With this story, we come to the end of the Labours of Hercules. The tenth labour was to bring the cattle of Geryon, a monster who had three heads and three sets of legs. The herd was kept on the island of Erythia, said to be on the border of Europe and Libya, and guarded by a two-headed dog, Orthus. At the point where Europe and Libya meet, Hercules split a mountain into two. These are known as the Pillars of Hercules. In the gap between the two are the Straits of Gibraltar that link the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

At Erythia, Hercules had to fight Orthus, the herdsman Eurytion, and Geryon. He defeated all of them and drove the cattle away. On the way back, people tried to steal the cattle and the cows tried to run away but he managed to keep them together. When he was near home, Hera sent a fly to harass the cattle and they ran away again. Hercules chased them down and dammed the river Strymon in the process. Finally he got home with the cattle and Eurystheus sacrificed the herd to Hera.

This should have been the final task but Eurystheus decided that the killing of the Hydra and the cleansing of Augean stables did not count because Hercules had help for the first and had not cleaned the stables by himself. So he set him two more tasks.

Another two

The first was to bring apples from the Garden of Hesperides, which were guarded by a 100-headed dragon and the daughters of the Titan Atlas, who held the sky upon his shoulders.

To find out where the gardens were, Hercules went looking for the sea-god Nereus. When he finally caught Nereus, the sea god tried to wriggle out of Hercules’ grasp by changing shape. But Hercules would not let him go and an exhausted Nereus told him the way. En route, Hercules also freed the Titan Prometheus who had been chained to a rock by Zeus for teaching humans the secret of fire. A grateful Prometheus gave Hercules some valuable advice.

Finally Hercules reached the point where Atlas was holding the sky on his shoulders. As Prometheus had advised, Hercules offered to hold the sky if the Titan would bring him the apples. When Atlas returned, he didn’t want to take the sky back. But Hercules had been warned, so he pretended that he wanted to adjust his cloak over his shoulders. Atlas flung the apples down and heaved up the sky again. Hercules quickly picked up the apples and returned to Eurystheus.

The final task was the most difficult: the capture of the three-headed Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to the Underworld. When he entered the realm of the dead, Hercules was beset by monsters and ghosts but he overcame them. Ultimately, he stood before Hades, the ruler of the Underworld. When he explained his errand, the god agreed provided he captured Cerberus without help. Hercules wrestled with Cerberus, subdued him and carted him off to Eurystheus. The king was so petrified that he begged Hercules to return him to Hades and released him from any further labours.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 1:49:47 AM |

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