Hercules and the Nemean lion in Villa Farnesin...
Hercules and the Nemean lion in Villa Farnesina ceiling, Rome via Wikipedia

Hercules is the Roman name for the Greek demigod and incredibly strong Heracles. He is the son of Jupiter (in Greece, Zeus) and the mortal Alcmene.

Generally regarded as a hero, he was born a destroyer, par excellence. Hercules vanquished two snakes while still in the cradle and killed a lion in his boyhood. This disturbed Hera (Juno in Rome) who drove him insane, which lead him to murder his wife and children.

Hercules consulted the Delphic Oracle to find out how to redeem himself. In some versions of the myth, the Oracle instructs him to visit King Eurystheus. Because Hercules was so physically powerful, Eurystheus couldn’t think of any tasks too demanding for him. So he consulted Juno on how best to redeem him through physical penance.

Together,  Eurystheus and Juno conceived of 12 Labors for Hercules to undergo in order to restore his good standing among the gods and mankind. However, in other versions of the myth, the Oracle itself prescribes the 12 Labors.

Detail of Roman sculpture of seated Hades, sho...
Detail of Roman sculpture of seated Hades, showing Cerberus via Wikipedia

The 12 Labors which Hercules must complete are:

  1. Kill the Nemean Lion: He strangled it.
  2. Kill the nine-headed Hydra: This was a difficult job because two heads grew back for each one destroyed. Hercules burnt eight heads and threw one under a rock.
  3. Seize the Hind of Ceryneia: This was tricky because Ceryneia was Diana‘s pet deer. He pursued the deer for several months before succeeding
  4. Seize the Erymanthian Boar and bring it to King Eurystheus: “The Erymanthian Boar was a giant fear-inspiring creature of the wilds that lived on Mount Erymanthos, a mountain that was apparently once sacred to the Mistress of the Animals, for in classical times it remained the haunt of Artemis (Homer, Odyssey, VI.105).” ¹
  5. Cleanse the huge and filthy stables of King Augeas of Elis: Hercules succeeded by diverting a nearby river.
  6. Free the Stymphalian Lake of nasty birds that ate human beings
  7. Capture the Cretan Bull
  8. Capture the four beastly mares of the Thracian king Diomedes
  9. Steal the golden girdle of the Amazonian queen Hipployte
  10. Capture the giant Geryon’s oxen
  11. Obtain the famous golden apples of the Hesperides
  12. Capture Cerberus: Cerberus is a frightful three-headed dog and the guardian of the underworld ruled by Hades. Hercules had to bring him to daylight, which was no easy task because “Cerberus was the offspring of Echidna, a hybrid half-woman and half-serpent, and Typhon, a fire-breathing giant whom even the Olympian gods feared.”² And Cerberus’ job was to prevent people from escaping Hades via the river Styx, which was the link between Hades and the world of living mortals.
Herakles brings Eurystheus the Erymanthian boa...
Herakles brings Eurystheus the Erymanthian boar. Side A from an Attic red-figure cup, ca. 510 BC via Wikipedia

The story of Hercules most likely resonates with anyone interested in the mysterious realm of what C. G. Jung called the collective unconscious. Jung, himself, said that delving into the collective unconscious could be wonderful and enriching but also hideous and revolting.

The downside of the journey into the so-called collective unconscious might be related to the idea of spiritual impurity, especially with regard to the 5th Labor, which involves a great amount of pollution.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erymanthian_Boar

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerberus

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys


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