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Encyclopedia > The Twelve Labours
"Hercules and the Hydra" by Antonio Pollaiuolo
"Hercules and the Hydra" by Antonio Pollaiuolo

The Twelve Labours (Greek: dodekathlos) of Heracles (Latin: Hercules) are a series of archaic episodes connected by a later continuous narrative, concerning a penance carried out by Heracles, the greatest of the Greek heroes. The establishment of a fixed cycle of twelve labours was attributed by the Greeks to an epic poem (now lost) written by a certain Peisandros of Rhodes, perhaps to be dated about 600 BCE (Burkert). Download high resolution version (702x901, 139 KB)Hercules and the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo This image has been released into the public domain by the copyright holder, its copyright has expired, or it is ineligible for copyright. ... Download high resolution version (702x901, 139 KB)Hercules and the Hydra by Antonio del Pollaiolo This image has been released into the public domain by the copyright holder, its copyright has expired, or it is ineligible for copyright. ... Apollo and Daphne by Antonio Pollaiuolo Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo (c. ... Hercules, a Roman bronze (Louvre Museum) In Greek mythology, Heracles, or Herakles (glory of Hera, Ἥρα + κλέος, )(Etruscan Hercle) was a divine hero, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, stepson of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus. ... Penance (via Old French penance from the Latin Poenitentia, the same root as penitence, which in English means repentance, the desire to be forgiven, see contrition; in many languages only one single word is derived) is, strictly, repentance of sins as well as the actual name of the Catholic Sacrament...


As they survive, the Labours of Heracles are not told in any single place, but must be reassembled from many sources. Ruck and Staples (pp 169–170) assert that there is no one way to interpret the labours, but that six were located in the Peloponnese, culminating with the rededication of Olympia. Six others took the hero farther afield. In each case, the pattern was the same: Heracles was sent to kill or subdue, or to fetch back for Hera's representative Eurystheus a magical animal or plant. "The sites selected were all previously strongholds of Hera or the 'Goddess' and were Entrances to the Netherworld" (p 169). The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus (Greek: Πελοπόννησος Peloponnesos; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is a large peninsula in southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth. ... Olympia (Greek: Ολυμπία Olympía or Ολύμπια Olýmpia, older transliterations, Olimpia, Olimbia), a sanctuary of ancient Greece in Elis, is known for having been the site of the Olympic Games in classical times, comparable in importance to the Pythian Games held in Delphi. ... In Greek mythology, Eurystheus was king of Tiryns, one of three Mycenaean strongholds in the Argolid: Sthenelus was his father and the horsewoman Nykippe his mother, and he was a grandson of the hero Perseus, as was his opponent Heracles. ...


A famous depiction of the labours in Greek sculpture is found on the metopes of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, which date to the 450s BCE; in the Archaic period, it may actually have been the labours' display on the twelve available metopes on temples which led to their being counted as twelve in number. Metopes (Opus 29) is a work for piano solo by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. ... Statue of Zeus Phidias created the 12-m (40-ft) tall statue of Zeus at Olympia about 435 BC. The statue was perhaps the most famous sculpture in ancient Greece, imagined here in a 16th-century engraving. ... Olympia (Greek: Ολυμπία Olympía or Ολύμπια Olýmpia, older transliterations, Olimpia, Olimbia), a sanctuary of ancient Greece in Elis, is known for having been the site of the Olympic Games in classical times, comparable in importance to the Pythian Games held in Delphi. ...

Contents


The framing narrative

Zeus, having made Alcmene pregnant with Heracles, proclaimed that the next son born of the house of Perseus would become king. Hera, Zeus' wife, hearing this, caused Eurystheus to be born two months early as he was of the house of Perseus, while Heracles, also of the house, was three months overdue. When he found out what had been done, Zeus was furious; however, his rash proclamation still stood. Statue of Zeus Phidias created the 12-m (40-ft) tall statue of Zeus at Olympia about 435 BC. The statue was perhaps the most famous sculpture in ancient Greece, imagined here in a 16th-century engraving. ... Alcmene, or Alkmênê (might of the moon) was, in ancient Greek mythology, the daughter of Electryon, king of Mycenae, and wife of Amphitryon. ... Perseus with the head of Medusa, by Antonio Canova, completed 1801 (Vatican Museums) Perseus, or Perseos (Greek: Περσεύς, Περσέως), the legendary founder of Mycenae and of the Perseid dynasty there, was the first of the mythic heroes of Greek mythology whose exploits helped establish the hegemony of Zeus and the Twelve Olympians... In the Olympian pantheon of classical Greek Mythology, Hêra (IPA pronunciation: ; Greek or ) was the wife and sister of Zeus. ... In Greek mythology, Eurystheus was king of Tiryns, one of three Mycenaean strongholds in the Argolid: Sthenelus was his father and the horsewoman Nykippe his mother, and he was a grandson of the hero Perseus, as was his opponent Heracles. ...


In a fit of madness, induced by Hera, Heracles slew his wife and children; the fit then passed. Realizing what he had done, he isolated himself, going into the wilderness and living alone. He was found (by his cousin Theseus) and convinced to visit the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle told him that as a penance he would have to perform a series of ten tasks set by King Eurystheus, the man who had taken Heracles' birthright and the man he hated the most. In the Olympian pantheon of classical Greek Mythology, Hêra (IPA pronunciation: ; Greek or ) was the wife and sister of Zeus. ... Theseus (Greek Θησεύς) was a legendary king of Athens, son of Aegeus (or of Poseidon) and of Aethra. ... An oracle is a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic opinion; an infallible authority, usually spiritual in nature. ... The amphitheatre, seen from above. ... In Greek mythology, Eurystheus was king of Tiryns, one of three Mycenaean strongholds in the Argolid: Sthenelus was his father and the horsewoman Nykippe his mother, and he was a grandson of the hero Perseus, as was his opponent Heracles. ...


The Labours

In his labours, Heracles was often accompanied by a male companion (an eromenos), according to some, Licymnius, or by others Iolaus, his nephew. Although he was only supposed to perform ten labours, this assistance led to him suffering two more. Eurystheus didn't count the Hydra, because Iolaus helped him, or the Augean stables, as he received payment for his work (in other versions it is because the rivers did the work). In the pederastic tradition of Classical Athens, the eromenos (Greek ἐρόμενος, pl. ... In Greek mythology, Licymnius was a good friend of Heracles and a son of Electryon. ... In Greek mythology, Iolaus (Greek: ΄Ιόλαος) was a son of Iphicles and thus a nephew of Heracles. ... In Greek mythology, Eurystheus was king of Tiryns, one of three Mycenaean strongholds in the Argolid: Sthenelus was his father and the horsewoman Nykippe his mother, and he was a grandson of the hero Perseus, as was his opponent Heracles. ...


A traditional order of the labours found in Apollodorus (2.5.1-2.5.12) is: Apollodorus was a common name in ancient Greece. ...

  1. Slay the Nemean Lion and bring back its fur.
  2. Slay the Lernaean Hydra.
  3. Capture the Ceryneian Hind.
  4. Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
  5. Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
  6. Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull.
  8. Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
  9. Obtain the Girdle of Hippolyte.
  10. Obtain the Cows of Geryon.
  11. Steal the Apples of the Hesperides.
  12. Capture Cerberus, the guardian dog of Hades.

The Nemean Lion was a vicious monster in Greek mythology that lived in Nemea. ... The 16th-century German illustrator has been influenced by the Beast of Revelation in his depiction of the Hydra. ... The Ceryneian Hind, also called Cerynitis, was an enormous hind sacred to Artemis, the chaste goddess of the hunt and moon. ... Hercules Carrying the Boar by Giambologna In Greek mythology, the Erymanthian Boar is remembered in connection with The Twelve Labours, in which Heracles, the (reconciled) enemy of Hera, visited in turn all the other sites of the Goddess throughout the world, to conquer every conceivable monster of nature and rededicate... In Greek mythology, Augeas (or Augeias), whose name means bright, was King of Elis and husband of Epicaste. ... In Greek mythology, the Stymphalian Birds were birds with claws of brass and sharp metallic feathers they could launch at their victims, and also they were Ares pets. ... In Greek mythology, the Cretan Bull was either the bull that carried away Europa or the bull Pasiphae fell in love with. ... The Mares of Diomedes were four, magnificent, wild, uncontrollable, man-eating horses. ... In Greek mythology, Hippolyta is the Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war. ... In Greek mythology, Geryon (Geryones,Geyron), son of Chrysaor and Callirhoe, was a winged titan and the king of Erytheia island, now Spain province of Cadiz, in the far west of the Mediterranean. ... For the ancient Greek city Hesperides see Benghazi. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...

Inner meaning

Behind their outer, literal meaning, Greek myths always hid an inner mystical tradition, and thus the labours could be interpreted as a symbolization of the spiritual path. The last three labours (10-12) of Heracles are generally considered metaphors about death.


Origin of the stories

Geographic locations

Pointing to a possible location for their origin, or at least their formalisation, is the fact that most of the geographic locations, are all located in, or on the borders of Arcadia, or connected with it significantly. Arcadia or Arkadía (Greek Αρκαδία; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is a region of Greece in the Peloponnesus. ...

  • the town of Nemea, northwest of Argos
  • lake Lerna to the south (which is now dry).
  • the mountain Erymanthos, currently also called Olonos.
  • the town Ceryneia, in the far North West of the Peloponnese
  • lake Stymphalia, close by, and west of, Nemea. In ancient times it was marshy.
  • the river Alphaeus feeds the bay of Elis, and drains the north western mountains.
  • the city of Sparta to the south. It features as the entrance to the Underworld.
  • the island of Crete, a sea trading nation
  • the nation of Thrace, is described as being the enemy of Argos during the Trojan War, and in that situation is associated with Diomedes.

Nemea is an ancient site near the head of the valley of the Nemea River in the Peloponnessus of Greece. ... Argos (Greek: Άργος, Árgos, IPA argos) is a city in Greece in the Peloponnese near Nafplio, which was its historic harbor, named for Nauplius. ... The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus (Greek: Πελοπόννησος Peloponnesos; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is a large peninsula in southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth. ... Nemea is an ancient site near the head of the valley of the Nemea River in the Peloponnessus of Greece. ... Elis, or Eleia (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient/Katharevousa: Ήλις, also Ilis, Doric: Άλις) is an ancient district within the modern prefecture of Ilia. ... Sparta (Doric: Σπάρτα, Attic: Σπάρτη) is a city in southern Greece. ... Crete (Greek Κρήτη Kriti; called Candia in the Venetian period) is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. ... Thrace (Greek Θράκη, Thrákē, Latin: Thracia or Threcia, Turkish Trakya, Bulgarian Тракия, Trakiya) is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe. ... This article is about the mythological Greek war. ...

Modern popular culture

The Twelve Labours have been spoofed a number of times in comic books: A comic book is a magazine or book containing the art form of comics. ...

  • Asterix starred his own Twelve Tasks, since the original were "outdated"
  • Monica, a popular Brazilian character, fought the "original" 12 labours, with a few changes[1]
  • In a 1970s story arc, Wonder Woman underwent her own twelve labours to demonstrate her fitness to rejoin the Justice League of America. Each of these tasks was monitored by an incumbent member of the League.
  • In a 1995 Marvel comics mini-series, Heracles undertook modernized versions of his twelve labours, often with comedic results.

Howard Waldrop also reset the Twelve Labours to the Depression-era American South in his novella A Dozen Tough Jobs. Asterix (French: Astérix) is a fictional character, created in 1959 as the hero of a series of volumes of French comic books by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo (illustrations). ... The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (Les Douze travaux dAstérix) is an animated featured film released in 1976 starring Asterix, the Gaul. ... Monica Monicas Gang, originally Turma da Mônica (Portuguese for Monicas Gang), is a popular Brazilian comic book series. ... Wonder Woman is a fictional DC Comics superheroine. ... The Justice League is a DC Comics superhero team. ... 1995 (MCMXCV) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Marvel Comics is an American comic book line published by Marvel Entertainment, Inc. ... Howard Waldrop (born September 15, 1946) in Houston, Mississippi, and got his degree from the University of Texas. ... The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn, starting in 1929 and lasting through most of the 1930s. ... Novella by Howard Waldrop (published by Mark V. Ziesing in 1989) which retells the 12 Labors of Hercules in the Depression-era American South. ...


Agatha Christie used the twelve labours as allegories for the last twelve cases that her detective Hercule Poirot would solve before his retirement in the 1947 short story collection The Labours of Hercules. (He didn't retire until Curtain in 1975.) Agatha Christie Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, DBE (September 15, 1890 – January 12, 1976), was an English crime fiction writer. ... David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in The Dream Hercule Poirot (pronounced ) is a fictional character, the protagonist of many of Agatha Christies detective novels, a good number of which have been adapted into films, television series, radio dramas, and stage shows. ... 1947 (MCMXLVII) was a common year starting on Wednesday (the link is to a full 1947 calendar). ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Curtain is a novel by Agatha Christie, written in the 1930s but published posthumously in 1975. ... 1975 (MCMLXXV) was a common year starting on Wednesday. ...


See also

[Grant Morrison] and [Frank Quitely']s "[All Star Superman]" series revolves around the 12 Labors Of Superman -- a progression that may or may not (as of this writing) lead to the hero's death. From the dawn of time, humans observed the sky and grouped stars into patterns or constellations. ...


References

  • Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion 1985 (Cambridge, Massachusetts:Harvard University Press)
  • Ruck, Carl A.P., and Danny Staples, 1994. The World of Classical Myth (Durham:Carolina Academic Press)

Walter Burkert (born Neuendettelsau (Bavaria), February 2, 1931), the most eminent living scholar of Greek myth and cult, is an emeritus professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland who has also taught in the United Kingdom and the United States. ...

External links

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Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Twelve Labours
  • Livius Picture Archive: Labors of Heracles
  • The Labors of Hercules at the Perseus Digital Library

  Results from FactBites:
 
Heracles (8675 words)
The fourth labour, Heracles needed to fetch Erymanthian Boar.
The seventh labour, Heracles needed to fetch the Cretan Bull, the bull that belonged to Minos, king of Crete.
The eighth labour was to fetch flesh-eating mares of Diomedes.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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