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What Was The Sixth Labour of Heracles (Hercules)? Exterminate Those Stymphalian Bird Pests

Updated: Mar 6

Having had a good wash after his last poop-covered quest, Heracles prepared himself for his sixth Labour from King Eurystheus. At this point in his adventure, Heracles had wrestled a lion, chopped off a bunch of Hydra heads, run after a deer for months on end, captured a boring boar and cleaned some enormous stables. Now he had to face the savage Stymphalian Birds.

These large, threatening birds had been raised by the god of war, Ares. After being hunted by wolves, the birds had found a well-defended home in the woods around Lake Stymphalia (where they became known as the Stymphalian Birds). Here the birds multiplied and made big Stymphalian Bird families and started to cause a nuisance for the people living in the surrounding areas. The birds ate all of the crops in the farmland and were even caught attacking and eating human beings!


Heracles was tasked to get rid of these pesky birds by any means necessary.


Here are the stats of the Stymphalian Birds:


Stymphalian Birds Sixth Labour of Hercules
The Stymphalian Birds - Courtesy of ArchaiOptix

Name: The Stymphalian Birds (or the Ornithes Stymphalides if you like fancy Greek translations, and let’s face it, who doesn’t!)


Description: Loads (and I mean LOADS) of large ferocious birds with sharp bronze feathers and tough bronze beaks.


Danger Rating: 7/10


Location: The protected wooded areas around Lake Stymphalia in the Greek region of Arcadia.


Size: Large, at least in terms of birds. They’re described to be about the same size as a Crane (that’s a Crane bird, not a crane machine that you would use to build buildings – that would be one enormous bird!). This would make the Stymphalian Birds about four feet tall. So if you’re a seven year-old-child, this would mean your eyes would be at perfect pecking height (eek!).


Strength: Their beaks were supposedly so sturdy they could slash straight through iron armour. So you know, they were pretty chirping strong!


Special Abilities: Not only could they slash through armour with their beaks, but their feathers were super sharp and could be fired through the air like missiles. Even their poo was dangerous! It could poison you (don’t ask me how... Would you need to smell it? Touch it? Eat it?! Eww! If you do these things with poop, you probably deserve to get poisoned!).



The Stymphalian Birds - Sixth Labour of Heracles
Heracles aims his arrow at the Stymphalian Birds - Courtesy of PMRMaeyaert

Heracles crept across the marshy land amongst the trees at Lake Stymphalia. He came prepared with all sorts of thrilling weaponry in his arsenal to exterminate these winged pests for good. But there was one small setback. He couldn’t find any birds.


He could hear them. He could smell them. And he could certainly spy heap-loads of their poisonous poop (don’t eat it Heracles! Whatever you do!). So where were all the birds?


They were hidden up high in the treetops. Just beyond the reach of Heracles and his arrows. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get the birds to budge from their nests.


Heracles couldn’t just give up. What would he say to King Eurystheus? “Sorry your majesty, I got outsmarted by a bunch of feather-brained, over-sized Dodos?” How embarrassing.


Luckily for Heracles, someone took pity on him. As if from nowhere, Athena, Greek goddess of war and wisdom, materialised with one of her clever inventions. She bestowed upon Heracles a pair of krotala.


Athena Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War
Athena, goddess of war and wisdom, ready to help Heracles in his quest

Heracles probably gawped at Athena, thoroughly confused, and said “Athena, what on earth is a pair of krotala?” And Athena probably did a big exasperated sigh and had to explain that krotala are an instrument a bit like a modern day rattle or a pair of castanets. And then Heracles, feeling a bit self-conscious, probably mumbled “Oh right, thanks Athena”. And then Athena probably rolled her eyes and disappeared in a puff of smoke to head back up to Mount Olympus again.


Probably.


Anyway, having been gifted this noisy instrument, Heracles went to work eradicating the Stymphalian Birds. The hero rattled the krotala as loudly as he could. The raucous clattering harassed the birds in the trees. Soon, they took flight, soaring high into the air to better locate the source of the disruptive racket.


And Heracles was waiting for them.


As soon as the birds left the safety of their nests, he grabbed his bow and began to launch his arrows into the sky.


Now ordinary unremarkable arrows would likely have little to no effect on the Stymphalian Birds’ strong, metallic plumage. But Heracles’ arrows were not ordinary unremarkable arrows. His arrowheads had been dipped in the poisonous venom of the Lernaean Hydra (what a second labour throwback!).

Stymphalian Birds - Sixth Labour of Hercules
Heracles shoots down the Stymphalian Birds using his poisonous arrows - from the National Archaeological Museum, courtesy Luis García

Many of the Stymphalian Birds were shot dead by Heracles and his poison arrows. The ones who escaped fled to safety far away from Lake Stymphalia to the Island of Aretias, where they later had a run in with Jason and the Argonauts.


Heracles continued clanking and clattering until he was certain that the last of the birds had left, never to return. He gathered up a few dead birds and presented them to King Eurystheus as proof of a Labour successfully completed.


Would Heracles be victorious in his seventh Labour? Where he had to track down the Cretan Bull.


Find out on the 24th July!






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