| Heroes Every Child Should Know|
|by Hamilton Wright Mabie|
|Inspiring stories of heroes from various times and places relating their daring deeds, prompted by their high ideals. Perseus and Hercules are included from Greek mythology and David and Daniel from the Bible. Among the legendary heroes of the middle ages are St. George, King Arthur, Sir Galahad, Siegfried, Roland, Robin Hood, The Cid, and William Tell. Historical persons such as Alfred the Great, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Robert the Bruce, and Robert E. Lee round out the collection. Ages 9-12 |
ANY, many years ago in the far-off land of Hellas, which we call
Greece, lived a happy young couple whose names were Alcmene and
Amphitryon. Now Amphitryon, the husband, owned many herds of cattle.
So also the father of Alcmene, who was King of Mycenae, owned many.
All these cattle grazing together and watering at the same springs
became united in one herd. And this was the cause of much trouble,
for Amphitryon fell to quarreling with the father of his wife about
his portion of the herd. At last he slew his father-in-law, and from
that day he fled his old home at Mycenae.
Alcmene went with her husband and the young couple settled at
Thebes, where were born to them two boys—twins—which were later
named Hercules and Iphicles.
From the child's very birth Zeus, the King of all heaven that is the
air and clouds, and the father of gods and men—from the boy's very
birth Zeus loved Hercules. But when Hera, wife of Zeus, who shared
his honours, saw this love she was angry. Especially she was angry
because Zeus foretold that Hercules should become the greatest of
Therefore one night, when the two babies were but eight months old,
Hera sent two huge serpents to destroy them. The children were
asleep in the great shield of brass which Amphitryon carried in
battle for his defence.
 It was a good bed, for it was round and
curved toward the centre, and filled with soft blankets which
Alcmene and the maids of the house had woven at their looms. Forward
toward this shield the huge snakes were creeping, and just as they
lifted their open mouths above the rim, and were making ready to
seize them, the twins opened their eyes. Iphicles screamed with
fright. His cries wakened their mother, Alcmene, who called in a
loud voice for help. But before Amphitryon and the men of the
household could draw their swords and rush to the rescue, the baby
Hercules, sitting up in the shield unterrified and seizing a serpent
in each hand, had choked and strangled them till they died.
From his early years Hercules was instructed in the learning of his
time. Castor, the most experienced charioteer of his day, taught
him, Eurytus also, how to shoot with a bow and arrows; Linus how to
play upon the lyre; and Eumolpus, grandson of the North Wind,
drilled him in singing. Thus time passed to his eighteenth year
when, so great already had become his strength and knowledge, he
killed a fierce lion which had preyed upon the flocks of Amphitryon
while they were grazing on Mount Cithaeron, and which had in fact
laid waste many a fat farm of the surrounding country.
But the anger of Hera still followed Hercules, and the goddess sent
upon him a madness. In this craze the hero did many unhappy deeds.
For punishment and in expiation he condemned himself to exile, and
at last he went to the great shrine of the god Apollo at Delphi to
ask whither he should go and where settle. The Pythia, or priestess
in the temple, desired him to settle at Tiryns, to serve as bondman
to Eurystheus, who ruled at Mycenae as King, and to perform the
great labours which
 Eurystheus should impose upon him. When these
tasks were all accomplished, the inspired priestess added, Hercules
should be numbered among the immortal gods.
THE FIRST LABOUR—WRESTLING WITH THE NEMEAN LION
The first task which Eurystheus required of Hercules was to bring
him the skin of a lion which no arrow nor other weapon could wound,
and which had long been a terror to the good people who lived in
Nemea. Hercules set forth armed with bow and quiver, but paused in
the outer wood of Nemea long enough to cut himself his famous club.
There too he fell in with an honest countryman who pledged him to
make a sacrifice to Zeus, the saviour, if he, Hercules, should
return victorious; but if he were slain by the monstrous lion, then
the countryman should make the sacrifice a funeral offering to
himself as a hero.
So Hercules proceeded, far into a dense wood, deserted because all
people feared the fierce beast it protected. On he went till after
many days he sighted the lion at rest near the cave which was its
den. Standing behind a tree of great girth, Hercules fitted and let
fly an arrow. It struck and glanced, leaving the animal unharmed.
Then he tried another shot, aiming at the heart. Again the arrow
failed. But the lion was by this time roused, and his eyes shot
fiery glances, and the heavy roar from his throat made the woods
most horribly resound. Then the devoted Hercules seized his heavy
wooden club, and rushing forward drove the lion by the suddenness
and fierceness of his assault into his den. But the den had two
entrances. Against one Hercules rolled huge stones,
 and entering the
cave by the other he grasped the lion's throat with both hands, and
thus held him struggling and gasping for breath till he lay at his
Hercules swung the mighty bulk upon his shoulders and proceeded to
seek the countryman with whom his pledge stood. So great had been
his journey, and so hard his search, that he did not find the good
man till the last of the thirty days. There he stood just on the
point of offering a sheep to Hercules, supposing him dead. Together
they sacrificed the sheep to Zeus instead, and Hercules, vigorous
and victorious, bore the mighty lion's body to Eurystheus at
Entering the place and throwing the carcass down before the king,
Hercules so terrified Eurystheus by this token of his wonderful
strength that the King forbade him ever again to enter the city.
Indeed some say that the terror of Eurystheus was so great that he
had a jar or vessel of brass secretly constructed underground which
he might use as a safe retreat in case of danger. This "jar" was
probably a chamber and its walls covered within with plates of
brass. For now in our own day is seen there at Mycenae a room under
the earth, and the nails which fastened the brass plates to the wall
still remain. Ever after the conquest of this lion Hercules clothed
himself with the skin.
THE SECOND LABOUR—DESTROYING THE LERNEAN HYDRA
The second task of Hercules was to destroy a hydra or water snake
which dwelt in the marsh of Lerna, a small lake near Mycenae. The
body of this snake was large and from its body sprang nine heads.
Eight of these heads were mortal, but the ninth head was undying.
 Hercules stepped into his chariot and his dear nephew Iolaus, who
was permitted by the Delphic priestess to drive for him, took up the
reins. The way to Lerna was pleasant. In spring-time crocuses and
hyacinths sprang by the roadside, and in early summer the
nightingales sang in the olive groves, vineyard and forest. That so
great and horrible a monster could be near!
When Hercules and Iolaus came to Lerna they drew close to ground
rising near a spring, and Hercules dismounting and searching found
the very hole into which the hydra had retired. Into this he shot
fiery arrows. The arrows discomforting the snake it crawled forth
and, darting at him furiously, endeavoured to twine itself about his
legs. The hero began then to wield his mighty club. He crushed head
after head upon the snake's body, but for every one crushed two
sprang in its place.
At length the hydra had coiled so firmly round one leg, that
Hercules could not move an inch from the spot. And now an enormous
crab came from the water out of friendship for the hydra, and that
too crept up to Hercules and, seizing his foot, painfully wounded
Swinging his club with heroic vigor Hercules beat the crab to death.
Then he called to Iolaus to fire a little grove of trees near by.
Iolaus at once set the fire, and when the saplings were well aflame
he seized them and, standing by the hero, as fast as Hercules cut
off a head of the hydra he seared the neck with a flaming brand. The
searing prevented the heads from growing again. When all the eight
mortal heads had thus been dispatched Hercules struck off the one
said to be immortal and buried it in the roadway, setting a heavy
stone above. The body of the hydra he cut up and dipped his arrows
 in the gall, which was so full of poison that the least scratch from
such an arrow would bring certain death.
Eurystheus received the news of the destruction of the water snake
with bad grace. He claimed that Hercules had not destroyed the
monster alone, but only with the assistance of Iolaus. All the
people, however, rejoiced greatly, and they hastened to drain the
marsh where the hydra had dwelt so that never again could such an
enemy abide upon their lands.
THE THIRD LABOUR—CAPTURING THE ARCADIAN HIND
In the days in which Hercules lived, Arcadia was a beautiful country
of cool, sweet-scented woods, clear mountain streams, and sloping
meadow-sides from which rose every now and then the roof of a
hunter's cottage or a shepherd's hutch. It was a country also
peculiarly pleasing to Artemis, the goddess of the chase, and
peculiarly also it was the haunt of all animals especially dear to
A hind was there of such loveliness and grace that Artemis had
marked her for her own, and given her a pair of golden horns so that
she might be known from all other deer and her life thus preserved.
For no good Hellen, or Greek, would slay for food any animal sacred
to a god. This beautiful golden-horned hind Eurystheus ordered
Hercules to bring to him alive, for the irreverence of the King did
not go so far as to demand her dead.
So Hercules went forth for the hunting and, not wishing to wound the
hind, pursued her for one entire year. Up hill he went, down many a
mountain dale, across many a gleaming river, through deep forest and
open field, and always dancing before him were the
 golden tips of
horns of the hind—near enough to be seen, too far to be seized. At
last tired with the pursuit the lovely beast one day took refuge
upon a mountain side, and there as she sought the water of a river,
Hercules struck her with an arrow. The wound was slight, but it
helped the hero to catch the creature, and to lift her to his
shoulders. Thereupon, he started for the court of Eurystheus.
But the way was long, and it lay through a part of Arcadia where the
bush was heavy, and forests were deep, and mountains were high, and
while Hercules was pursuing his way and bearing his meek-eyed
burden, he one day met the fair goddess to whom the hind was sacred.
Her brother, the beautiful god Apollo, was with her.
Artemis seeing her captured deer cried to the hero, "Mortal, oho!
thus wilt thou violate a creature set aside by the gods?" "Mighty
Artemis and huntress," answered Hercules, "this hind I know is
thine. A twelve-month have I chased and at last caught her. But the
god Necessity forced me! Oh, immortal one, I am not impious.
Eurystheus commanded me to catch the hind and the priestess of
Apollo enjoined me to observe the King's command."
When Artemis understood how Hercules was bondman she dismissed her
anger, and sent him forward with kind words, and thus he brought the
golden-horned hind to Mycenae and sent it in to the King.
THE FOURTH LABOUR—CAPTURING THE BOAR OF ERYMANTHUS
In the northwestern part of the famed Arcadia where the golden-horned
hind roamed was a range of mountains called Erymanthus. Over
the high tops of this range
 wandered also a wild beast, but unlike
the lovely hind he was fierce and terrible of aspect and deadly in
encounter. He was known as the boar of Erymanthus. This tusked and
terrible being the King of Mycenae, Eurystheus, commanded the mighty
Hercules, his bondman, to bring alive to him.
Again Hercules set out, and again he fared over hill and across
bright waters, and as he went the birds sang spring songs to him
from vine and tree shade, and yellow crocuses carpeted the earth. In
his journey he came one day to the home of Pholus, a centaur, who
dwelt with other centaurs upon the side of a mountain. Now the
centaurs were, of all the dwellers of that distant land, most unlike
us modern folks. For report has it that they were half that noble
creature man, and half that noble creature horse: that is to say,
they were men as far as the waist, and then came the body of the
horse with its swift four feet. There are those, indeed, who claim
that the centaurs were men and rode their mountain ponies so deftly
that man and horse seemed one whole creature. Be that as it may,
upon this mountain side the centaur Pholus dwelt with others of his
kind, and there to visit with him came Hercules.
The centaur with his hospitable heart and own hands prepared a
dinner of roast meat for the hungry traveller, and as they sat at
the board in genial converse they had much enjoyment. But Hercules
was also thirsty, and the sparkling water from the mountain spring
seemed not to satisfy him. He asked the centaur for wine. "Ah, wine,
my guest-friend Hercules," answered Pholus, "I have none of my own.
Yonder is a jar of old vintage, but it belongs to all the centaurs
of our mountain and I cannot open it." "But friend Pholus," said
 pressingly, "I would I had a little for my stomach's sake."
Now the centaur had a kind heart as we have said, and he rejoiced
that Hercules had come, and to give the hero his desires he opened
the jar. The wine was made from grapes that grew under the fair
skies of Arcadia and its fragrance was like a scent of lilies or of
roses, and when the soft winds entered the door, near which Hercules
sat drinking, it seized the perfume and bore it over the mountain
side. Now hear of all the mischief a little wine may make.
The fragrance in the air told the centaurs, wherever each happened
to be, that their wine jar had been opened, and they rushed to its
resting place perhaps to defend it from any wayfaring thief, perhaps
to help drink it, we do not know. But each came angrily to the mouth
of the cave of Pholus and all were armed with stones and staves
which they had seized as they hastened onward. When they first
entered with raging cries and threatening gesture Hercules grasped
the brands burning on the hospitable hearth and drove them back. As
others pressed behind them the hero drew forth his arrows poisoned
with the gall of the Lernean hydra, and sent among them many a
shaft. Thus they fought retreating and, they fleeing and Hercules
pursuing, came finally to the dwelling of Chiron, most famed of all
the centaurs and a teacher of Hercules in his youth, teacher of his
great art of surgery.
The wine raging in the veins of Hercules made him for the moment
forgetful of all the good Chiron had bestowed upon him, and still
letting fly his poisonous arrows he, aiming at another, hit the
noblest of the centaurs. Grief seized Hercules when he saw what he
had done and he ran and drew out the arrow and applied a
 soft ointment which Chiron himself had taught him to make. But it was in
vain, for the centaur, inspiring teacher and famed for his love of
justice as he was, soon gave up the ghost.
Saddened at his own madness Hercules now returned to the cave of his
guest-friend Pholus. There among others his host lay, and stark
dead. He had drawn an arrow from the body of one who had died from
its wound, and, while examining it and wondering how so slight a
shaft could be so fatal, had accidentally dropped it out of his
hand. It struck his foot and he expired that very moment.
Hercules paid all funeral honour to his friends and afterward
departing from the unhappy neighbourhood took up his search of the
Heavy snows were lying on the crests of Erymanthus when Hercules
came upon the tracks of the wild creature, and following patiently
finally reached his lair. There the boar stood, his tusks pointed
outward ready for attack, his eyes snapping vindictively. He was
indeed a terrible thing to see.
Hercules, instead of shooting at the animal, began to call, and
shouting with loud cries he so confused the boar that he ran into
the vast snowdrift standing near by. Thereupon the hero seized and
bound him with a wild grapevine he had brought for the purpose. And
so swinging him over his shoulder he took his way toward Mycenae.
The King Eurystheus was terribly frightened at the very prospect of
having the boar to keep, and when he heard Hercules was coming to
town with the animal on his shoulders he took to the brazen
underground chamber, which he had built, when Hercules came in
 with the body of the Nemean lion. There he stayed for several days,
according to a good old historian, Diodorus, who in writing of the
King told that he was so great a coward.
THE FIFTH LABOUR—CLEANSING THE STABLES OF AUGEAS
Although Eurystheus was seized with tremor at the coming of Hercules
with the Erymanthian boar, still he continued relentless, and
demanded the performance of the next task, which was nothing less
than the cleaning out in one day of stables where numerous cattle
had been confined for many years. These noisome stalls belonged to
Augeas, a King of Elis and a man rich in herds—so rich indeed that
as the years passed and his cattle increased he could not find men
enough to care for his kine and their house. Thus the animals had
continued, and had so littered their abiding place that it had
become well nigh intolerable and a source of disease and even of
pestilence to the people.
When Hercules came to King Augeas he said nothing to him of the
command Eurystheus had laid upon him, but looking through the
stables which covered a space of many meadows he spoke of the cattle
and the evil condition of their housing. "The moon-eyed kine will do
better in clean stables," said the wise Hercules, "and if thou wilt
pledge me a tenth of thy herds I will clean out thy stalls in a
day." To this Augeas delightedly agreed and, speaking as they were
in the presence of the young son of the King, Hercules called upon
the prince to witness the pact.
Now Hercules in going about the great stables had noticed that at
the upper end of their building flowed
 a swift river, and at the
lower end was a second swift stream. When therefore Augeas had
pledged himself to the work, Hercules, beginning early next day,
took down the walls at the upper end of the stalls and the walls at
the lower end. Then with his own mighty hands he dug channels and
canals and led the waters of the upper swift-flowing river into the
heavily littered floor of the stalls. And the waters rose and pushed
the litter before them and made one channel into the lower river,
and then another and another and so, working through the hours of
the day, the upper river scoured the stables clean and carried the
refuse to the lower river. And the lower river took the burden and
carried it out to the salt sea, which is ever and always cleaning
and purifying whatever comes to its waters. And when night fell
there stood the hero Hercules looking at his work—the filthy
stables of Augeas cleaned.
When next day Hercules asked for the tenth of the herds which the
King had pledged, Augeas refused to stand by his agreement. He had
learned that this labour of cleaning his stables had been imposed
upon Hercules, and he claimed he should pay nothing for it; in fact,
he denied he had promised anything, and offered to lay the matter
before judges. The cause therefore was tried, and at the trial the
young son of the King, who had witnessed the pact, testified to the
truth of Hercules' claim. This so enraged his father that in most
high-handed manner he banished both his son and the hero from Elis
without waiting for the judgment of the court. Hercules returned to
Mycenae. But again the cowardly and contemptible Eurystheus refused
to count this labour, saying Hercules had done it for hire.
THE SIXTH LABOUR—SHOOTING THE STYMPHALIAN BIRDS
 Far in the famed land of Arcadia is a beautiful lake known so many
years ago, as in the time of Hercules, and even by us in our day, as
Lake Stymphalus. It is a lake of pure sweet water and it lies, as
such waters lie in our own country, high up in mountains and amid
hillsides covered with firs and poplars and clinging vines and wild
In our day the lake is a resort for gentle singing birds, but in the
time of Hercules other birds were there also. The other birds were
water fowls, and they had gathered at Lake Stymphalus because they
had been driven out of their old home by wolves, who alone were
hungrier and more destructive than they. These fowls had claws of
iron, and every feather of theirs was sharper than a barbed arrow,
and so strong and fierce and ravenous they were that they would dart
from the air and attack hunters, yea, and pecking them down would
tear and strip their flesh till but a bony skeleton remained of that
which a few minutes before had been a strong, active, buoyant man
seeking in the chase food for his hearthside.
To make way with this horrid tribe of the air was the sixth command
Eurystheus laid upon Hercules. Toward Lake Stymphalus therefore
turned our hero. Again he walked Arcadian waysides, and again as he
fared the spring sun shone above, and the birds sang welcome, and
the narcissus lifted its golden cup, and as he went his heart
rejoiced in his life, whatever the difficulty of his labour, and in
the beauty of the world before his eyes. And as he walked also he
thought of how he should accomplish the great undertaking upon which
he was bent.
 While thus deliberating the grey-eyed goddess of wisdom, Athené,
came to him—just as this goddess even in our day comes to those who
think—and she suggested to his mind that he should scare the fowl
from their retreat by brazen rattles. The goddess did even more than
put the notion of using a rattle in the mind of Hercules. It is said
she actually brought him one, a huge, bronze clapper made for him by
the forger of the gods, limping Hephæstus.
Hercules took this rattle and mounting a neighbouring height shook
it in his great hands till every hill echoed and the very trees
quivered with the horrid sound. And the man-eating birds? Not one
remained hidden. Each and every one rose terrified in the air,
croaking and working its steely talons and sharp-pointed feathers in
Now from his quiver the hero fast picked his barbed arrows, and fast
he shot and every shot brought to his feet one of the terrible
man-eaters, till at last he had slain every one. Or, if indeed, any of
the tribe had escaped, they had flown far away, for never after, in
all the long history of Lake Stymphalus, have such creatures
appeared again above its fair waters.
So ended the sixth labour of Hercules.
THE SEVENTH LABOUR—CAPTURING THE CRETAN BULL
Just as Zeus who, as we said in the beginning, was King of all
heaven that is the air and clouds, so Posidon was King of the sea.
With his queen, Amphitrite, he lived far down underneath the waves,
and dwelt in a palace splendid with all the beautiful things of the
In the midst of the blue waters of the Mediterranean where Posidon
had his home, lies an island called Crete,
 and long ago in the days
when Hercules laboured, a King, whose name was Minos, ruled over
this land. The island is long and narrow and has much sea coast, and
because of this fact King Minos stood in intimate relations with the
god of the sea.
Now one day in an especial burst of friendliness, Minos vowed to
sacrifice to Posidon whatever should come out of the salt waters.
The god in pleasure at the vow, and to test mayhap the devotion of
Minos, sent at once a beautiful bull leaping and swimming through
the waves. When the creature had come to the rocky coast and made
land, its side shone with such beauty, and its ivory-white horns
garlanded with lilies set so like a crown above its graceful head
that Minos and all the people who saw it marvelled that anywhere
could have grown such a bull. And a sort of greed and deceit seized
Minos as he gazed, and for his sacrifice to Posidon he resolved to
use another bull. And so he ordered his herdsman to take this fair
creature that had come from the sea and to put it among his herd,
and also to bring forth another for the offering.
Because of this avarice of Minos the god below the waves was angry
and he made the bull wild and furious, so that no herdsman dared
approach to feed or care for it. For his seventh task Eurystheus
commanded Hercules to fetch him this mad bull of Crete.
Hercules accordingly boarded one of the ships that plied in that
far-off day, as well as in this time of ours, between the rocky
coast of Crete and the fair land of Hellas, and in due time the hero
came to Minos' court. "I have come, sire," said Hercules, "for the
mad bull that terrifies thy herdsmen and is rumoured beyond
capture." "Ay, young man," cried the king, "thou hast come for my
bull and my bull shalt thou have. When
 thou hast taken it, it is
thine," and the King laughed grimly, for the strength and fury of
the creature he deemed beyond any man's control.
Hercules sought the grove where Posidon's gift had strayed from its
fellows, and there deftly seizing it by the horns, he bound its feet
with stout straps of bull's hide and its horns he padded with moss
of the sea from which it came, and so having made it powerless he
lifted it to his shoulders and carried it to the shore. A swift
black ship was just spreading sail from Crete, and entering upon it
the hero soon ended his journey and laid his capture before
A day or two later Hercules loosed the bull, which,
after wandering through the woodlands of Arcadia, crossed the
isthmus and came to the plains of Marathon, whence, after doing much
damage, it swam off to sea and was never heard of after.
So far we have told how Hercules accomplished seven of the tasks
laid upon him. Space does not permit us to recount in detail the
other five. The eighth task was to bring to Eurystheus the
man-eating mares of the King of Windy Thrace. The ninth task was to
fetch a girdle which Ares, god of war, had given the Queen of the
Amazons—an exceedingly difficult labour, for the Amazons were a
nation of women-warriors renowned for valour. For the tenth task
Eurystheus demanded the purple oxen of a famous giant who dwelt on
an island far out in the ocean. The eleventh task was to bring
apples from the garden of the Hesperides—golden apples guarded by a
dragon with a hundred heads, no one of which ever closed its eyes in
sleep. And the twelfth and last task, which was to free the mighty
Hercules from his
 bondage to cowardly Eurystheus, was to fetch
Cerberus, the three-headed dog, who guarded the entrance to Hades,
the unseen abode of departed spirits.
Each and every one of these labours the strong hero accomplished.
Having won his freedom and gained the honours promised by the
priestess at Delphi many years before, Hercules worked many a noble
deed and finally in reward for his much enduring and his aid to
mortals, he was carried upon a thunder cloud to the upper air, and
entered into the very gates of heaven.
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