To give a brief background as to why Hercules is doing these labors I'll give a brief and simple explanation (we may go further in-depth at a later time). Hercules was driven mad by Hera, his mother, so much that Hercules slew his wife and children. In order to atone for what he had done, Hercules went seeking counsel from the oracle of Delphi. The oracle told Hercules to serve King Eurystheus, who was Hercules's cousin, for twelve years doing whatever he bid him. After these twelve years, Hercules would be forgiven and granted immortality. This hurt Hercules because he knew he was a better man than Eurystheus. He didn't want to serve his inferior. However, he feared the wrath of his father Zeus so he did as he was told.
The first labor King Eurystheus gave Hercules was to slay the Nemean Lion.
As Hercules left Mycenae, he was confident he would complete this labor with ease. Though these labors were supposed to be seemingly impossible, he was the son of Zeus. He had heard about this famous lion before, the Neman Lion. The Nemean lion was said to take women as hostages to its lair near Nemea. After the warriors would follow the lion with the damsel into the cave, the lion would put the women in the back, transform himself into the woman, and pretend to be in pain. The hero would rush to the aid of the “woman”, the lion would then change back into itself and devour the hero, leaving the bones for Hades.
On his journey, he came to the town of Cleonae. There he stayed with a man named Molorchus. He was a poor, work-for-hire man, but was willing to let Hercules stay when he learned of his quest. Molorchus was very generous and offered to make a sacrifice so that the lion hunt would go well. Hercules refused and counteroffered, asking him to wait thirty days for Hercules to come back so they could make sacrifice together to Zeus. If he didn’t come back, then Molorchus would make a sacrifice to Hercules, as a hero.A few days later, he arrived at Nemea. The hunt was on. Hercules brought his bow and arrows, and his club. Little did he know that the fur of the lion was stronger than any armor that existed, therefore, his arrows would have no effect on the lion. He found this out, however, by trial and error.
For the first few days, Hercules spent his time tracking the lion. He found his favorite watering spots, found a few dead animal carcasses strewn on the dirt in the area, and he found a cave, which he figured to be the infamous lair of the lion. Though he had yet to see the lion, he was eagerly awaiting their first duel.
He camped out that night by the lions watering hole. Ready to take action whenever the lion would come to drink. Hercules thought about his family. He missed them dearly. This gave him the extra motivation he needed to complete this labor.
At first light, Hercules was up and ready. Only minutes later, he could hear the heavy footsteps of the lion coming to get his morning drink. As he watched the lion take large gulps of water, Hercules was in awe. Never had he imagined a lion of this size and stature. Hercules stood up out of the brush he was camouflaged in and fired multiple arrows right where the lion's heart would be. To his surprise, they shattered and bounced off the lion’s hide. The lion turned, growled, and attacked. They sparred back and forth, no winner apparent. The lion got tired, so he bounded back to his cave.
Hercules, after gaining his breath and checking his wounds, pondered over how he could defeat his foe. All he could think about, however, was how heavy he was breathing. Then it hit him, he could strangle the lion. He first needed to recover from his wounds. He took a few days to recover and prepare himself.
Surveying the lion’s lair, he found there were two entrances. In order to make sure the lion had no escape when Hercules attacked, he put massive boulders in front of one of the entrances. As he crept back around to the other side, his heart started to pound. He witnessed the lion’s strength firsthand when they fought earlier that week and now they were about to meet for round two. Hercules laid his bow down at the entrance of the cave, knowing full well he wouldn’t be able to use it. “This is the moment,” he thought as he took in a deep breath. Then he started into the cave.
Sliding along the edge of the cave, Hercules tried to enter stealthily. His nostrils filled with the smell of rotting corpses. As he stepped over the bones of the lion’s last prey, he knew he was getting close. He heard some breathing, but it was behind him!
He turned just in time to raise his club between the mighty jaws of the lion. Taking this opportunity of some leverage, Hercules used the jarred club to swing himself around onto the lion’s back. Before the lion could buck Hercules off, Hercules locked his arms around the lion’s neck. The lion struggled, and Hercules gripped tighter. Slowly the lion started to crumple to the ground. Hercules had done it.
Now that the lion was dead, Hercules had to skin it so he could prove he actually completed the labor. As he attempted to skin it with his knife, the knife broke. He pulled out his dagger and the same thing happened. Athena then appeared to him and told him to use one of the lion’s claws. This worked like a charm.
He returned to Cleonae on the thirtieth day and made the sacrifice to Zeus with Molorchus. They celebrated shortly and then Hercules headed off to Mycenae to see Eurystheus.
King Eurystheus saw what he thought was the lion coming up to his gates. He panicked but then realized it was Hercules. He was amazed that Hercules had killed the lion, and was now terrified of him. He told Hercules he was not allowed to enter the city walls anymore but had to leave the fruits of his labors outside of the gate. Hercules didn’t care, it was all the same to him. Eurystheus also started giving each of the labors to Hercules by herald and he even went as far as having a bronze jar made for him in which he could hide from Hercules if needed.
The first labor was over. Though it was challenging, Hercules didn’t know what yet lay ahead of him.
There are a few different variations of the first labor. In one version, Molorchus is substituted for a little boy. Hercules makes the same deal with him as he did with Molorchus about sacrificing. Another version says that he didn’t choke the beast to death, but that he shot one of his arrows into the mouth of the lion, it’s one vulnerable spot. Either way, Hercules kills the lion.
There is controversy as to whether Hercules’s lion armor comes from this lion of Nemea that he killed in the first labor, or if it came from a lion he killed earlier in life.
Stay tuned for the next labors that will be coming soon!
Hey all! I'm Brian, and I love to read! I've been collecting books for many years trying to eventually have a library in my home. I started writing short stories not too long ago as hoping to work my way up to full novels. In this literature blog I will be sharing my short stories, talking about books I am reading, and discussing with you authors and their novels. Feel free to drop a comment or join in the discussion on our book talk page!