Why did Heracles (Hercules) have to complete 12 Labours? - A Fun and Easy Guide
Updated: Nov 30
Heracles (or Hercules, if you like your heroes a little more Roman) is probably the most famous hero in all of Greek and Roman mythology. The muscle-laden dude is everywhere in the modern world. He's popped up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson played him on the big screen, and he's even been the star of numerous TV shows, books, and, comics. Heck, Heracles was immortalised in a Disney film! Pretty impressive for the character of a story first told over 2000 years ago in Ancient Greece!
Heracles is best known for having to complete twelve impossible Labours. Twelve quests that would test the mettle, resolve, and all-around heroness of even a mighty demi-god like Heracles. Over the next few months in the Imagining History Blog, we'll be taking a deep dive into each of these Labours. You'll find updated links to those forthcoming blogs as they are published in this article.
First off, before the Labour extravaganza can begin, we thought it would be a good idea to look at the reason why Heracles had to complete twelve Labours in the first place. Now, before you read further, a word of warning. The reason has nothing to do with Heracles having to prove himself worthy to live on Mount Olympus with the rest of the Greek Gods as Disney would have you believe. Oh no, my friends. The real reason is far more violent, gory, and terrifying... you have been warned!
The Origin Story
Heracles was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal Alcmene, making him a demi-god. This, in and of itself, shouldn’t have been a problem. The problem came about because Hera, Zeus’s wife, was not impressed that her husband had just had a kid with someone else. This meant that young baby Heracles had, through no fault of his own, made himself a deadly and very powerful enemy in the form of Hera.
Nothing would cheer Hera up or earn her forgiveness. Zeus tried his best party tricks, his favourite joke and even offered to clean the dishes but Hera was not budging on the whole hating Heracles thing. Fun fact, Heracles wasn’t called Heracles when he was born, his given name was Alcides. His name was changed to Heracles in an attempt to chill Hera out, as Heracles means ‘Hera’s glory’.
However, not even including ‘Hera’ in his name would earn Heracles any respite from the much-feared goddess. And, to prove her continued hatred, Hera sent two deadly snakes to kill baby Heracles in his cot. Luckily for the baby demi-god, his super-human strength enabled him to swiftly kill the snakes and play with their remains like a child plays with their toys.
That initial setback didn’t put off Hera, as she would have her ultimate revenge when Heracles had grown to be an adult. At this point in his life, Heracles was happily married with children. So, for a laugh, on a random Tuesday afternoon (probably) Hera used her magic to drive Heracles mad with a ferocious bloodlust. So incensed was Heracles with rage that he could see only nasty monsters before him. Using his awesome fighting skills, Heracles killed every monster he could find hanging around his home. It was all a trick though, for there were no monsters, only his own wife and children.
That’s right, Heracles had accidentally killed his own family. That’s why he had to complete his twelve Labours, in order to cleanse himself of this horrible sin.
Nothing like the Disney version, huh?
Now, let's look at those Labours, shall we?
The Twelve Labours of Heracles
In this exciting escapade, Heracles must find a way to kill a Lion whose skin is so tough that it cannot be cut.
Every time you chop off a head of the Hydra, even more heads will grow to take its place. How will Heracles triumph?
No gory killing in this Labour but that doesn’t make the challenge any easier! Will Heracles manage to capture the hind without royally naffing off the goddess Artemis?
Boars might not sound that dangerous but don’t be fooled, the Erymanthian Boar was no regular critter.
If you love poo this is the Labour for you!
These man-eating birds really mean business! How will Heracles defeat them?
Track down the Cretan Bull
The daddy of the Minotaur is on the loose, causing utter chaos. Will Heracles be able to capture this gigantic beast in time?
Steal the Mares of Diomedes
If people-eating birds weren’t bad enough, what about some flesh-eating horses?
Heracles is tasked with stealing the meat-eating Mares of Diomedes. Will he succeed? Or will Heracles get chomped too?
Borrow the Girdle of Hippolyta
Demi-god versus Amazon queen? You better believe it!
It's a battle for the ages that you won't want to miss.
Steal a Herd of Cows
Stealing cows sounds boring, right? Wrong! These cattle are owned by a three-headed, six-armed giant called Geryon, this Labour is going to get messy.
Acquire the golden apples of the Hesperides
Get ready for the ultimate tag team of Heracles and the titan Atlas in this awesome Labour.
Bring back Cerberus
The hardest Labour was certainly saved until last. This ultimate challenge sees Heracles sneak into Hades to capture the three-headed dog Cerberus.
Get ready for the series grand final when this blog goes live.