- Hercules, a Greek mythological hero, was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a mortal woman. Hera, Zeus's wife, was wrathful because of his infidelity and wanted to dispose of his bastard offspring. She tried to kill Hercules in his cradle, but was foiled. She then sent serpents to do him in, but Hercules, strong even then, strangled them.In his manhood, Hercules was brawny and muscular, but was no match for Hera, who afflicted him with madness. In a fit of insanity he slew his wife and children. To punish him for this grievous act, Apollo sentenced him to serve penance for twelve years under the Argive king, Eurystheus, who imposed upon him twelve tasks of great difficulty and danger. The first task was the killing of the monster lion Nemea. Hercules strangled it with his bare hands. The second was the killing of a nineheaded beast called Hydra. Every time a head was cut off, two appeared. He burned off all the heads except one, which could not be killed. This one he buried under a rock and dipped his arrow into the Hyda's blood to poison it. The third was the capturing of an Arcadian stag with golden horns and feet of brass. Hercules caught it after a long weary chase, drove it into a snow drift, and then carried it home on his shoulders. The fourth was the capturing of the wild bear of Erymanthus. This he did with his bare hands. The fifth was the cleaning of the stables of King Augeas of Elis. The stables housed three thousand oxen and hadn't been cleaned for thirty years. Hercules turned two rivers into the stables and cleaned them in a day. The sixth was the destruction of the birds of Stympphalus. They had brass claws and ate human flesh. After frightening them with Athena'a rattle, which was filled with dried dragons' eyes, he shot them with poisoned arrows. The seventh was the capture of the mad bull of Crete. Hercules overcame it and carried it away on his shoulders. The eight was the capture of the wild horses of Diomedes. These horses ate human flesh. Hercules caught them and fed them the flesh of Diomedes, whom he had killed. Then he carried the horses on his back to Eurysteus. The ninth labor was obtaining the girdle (sash) of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Hercules fought and defeated the Amazons, killed Hippolyta, and took her girdle. The tenth was the capture of the ox of Geryon, a creature with three bodies. Hercules killed the giant Eurytion who was guarding the ox, destroyed the giant's twoheaded dog, and then drove the ox home. The eleventh labor was the theft of the apples of Hesperides. Hercules asked Atlas to get them. Atlas agreed and placed the world on Hercules's shoulders. Hercules said he would carry the world forever but he would first need a pad for his shoulders. Atlas agreed to hold the world while Hercules fetched a pad. After Atlas took the world back, Hercules simply made off with the apples. The twelfth labor was to bring Cerberus, the watchdog of the lower world, up to earth. With Pluto's permission, Hercules carried the dog to Eurystheus, although Cerberus bit a big piece out of his back. The king was so terrified of the dog that he hid himself in a large jar. A Herculean task implies a prodigious task, possibly a seemingly impossible one.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.
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