THE LIFE AND LABORS OF HERCULES
The labor that followed was not dangerous. He sailed over the sea and came to Crete, the land that King Minos ruled over. There he found, grazing in a special field, the bull that Poseidon had given King Minos. He seized the bull’s horns and struggled with him eventually throwing him down. Then he drove the bull down to the seashore.
His next labor was to take away the herd of red cattle that was owned by the monster Geryoneus. The monster lived on the Island of Erytheia, in the middle of the Stream of Ocean. His herd was guarded by the two-headed hound Orthus which was the brother of Cerberus, the three-headed hound that kept guard in the Underworld.
Mounted on the bull given to Minos by Poseidon, Hercules travelled across the sea. He reached the straits that divide Europe from Africa, and there he set up two pillars as a memorial to his journey—the Pillars of Hercules that stand to this day. He and the bull rested there. Beyond him stretched the Stream of Ocean. The Island of Erytheia was there, but Hercules thought that the bull would not be able to carry him so far.
There, the sun beat down on him, sapping all his strength.He was dazed and dazzled by the rays of the sun. He shouted out against the sun, and in his anger he wanted to fight the sun. Then he drew his bow and shot arrows upward. The arrows of Hercules went far out of sight. The sun god, Helios, was filled with admiration for Hercules, the man who would attempt the impossible by shooting arrows at him. Then Helios threw his great golden cup down to Hercules.
The great golden cup of Helios fell down, into the Stream of Ocean. It floated there as big as a ship. Hercules put the bull of Minos into the cup of Helios, and the cup carried them away, toward the west, and across the Stream of Ocean.
At last Hercules reached the Island of Erytheia. The red cattle grazed all over the island of Geryoneus in the rich pastures. Hercules, leaving the bull of Minos in the cup, went onto the island. He made a club for himself out of a tree and then approached the cattle.
The hound Orthus howled and ran at him. The two-headed hound that was the brother of Cerberus sprang at Hercules with poisonous foam on his jaws. Hercules swung his club and struck the two heads off the hound. Where the foam of the hound’s jaws dropped down a poisonous plant sprang up. Hercules picked up the body of the hound, and flung it far out into the Ocean.
Then the monster Geryoneus came. He had three bodies instead of one. He attacked Hercules by hurling great stones at him. Hercules was hurt by the stones and then the monster saw the cup of Helios, and he began to hurl stones at the golden thing, and it seemed that he might sink it, and leave Hercules without a way of leaving the island. Hercules picked up his bow and he shot arrow after arrow at the monster, leaving him dead in the deep grass of the pastures.
Then he rounded up the red cattle, the bulls and the cows, and he drove them down to the shore and into the golden cup of Helios where the bull of Minos was. Then the cup floated back across the Stream of Ocean, and the bull of Crete and the cattle of Geryoneus were brought past Sicily and through the straits called the Hellespont. They reached that savage land Thrace and then Hercules took the cattle out, and the cup of Helios sank in the sea. He drove the herd of Geryoneus and the bull of Minos through the wild lands of Thrace, until he reached Myceaæ once more.
But he did not stay to speak to Eurystheus. He set off to find the Garden of the Hesperides, the Daughters of the Evening Land. He searched for a long time, but he found no one who could tell him where the garden was. At last he went to Chiron on Mount Pelion, and Chiron told Hercules how to find the Hesperides, the Daughters of the Evening Land.
Hercules journeyed far and was weary when he reached where Atlas stood, bearing the sky on his weary shoulders. As he came near he felt an undreamt-of perfume wafting toward him. He was so weary with his journey and all his toils that he wanted to sink down and dream away in that evening land. But he roused himself, and journeyed on toward where the perfume came from. Over that place a star seemed always about to rise.
He came to a silver fence around a garden that was full of the quiet of evening. Golden bees hummed through the air, and there was the sound of quiet waters. How wild and tiring was the world he had come from, Hercules thought! He felt that it would be hard for him to return to that world.
He saw three maidens. They stood with wreaths on their heads and blossoming branches in their hands. When the maidens saw him they ran to him crying out, “Oh, do not go near the tree that the sleepless dragon guards!” Then they went and stood by a tree as if to keep guard over it. All around were trees that bore flowers and fruit, but this tree had golden apples amongst its bright green leaves.
Then he saw the guardian of the tree. A dragon lay beside its trunk, and as Hercules came near the dragon showed its glittering scales and its deadly claws.
The apples were within reach, but the dragon, with its glittering scales and claws, stood in the way. Hercules shot an arrow and then a tremor went through Ladon, the sleepless dragon .It screamed and then fell dead. The maidens cried in grief. Hercules went to the tree, and he plucked the golden apples and put them into the pouch he carried. The Hesperides, the Daughters of the Evening Land sank down onto the ground, and he heard their cries as he went from the enchanted garden they had guarded.
Hercules came back from the ends of the Earth, from where Atlas stood holding the sky on his weary shoulders. He went back through Asia and Libya and Egypt, and he returned again to Myceaæ and the palace of Eurystheus.
He brought to the king the herd of Geryoneus, the bull of Minos, the girdle of Hippolyte and the golden apples of the Hesperides. King Eurystheus, with his thin white face, sat on his royal throne and looked over all the wonderful things that the hero had brought him. Eurystheus was not pleased, but rather angry that someone he hated could achieve such wonderful things.
He picked up the golden apples of the Hesperides. But this fruit was not meant for him. An eagle snatched the branch from his hand, and flew and flew until it came to where the Daughters of the Evening Land wept in their garden. There the eagle let the branch with the golden apples fall, and the maidens set it back on the tree, and it grew as it had been growing before Hercules plucked it.
The next day the heralds of Eurystheus came to Hercules and they told him of the last labor that he would have to set out to accomplish. This time he would have to go down into the Underworld, and bring up from King Aidoneus’s realm Cerberus, the three-headed hound.
Hercules put on the impenetrable lion’s skin and set off once more. This might indeed be the last of his life’s labors. Cerberus was not an earthly monster, and anyone who would fight with Cerberus in the Underworld would have the gods of the dead against him.
But Hercules went on. He journeyed to the cave Tainaron, which was an entrance to the Underworld. He went far down into that dismal cave until he came to Acheron, that dim river that has beyond it only the people of the dead. Cerberus howled at him from the place where the dead cross the river. Knowing that he was not dead, the hound sprang at Hercules, but he could neither bite nor tear through that impenetrable lion’s skin. Hercules held him by the neck of his middle head so that Cerberus was neither able to bite nor tear nor howl.
Then Persephone, queen of the Underworld came to the edge of Acheron. She declared to Hercules that the gods of the dead would not fight against him if he promised to bring Cerberus back to the Underworld.
Hercules promised he would do that. He turned around and he carried Cerberus, his hands around the monster’s neck while foam dripped from his jaws. He carried him on and upward toward the world of men. Hercules came out through a cave that was in the land of Troezen, still carrying Cerberus by the neck of his middle head.
The hero went From Troezen to Myceaæ and men fled before him at the sight of the monster that he carried. On he went toward the king’s palace. Eurystheus was seated outside his palace that day, looking at the great jar that he had often hidden in, and thinking to himself that Hercules would never appear to frighten him again. Then Hercules appeared. He called to Eurystheus, and when the king looked up he held the hound toward him. The three heads grinned at Eurystheus. He gave a cry and scrambled into the jar. But before his feet touched the bottom of it Eurystheus had died of fright. The jar rolled over, and Hercules looked at the body that was all twisted with fright. Then he turned around and made his way back to the Underworld. On the edge of Acheron he released Cerberus, and the howl of the three-headed hound was heard again.
It was then that Hercules was given arms by the gods; the sword of Hermes, the bow of Apollo, the shield made by Hephaestus; it was then that Hercules joined the Argonauts and journeyed with them to the edge of the Caucasus, where, killing the vulture that preyed upon Prometheus’s liver, he, according to the will of Zeus, freed the Titan. After that Zeus and Prometheus were reconciled. Zeus, wanting that neither might forget how much the hostility between them had cost gods and men, had a ring made for Prometheus to wear. That ring was made out of the chain that had been on him, and in it was set a fragment of the rock that the Titan had been tied to.
The Argonauts had now returned to Greece. But before he saw any of them he had been in Oichalia, and had seen the maiden Iole.
The king of Oichalia had offered his daughter Iole in marriage to the hero who could excel himself and his sons in shooting arrows. Hercules saw Iole, the blue-eyed and childlike maiden, and he longed to take her with him to some place near the Garden of the Hesperides. Iole looked at him, and he knew that she wondered to see him so tall and so strong even as he wondered to see her so childlike and delicate.
Then the contest began. The king and his sons shot wonderfully well, and none of the heroes who stood before Hercules had a chance of winning. Then Hercules shot his arrows. No matter how far away they moved the mark, Hercules struck it and struck the very center of it. The people wondered who this great archer might be. And then a name was guessed at and went around—Hercules!
When the king heard the name of Hercules he would not let him compete in the contest any more. For the maiden Iole would not be given as a prize to someone who had been mad and whose madness might return.
Hercules was enraged when he heard this judgment given. He would not let his rage control him in case the madness that was spoken of should return with his rage. So he left the city of Oichalia declaring to the king and the people that he would return.
It was then that, wandering down to Crete, he heard that the Argonauts were near. Afterward he heard they were in Calydon, hunting the boar that ravaged Oeneus’s country. Hercules went to Calydon. The heroes had departed when he arrived in the country, and all the city was in grief for the deaths of Prince Meleagrus and his two uncles.
Hercules saw Deianira, Meleagrus’s sister on the steps of the temple where Meleagrus and his uncles had been brought. This tall woman of the mountains was pale with her grief. She looked like a priestess, but also like a woman who could cheer camps of men with her advice, her bravery, and her good companionship. Her hair was very dark and she had dark eyes.
Straightway she became friends with Hercules and after a while they loved each other. Hercules forgot Iole, the childlike maiden whom he had seen in Oichalia.
He wanted to marry Deianira, and those who protected her were glad, and they told him they would give him the maiden to marry as soon as the mourning for Prince Meleagrus and his uncles was over. Hercules stayed in Calydon, happy with Deianira, who had so much beauty, wisdom, and bravery.
But then a dreadful thing happened. Accidentally, while using his strength unthinkingly, Hercules killed a lad who was related to Deianira. He could not marry her now until he had been punished for killing someone who was related to her.
As a punishment for the killing it was judged that Hercules should be sold into slavery for three years. At the end of his three years’ slavery he could come back to Calydon and marry Deianira.
And so Hercules and Deianira were parted. He was sold as a slave in Lydia. The person who bought him was a widow named Omphale. Hercules went to her house carrying his armor and wearing his lion’s skin. Omphale laughed to see this tall man dressed in a lion’s skin coming to her house to do a servant’s tasks for her.
She and everyone in her house made fun of Hercules. They would make him do housework, to carry water, and set the table, and then clear the table. Omphale made him spin with a spindle as the women did. Often she would put on Hercules’s lion skin and go about dragging his club, while he, dressed in woman’s garb, washed dishes and emptied pots.
But he would lose patience with these servant’s tasks, and then Omphale would let him go away and perform some great exploit. Often he went on long journeys and stayed away for a long time. It was while he was in slavery to Omphale that he freed Theseus from the dungeon in which he was held with Peirithous, and it was while he still was in slavery that he made his journey to Troy.
At Troy he helped King Laomedon repair the great walls that years before Apollo and Poseidon had built around the city. As a reward for this labor he was offered the Princess Hesione in marriage. She was the daughter of King Laomedon, and the sister of Priam, who was then called, not Priam but Podarces. He helped to repair the wall, and two of the Argonauts were there to help him. One was Peleus and the other was Telamon. Peleus did not stay for long. Telamon stayed, and to reward Telamon Hercules withdrew his own claim for the hand of the Princess Hesione. It was not hard for Hercules to do this, for his thoughts were always on Deianira.
But Telamon rejoiced, for he loved Hesione greatly. On the day they married Hercules showed the two an eagle in the sky. He said it was sent as an omen to them—an omen for their marriage. And in memory of that omen Telamon named his son “Aias”; that is, “Eagle.”
Then the walls of Troy were repaired and Hercules turned toward Lydia, Omphale’s home. He would not have long to serve Omphale now, for his three years’ slavery was nearly over. Soon he would go back to Calydon and marry Deianira.
As he went along the road to Lydia he thought of all the fun that had been made of him in Omphale’s house and he laughed at the memory of them. Lydia was a friendly country, and even though he had been in slavery Hercules had had his good times there.
He was tired with the journey and the heat of the sun made him sleepy so when he came within sight of Omphale’s house he lay down by the side of the road, first taking off his armor, and laying to one side his bow, his quiver, and his shield. He woke up to see two men looking down at him. He knew that these were the Cercopes, robbers who waylaid travelers on this road. They were laughing as they looked down at him, and Hercules saw that they held his arms and his armor in their hands.
They thought that this man would surrender to them when he saw that they had his arms and his armor. But Hercules sprang up, and he caught one by the waist and the other by the neck, and he turned them upside down and tied them together by the heels. He held them tight and wanted to take them to the town and hand them over to those whom they had waylaid and robbed. He hung them by their heels across his shoulders and marched on.
But the robbers, as they were being bumped along, began to tell funny stories to each other, and Hercules, listening, had to laugh. One said to the other, “Oh my brother, we are in the position of the frogs when the mice attacked them with such fury.” The other said, “Indeed nothing can save us if Zeus does not send an ally to us as he sent an ally to the frogs.” The first robber said, “Who began that conflict, the frogs or the mice?” Then the second robber, his head reaching down to Hercules’s waist, began.