The Labors of Hercules Part 1 of 2

Having thus got the better of the sprouting heads, he chopped off the immortal head, and buried it, and put a heavy rock on it.

OPENING
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, the first through the sixth labor of Hercules from “The Bibliotheca.” “The Bibliotheca” was published circa 200 AD. Translation by J. G. Frazier.

BODY
Now it came to pass that after the battle with the Minyans Hercules was driven mad through the jealousy of Hera and flung his own children, […] into the fire; wherefore he condemned himself to exile, […] and repairing to Delphi he inquired of the gods where he should dwell. The Pythian priestess […] told him to dwell in Tiryns, serving Eurystheus for twelve years and to perform the ten labors imposed on him, and so, she said, when the tasks were accomplished, he would be immortal. […]

When Hercules heard that, he went to Tiryns and did as he was bid by Eurystheus. First, Eurystheus ordered him to bring the skin of the Nemean lion; now that was an invulnerable beast begotten by Typhon. […] And having come to Nemea and tracked the lion, he first shot an arrow at him, but when he perceived that the beast was invulnerable, he heaved up his club and made after him. And when the lion took refuge in a cave with two mouths, Hercules built up the one entrance and came in upon the beast through the other, and putting his arm round its neck held it tight till he had choked it. […] Amazed at his manhood, Eurystheus forbade him thenceforth to enter the city, but ordered him to exhibit the fruits of his labors before the gates. They say, too, that in his fear he had a bronze jar made for himself to hide in under the earth, and that he sent his commands for the labors through a herald. […]

As a second labor he ordered him to kill the Lernaean hydra. That creature, bred in the swamp of Lerna, used to go forth into the plain and ravage both the cattle and the country. Now the hydra had a huge body, with nine heads, eight mortal, but the middle one immortal. So mounting a chariot […] he came to Lerna, and having halted his horses, he discovered the hydra on a hill […] where was its den. By pelting it with fiery shafts he forced it to come out, and in the act of doing so he seized and held it fast. But the hydra wound itself about one of his feet and clung to him. Nor could he effect anything by smashing its heads with his club, for as fast as one head was smashed there grew up two. A huge crab also came to the help of the hydra by biting his foot. So he killed it, and in his turn called for help on Iolaus who, by setting fire to a piece of the neighboring wood and burning the roots of the heads with the brands, prevented them from sprouting. Having thus got the better of the sprouting heads, he chopped off the immortal head, and buried it, and put a heavy rock on it, beside the road that leads through Lerna to Elaeus. But the body of the hydra he slit up and dipped his arrows in the gall. However, Eurystheus said that this labor should not be reckoned among the ten because he had not got the better of the hydra by himself, but with the help of Iolaus. […]

As a third labor he ordered him to bring the Cerynitian hind alive to Mycenae. Now the hind […] had golden horns and was sacred to Artemis; so wishing neither to kill nor wound it, Hercules hunted it a whole year. But when, weary with the chase, the beast […] passed to the river Ladon, Hercules shot it just as it was about to cross the stream, and catching it put it on his shoulders and hastened through Arcadia. But Artemis with Apollo met him, and would have wrested the hind from him, and rebuked him for attempting to kill her sacred animal. Howbeit, by pleading necessity and laying the blame on Eurystheus, he appeased the anger of the goddess and carried the beast alive to Mycenae. […]

As a fourth labor he ordered him to bring the Erymanthian boar alive. […] And when he had chased the boar with shouts from a certain thicket, he drove the exhausted animal into deep snow, trapped it, and brought it to Mycenae. […]

The fifth labor he laid on him was to carry out the dung of the cattle of Augeas in a single day. Now Augeas was king of Elis […] and he had many herds of cattle. Hercules accosted him, and without revealing the command of Eurystheus, said that he would carry out the dung in one day, if Augeas would give him the tithe of the cattle. Augeas was incredulous, but promised. Having taken Augeas’s son Phyleus to witness, Hercules made a breach in the foundations of the cattle-yard, and then, diverting the courses of [two rivers] which flowed near each other, he turned them into the yard, having first made an outlet for the water through another opening. When Augeas learned that this had been accomplished at the command of Eurystheus, he would not pay the reward; nay more, he denied that he had promised to pay it, and on that point he professed himself ready to submit to arbitration. The arbitrators having taken their seats, Phyleus was called by Hercules and bore witness against his father, affirming that he had agreed to give him a reward. In a rage Augeas, before the voting took place, ordered both Phyleus and Hercules to pack out of Elis. […] But Eurystheus would not admit this labor either among the ten, alleging that it had been performed for hire. […]

The sixth labor he enjoined on him was to chase away the Stymphalian birds. Now at the city of Stymphalus […] was [a] lake […] embosomed in a deep wood. To it countless birds had flocked for refuge, fearing to be preyed upon by the wolves. So when Hercules was at a loss how to drive the birds from the wood, Athena gave him brazen [cymbals]. By clashing these […] he scared the birds. They could not abide the sound, but fluttered up in a fright, and in that way Hercules shot them. […]

CLOSING
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.

Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.

MUSIC
Lee Wiley – Find Me a Primitive Man (1940)
Charles Dornberger – I’ll Be the Meanest Man in Town (Victor 24198-B 1932)

Episode 1551