Monday, November 30, 2009

The Labors of Heracles

I loved Greek mythology as a kid and read my copy of D'aulaires to shreds and through Bullfinch's and Edith Hamilton several times each. And everyone knows of Heracles, though not many people can name the 12 labors he performed. (And for some reason, even when talking about Greek myths, people call him Hercules, the Roman name for him.)
  1. slay the Nemean Lion - where he got his lion-headed cloak
  2. slay the Hydra - probably the best known story
  3. capture the Golden Hind of Artemis - a hind is a deer
  4. capture the Erymanthian Boar - a boar is a pig (sorry, can't give effective color commentary on them all)
  5. clean the Augean stables in a day - he diverted a river to wash through the stables
  6. slay the Stymphalion Birds - alfred hitchcock, eat your heart out
  7. capture the Cretan Bull - we present to you, cretins from Bull...make that a bull from Crete
  8. steal the Mares of Diomedes - flesh eating horses. om nom nom
  9. obtain the Girdle of the Amazon Queen Hippolyta - if you learn one thing from this story, it's that chicks dig guys with muscles and wearing lion skins. or that if you kill a woman, you can take whatever you want from her, depending on which version of the story you read.
  10. obtain the Cattle of Geryon - Hera is a real bitch, just FYI
  11. steal the Apples of Hesperides - takes Atlas' place holding up the world for a moment
  12. capture Cerberus - nice doggy
It's kind of interesting going through the list. Heracles is typically known for his strength and skill at arms, but a lot of the tasks involve him being very clever, and acting outside of his expected capabilities. I think this is why his story has been so successful throughout history. It's not that he's an underdog, or a common man making good for himself, he's already a hero and then shows that he's not just a one-dimensional character. It's an aspect that is often missing from protagonists in many modern stories. And, so too, is he a flawed character. He was assigned the tasks as atonement for murdering his wife in an uncontrollable rage. How many of the epic heroes of modern stories have such complicated stories and such varied abilities?

That's why the cleaning of the Augean stables is my favorite of the labors. It required great physical effort on his part, but only in service to a mental capability that just wasn't expected of him.

What's yours?

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