on a slew of creatures and demons.
But the actual task, though, was capturing Cerberus without using any weapons. Hercules wrestled and captured the wild dog to bring him to Eurystheus. Soon, Cerberus returned to the underworld unharmed.
Hercules decided to accompany Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece after finishing all 12 labors.
Hercules is depicted in Greek Art and literature as a powerful, massive man endowed with celestial powers. He is described as a man of gentleness with occasional outbreaks of vicious rage. In Italy, Hercules was worshiped as the god of merchants and traders, though others worshiped him for his unique good luck gift to save those in trouble.