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Labours of Hercules.

From Myths and Legends of all nations
by Logan Marshall.

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The Second Labour.

The second labor consisted in destroying a hydra. This monster dwelt in the swamp of Lerna, but came occasionally over the country, destroying herds and laying waste the fields. The hydra was an enormous creature--a serpent with nine heads, of which eight were mortal and one immortal. Hercules set out with high courage for this fight. He mounted his chariot, and his beloved nephew Iolaus, the son of his stepbrother Iphicles, who for a long time had been his inseparable companion, sat by his side, guiding the horses; and so they sped toward Lerna. At last the hydra was visible on a hill by the springs of Amymone, where its lair was found. Here Iolaus left the horses stand. Hercules leaped from the chariot and sought with burning arrows to drive the many-headed serpent from its hiding place. It came forth hissing, its nine heads raised and swaying like the branches of a tree in a storm. Undismayed, Hercules approached it, seized it, and held it fast. But the snake wrapped itself around one of his feet. Then he began with his sword to cut off its heads. But this looked like an endless task, for no sooner had he cut off one head than two grew in its place. At the same time an enormous crab came to the help of the hydra and began biting the hero's foot. Killing this with his club, he called to Iolaus for help. The latter had lighted a torch, set fire to a portion of the nearby wood, and with brands therefrom touched the serpent's newly growing heads and prevented them from living. In this way the hero was at last master of the situation and was able to cut off even the head of the hydra that could not be killed. This he buried deep in the ground and rolled a heavy stone over the place. The body of the hydra he cut into half, dipping his arrows in the blood, which was poisonous. From that time the wounds made by the arrows of Hercules were fatal.

The Third Labour

The third demand of Eurystheus was that Hercules bring to him alive the hind Cerynitis. This was a noble animal, with horns of gold and feet of iron. She lived on a hill in Arcadia, and was one of the five hinds which the goddess Diana had caught on her first hunt. This one, of all the five, was permitted to run loose again in the woods, for it was decreed by fate that Hercules should one day hunt her. For a whole year Hercules pursued her; came at last to the river Ladon; and there captured the hind, not far from the city Oenon, on the mountains of Diana. But he knew of no way of becoming master of the animal without wounding her, so he lamed her with an arrow and then carried her over his shoulder through Arcadia. Here he met Diana herself with Apollo, who scolded him for wishing to kill the animal that she had held sacred, and was about to take it from him. "Impiety did not move me, great goddess," said Hercules in his own defense, "but only the direst necessity. How otherwise could I hold my own against Eurystheus?" And thus he softened the anger of the goddess and brought the animal to Mycene.

The Fourth Labour.

Then Hercules set out on his fourth undertaking. It consisted in bringing alive to Mycene a boar which, likewise sacred to Diana, was laying waste the country around the mountain of Erymanthus. On his wanderings in search of this adventure he came to the dwelling of Pholus, the son of Silenus. Like all Centaurs, Pholus was half man and half horse. He received his guest with hospitality and set before him broiled meat, while he himself ate raw. But Hercules, not satisfied with this, wished also to have something good to drink. "Dear guest," said Pholus, "there is a cask in my cellar; but it belongs to all the Centaurs jointly, and I hesitate to open it because I know how little they welcome guests." "Open it with good courage," answered Hercules, "I promise to defend you against all displeasure." As it happened, the cask of wine had been given to the Centaurs by Bacchus, the god of wine, with the command that they should not open it until, after four centuries, Hercules should appear in their midst. Pholus went to the cellar and opened the wonderful cask. But scarcely had he done so when the Centaurs caught the perfume of the rare old wine, and, armed with stones and pine clubs, surrounded the cave of Pholus. The first who tried to force their way in Hercules drove back with brands he seized from the fire. The rest he pursued with bow and arrow, driving them back to Malea, where lived the good Centaur, Chiron, Hercules' old friend. To him his brother Centaurs had fled for protection.

But Hercules still continued shooting, and sent an arrow through the arm of an old Centaur, which unhappily went quite through and fell on Chiron's knee, piercing the flesh. Then for the first time Hercules recognized his friend of former days, ran to him in great distress, pulled out the arrow, and laid healing ointment on the wound, as the wise Chiron himself had taught him. But the wound, filled with the poison of the hydra, could not be healed; so the centaur was carried into his cave. There he wished to die in the arms of his friend. Vain wish! The poor Centaur had forgotten that he was immortal, and though wounded would not die. Then Hercules with many tears bade farewell to his old teacher and promised to send to him, no matter at what price, the great deliverer, Death. And we know that he kept his word. When Hercules from the pursuit of the other Centaurs returned to the dwelling of Pholus he found him also dead. He had drawn the deadly arrow from the lifeless body of one Centaur, and while he was wondering how so small a thing could do such great damage, the poisoned arrow slipped through his fingers and pierced his foot, killing him instantly. Hercules was very sad, and buried his body reverently beneath the mountain, which from that day was called PholoŽ. Then Hercules continued his hunt for the boar, drove him with cries out of the thick of the woods, pursued him into a deep snow field, bound the exhausted animal, and brought him, as he had been commanded, alive to Mycene.

The Fifth Labour can be read by clicking on Next Page.


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