What were the 12 Labors of Hercules?

In Greek mythology, the 12 Labors of Hercules (or Heracles) are among the most well-known events. How come this hero had to perform them, and what exactly were they? A look back at their history.

Heracles was the most famous hero of Greek mythology. Heroic and incredibly powerful, he was the son of Zeus (Jupiter), the deity of the gods, and the mortal Alcmene (“Herculean strength”). His name, which means “Glory of Hera,” was chosen as an offering to the goddess, but he was tricked into believing otherwise. There were other myths that featured him, such as The Twelve Labors and The Argonauts.

Hercules was the Greek version of the Roman god Heracles. The majority of the myths and characters of Roman mythology have their roots in Greek mythology. In addition to his previous successes, he now had a number of adventures to his name, some of which took place solely in Italy.

According to the authors, Heracles was born either in Thebes or Tiryns. King Amphitryon weds Alcmene, making her his queen. Zeus, who is infatuated with Alcmene, uses the husband’s absence as cover to dress as him and woo Alcmene. Three whole days pass between their meetings. She gets pregnant, and Zeus tells her the baby will one day be king over all her neighbors.

Heracles was born despite the efforts of Hera (Juno). After Hera tried to assassinate him with snakes, Heracles grows up and is trained as a hero. After stopping the army of Erginos from conquering Thebes, he went on a number of adventures before settling down with Megara, the daughter of Creon, the king of Thebes.

The madness of Hercules and the conditions of his redemption

They raised a large brood of offspring. Hera, Zeus’s mortal wife, turned on him because she was enraged because her husband had cheated on her with a goddess. In order to sting him, she pleaded with Lyssa, the roaring madness, or Furor, the Roman equivalent of Maniae. Hercules lost his mind and shot his wife and kids with his bow.

Hercules felt hopeless after committing the crime, so he sought out Apollo, the god of the arts, the sun, medicine, and beauty, in Delphi. To atone, the god told him through the pythia that he must spend twelve years in service to his cousin Eurystheus, the king of Tyranthe.

After realizing his crime, Hercules went in despair to Delphi to ask Apollo, the god of arts, the sun, medicine, and beauty. The god replied through the pythia that in order to repent, he should serve his cousin Eurystheus, king of Tyranthe, for twelve years.

Hercules consequently visited his cousin, who gave him a list of twelve works to perform:

  1. To kill the lion of Nemea,
  2. Killing the Hydra of Lerna,
  3. Winning the race against the hind of Ceryneia,
  4. Capture the boar of Erymanthian,
  5. Clean the stables of Augeas,
  6. Slaughter the birds of the lake Stymphalian,
  7. Capture the bull of Cretan belonging to king Minos,
  8. Tame the mares of Diomedes,
  9. Recover the belt of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons,
  10. Steal the herd of oxen from Geryon, a giant with three bodies,
  11. Bring back the golden apples of the Hesperides,
  12. Bring back Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to the Underworld.

Due to Hercules’ help with the Hydra and his payment for Augias’ stables, Eurystheus increased the number of labors from 10 to 12.

During the course of his 12 labors, Hercules undertook a number of side quests, including saving Theseus from Hades, rescuing Prometheus, defeating Lycaon, and embarking on a trip with the Argonauts. As a true hero, Hercules plays a role in numerous exciting stories.

The 12 Labors of Hercules

Hercules’ First Labor: Killing the lion of Nemean

Before anything else, Eurystheus requested that the hero bring him the skin of the Nemean lion. The forest home to this terrifying creature was not far from Argolide. The locals were utterly terrified. Shepherds and farmers were scared off by its roars and sought refuge inside their homes.

Hercules set off for the legendary creature’s den armed with a bow, arrows, and a club. He fired lethal arrow after deadly arrow at the indestructible creature, but each one just bounced off its skin as if it were made of metal.

Hercules, however, was not impressed, and so he cried out and charged the monster with his gigantic club. The lion was frightened and ran into his den, which had two exits. Hercules devised a plan to break through one of them while blocking the other.

The animal, feeling trapped, let out a howl and raised his hackles as he prepared to leap. Hercules swung his club above and smashed it into the monster’s noggin. The club cracked in half from the force of the strike. The lion stumbled around as though it were half-startled. Hercules put down his weapons and hugged the monster, squeezing with all his might until the animal was suffocated.

It was successful, and the lion was subdued. Hercules slashed the lion open to fashion a coat out of its indestructible hide, which he called the lionskin, before setting forth. The constellation Leo is associated with the lion of Nemea.

Hercules’ Second Labor: The Lernean Hydra

Hercules’ second task was to destroy the Lernaean Hydra. It had the body of a snake and nine humanoid heads, and it was enormous. It was a native of Lerna’s murky swamp. There was a lot of damage done to the land by its deadly breath.

Together with his charioteer, Iolaus, Hercules proceeded to meet it. Hercules fired a barrage of arrows into the reeds as they neared the swamp, enraging the hydra, which then emerged. Hercules’ initial reaction was to use his club to crush the horrible heads. However, for every head that was destroyed, two more were reborn.

Hercules also had to contend with Cancer, the crab-like creature that would later become our modern astrological sign.

He pleaded for Iolaus’ assistance. The wound could not heal, so Iolaus lit the neighboring forest on fire and, using firebrands, set about burning each newly reborn head. In no time at all, there would be only one remaining head, and it would live forever. Hercules cut it off and buried it under a rock.

The beast lost. Hercules cut into the animal’s belly and sucked out its poison. He used it to make his arrows poisoned and shot them at his enemies. He went back to Eurystheus’ court, but the latter wouldn’t recognize this achievement because Iolaus had aided him.

Hercules’ Third Labor: The Hind of Ceryneia

Hercules was to retrieve the hind from the top of Mount Ceryneia and return it alive to Eurystheus for the fourth labor he was to do for Eurystheus. Even though it was a female, this magnificent buck stood out thanks to its golden horns and bronze hooves. Because of her incredible speed, nobody could ever outrun her. She was one of the five hinds that were sacred to Artemis (Diana) and rode in the goddess’s vehicle alongside four others.

Hercules began chasing the beast in the Argolidean forest of Oenoe. It was a year-long hunt. The doe and the hunter set off for the mystical country of the Hyperboreans, which lay beyond the frozen tundra. There, it was always spring.

The doe was weary and went back to her regular routine. She rode all the way to the Ladon River’s banks while being pursued by the hero. She was hesitant to cross the flooded river because of the rain. Hercules saw an opportunity in her hesitation and chased after her. He used a net to ensnare her, then hoisted her onto his back.

In the process of returning the animal, he ran into Artemis (Diana) and Apollo, who reprimanded him and seized the doe as their own since it belonged to the goddess of the hunt. Hercules laid the blame on Eurystheus. On the condition that he release the animal without killing it, the goddess gave him permission to return to Tirynthe with it.

Hercules’ Fourth Labor: Capturing the Erymanthian boar

In order to find the Erymanthian boar, Hercules received an explicit command. His mission was to capture it and return it alive to Eurystheus’ palace. Huge and vicious, this boar only ventured out of its den to wreak havoc on the Arcadian countryside and strike fear into the hearts of the people who lived on nearby Mount Erymanthos.

Hercules, with his trusty bow and club in tow, set off in search of the monster. After a long search, he located it, signaling the start of a ruthless chase. In order to catch the boar, he hiked to the peak of the icy mountains. There, he snowed over a hole and enticed the tired animal inside so he could ride it while it was paralyzed.

He used his bare hands to defeat it and then chained it up. Returning to the palace of Eurystheus, Hercules set down his burden at the feet of the monarch, who had taken refuge in a jar out of fear at the sight of the monster.

Hercules’ Fifth Labor: The Augean Stables

Hercules was directed by Eurystheus to show up at Augias’ stables. Elis was a town in the Peloponnese that was home to King Augeas. King Elis ruled over a vast territory where he grazed a large number of animals. The god Helios (Sol), the solar deity, was his dad.

Stables housing over 3,000 oxen hadn’t been cleaned in over 30 years. There was a terrible stench in the air because of all the manure that had accumulated there. Hercules was tasked with scrubbing them all in one day.

The hero tore down the surrounding wall of the stables and diverted the Alpheus River so that its rushing, purifying waters ran right through the stalls. After that, it was up to him to fill in the spaces. The stables have returned to their usual pristine condition. Having previously demanded payment from Augias, Eurystheus decided to call off the procedure.

Hercules’ Sixth Labor: Killing the Stymphalian Birds

Hercules was tasked by Eurystheus to keep the birds of Lake Stymphalia silent for his fifth labor. The Arcadian home of these enormous birds was a wetland surrounded by thorns and scrub.

Attacking the inhabitants with arrows made of steel-tipped feathers, they feasted on human flesh. Everything about them was brass, from their beaks to their talons to their wings. Not content with just eating people and livestock, the ravenous birds also ruined the gardens and the harvests.

Hercules didn’t know what to do until the goddess Athena (Minerva) showed up and gave him a pair of cymbals made by Hephaistos (Vulcan) out of the same metal as the birds’ beaks, legs, and wings.

He took up position on a nearby peak and let forth an ear-splitting yell, scaring the birds away. The latter fled in full flight, giving Hercules ample opportunity to shoot them with arrows.

Hercules’ Seventh Labor: Capture the bull of Cretan

Hercules was tasked by Eurystheus to transport the bull from Crete. King Minos of Crete had vowed to the sea god Poseidon that whatever the god brought up from the depths of the ocean would be sacrificed in his honor. Poseidon drew a magnificent bull from the sea, and Minos could not bring himself to kill it (it was with this bull that Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur, was united).

Falsifying his word, he took the bull into his own herd and kept it hidden. Poseidon was so incensed by this betrayal that he made the beast irrationally angry. After that, everyone in the country was terrified of the bull. As it stomped around, destroying crops and setting fire to fields, flames shot out of its nostrils.

Hercules arrived on the island of Crete. He lunged at the beast, seized it by the horns, and bent its hocks until he had it under control. It was a titanic struggle, but Hercules eventually prevailed when he used a net to capture the bull and brought it to Eurystheus’ feet on the other side of the sea.

Hercules’ Eighth Labor: The Mares of Diomedes

Hercules was dispatched to Thrace with the mission of seizing Diomedes’ mares. Diomedes, son of the ruthless god Mars (Ares), ruled over a tribe of barbarians. He had four flaming cavalry, to whom he fed the foreigners the storm had driven away from the shores.

After docking in Thrace, Hercules made his way to Diomedes’ stables. He knocked out the grooming staff, grabbed Diomedes, and fed him to his own mares, so that Diomedes would suffer the same fate he had inflicted on so many other stranded men.

After feasting on the king of Thrace, the mares were tame enough to be seized by Hercules so that he could take them to Eurystheus.

Hercules’ Ninth Labor: Hippolyte’s Belt

Admetus, daughter of Eurystheus, coveted the stunning belt worn by Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. For the ninth labor, the monarch had Hercules acquire the object his daughter so desperately wanted.

Hercules hired a fleet of nine ships and set off with a group of volunteers, bound towards the beaches of the Black Sea and the land of the legendary warriors of the Caucasus. The Amazons had a reputation for being a genderless society because of their practice of circumcising and genetically altering male infants.

They would only wed males so that their daughters wouldn’t get in the way, and they’d get rid of one breast so that their sons could more readily grip a bow and sword. They ended up killing the men.

Hippolyta was so enamored with Hercules that she gave him her belt as a mark of her affection. Hera, however, in her Amazon disguise, spread the rumor that Hercules had arrived to abduct the queen. Hercules’ army and the warrior virgins got into a fierce battle.

Hercules slew a number of these fierce Amazons, including Hippolyta, to claim the valuable belt for himself. He then gave it to Admete.

Hercules’ Tenth Labor: Steal the herd of oxen from Geryon

Eurystheus ordered Hercules to retrieve the red oxen of Geryon, a three-bodied monster. Geryon ruled over the Andalusian city of Tarlessos. He had a herd of magnificent cattle, which were watched after by the shepherd Eurytion and the monster hound with two heads named Orthos.

Hercules departed for the Western Hemisphere around the coast of Africa to comply with the new directive. When he reached the isthmus that links Europe and Africa, he marked the occasion by erecting two columns, one on each continent. For a long time, they were known as Hercules’ columns.

Hercules here was troubled by the intense heat, so he aimed his bow at the sun and fired an arrow. To pacify the brave hero and enable him to continue his voyage after being so shocked by his daring, the Sun lent him the golden cup that ferries him over the ocean and guides him to the shores, from which he returns to the sky to light the Earth.

So Hercules embarked on the cup and reached the end of his journey. To keep an eye on the herds, he stayed up all night. Orthos, the two-headed dog, barked, but Hercules struck him down with a club. A similar fate befell the herdsman who rushed to his dog’s aid, and then he shot Geryon with an arrow that penetrated all three of his bodies. Victorious, he brought back the herd to Eurystheus.

Hercules’ Eleventh Labor: Bring back the golden apples

Hercules was subsequently given the task of returning to Eurystheus the golden apples from the Hesperides’ garden. The Hesperides, daughters of Atlas, had a beautiful garden laden with golden fruits.

Hercules headed in that direction, but he had no idea how to locate the fabled garden. After a very long journey, he found himself on the shores of the Eridan. Some Nymphs he encountered there suggested he contact Nereus. On the shore, he discovered him fast asleep. Once Hercules had him imprisoned, he demanded that he reveal the location of the Hesperides’ hiding place.

Nereus changed into a lion, a serpent, and fire in an effort to terrify Hercules. Although Hercules first hesitated, Nereus eventually relented and told him the Hesperides’ secret.

Leaving for the western world’s outskirts, he eventually made it to the magical garden. He first noticed Atlas, whose head and hands were holding up the ceiling of the sky. Hercules questioned how he might obtain the prized fruit. The giant had promised to come get them, but there were two catches:

  • The first was to defeat Ladon, the dragon with a hundred heads who guarded the garden.
  • His second hope was that the hero would relieve him of his weight while he went to gather apples.

The hero Hercules agreed. He shot the monster in the skull with a single arrow, and all one hundred of its limbs were immediately severed. Then, with a flourish, he lifted the roof of heaven onto his strong back. Atlas reappeared with the valuable fruits in tow and announced that he intended to deliver them personally to Eurystheus.

Hercules secretly agreed, but then begged Atlas to temporarily take back the burden so he could place some padding on his shoulders to better support the weight of the heavens and the earth. Atlas dropped the fruit to the floor and picked up the load himself. Hercules then snatched up the apples and sped out in a hurry, returning with them to Eurystheus without incident.

Hercules’ Twelfth Labor: Cerberus

Hercules was given one more challenge by Eurystheus: to retrieve the guard dog Cerberus from the Underworld. It is Hades (Pluto) and his wife Persephone (Proserpine) who command this hound, the offspring of Typhon and Echidna.

Two of the Olympians, Hermes (Mercury) and Athena (Minerva), accompanied him to the Underworld. He made it past the River Styx and the raging rivers of fire to the base of Hades’ throne. If he could tame Cerberus without using any weapons, Hades would let him bring the beast to the light of day.

The gigantic dog Cerberus has three humanoid heads and a dragon’s tail. Everyone who came near him ran in fear of his booming, brassy voice. Hercules stood naked and armed before Cerberus, wearing only the skin of the Nemean lion.

He grabbed him right where the three heads converged (the neck) and held on hard enough that the dog, despite feeling smothered, opted to follow the hero. Hercules shackled the beast and dragged it up from the depths to display it to Eurystheus. Fearing for his life, Eurystheus demanded that Hercules return the monster to the Underworld immediately.

Conclusion of the adventures of Hercules

Herkül, On İki Görev’i tamamladıktan sonra kendi ailesini öldürdüğü için affedildi. Daha pek çok maceraya atıldı ve sonunda Dejanira ile evlendi. Dejanira farkında olmadan eşine zehirli bir giysi hediye ederek onu öldürdü. Herkül Yeraltı Dünyası’na gönderilmek yerine Olimpos Dağı’nda ağırlandı.


  1. Rose, H. J. (Herbert Jennings), 1883-1961. (1958). A handbook of Greek mythology : including its extension to Rome. [Whitefish, Montana]: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN: 1-4286-4307-9. OCLC: 176053883.
  2. Suzanne Amigues (trad. du grec ancien), Théophraste. Recherches sur les plantes. À l’origine de la botanique, Paris, Éditions Belin, 2010, 414 p. (ISBN 978-2-7011-4996-7).
  3. Timothy Gantz, Early Greek Myth, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 381-416.

By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.