Ancient Greek Myths for Kids: The 12 Labors of Hercules Illustration

Ancient Greek Gods for Kids
The 12 Labors of Hercules

 
 

For a very long time, Hercules (Heracles) did not know he was half man and half god. His mother was a mortal. But his father was a king - a very special king, the king of all the gods, the mighty Zeus.

Zeus loved his little son. But Hera, Zeus' wife, hated Hercules. She was very jealous. She tried all kinds of ways to kill Hercules, including sending a couple of big snakes into his crib. Hercules crushed those snakes in a flash! Hercules was incredibly strong, even as a baby!

To keep his small son safe from attack, Zeus sent him to live with a mortal family on earth in the ancient Greek city-state of Argos. Hercules grew up noble and loved. He married and had a couple of kids. He was happy, but he did not fit in on earth. He was too big and too strong. He was hard to miss. Hera soon discovered his location.

The rest of the story of Hercules is a bunch of little stories that together tell the tale of how Hercules used clever tricks and great courage to stay alive and earn his way into the heavens, to take his place with the gods.

As the story goes .....

One day, while thinking up ways to kill Hercules, Hera came up with an idea. It might not kill him, but it would certainly devastate him. Using an evil magic spell, she made Hercules fall into a fit of madness. While under this spell, he butchered his wife and children. As the spell passed and his vision cleared, Hercules saw what he had done. He knew it was a mistake. He knew he had been bewitched, but he was filled with guilt. He wanted to find some way to atone for his terrible mistake, only he had no idea what to do. In desperation, he visited the most powerful wizard of his day, the Oracle at Delphi, and asked for her help.

The trouble with Oracles was that their advice was often misunderstood. This time, the Oracle was clear. She believed Hercules would never have butchered his family unless he had been in the grip of an evil spell. She had no doubt that the evil spell was probably cast by Hera. She also knew that Hercules would never forgive himself unless first he was punished. She told Hercules exactly what he needed to do to atone. She whispered that he had to visit his cousin, King Eurystheus, who would give him 12 labors (tasks) that Hercules must successfully complete. Once all 12 tasks were accomplished, Hercules would be forgiven.

"Are you sure that such a simple thing will atone for my mistake?" Hercules asked her.

The oracle answered: "If you complete 12 Labors, immortality will be yours." Being an oracle, she never explained what she meant by "immortality" - would he live forever in legend or for real? Hercules never asked. (She would not have told him anyway.)  Hercules could barely hear her, her whisper was that soft, yet somehow, and just as the Oracle had predicted to herself, Hera's spies discovered what the Oracle had told him.

Before Hercules could arrive at his cousin's palace, Hera got there first. Eurystheus (Eury for short) was the king of a little village in the city-state of Argos. Hera convinced Eury that Hercules was coming to steal his crown! It was not enough that Hercules had killed his family, she told Eury. Now he wanted to be king! Eury believed her. Hera suggested that Eury challenge Hercules to 12 labors (missions or tasks.) If he failed, Hercules had to defend Eury from anyone who tried to take Eury's crown. Eury loved that idea. Hera and Eury designed 12 impossible tasks. They were certain that one of the 12 labors they designed would surely kill Hercules, probably the very first one. Hercules was not interested in Eury's crown, but he accepted the challenge as Hera knew he would.

Hercules not only lived, he had great adventures, discovered true friends, and rid the world of some really nasty critters. Here are the famous 12 Labors of Hercules, each told in the form of a little short story.

1. The Nemean Lion

2. The Lernaean Hydra

3. The Wild Boar of Erymanthus

4. The Stag of Artemis

5. The Stymphalian Birds

6. The Augean Stables

7. The Cretan Bull

8. The Girdle of Hippolyta

9. The Cattle of Geryon

10. The Mares of King Diomedes

11. The Golden Apples of the Hesperides

12. The Capture of Cerberus

Game: Can you survive the labors of Hercules? (bbc)

Story: Vase Paintings Come to Life - Poison for Good, Poison for Evil