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What Was The Fifth Labour of Heracles (Hercules)? Scooping the Poop in the Augean Stables

Updated: Mar 6

Heracles Fifth Labour - The Augean Stables
Heracles Fifth Labour - The Augean Stables

Yes, you read that right. Poop. Heracles’ fifth labour was all about poop.

The fifth labour in Heracles’ twelve labour series wasn’t designed to be life-threatening, like the Lernean Hydra. It wasn’t designed to be daunting, like the Ceryneian Hind. It wasn’t even designed to be dangerous, like the The Nemean Lion. It was designed to be as humiliating as possible.

King Eurystheus sent Heracles to visit King Augeas. Augeas was a very wealthy king and was said to have owned many herds of animals, including goats, sheep and horses. But it was the King’s cows that Heracles had to worry about. The thousands of cows that King Augeas owned were all housed in an enormous stable every night. But for the last thirty years, nobody had thought to clean out this stable. And so it was filled with piles upon piles of stinky, gloopy cow pats.

And Heracles’ challenge?

He had to clean out this entire stable of all the doo-doo. And he had to do it all in one single day.

Here are the stats of the Augean Stables:

Name: The Augean Stables – named after the owner of said stables, King Augeas.

Description: Basically an enormous barn filled with 3000 immortal cows. Oh and 30 years’ worth of poop from the aforementioned 3000 immortal moo-moos.

Danger Rating: 1/10. Yeah, this place isn’t dangerous at all. Unless you count the smell, which would probably make your eyes water. And the risk of slipping on poo and conking your noggin on a beam.

Location: The Kingdom of Elis. Probably next to an enormous cow field.

Size: Pretty ma-moo-sive! After all, you’ve got to fit 3000 black-and-white living pump machines in there.

Strength: 0/10 (though we’d give it a 10/10 for the strength of the smell! Poo-ee!)

Special Abilities: There isn’t anything particularly special about the Augean Stables. Don’t get me wrong, the cows are pretty exciting, given that they’re immortal. But the herd wouldn’t even have been there when Heracles visited the stables to clean it. Even so, don’t dismiss this labour outright. The task given to Heracles was pretty pooping tricky. 30 years of dung from 3000 cattle? And it’s all got to be cleared in one day? Rather you than me, Heracles!

Heracles gets to work clearing the Augean Stables - Courtesy of Luis García
Heracles gets to work clearing the Augean Stables - Courtesy of Luis García

So how did Heracles approach this pretty unusual labour? He needed to use all of his wit and logic.

He started by visiting King Augeas to propose a deal. If Heracles could do the King a big favour by clearing out the Augean Stables of all the excrement (in one day, no less!), the King could pay him for his hard work by rewarding him a tenth of the immortal moo-moos he owned.

The King was pretty shocked by Heracles’ offer. He was completely unaware that Heracles had been sent to do the task by King Eurystheus as part of his Labours. Thinking that the hero was merely offering his services out of the goodness of his heart, King Augeas accepted Heracles’ offer. After all, it would be utterly impossible to unclog the barn of all the bovine number twos in such a short amount of time. So, with a chuckle at Heracles’ expense, the King agreed to pay him a tenth of his cattle if the hero could achieve his unattainable goal.

Wasting no time, Heracles set off to the stables, accompanied by Phyleus, one of the King’s sons. Heracles knew there was no way he’d tidy the stables in time for the deadline by scooping the waste up by hand (or by pooper-scooper, that way it’s more hygienic) and carrying it out bit by bit. He needed to get rid of all of the manure at once.

Using his big hero brain (and his big hero forehead), Heracles smashed a great hole through the wall of the stables. He then crossed to the opposite stable wall and smashed through that one too. He then put his whopping arm muscles to good use and dug an enormous trench leading from the hole in the stable wall all the way up to two nearby rivers, the Alpheus and the Peneus.

Heracles diverts water from the river to clear the Augean Stables
Heracles diverts water from the river to clear the Augean Stables

Soon, an immense wave of river water came sweeping down the trench towards the stables. Phyleus, the son of the King, watched in awe as the water rushed through the hole in one stable wall and out through the opposite, washing all of the excrement out with it. In a matter of seconds, the stables had been rinsed clean by river water.

Feeling pretty smug, Heracles returned to King Augeas to receive his reward. But since their last meeting, Augeas had had a chat with King Eurystheus and refused to hand over any of his cows. He even claimed that he hadn’t agreed to pay Heracles for his work in the first place!

Augeas was so confident that he wouldn’t be caught in his lie that he dared Heracles to take the matter to a judge. But there was one thing Augeas didn’t think about. His son Phyleus was so impressed by Heracles’ acts that he couldn’t let his dad trick him out of the reward. Phyleus spoke the truth about the agreement his father had made to pay Heracles. Augeas had to pay up, but not before he had banished both Heracles and his son from his kingdom forever.

Nobody knows for certain whether or not Heracles ever received his livestock. And to make matters worse? King Eurystheus declared that the Labour didn’t count because Heracles tried to get paid for the task. What a big heap of doo-doo.


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