Heracles on Duty at Eurystheus

Heracles settled in Tiryns and became a servant of the weak, cowardly Eurystheus. Eurystheus was afraid of the mighty hero and did not let him set foot in Mycenae. He gave all his orders to the son of Zeus in Tiryns through his messenger Coprey.

Part of the Twelve Labors (in this article):

  1. The Nemean Lion – Hercules defeats the huge lion that attacks the city of Nemea.
  2. Lernean Hydra a monster with 9 heads inhabiting the swamp Lernea. Each time Hercules cut off one head, two new ones sprouted in its place.
  3. The Ceryneian Hind. – the labor here was for Hercules to catch the animal, not to kill it. After a long chase, he finally caught the hind.
  4. The Erymanthian Boar – the labor of capturing the boar and returning it to Mycenae, Hercules performs at the request of Eristeas.
  5. The Stymphalian Birds – with a little help from Athens, the hero expels the man-eating birds from Arcadia.

Related articles:

Hercules/Heracles Myths And The Twelve Labors – Part 1
Myths of Hercules/Heracles – Part 3 – The Stables, The Bull, The horses and The Belt
Myths of Hercules/Heracles – Part 4 – Cattle, Fearsome Cerberus and the Golden Apples 
Myths of Hercules/Heracles – Part 5 – Siege of Troy 
Myths of Hercules/Heracles – Part 6 – The Death of Hercules

The Nemean Lion (First Labor)

Hercules fights the lion, Juan Perez de Moya (1585)

King Eurystheus did not leave Heracles to wait long until he assigned him the first task. He ordered Heracles to kill the Nemean lion. This lion, which Typhon and Echidna gave life to, was monstrously large. He lived near the city of Nemea and devastated the whole area. Heracles bravely set out to perform the dangerous labor. When he reached Nemea, he immediately went to the mountains to find the lion’s lair. It was already noon when the hero reached the slopes of the mountains. No living soul could be seen anywhere: no shepherds, no plowmen. All living things fled from these places for fear of the terrible lion. For a long time Heracles searched for the lion’s lair on the wooded mountain slopes and in the gorges; at last, when the sun was already setting in the west, he found the lair in a gloomy gorge; it died in a huge cave that had two exits. Heracles covered one of the exits with huge stones and waited for the lion, hiding behind the stones. In the evening, when dusk was falling, the monstrous lion with a long hairy mane appeared. Heracles stretched the bowstring of his bow and fired three arrows at the lion one after the other, but the arrows bounced off his skin – it was hard as steel. The lion roared terribly, its roar spread like thunder in the mountains. Looking around, the lion stood in the narrows, searching with blazing eyes for the one who had dared to shoot arrows at him. Here that he saw Heracles and jumped with a big jump on the hero. Heracles’ mace flashed like lightning and landed on the lion’s head with a thunderclap. The lion fell to the ground, stunned by the terrible blow. Hercules threw himself on him, grabbed him with his powerful hands and strangled him. Throwing the slain lion on his strong shoulders, Heracles returned to Nemea, sacrificed to Zeus, and commemorated his first feat by starting the Nemean Games. When Heracles brought the slain lion to Mycenae, Eurystheus turned pale with fear at the sight of the monstrous lion. The king of Mycenae understood what superhuman power Heracles possessed. He forbade him even to approach the gates of Mycenae; and when Heracles brought the evidence of his exploits, Eurystheus looked at them in horror from the high walls of Mycenae.

Lernean Hydra (Second Labor)

Hercules and the Hydra, Gustav Moreau (1826-1898)

After Heracles performed the first labor, Eurystheus sent him to kill the Lernean Hydra. She represented a monster with a snake body and nine dragon heads. The hydra was the offspring of Typhon and Echidna. She lived in a swamp near the town of Lernea and, performing from her lair, destroyed entire herds and devastated the whole area. Fighting the nine-headed hydra was dangerous, as one of its heads was immortal. Hercules set out for Lerna with Iphilus’ son Yolai. When they reached the swamp near the city of Lerna, Heracles left Yolai with the chariot in the nearby grove, and he himself went in search of the hydra. He found her in a cave surrounded by a swamp. As his arrows glowed red, Heracles began firing one after the other at the hydra. The arrows of Hercules enraged the hydra. She is coming from the darkness of the cave, bringing out her body covered with shiny scales, rising terribly on her huge tail and would have thrown herself on the hero, but the son of Zeus stepped on her body and pressed her to the ground. The hydra wrapped her tail around Heracles’ legs and tried to knock him down. He stood heroically like an unshakable rock, and with blows of his heavy air tore off the heads of the hydra: Like a whirlwind, air was whistling in the air; the hydra’s heads fell, but she still survived. At this time, Hercules noticed that in place of each detached head is now expressed two new heads. A hydra helper also came. A monstrous crab runs out of the swamp and sticks its claws at Heracles’ legs. Then the hero called his comrade Yolai for help. Yolai killed the monstrous crab, set fire to part of a nearby grove, and burned the necks of the hydra with the hot trunks of the trees, from which Heracles tore off his heads with his air. Heads stopped growing back. She is less and less opposed to the son of Zeus. Finally, the immortal head of the hydra rolled. The monstrous hydra was defeated, collapsed dead on the ground. The victor, Heracles, dug the immortal’s head deep and slammed a huge rock on it so that it could not be packed to the light of day. After the great hero cut the body of the hydra and dipped his arrows in its poisonous bile. The wounds inflicted by Heracles’ arrows have since been unknown. Heracles ends in Tiryns with greater solemnity. But there you can expect a new order from Eurytheus.

The Stymphalian Birds (Third Labor)

Hercules and the Stymphalian Birds, Albrecht Dürer, 1500

Eurystheus commissioned Heracles to kill the birds of the Stymphalus. These birds turned the whole area of ​​the arcade city of Stymphalus almost into a desert. They attacked both animals and humans and tore them apart with their copper claws and beaks. But the worst thing was that the feathers of these birds were made of hard bronze, and the birds, after taking off, could swing their feathers like arrows at anyone who thought of attacking them. It was a difficult task for Heracles to carry out this order of Eurystheus. The warlike Athena Paladas came to his aid. She gave Heracles two brass timpani, forged by the god Hephaestus, and commanded him to stand on a high hill by the forest, where the birds of the steppe were winding their nests, and to strike the timpani; and when the birds fly, shoot them with his bow. That’s what Heracles did. As he climbed the hill, he struck the eardrums and they made such a deafening sound that the birds of a huge flock flew over the forest and began to circle over it in terror. Like rain, they scattered their arrow-sharp feathers on the ground, but the feathers did not stick to Heracles standing on the hill. The hero grabbed his bow and began to kill the birds with deadly arrows. Frightened, the Stymphalian birds rose above the clouds and hid from Heracles’ eyes. They flew far beyond Greece, on the shores of the Euxine Pontus, and never returned to the vicinity of Stymphalus. Thus Heracles fulfilled this order of Eurystheus and returned to Tiryns, but he had to leave immediately to perform an even more difficult labor.

The Ceryneian Hind (Fourth Labor)

Hercules and the Hind, Roman mosaic, 3rd century AD

Eurystheus knew that in Arcadia lived the wonderful Ceryneian Hind, sent by the goddess Artemis to punish the people. This hind devastated the fields. Eurystheus sent Heracles to capture her and ordered him to bring her alive to Mycenae. This hind was extraordinarily beautiful, its horns golden and its legs copper. She drifted like the wind through the mountains and valleys of Arcadia, never knowing what fatigue was. Heracles pursued the Kerinean hind for a whole year. She flew through mountains, through plains, jumped over precipices, swam rivers. The hind ran farther and farther north. The hero did not lag behind, chasing her without losing sight of her. Finally, in the pursuit of the hind, Heracles reached the Far North – in the land of the Hyperboreans and at the springs of Ister. The hind stopped here. The hero wanted to catch her, but she slipped away and flew back like an arrow, to the south. The chase began again: It was only in Arcadia that Hercules managed to catch up with the hind. Even after such a long chase, she had not lost her strength. Desperate not to catch the hind, Heracles resorted to his unmistakable arrows. He wounded the golden-horned hind in the leg with an arrow and only then managed to catch it. Heracles strapped on the beautiful hind and was about to carry it to Mycenae when the angry Artemis appeared before him and said:

“Didn’t you know, Heracles, that this hind was mine? Why did you insult me by hurting my favorite hind? Don’t you know that I do not forgive insults? Or do you think you are stronger than the Olympian gods?”

Heracles bowed in awe to the beautiful goddess and replied:

“Oh, great daughter of Latona, don’t blame me! I have never offended the immortal gods living on the bright Olympus; I have always paid homage to the inhabitants of heaven with rich sacrifices, and I have never considered myself equal to them, even though I myself am the son of Zeus. I did not chase your hind of my own free will, but by order of Eurystheus. The gods themselves commanded me to serve him and I do not dare to disobey the order of Eurystheus!”

Artemis forgave Heracles for his guilt. The great son of the thunderer Zeus brought the Ceryneian Hind alive to Mycenae and handed it over to Eurystheus.

The Erymanthian Boar (Fifth Labor)

Hercules and the Boar, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1634

After chasing the copper-legged hind, which lasted a whole year, Heracles did not rest for long. Eurystheus again assigned him a task: Heracles was to kill the Erymanthian boar. This wild boar, who possessed monstrous power, lived on Mount Erymanthian and ravaged the vicinity of the town of Psofis. He did not spare people and killed them with his huge protruding teeth. Hercules set out for Mount Erymanthian. On the way he came across the wise centaur Fol. Fol received the great son of Zeus with reverence and gave him a feast. During the feast, the centaur opened a large vessel of wine to better entertain the hero. The fragrance of the wonderful wine spread far and wide. The other centaurs also felt this fragrance. They were terribly angry with Fol for opening the court. The wine belonged not only to Fol, but was the property of all the centaurs. They stormed Fol’s home and suddenly attacked him and Heracles as they both feasted merrily, adorning their heads with ivy wreaths. Heracles was not afraid of the centaurs. He quickly jumped out of his seat and started throwing huge smoking heads at the attackers. The centaurs ran away, and Heracles struck them with his poison arrows. The hero chased them all the way to Malaya. There the centaurs hid from Heracles’ friend Chiron, the wisest of the centaurs. Immediately after them, Heracles rushed into the cave of Chiron. In anger, he drew his bow, an arrow flashed in the air, and struck the knee of one of the centaurs. Heracles did not shoot his friend Chiron. Great grief gripped the hero when he saw who he had hurt. Hercules hurries to wash and bandage his friends’ wounds, but nothing can help. He knows that the wound of an arrow dipped in the poisonous bile of the hydra is incurable. And Chiron knew he was in for a painful death. In order not to suffer from the wound, he subsequently voluntarily descended into the dark realm of Hades.

In deep sorrow, Heracles left Chiron and soon reached Mount Erimant. There he found the terrible boar in a dense forest and shouted it out of the thicket. Heracles chased the boar for a long time and finally put it in the deep snow on the mountain top. The boar sank in the snow and Heracles descended on him, tied him up and carried him alive to Mycenae. When Eurystheus saw the monstrous boar, he hid in a large bronze jar out of fear.

The myths of Heracles are set out in the tragedies of Sophocles’ “Trachinians” and Euripides’ “Heracles”, as well as in the legends mentioned in Pausanias’ Description of Greece; A. Kuhn