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What was the Third Labour of Heracles (Hercules)? To capture the Ceryneian Hind

Updated: Mar 6

Heracles was on a roll. He’d overcome two tricky Labours, killing both The Nemean Lion and the Lernean Hydra with ease.

Heracles' arch-nemesis and all-around big baddie Eurystheus was not pleased. The King was both jealous and fearful of Heracles, a dangerous combination. Perhaps this is why, when it came to setting the third Labour, Eurystheus took the advice of Hera (the Greek goddess who sent two snakes to kill Heracles as a baby. She was certainly not a fan of the demi-god) who suggested Heracles should be set a very different challenge. Something that didn't involve any killing. Heracles was clearly very good at the whole slaying big monsters thing, perhaps he'd be a bit rubbish at doing less violent stuff?

King Eurystheus and Hera decided Heracles would have to capture, most definitely not totally murder, a Ceryneian Hind.

Here are the Ceryneian Hind stats:

Name: So. Many. Names. Sure, you could call this creature the Ceryneian Hind but you could also call it (are you ready?); the Parrhasian Hind, Ceryneia Hind, Golden-horned Hind, Doe with Golden Horns, Beast of Maenalus, Nimble Hind of Maenalus, or Geoff. Only one of those names I just made up, try to guess which.

Description: A humongous female deer with spectacular golden horns and bright bronze hooves.

Danger Rating: 7/10

Location: Near the town of Ceryneia.

Size: Bigger than a big Bull known for being big.

Strength: 4/10

Toughness: 8/10

Special Abilities: The Ceryneian Hind is no ordinary deer. Not only can it run unbelievably fast, until it becomes only a blur on the horizon, but it can also snort fire. Pretty cool, huh?

As you can see, being really really speedy would make the Ceryneian Hind very difficult to trap. But that wasn't the only reason this Labour was so challenging. The endeavour was made infinitely trickier because the Hind was an animal sacred to Artemis.

Artemis leading the hunt. Courtesy Pinterest.

Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting and did not take kindly to anyone messing with her or with her stuff. Take poor Actaeon as an example. Actaeon was out hunting with his dogs when he came across Artemis bathing. There was likely a great deal of blushing and stammering from the hapless mortal, that is until Artemis, so miffed with this transgression, transformed Actaeon into a stag. Not so bad, you might think, stags are pretty cool. Unfortunately for Actaeon the Stag, he was surrounded by his hunting dogs, who happily leapt upon him and tore him to pieces. Artemis was not someone to be messed with.

This is what made King Eurystheus’ plan so genius. By forcing Heracles to capture the Ceryneian Hind he had pretty much guaranteed that Artemis’ formidable wrath would fall upon the demi-god.

Still, if this concerned Heracles he certainly didn’t show it, as he dutifully set off to go and capture the Hind.

Heracles didn’t have to travel too far, finding the creature enjoying the sunshine near the Oenoe in the Argolid. Heracles couldn’t believe his luck, this Labour would be over in a tick! The demi-god squatted down into a runner’s lunge before leaping towards the unwitting Hind and grasping it within his vice-like grip. At least, that was the plan. It didn’t go that way though, for as Heracles leapt heroically through the air, he suddenly realised the Hind was no longer there. Heracles’ massive frame thudded against the ground, and, as he recovered, he spotted the cheeky Hind speeding into the distance. Heracles lurched to his feet and immediately gave chase.

Heracles finally catches the Hind. A mosaic from third-century Spain. Courtesy Luis García

Now, he might not look it, but Heracles was fast. I mean, really fast. He sped after that Hind like the Road Runner on fire covered in bees. The problem was, whilst Heracles was fast, the Hind was a little bit faster. What followed was the most epic chase scene in human history, with Heracles chasing the Hind across Arcadia for a year. That’s right, an entire year. No time to do anything else. No eating. No sleeping. No pooping. Just running; hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

Thankfully, as Heracles was getting a stitch (one of those really nasty ones where your whole rib cage aches), the Hind stopped. No warning, after running non-stop for a year the Hind finally just stopped.

The creature had arrived at the Ladon River and was frantically trying to find a crossing point. Before it had a chance to set off again, Heracles grasped the Hind between his mighty hands, slung it over his back, and set off back to Eurystheus.

On his way back to the King however, Heracles encountered Artemis. Who was frankly furious with the demi-god for laying his hands upon such a sacred animal. Now, it is often said that Heracles was without wit and charm. But that cannot be the case, as somehow he convinced Artemis to let him safely pass. No one knows for certain what he said. Perhaps he got her talking about politics? Maybe he told her a particularly amusing joke involving a centaur and an aardvark called Dave? Or it could be that he blamed the whole situation on King Eurystheus, after all, he was the one who set Heracles the challenge in the first place.

Either way, what we do know is that Heracles returned safely with the Ceryneian Hind and completed his third labour!

Next up he’d have to capture a far more dangerous beast, the Erymanthian Boar. Check back on the Imagining History blog for June 12th to read the full adventure!


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