Mythology Monday: The final labors of Hercules

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The tenth labor of Hercules was to get cattle from the monster Geryon. Geryon was a giant and a grandson to Medusa who lived on the island Erytheia. He either had one body and three heads or three conjoined bodies depending on the myth you read. Sometimes he even had wings. He had a watch dog with two heads that was a brother to Cerberus that guarded the cattle.

Hercules had to cross the desert to get to Erytheia, and he didn’t like the heat. He threw a temper tantrum and shot at Helios with an arrow. Helios was shocked at Hercules’ bravery (odd reaction from such a volatile species, but whatever) and gave Hercules a magical golden cup that Helios used to cross the entire sea each night. Hercules used it to get to Erytheia quickly.

Hercules arrived and promptly killed the two headed puppy with his club :(. Geryone was furious and charged after Hercules, but Herc shot him with one of his poisonous arrows with so much force that it split the monsters head in half. Gross.

Herc herded the cattle back to Eurystheus. On the way some versions of the myth have a young man named Cacus stealing a few of the cattle by walking them backward so they left no trail. Herc tracked them down and killed the kid who stole them. Hera also intervened, sending gadflies to bite the cattle and scatter them, but Herc tracked them all down within a year. She also flooded a river so he couldn’t cross, but Herc piled some rocks and made the river shallower.

While tracking down the cattle, Hercules battled with two giants, Albion and Bergion or Dercynus, sons of Poseidon. Worried he couldn’t defeat them, Hercules prayed to his father Zeus for help. Zeus helped him win, and was so flattered by the prayer he put a constellation in the sky of Hercules kneeling to him.

Upon arriving back to Eurystheus, Herc sacrificed the cattle to Hera. He seriously could not take a hint. The woman hated him, just accept it and stop trying to appease her because everything he did just pissed her off more.

But Hercules was horrifyingly bad at taking hints, so he set off for his eleventh labor to steal apples from Hesperides, nymphs that guarded a garden in the Atlas Mountains, which of course belonged to Hera. The golden apples that grew in this garden could grant immortality. These were also guarded by a dragon with one-hundred heads named Ladon. One of these apples was later used to start the Trojan War by the goddess of discord.

Hercules first had to find the garden. To do that he caught the old man of the sea, a shapeshifting sea god. The Old Man can answer any questions if captured AND if you can hang on while he changes shape. He got directions, and on his way to the garden bumped into Antaeus, a monster who could not be killed so long as he was touching the earth. His parents were Poseidon and Gaia.

No problem. Hercules lifted him up and crushed him.

Upon reaching the gardens, Hercules asked for help from the father of the nymphs (in some versions), Atlas. Atlas agreed, if Hercules agreed to hold the weight of the world while he went and grabbed them. Hercules took on the weight of the world and waited patiently, but Atlas decided he didn’t want to return.

Some background on Atlas. Atlas was a Titan who sided against the Olympians in the Titanomachy.
As punishment, Zeus had him stand on the western corner of Gaia (earth) and hold Uranus (the sky) up on his shoulders so they could never make more baby Titans. The earth and the sky can never, ever touch. He did NOT hold the planet. Just the sky.

Anyway, depending on the version of the myth, Hercules either tricked Atlas into taking the weight again, or built the pillars of Hercules so that no one had to hold the sky in place. I prefer to the latter because I have a very difficult time believing Atlas would be so easily tricked (it literally went like “Sure Atlas, I’ll hold the world, but can you take it for a second so I can rearrange my cloak to be more comfortable. Atlas: Sure thing, buddy. Hercules: hhahahaha! *runs away*) into taking back the sky.

But since Atlas got the apples, not Hercules, he had to do a twelfth labor. To capture Cerberus, Hades’ three headed puppy.

Cerberus was the son of Echidna and Typhon. His three heads represented the past, present, and the future as well as youth, middle age, and old age. He stopped souls from crossing the river Styx and going back to the living realm.

Hercules was not allowed to use any weapons and had to travel to the Underworld. To learn to travel to the Underworld, he had to be inducted into the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult that worshiped Demeter, Persephone, Hades, and Orpheus (who in my book named his CD the Eleusinian Mysteries). Passing into the Underworld somehow absolved Herc from his drunken party turned murder fest with the minotaurs from way back in his early labors. While passing through, Hercules rescued Theseus who, along with Pirithous was stuck to a chair for trying to abduct Persephone. He tried to free Pirithous too, but Hades wasn’t having it.

While he had Hades’ attention, Herc asked if he could borrow Cerberus. Hades agreed, so long as Herc promised not to use weapons on his puppy. Herc agreed, then slung Cerberus over his shoulder and found his way back to the living realm, completing his final labor.

In my universe, Cerberus was never returned to the Underworld, so Hades holds a grudge against Hercules.

We are not done with Hercules yet! He still had lots of adventures.

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4 thoughts on “Mythology Monday: The final labors of Hercules

  1. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Cerberus | Kaitlin Bevis

  2. Pingback: Mythology Monday: An Army, a Wedding, and a Sandbar | Kaitlin Bevis

  3. Pingback: Adventures of Hercules Master Post | Kaitlin Bevis

  4. Pingback: Mythology Monday: Chthonic Deities | Kaitlin Bevis

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