HERCULES AND HIS LABORS
 GREATEST of all the heroes of Greece was
Herakles, or Hercules, who was born in Thebes, the city of
Cadmus. His mother was one of the descendants of Perseus
and his father was Jupiter.
Juno, the queen of the gods, hated Hercules. When he was
only a baby in the cradle she sent two
large serpents to devour him. He grasped the throat of each
serpent with his tiny fingers and
choked both to death.
HERCULES AND THE SERPENTS
When he had grown to manhood he was forced by the will of
the gods to become the slave of a
hard-hearted cousin of his named
Eurystheus, who was
king of Mycenæ.
Eurystheus set twelve tasks for Hercules. The first was
 to kill the Nemean lion. This was a ferocious animal that
lived in the forest of Nemea and ate a
child or a grown person every two or three days. Its skin
was so tough that nothing could pierce
it, but Hercules drove the lion before him into a cave and,
following boldly, grasped the beast
about the neck and choked it to death. That done, he
stripped off its skin, which he ever after
wore as a cloak.
When the Nemean lion had been killed Eurystheus said to
Hercules, "You must now kill the hydra
that lives in the marsh of Lerna. "
This hydra was a nine-headed water serpent whose very breath
was poisonous. It was hard to kill
the creature because as soon as one head was cut off two
others at once sprang up in its place.
This task might have proved too much for Hercules if a
friend had not prevented new heads from
growing by burning each neck with a firebrand the instant
that Hercules cut off the head.
The third of Hercules' tasks was to bring to Eurystheus the
stag with golden horns that was sacred
to Diana. It lived in southern Greece in the woods of
Arcadia. It had brazen feet and could run
so fast that Hercules had to chase it for a whole year
before he caught it.
"Now," said Eurystheus, "you must kill the
 boar that roams on the slopes of Mount
creature laid waste the farmers'
fields of barley and wheat at the foot of the mountain.
Hercules captured the brute in a net and
The next command of Eurystheus to Hercules was, "Clean the
The Augean stables belonged to Augeas, one of the kings of
Greece. As three thousand oxen
were kept in them, and as they had not been cleaned for
thirty years, they were filthy. Hercules
cleaned them in one day. He dug a great ditch as far as the
stables and turned into it the waters of
two swift rivers.
AS soon as this was done Eurystheus said, "you must now kill
the birds of Lake Stymphalus." Instead of wings of feathers these birds had wings of arrows
which darted out and shot any one
who passed by. Their claws and beaks were of brass, and
they fed on human flesh. Hercules
killed them with poisoned arrows.
Still Eurystheus hoped to find some task that might prove
too much for the hero, so he said,
"Bring me the bull of Crete."
This bull was a terrible monster that had been sent by
Neptune to ravage Crete, an island not far
from Greece. Hercules set out for Crete at once,
 conquered the bull, rode on his back across the sea from
Crete to Greece, then swung the great
animal to his own shoulders and carried him to Eurystheus.
Eurystheus now said to his wonderful slave, "Tame the
man-eating horses of
Diomedes, king of Thrace." He fully expected that this task would be
fatal to Hercules. But the hero went
to the palace of Diomedes and soon discovered a way to tame
the savage steeds. He killed
Diomedes and threw his flesh to them, when lo! the
man-eating beasts became like other horses
and gladly ate oats and grass.
Eurystheus immediately set a ninth task.
"My daughter," said he, "wants the girdle of the queen of
the Amazons. Get it for her."
The Amazons were a nation living upon the shores of the
Black Sea. It was the custom for the
women to go to battle. Bravest of them all was Queen
Hippolyte, whom Mars had rewarded for
her courage by giving her a beautiful girdle. All Greece
had heard of this girdle, and it was no
wonder that the daughter of Eurystheus wished to have it.
When Hercules reached the country of the Amazons and made
known his errand he found that the
queen was as generous as she was brave. She said that she
would send her girdle as a present to
the daughter of Eurystheus. So it looked as though
 Hercules was to have no trouble at all with this task.
Juno, however, tried to prevent his success.
She made herself look like one of the Amazons and went among
them and persuaded them that
Hercules wished to carry away their queen. A great quarrel
then arose between the hero and the
Amazons, which ended in a battle. Brave Hippolyte was
killed, and Hercules then took the girdle
and carried it to Eurystheus.
"BRING me the oxen of Geryon," Eurystheus now commanded.
Geryon was a monster with three bodies. He lived on an
island in the Western Ocean, as the
Greeks called the Atlantic Ocean. In the fields of this
island grazed Geryon's herd of red oxen
guarded by a two-headed dog. At first Hercules did not see
how he could reach the island. But
the sun-god, Apollo, came to his aid and said to him, "I
will lend you the golden bowl in which I
sail every night from the land of the
Western Sea to the land of the rising sun."
So in the sun's golden bowl Hercules reached the island
safely. He slew the two-headed dog, then
got the whole herd of oxen into the golden bowl and sailed
 For the tenth time Eurystheus was amazed. He now commanded
Hercules, "Get me some of the
apples of the Hesperides."
At the wedding of Jupiter and Juno, the grandest that ever
took place on Olympus, Ceres, the
great earth-mother, had given to Juno some branches loaded
with golden apples. These branches
were afterwards planted and grew into trees upon islands in
the Western Ocean, far away from
Greece. The trees and their fruit were in charge of the
nymphs called Hesperides, who had a
terrible dragon to aid them. When Hercules was told to get
some of the apples of the Hesperides
he was puzzled. At last he went to Atlas, who was the
father of the Hesperides, and begged his
help. Atlas lived in Africa, opposite Spain. His duty was
to hold up the sky, with all it contains,
the sun, moon and stars.
THE DAUGHTERS OF ATLAS
"I will get you some of the apples," said Atlas in answer to
Hercules, "if you will hold up the sky
for me while I am getting them."
The bargain was made. Hercules held up the sky while Atlas
went and secured three of the
golden apples. Then the giant took the sky again on his
shoulders, and Hercules carried the
apples to Eurystheus.
The Fates allowed Eurystheus to send Hercules upon only one
more of his dangerous errands.
 "Go to the gates of the underworld," said Eurystheus, "and
bring Cerberus here."
Hercules now, if ever, had need of aid from the gods. They
did not fail him. Mercury, the god
who guided the souls of the dead to the unseen world, and
Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, both
went with him to the kingdom of Pluto.
Pluto said that if Hercules could overpower Cerberus without
using any weapon he might take the
great watchdog to the world of light. Hercules wrestled
with the monster, overcame him, and
dragged him to the palace of Eurystheus.
This ended the power of Eurystheus over the hero.
HERCULES had a friend named Admetus, a king in Thessaly, who was about to die. The Fates
had promised that his life should be spared if his father,
mother or wife would die for him. When
both father and mother refused, Alcestis, his wife, gave
her life for him. Admetus was crazed
with grief at losing her, and so Hercules went to Pluto's
kingdom, seized Alcestis, and brought
her to her husband.
Once Hercules became insane and killed a friend whom he
greatly loved. The gods punished him
for this with a serious sickness. He asked Apollo to cure
him, but the god refused, and Hercules
 to carry away the tripod on which the priestess of Delphi
sat when the god spoke to her. For this
he was deprived of his great strength and given as a slave
to Omphale, Queen of Lydia. She
took the Nemean lion's skin from him and dressed him as a
woman. Then she made him kneel at
her feet and spin thread and do a woman's work for three
years. After he was again free he did
many brave deeds.
HERCULES AS THE SLAVE OF OMPHALE
Once when journeying with his wife Deianira he reached a river. There was neither bridge nor
ferry. Nessus, the centaur, half-man, half-horse, who
owned that part of the river, undertook to
carry Deianira across while Hercules waded. When Nessus
reached the middle of the river he
tried to run away with Deianira, but Hercules shot him with
 of his poisoned arrows. Nessus, while dying, told Deianira
to save some of his blood and use it as
a charm to make Hercules love her more.
NESSUS CARRYING OFF DEIANIRA
SOME years after this, Deianira became very jealous, and the
foolish woman sprinkled some drops
of the centaur's poisoned blood upon a robe that Hercules
had to wear at a sacrifice. When
Hercules put on the robe the poison burned like fire. He
tried to pull off the garment, but it clung
to him, and as he pulled it his flesh was torn.
Seeing now that his end was near, he went to the top of a
mountain. There he pulled up some
trees by the roots and heaped them together to make his
funeral pyre. With his club for a pillow
and his lion's skin for a cover, he lay upon the pyre and
soon he ceased to breathe. A friend
kindled the pyre, and the hero's body was burned to ashes.
Then a cloud, gleaming as though on
fire, descended through the air, and amid
the pealing of thunder the mighty spirit was born to the
There Jupiter made him one of the gods and gave him the
beautiful goddess Hebe for a wife.