December 22, 2020

#08-026: The Twelve Labors of Hercules - Part I

Hercules facing a multi-headed snake
The Second Labor: The Lernaean Hydra

Note: The hero known as Hercules (Greek Herakles) was a demi-god, the offspring of the father god Zeus and a mortal woman, Alcmene. Because of Zeus's infidelity, Zeus's wife Hera loathed Hercules, and caused him no end of trouble. She even sent snakes into his cradle to kill him, but the abnormally strong infant strangled them both.

Get Ready: If a man went mad and killed his wife and children, what would be a suitable punishment? Could he ever atone for his wrongdoing?

When the Greek hero and demi-god Hercules had grown up and became a husband and father, Hera--who hated him as her husband Zeus's illegitimate son--struck him with a madness during which he killed his own wife and children. Filled with remorse, he asked the oracle of Apollo what he should do, and the god told him to serve King Eurystheus for ten years in atonement. Originally, he was to perform ten "labors," but Eurystheus was a hard taskmaster and, rejecting two of the completed tasks, added two more.

The tasks were these (we'll look at six this time, and the rest next time):

One: Kill the Nemean Lion, whose skin could not be pierced by arrows. Hercules stunned it with a club and strangled it with his bare hands. He is often shown wearing its hide.

Two: Kill the nine-headed, snakelike Lernean Hydra. When one head was cut off, two more would grow. Hercules sliced all off quickly as his charioteer cauterized the neck stumps. Hercules made poison arrows from its blood. (Eurystheus discounted this one, as Hercules had help.)

Three: Capture the Cerynian Hind, a favorite of the goddess Artemis (Apollo's sister). He had to chase the delicate creature on foot for a full year before he could capture it without injury (which would have incensed Artemis).

Four: Capture the deadly Erymanthian Boar. On the advice of a centaur, he drove the beast into a snowdrift where it was easily caught.

Five: Cleanse in a single day the Augean Stables--home of immortal livestock--which had not been cleaned in over 30 years. This was meant to be impossible and humiliating. Hercules solved this by channeling two rivers through them. Because King Augeas paid him, however, Eurystheus discounted this one as well, saying he cheated.

Six: Kill the man-eating Stymphalian Birds, whose beaks were made of bronze, and feathers of sharp metal. Hercules used his poison arrows to shoot most of them (the others escaped and flew far away).

We'll look at the remaining six labors in Lesson #08-027.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. atonement
  2. cauterized
  3. centaur
  4. humiliating
  5. incensed
  6. loathed
  7. mortal
  8. oracle
  9. remorse
  10. taskmaster

  1. regret for wrongdoing
  2. sealed (a wound) with heat
  3. human, not a god
  4. one who supervises difficult duties
  5. made extremely angry
  6. making up for something
  7. a teller of fortunes
  8. half-man, half-horse
  9. hated deeply
  10. extremely embarrassing

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 22, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. b; 3. h; 4. j; 5. e; 6. i; 7. c; 8. g; 9. a; 10. d