Labours of Hercules

Labours of Hercules

The Twelve Labours of Hercules (Greek: "Δωδεκαθλος", "dodekathlos") age a series of archaic episodes connected by a later continuous narrative, concerning a penance carried out by the greatest of the Greek heroes, Heracles, romanised as Hercules. The establishment of a fixed cycle of twelve labours was attributed by the Greeks to an epic poem, now lost, written by Peisandros of Rhodes, dated about 600 BC (Burkert).

As they survive, the Labors of Hercules are not told in any single place, but must be reassembled from many sources. Ruck and Staplescite book | last = Ruck | first = Carl | coauthors = Danny Staples | year = 1994 | pages = 169 | title = The World of Classical Myth | location = Durham, NC, USA | publisher = Carolina Academic Press] assert that there is no one way to interpret the labours, but that six were located in the Peloponnese, culminating with the rededication of Olympia. Six others took the hero farther afield. In each case, the pattern was the same: Hercules was sent to kill or subdue, or to fetch back for Hera's representative Eurystheus a magical animal or plant. "The sites selected were all previously strongholds of Hera or the 'Goddess' and were Entrances to the Netherworld".

A famous depiction of the labours in Greek sculpture is found on the metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, which date to the 450s BC.

The framing narrative

Zeus, having made Alcmene pregnant with Hercules, proclaimed that the next son born of the house of Perseus would become king. Hera, Zeus' wife, hearing this, caused Eurystheus to be born two months early as he was of the house of Perseus, while Hercules, also of the house, was three months overdue. When he found out what had been done, Zeus was furious; however, his rash proclamation still stood.

In a fit of madness, induced by Hera, Hercules slew his wife, Megara, and their three children. The fit then receded. Realizing what he had done, he isolated himself, going into the wilderness and living alone. He was found (by his cousin Theseus) and convinced to visit the Oracle at Delphi to regain his honor. The Oracle told him that as a penance he would have to perform a series of twelve tasks, or labors, set by King Eurystheus, the man who had taken Hercules' birthright and the man he hated the most.

The labours

In his labours, Hercules was often accompanied by a male companion (an "eromenos"), according to Licymnius and others, such as Iolaus, his nephew. Although he was only supposed to perform ten labours, this assistance led to him suffering two more. Eurystheus didn't count the Hydra, because Iolaus helped him, or the Augean stables, as he received payment for his work, or because the rivers did the work.

A traditional order of the labours found in Apollodorus [Pseudo-Apollodorus, "Bibliotheke" 2.5.1-2.5.12.] is:
#Slay the Nemean Lion and bring back its hide.
#Slay the 9-headed Lernaean Hydra.
#Capture the Golden Stag of Artemis.
#Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
#Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
#Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
#Capture the Cretan Bull.
#Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
#Obtain the Girdle of the Amazon warrior queen Hippolyte.
#Obtain the Cattle of the Monster Geryon.
#Steal the Apples of the Hesperides, which were strictly guarded by a 100-headed dragon called Ladon.
#Capture Cerberus, the guardian dog of Hades, using no weapons and bring him back.

Inner meaning

German scholar Walter Burkert has called the labors and other myths of Hercules "a conglomerate of popular tales which was exploited only secondarily by the high art of poetry", and it was not until the fifth century that poets of the Classic age could draw the myth into "a tragic, heroic, and human atmosphere and away from its natural thrust outwards to a carefree realm beyond the human". [Burkert 1985:208] As philosophical, moral, and eventually allegorical overlays came to be applied to his death-cheating superhuman exploits, behind their outer, literal meaning, the Hercules figure came to represent an inner mystical tradition, and thus the labors could be interpreted in terms of the spiritual path. The last three labors (10-12) of Heracles are generally considered metaphors about death. Hercules was unique among Greek heroes in that no tomb of Hercules was ever localized, and the Olympian sacrifices and chthonic libations were offered simultaneously to him everywhere.

Geographic locations

Pointing to a possible location for their origin, or at least their formalisation, is the fact that most of the geographic locations are located in, or on the borders of what was classical Arcadia (today's prefecture of Arcadia is smaller).
*Town and prominent archeological site of Nemea, southwest of Corinthos, prefecture of Corinthia.
*Lake Lerna at the Argolic Gulf gradually silted up, its last remnants were drained. It is now a fertile alluvial bay. The strong Karst springs between the villages Mili (archeological: Lerna) and Kefalari now irrigate fruit plantations.
*The Mountain Erymanthos, currently called Olonos, prefecture of Achaea, Peloponnese.
*Town Ceryneia, prefecture of Achaea.
*Lake Stymphalia, ca. 20km northwest of Nemea. In ancient times a birds' domain. An extraordinary Karst formation. The lake is a law-protected preserve for endangered habitats and species (Natura 2000), prefecture of Corinthia.
*The River Alphaeus feeds the bay of Elis, and drains the north western mountains.
*The City of Sparta, southern Peloponnese, prefecture of Laconia.
*The Island of Crete, a sea trading nation.

ee also

*List of constellations




External links

* [] - Livius Picture Archive: Labors of Heracles
* [] - The Labors of Hercules at [] - the Perseus Digital Library
* [ Gallery of Public Domain Book Engravings Depicting the Twelve Labours of Hercules]

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