Hercules the Hero: Understanding the Myth
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The Eighth Labor: the Horses of Diomedes
To the north of Greece in the land of Thrace, there was a king by the name of Diomedes, leader of a tribe called the Bistones. He owned a team of man-eating mares which he kept tied up with iron chains and fed human flesh, which came from unsuspecting visitors to his kingdom. Hercules was ordered by Eurystheus to capture those horses, tame them and bring them back to Tiryns. He sailed to Thrace with companions and upon arrival, found the horses and the grooms. He overpowered the grooms, stole the horses and drove them toward the sea so as to put them aboard his ship.
Diomedes and his people followed Hercules to try to recapture the mares. Hercules turned the horses over to his friend Abderus to guard while he fought off his foes. Poor Abderus was no match for the mares as they turned on him and devoured him. In the meantime, Hercules was able to fend off and turn back his pursuers, but not before stunning Diomedes with his club and dragging him back for the horses to consume. With their appetites sated, the mares became more compliant and Hercules was able to bring them back to Eurystheus who set them free. According to some versions of this tale, the mares found their way to Mount Olympus and were eaten by wild animals. Other versions have said the horses wandered around Greece, continuing to be the strongest horses around. Further, it is said that several of their descendants were used in the war against Troy.