Hercules the Hero: Understanding the Myth
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The First Labor: the Nemean Lion
The oracle of Delphi told Hercules that to atone for murdering his family, he must go to Tiryns, a city in Argolis on the Greek Pelopenneses to serve King Eurystheus, performing ten labors. There was a lion in nearby Nemea which was ravaging the lands in that area. No one had been able to kill it for its hide was impenetrable. The first labor of Hercules was to kill this beast and bring its hide to Eurystheus.
The lion lived in a cave which had two entrances. When Hercules found the lion, he tried to shoot it with his bow and arrow, but its hide was so tough that the arrow bounced off and fell to the ground. He tried kill it with his sword, but that bent upon contact with the lion. Finally, the hero took his club made of olive wood and swung a smashing blow to the big cats head. It was stunned, but not dead, and it retreated to its lair. Hercules blocked one entrance to the den so that the lion could only come out one way. He then charged the lion, grabbed it around its neck and squeezed with all of his might. He was finally able to crush the life out of it and then skinned it, using one of its claws as a knife. He carried the pelt back to Eurystheus on his back with the gaping jaws serving as a helmet. On the pottery which has been preserved from antiquity, Hercules is often portrayed wearing this pelt as it must have served as great protection from other dangers.