A playful epic memorializing Hercules' insuperable penal problems
|Twelve Labors of Hercules
Time-honored lore in days of yore
of men and gods were told.
Fabled stories, grief and glories;
preserved in myths of old.
One epic yarn that ne’er goes stale,
fancied for centuries.
This new rehearse of ancient verse:
Labors of Hercules.
The tale unfolds when Hera scolds
hubby’s mortal affairs.
Her Zeus aroused, on Earth caroused;
bristled the Queen upstairs.
One fateful tryst Zeus failed resist
enraged her jealousies.
His infant born inflamed her scorn,
cursed son named Hercules.
While baby still, she tried to kill
with snake put in his bed.
But in the night Herc’s infant might
had ripped off deadly head.
When as adult in drinking bout,
Hera took o’er his will.
She addled brain, made temp insane;
wife and children, he killed.
Awake from fit saw crimes commit,
collapsed from retching grief.
Himself to blame, beset with shame,
from Gods he begged relief.
For just repent, sought punishment
advised by deities.
“We Gods propose the King impose
twelve labors, Hercules.”
Hera conspired that deeds required
be schemed to make him fail.
His life would end and soul condemned
if Herc should not prevail.
Outlandish tasks the king would ask,
all twelve Herc must complete.
True tests of might to sate her spite,
the first of twelve we meet.
The Nemean Lion
“Your first to beat, you must defeat
a feline fiend 'til dead;
Once death is dealt, bring back its pelt
from Nemea Mount,” King said.
For his debut Herc must subdue
a beast in mountain den.
This dreaded task could mean his last
of days 'midst Gods and men.
The cornered lion with hide of iron
roared out at Hercules.
Yet razor claws nor gaping jaws
gave rise to weakened knees.
To seal its fate, Herc barred escape
and fearless there he stood.
For first attack he whacked the cat
with club of olive wood.
He dazed his foe with second blow
‘tween eyes of savage head.
Then to expunge, upon it lunged
and strangled lion dead.
Its claws of steel helped Herc to peel
tough hide from lion slain.
Its tawny coat made handsome cloak,
complete with braided mane.
“Oh, drats!” King wailed, “my plan’s derailed.”
The King of Tiryns sneered.
Herc proved the best of vengeful test,
now brute of brawn, King feared.
Mettle deplete, King sought retreat
induced by knocking knees.
In awe of might, the King took flight
o’er facing Hercules.
Thence acted fast, had smithy cast
a man-sized brazen jar.
Removed the lid and in it hid
from strong-man’s strength bizarre.
Since first retired, the king required
of ten and one yet still:
“For next partake, a deadly snake,
the Hydra you must kill.”
The Lernan Hydra
To help him win, brought nephew kin
on trek to Argus Bay.
Took Lerna Road to find abode
of Hydra he must slay.
In murky mire with venom dire,
lurked ghastly snake revered.
Nine heads of death with lethal breath,
both Gods and mortals feared.
Shot darts of flame to lure his game
from lair brought Hydra out.
O'er fight that loomed, Hera still fumed;
sent aide to battle bout.
Told monstrous crab: “Herc's heel you'll grab
and hold his ankle taut.”
Whence battle raged, two foes engaged;
one high, one low, they fought.
He’d first arrest crustacean pest,
Then deal with poisoned nine.
Kicked crab in face, launched into space
where Cancer stars now shine.
With axe precise, from snake must slice
nine heads if death be true.
Yet with each chop, from headless spot,
where once was one, grew two.
“Come help!” Herc yelled, as nephew held
a flaming torch aglow.
“From whence I prune, quick sear the wound
so ne’er two more can grow.”
Though weakened snake was void of eight,
Immortal was its nine.
But fanged attack met swipe of axe,
the last one left its spine.
Took severed head still live not dead,
buried by road to town.
The Hydra's doomed, it's still entombed
‘neath boulder weight for crown.
From corpse he cut its lethal gut,
drained Hydra’s gall so vile.
Thence did anoint each arrow point
with daubs of venom bile.
The serpent slain erased the bane;
two down and ten to square.
To serve the king, alive must bring
a deer with auburn hair.
The Ceryneian Hind
A “Hind” that year was female deer,
but not just any doe.
Diana’s pet, her favorite
no mortal dared aim bow.
Had golden horns and hooves of bronze,
its sacred coat was red.
Herc’s job was clear to capture deer,
bring back alive, not dead.
For months he chased ‘til face to face,
but ‘tween them flowed a stream.
Weary and spent, an arrow sent
to wound, not kill, his scheme.
His focus slipped, the arrow tipped
with venom he forgot.
On piercing skin the Hind fell in,
dropped dead upon the spot.
His soul at stake, he rued mistake
and cursed the Hind’s demise.
“Diana's wild and Hera’s riled,
now two with fire in eyes.”
No potion drug could fix his flub,
his failure must embrace.
The Gods displeased, damned Hercules;
his pardon now disgraced.
Feeling bolder, o’er his shoulder
tossed lifeless Hind now cold.
Diana wept for pet she kept
before incensed to scold.
Goddess of Hunt was brutal blunt,
unleashed her wrathful scorn.
When truth revealed, she soon repealed
the anger she had borne.
Apprised of deeds, told Hercules
to place the Hind at feet.
For truthful proof, forgave his goof,
revived the Hind’s heart beat.
Misdeed dismissed, her hand he kissed
with Hind alive brought back.
His faith renewed, more feats pursued
since third of twelve intact.
The King set free and watched it flee
to herd from whence it came.
Denied a rest, the King professed
Herc’s fourth to banish shame.
The Erymanthian Boar
Herc’s labor four was massive boar,
a vicious beast when vexed.
“Upon your back, bring pig in sack.
Alive!” King ordered next.
The folks in town feared coming down
from yonder mountain den.
It mauled and maimed and lives were claimed;
‘twas scourge of mortal men.
It’d thrash and thrust its razored tusks
and gored whom e’er it found.
Left wreckage wide o’er countryside,
wrought havoc all around.
To capture swine, up steep incline
Herc had to scale a tor.
Yet ‘fore ascent, to Pholus went
in lieu of hunting boar.
Herc pined to greet his pal unique,
a horse of Centaur kind.
Human to waist, but bod replaced
with equine rump behind.
At fireside sat to dine and chat
in cave of Centaur host.
Filled belly first, then citing thirst
he asked for drink to toast.
“I must decline request for wine,
just Centaurs share my flask.”
The snub ignored, Herc drank their hoard,
near emptied common cask.
The Centaurs fumed o’er booze consumed,
cursed Herc for piggish prank.
With rocks in hand, the first two planned
to heave for mead he drank.
Midst fireplace bricks, grabbed burning sticks
and threw them at his foes.
Then raised his club with threats to drub
some noggin knots with blows.
Once satisfied they’d scattered wide,
Herc climbed the mount once more.
He searched the ground ‘til spore he found,
resumed his hunt for boar.
Not hard to find and close behind,
Herc tracked to higher ground.
Relentless chase at torrid pace,
pig’s heartbeat begged to pound.
A snort from snout meant run ran out,
it shortened stressful stride.
‘Twas out of breath and fearing death,
in thicket tried to hide.
Through tangled bush, Herc poked its tush
with tip of spear held low.
Exhausted boar sped off once more
‘til belly-deep in snow.
Feet firmly set, Herc tossed his net
o’er top the worn out boar.
Big pig in sack, he carried back,
fulfilling number four.
As Herc came near, King shook with fear,
from savage boar he ran.
So scared was he, King chose to flee,
Dove back in hiding can.
“For labor five I shall contrive
a raunchy deed for sure.
Must muck feedlots of cattle plops,
get rid of king’s manure.
King Augeas Stables
No demon beast to whup at least,
thought easy gig this time.
Yet ‘fore Herc's eyes to his surprise
were massive mounds of grime.
The numbers fed from cattle bred
no herdsman could outdo.
For stacked in aisles were endless piles
of cow dung, yuck, and goo.
From herds so vast, cow pies amassed
with droppings piled in drifts.
To his dismay, within one day
such filth he had to shift.
No gutters here, yet rivers near;
a clever scheme, he thought.
I'll bore through walls of stable stalls,
with payment plan he wrought.
To King proposed: "if waste disposed,
make bargain pledge with me?
Fair deal I think, if rid your stink,
one head per ten my fee?"
The King agreed, "when finished deed
I'll honor payment pact."
Thus spade in hand, Herc dredged the land
and altered river tract.
The dirt flew fast as one day passed,
dug trenches side by side.
When dams released the surge increased,
flowed fast through water guide.
As rivers rushed the sewage flushed,
t'was time for getting paid.
But King had lied and thus denied
his payment promise made.
Sued King in court with claim of tort
he pled ‘fore judge's bench.
"This crook agreed that once I freed
his barns of awful stench,
His solemn word was tenth of herd;
my fee he must fulfill.
So from this thief I seek relief
for which he's paid me nil."
"And what defense for this offense
‘tis there ‘fore I decide?"
Afraid to shun, King's only son
came forth and testified.
"Was valid deal," the son revealed,"
and vouched for Hercules.
Since son attests, the judge assessed
that King must transfer deeds.
"From son such guff? Ye said enough,
now go thy dastard dunce!"
With King outraged o'er sham uncaged,
banned both from land at once.
"Promises made should be obeyed,
not broke," said, Hercules.
"Your cheatin' kind like cow's behind:
both good at slingin' sleaze."
With court case won and duty done,
Herc plodded home once more.
Since stable cleansed, fifth caper ends,
Hence next his half-way chore.
From nasty herds to morbid birds,
no rest for Hercules.
Stymphalos Lake, a danger waits;
vicious fowl were these.
The Stymphalian Birds
Talons of steel and beaks that peel
the flesh from man and beast;
the King had asked a grievous task
to render birds deceased.
Our hero stood in forest wood
perplexed at what to do.
To slay the batch, Herc prayed to hatch
a plan for way to shoo.
No rule forbade Athena’s aid
with tools they’d improvise.
“Need Godly gongs for loud ding-dongs,
the tactic I’d advise.
“Olympus shops must forge your props
by holy craftsmen made.
From brazen rod of smithy God,
he’s master of the trade.”
When gongs deployed the calm destroyed,
the birds unnerved with fright.
Big clapper clops had flushed the flocks
as nesting birds took flight.
Once in the air within cross hair,
each arrow aim was true.
His venom darts had found their hearts,
clear skies they tumbled through.
Since chore was done, meant five and one
to do before complete.
King Minos kept a savage pet,
a fire-breath bull in Crete.
The Cretan Bull
Across the seas sailed Hercules,
to Grecian Isle of Crete.
‘Fore launching chore when reaching shore,
a pompous king he’d greet.
He ruled the Isle in lavish style;
King Minos was his name.
When taking throne it should be shown
of how he gained his reign.
As stories stirred, Poseidon heard
of regal realm aspired.
“Thus I can please,” said God of Seas,
“but treaty is required.”
Minos agreed and asked of deed:
“so how must I fulfill?”
“My paltry price? Mere sacrifice;
some cattle blood must spill.”
“I do concede so let’s proceed.
What is thou token fare?”
To his lament, Poseidon sent
a white bovine so rare.
A fancied bull so beautiful,
King Minos could not slay.
Though terms forbade, a swap was made,
thus treaty he’d betray.
Poseidon swore to even score
by shaming king for life.
He got the bull excitable
to mate with Minos’ wife.
For king’s offense, in nine months hence
a Minotaur was born.
‘Twas horrible with head of bull
atop a human form.
This half-man freak had vicious streak,
caused Minos grief for days.
A pen was planned where beast was banned
to wander palace maze.
No cud was chewed, but fancied food
from Athens sent to Crete.
To sate the thing, the ruthless king
fed maiden gals as meat.
Poseidon incensed, sea god dispensed
more havoc with a smile.
Made bull insane with muddled brain,
then freed to rampage Isle.
King begged of Herc: “my bull’s berserk,
please make this menace cease.”
Herc wrestled round, ‘til beast gave ground,
then rode it back to Greece.
E’er dutiful, presented bull
as soon as he arrived.
The King released the brainless beast,
then ordered eighth contrived.
Before excused, Herc quite amused
at King’s stupidities.
Since bull still crazed it wrecked and razed
the King’s communities.
His pride debased and crimson-faced,
King chided Hercules.
“For penal eight, lead live to gate,
Mares of Diomedes.”
Mares Of Diomedes
Herc sailed again, took many men
who volunteered for drive.
With aides he planned to capture band,
return with mares alive.
Man-eating kind, these four equine;
King’s mares of Thracian clan.
Blood-thirsty beasts who savored feasts
dining on flesh of man.
The stable guards were chased from yards
‘fore raiding mares’ boudoir.
But soldiers there protecting mares,
on Hercules made war.
So Herc could fight with all his might
‘gainst seasoned men robust,
he need be freed from double deed,
in boy he placed his trust.
Lad gathered reins and tethered chains,
restraining mares in hand.
Then tightened grip wrapped round his hip,
he tried to shackle band.
But savage beasts desired release,
charged off with lad still bound.
Mare’s sordid ploy to trample boy,
and stomped to death on ground.
Herc slew Clan’s head and soldiers fled,
abandoned their crusade.
Thence Hercules, o’er mare’s misdeeds
sought vengeance for his aide.
While still distraught, the mares were caught
and penned by Hercules.
Then mares were tamed when fed remains
of slain Diomedes.
Now timid pets, In tandem sets
Herc brought to King as planned.
But Herc was pissed when King dismissed
and shooed mares off his land.
Without a home, mares left to roam
about the hills of Greece.
Herc’s precious prize met sad demise
at claws and jaws of beasts.
The labor score for his next chore
was now at number nine.
For ninth King dealt: “must bring me belt,
a gift for daughter thine.”
“Oh that?” said King, “mere little thing,”
in making jest of quest.
“A girdle belt of critter’s pelt—
belongs to dame out west.
“The God of War gave gift in awe
to manly female kind.
‘Tis weapon sling encircling
To find the tribe that king described
as warlike distaff band,
Herc brought aboard twelve men who oared
his ship from Grecian land.
Caught steady breeze for sailing seas
to Isle of Amazons.
Devoid of males, he’d heard such tales
of tall and scrappy blondes.
Minus a breast, the right one left,
lopped one for drawing bows.
Deceitful girls teased men with curls,
then killed them all as foes.
Lest need for child, these women wild
of men they had no use.
To service them, select few men
were sanctioned to seduce.
Thus when the need for mammal seed
if numbers to revive,
male infants speared and females reared
restored the tribal hive.
When isle was reached, Herc’s warship beached
where safely could be moored.
Unfurled the sails and took to trails
of Pontos Isle they toured.
It wasn’t long ‘fore brutish blonde
stepped out from back of tree.
The rest of band with spears in hand
stood ‘hind Hippolyte.
“What brings you here?” she pointed spear
at startled Hercules.
“Ninth labor thine I shall define,
a King I’m bound to please.”
Apprised of deed, their Queen decreed
the favor of assist.
To aid his chore, said belt she wore
she’d give, so deed dismissed.
But first a fete to celebrate,
their Queen to pair with him.
As feast wore on, concealed as blonde
a catty knave slipped in.
Hera disguised, spread vulgar lies
that men had lewd intent.
The mood intense, tribe took offense
and war was imminent.
His men alarmed as tribe re-armed;
Herc gathered up his crew.
With plans discrete, preferred retreat
in lieu of fight anew.
As men fell back, “expect attack,”
he warned as they withdrew.
Soon horseback charge and spear barrage
led by that manly shrew.
No warnings made, Herc drew his blade
and killed Hippolyte.
Beside her knelt, untied her belt
then sprinted toward the sea.
As arrows rained his men regained
positions at the oars.
And pulling hard put distant yards
‘tween them and tribe on shore.
Once on the seas with tailwind breeze,
toward mainland Greece they raced.
Approaching land with belt in hand,
thus labor nine erased.
Herc dropped the sling before the King
who fondled it with pride.
“Ah, this should fit my daughter’s hip
despite her broad backside.”
“Sire, if you please,” said Hercules,
weary from pulling oars.
“For number ten, what is thou yen;
your next of dozen chores?”
“Since nine complete, next penal feat
to distant Isle,” said he.
“Steal red bovine, a herd divine;
return the lot to me.”
The Cattle Of Geryon
Sun God admired nine tests retired,
gave Herc a gilded gift.
A golden boat o’er seas to float,
thence westward set adrift.
Herc journeyed forth to end of earth
to settle latest chore.
Along the way found beasts to slay
‘til reaching distant shore.
Discovered strait, Atlantic gate
where land tried interlock.
From granite stone built massive throne
known as Gibraltar Rock.
Thence splitting slate, two mounts create
that guard the inland seas.
Twin peaks of fame still bear his name;
Pillars of Hercules.
On isle remote, Herc beached his boat
with plan to swipe bovine.
But monster guards in cattle yards
‘tween him and herd divine.
A roguish brute protecting loot
stood poised and prepped for fight.
And at its flank, a hound so rank
not one, but two heads bite.
First threat inbound was Orthus hound,
devil dog charged ahead.
Twin troubles clubbed, he double drubbed
each hellish head ‘til dead.
The Titan vexed, his charge was next
and rushed to even score.
Herc brought it down by cracking crown;
the big brute breathed no more.
Done with battle, found the cattle
knee-deep in grassy field.
Though stealth was planned to sneak from land,
his theft was not concealed.
Men from village spied the pillage,
reported herd’s hijack.
To stop the thief from taking beef,
Geryon sprung attack.
Three headed sort, two legs support
trip torsos joined at waist.
And fierce defends his cattle pens,
at once intruders chased.
Herc aimed his dart straight for the heart
still tipped with Hydra’s bile.
The Gorgon beast collapsed deceased,
now free to leave the Isle.
Relaxed afloat with herd in boat,
thought easy deed was done.
Yet peace at sea not meant to be;
his trammels just begun.
Poseidon’s sons made pirate runs,
sought booty boats to seize.
Two tried to steal the herd in keel,
both killed by Hercules.
In midst of fight the bull took flight,
jumped railing easily.
It swam like hell for quite a spell
‘til reaching Sicily.
Herc found the bull quite comfortable,
grazing on hillside hay.
Poseidon’s third had put in herd,
refused return of stray.
“Before its freed,” third son decreed,
“my king and I are team.”
Thus boxing bout the pair worked out;
three times Herc beat them clean.
Thence slew the king, told punk to bring
the bull he won in pact.
Again in boat and safe afloat,
sailed on with herd intact.
But as he sailed, more schemes unveiled
by Hera rife with spite.
Her grievous grudge refused to budge,
conceived a pesky plight.
She filled the skies with swarms of flies,
plagued herd of Hercules.
Her sneering snit sent bugs that bit,
a menace worse than fleas.
The cattle fled to rid the dread,
swam seas to Isle of Thrace.
Took year to catch the scattered batch,
He fumed from second chase.
Herc’s need to vent from fly torment
caused anger to inflame.
Thus to avenge, he sought revenge
but wrongly placed the blame.
Thought nasty gnats from river flats
was source that cursed his cows.
Filled shipping lanes with boulder banes
that peeled ship’s keels from bows.
Despite the pests, put tenth to rest
though waste of time, that heist.
‘Cause king absurd killed precious herd,
for Hera sacrificed.
Since tenth was done, his twelfth less one
was tough test to produce.
A wedding gift he had to lift:
the golden fruit of Zeus.
Apples Of Hesperides
If to succeed with complex deed,
he must find garden yards.
A hidden grove held golden trove
where Ladon dragon guards.
The secret lot of apples sought,
he knew not where to find.
From Spanish strands to Arab sands,
yon hither journeyed blind.
Then Delphic muse revealed some clues:
“a sea god had such lore.
Nereus knew the pathway to
the Garden of your chore.”
While sea god slept, Herc deftly crept
then snatched awake in shock.
Transforming shape, god tried escape
but vice-like grip was locked.
“Where Gods abound is sacred ground,”
said lesser god of seas.
“Must scale this peak for place you seek,”
showed way to Hercules.
On mountain spine of range divine,
Prometheus he found
Who’d stolen fire, invoked Gods’ ire,
condemned to tor be bound.
Every day flew bird of prey
to execute his fate.
On liver chewed, by night renewed;
for thirty years it ate.
The God restrained was soon unchained,
relieved by Hercules.
With self as bait, Herc lay in wait
to end Zeus cruelties.
To rid torment, on bird’s descent
lay Hercules instead.
When stretching neck for painful peck,
Herc lopped off vulture’s head.
Since creature slain, from morbid bane
Prometheus was freed.
For kindness showed, to Herc bestowed
advice to help succeed.
“Must first conceal intent to steal,”
“Atlas despised upholding skies,
‘tis he thou must mislead.
“His daughters guard the Garden yard,
his kin, Hesperides,
can access fruit to pilfer loot,
Sneak back to Hercules.”
Herc’s eyes agleam he hatched a scheme,
a clever plan to test.
Since friend from birth was holding earth,
he’d tempt the man with rest.
“To give relief, I’ll take but brief
that earthen globe you bear.
But for reprieve, you shall retrieve
God’s fruit in daughter’s care?”
“A deal you got, I’ll fetch the lot,”
said Atlas making trade.
Then gripped the earth about its girth,
put on Herc’s shoulder blade.
Atlas returned with apple urn,
but change of place refused.
Though bargain made, good faith betrayed
and Herc was not amused.
But thinking quick deployed a trick,
claimed pain from Earth he bore.
“Not used to weight, need padding break,
relief for shoulder’s sore.
“Mere moment please,” pled Hercules,
feigning a brief adjust.
Atlas confused, he fell for ruse,
retook the globe in trust.
Gave Atlas slip and fled to ship
with Zeus’s golden fruit.
But then King banned Herc’s contraband;
“I must return the loot.”
Thus King gave back the apple sack
since mortals could not own.
Despite the goof, eleven’s proof
last labor looms alone.
For ten plus two, he had to do
most grievous task of all.
For final deed, he must proceed
to Hades Judgment Hall.
For last foray he must waylay
a hellish hound all feared.
The freakish beast awaits deceased,
even the Gods revered.
From serpent’s womb born beast of doom
of strange and horrid kind.
Typhon, its sire, blew breath of fire,
on human flesh it dined.
Along its back snake heads attack,
fanged dragon tail behind.
Atop its bod, three-headed dog,
most horrid beast canine.
Kerberos berth was depth of Earth
where souls went after death.
All mortals barred as beast stood guard
‘til one took final breath.
Once life had ceased, thence soul released
for trek to underworld.
Yea heart divine or cutthroat swine,
all souls to Hades hurled.
Since Pluto’s pit does not permit
survival as a man.
Hence risky deed inspired the need
for careful thought out plan.
Mortals who tried were crucified
if challenged portal gate.
Herc's trek of dread was home to dead
and toughest task to date.
To conquer chore, need sacred lore
of arcane mysteries.
Divine rites trained by priests ordained,
now blessed was Hercules.
Beyond the grave down deepest cave,
Herc trod the trail of gloom.
Met ghostly ghouls from gods to fools
‘fore finding Hades' room.
Of Pluto asked: “give beast of task,
put end to Hera’s spite?”
The god agreed if he’d succeed
in besting beast with might.
“To bide by rules, no weapon tools;
no sling, no club, no sword.
Physical force my sole resource,”
Herc gave his solemn word.
Hercules found the fiendish hound
and painful bout ensued.
Three heads he gripped as tail teeth bit
‘til battle end was ruled.
The struggle ends when foe upends
and will to fight recedes.
In wrestle hold lay beast controlled.
Exhausted, it concedes.
‘Cept wounded pride, no harm to hide
of Hades hellish hound.
Pluto concurred Herc kept his word
and honored pact they’d bound.
Herc led the hound from underground
to King of Tiryns, Greece.
Since test confirms the twelfth of terms,
to Hades, hound released.
When life had drained God status gained,
no underworld once dead.
Herc’s rightful claim: immortal fame,
Olympus Mount instead.
Twelve labors beat, repent complete,
Soul cleansed of penalties.
“Control thy will lest soul shall kill,”
a theme,” said Hercules.