Mad with grief, Hercules took the Oracle of Delphi’s advice to perform 10 impossible tasks for King Eurysteus. He was tricked into doing the last two. In return for completing the labors, his sins would be forgiven and he would be granted immortality.
*side note: most of the monsters in these myths were the children of the Titans Typhon and Echidna)
The first task (order varies depending on who writes the myth) was to slay the Nemean Lion. It had golden super-fur/body armor that could not be cut with any weapon. It also had claws sharp enough to shred metal. Sometimes the lion could shape shift into a beautiful woman and would feign injury, drawing in the would be heroes and then shifting into a lion and killing them.
Hercules blocked the exit of the lion’s cave and then either strangled the lion, or shot it with in an arrow in its mouth. He ran into a problem when he tried to skin the lion because nothing could cut its fur. Finally, Athena took pity on him and pointed out the lions claws were rather sharp, so Hercules used them to skin the lion.
This skin became his cloak/armor.
Next, Hercules sent to kill the hydra. You guys know this one, it had nine (or three, or a thousand) heads and every time you chopped off one, three (or two) more grew in its place. Remember, myths varied by who told them (hence the parenthesis). The hydra’s breath and blood were poisonous and the reptilian creature lived in a lake that sat above an entrance to the Underworld.
Hercules shot flaming arrows at the creature, but that just pissed it off. He may or may not have beat it with his club, stabbed it with his sword, or cut off several heads with a sickle. Whatever weapon he used, it soon became apparent that more heads grew every time he chopped one off. Unfortunately, the hydra couldn’t die so long as it had one head.
Hercules may have asked Iolaus or Athena for aid, and came up with the brilliant idea of cauterizing the wounds before more heads could grow. He either used fire or the creatures own blood dipped on his sword to cauterize the wound. Then he used the creatures blood to turn all his cool weapons into cool poisonous weapons.
Sadly, in killing the hydra, Hercules rendered that river uninhabitable. All the fish died and the nearby villagers either starved or moved.
The last labor I’m covering today was for Hercules to obtain a doe belonging to Artemis. It had golden antlers and bronze and brass hooves. It could outrun even the swiftest of arrows. Hercules chased it across Greece for a full year. Eventually he trapped it a. while it was sleeping, b. with a net, or c. with an arrow shot between its legs, tripping it. He apologized to Artemis and promised to return the doe once he showed it to the King. Artemis didn’t hold a grudge, ruining Hera’s plot to anger the goddess.
When Hercules showed the deer to the King, he wanted to add it to his collection of woodland creatures, but he was unable to keep up with the deer, so it escaped and returned to Artemis.
Over the next few weeks we’ll cover the rest of Hercules’ labors and other tasks. I promise we will get back to general mythology soon.