After Hercules was driven mad by the goddess Hera and killed his family, he was forced to complete twelve labors as repentance. There were originally ten labors, but Hera tricked King Eurytheuses into making him to replace two, because Heracles had help and also because he had cheated (in their eyes; using rules that they made up after the labor).
After hearing his description of the Nemean Lion, Hercules was able to confront it, and did not use any weapons at first; instead he strangled it to death. When he tried to cut its skin, his knife shattered, and eventually Athena told Hercules to use the lion's claws to skin it. Upon arriving with the pelt, Eurytheuses got scared and hid in a pithos.
Iolaus, nephew of Hercules and the only member of his family he didn't kill, drove him out to Kingdom of Lerna. Hercules couldn't seem to cut off the immortal head, so he had Iolaus cauterize each stump of the Hydra with a torch after he had cut it to prevent two heads from regenerating. Hera sent a Giant Crab to assist the Hydra but Hercules crush it with his foot. After tearing off the immortal head with his bare hands and crushing it under a giant rock, Hercules dipped the tips of his arrows in the Hydra's bile, rendering the weapons extremely venomous. However, Eurystheus said that labor did not count as he had help, so he Hercules had to do an extra labor make up for it.
The Cerynian Hind was a female red deer sacred to Artemis that lived in Keryneia and was said to be able to run faster than an arrow in flight. There are several recountings of how Hercules caught the deer, but one accounting says that Hercules chased the deer around Greece for a full year before finally catching it.
Instead of slaying the boar, Hercules had to bring it back to Eurystheus. He subdued the beast by driving it into a snowbank and then tying it in chains. In the primitive highlands of Arcadia, where the old practices lingered, the Erymanthian Boar was a giant fear-inspiring creature of the wilds that lived on Erymanthos. Eurystheus was again frightened and hid in his jar, begging Hercules to get rid of the beast; Hercules obliged.
This task was meant to humiliate Hercules and make him lose his fame instead of killing him. Since he couldn't clean the stables by himself, Hercules rerouted two nearby rivers of Alpheis and Peneios through the stable, clearing out the dung rapidly. But Eurystheus saw that the rivers were the ones that did the work and Hercules got paid for the labor, so didn't count this labor either.
To defeat the Stymphalian Birds, Hercules used brass bells given to him by Athena to scare them into the air, and when the birds took off from the swamp that they rested in, Hercules shot many of them down with his bow and arrows. Although some escaped, they never returned to the area that they were terrorizing.
Hercules thought this task would be hard, but King Minos of Crete allowed him to simply take the bull as it had been wreaking havoc on the island by uprooting crops and leveling orchard walls. The bull later broke loose and wandered into Marathon, soon afterwards Theseus captured and sacrificed it to Athena and/or Apollo.
Mares of Diomedes
Hercules captured these animals and left them in the care of his young squire Abderos, while he went to deal with Diomedes. During his absence, the boy was devoured. Hercules then fed Diomedes to the beasts, stilling their unnatural appetite with a meal of their master's flesh.
Upon his arrival, Hippolyta received Hercules warmly, and upon hearing his request to take her belt, she agreed to give it to him. Hera, however, was not pleased that Hercules could accomplish yet another task so easily and came down from Olympus, disguised as one of the Amazons, crying that Hercules wanted to kidnap their queen. The Amazons then charged toward Hercules' ship to save Hippolyta. Hercules, fearing that she had betrayed him, killed Hippolyta and took her belt, escaping from the raging Amazons.
Cattle of Geryon
When Hercules goes through Geryon's territory, he meets his two headed hound Orthus and his rancher Eurytion. They try to kill Hercules but he kills them instead. This angers Geryon as it is hard to find servants in his territory. Enraged, he attacks Hercules who smashes a club onto his chest. However, Geryon's wound promptly healed. Hercules soon figured that Geryon could only be killed if all of his hearts were shot through at once. Hercules draws an arrow and shoots it through all three of Geryon's bodies, killing him.
Apples of the Hesperides
The was one of the extra labors Hercules had to do.
| Then there was the little one...
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The was the other extra labor Hercules had to do, it was an impossible task to prove his strength and fearlessness. Hercules found the entrance to the Underworld and entered, he also freed Theseus. But rather than attack Cerberus on sight, Hercules, who had heard many stories of Hades and how he treated intruders, ignored the infernal monster (who let him pass) and continued straight onward to Hades' Palace.
Hera's plan to pit Hercules against a furious Hades backfired, when the hero humbly knelt before the terrifying Lord of the Dead, and asked permission to take Cerberus. Hades was impressed by Hercules, who until then had an infamous reputation for acting without thinking, and while all heroes who had previously entered the Underworld did so to win fame, Hercules was the first to place respect for Hades above his own ambitions. Hades was so impressed with this, that he granted the demigod permission to take Cerberus on a few conditions. The first was that Hercules could not seriously injure Cerberus, and thus, could not use his weapons against him. The second condition was that Hercules had to bring Cerberus back as soon as the labor was completed. The third and final condition, was that the hero had to tell Hades who had asked him to bring back Cerberus as a trophy. Hercules promptly agreed to all of the terms, and told Hades, that King Eurystheus had asked the labor of him.
Thus, placing aside his mighty club and deadly Hydra arrows, Hercules returned to Cerberus to wrestle the beast barehanded. Cerberus was tremendously strong and fierce, his three heads biting and snarling rapidly. The combatants seemed evenly matched, and fought so fiercely that earth cracked beneath them and walls shook. In the end, however, Hercules managed to headlock and slowly drag Cerberus out of the Underworld, back to King Eurythseus. The king was terrified when Hercules returned, as he had not expected the hero to return from what he believed to be a suicide mission. The people of the kingdom ran in fear and panic as Hercules approached with the ferocious infernal monster. Hercules casually asked where Eurystheus wanted his knew trophy, but was turned away by the fearful king who took cover in his pot. Hercules asked if Eurystheus was satisfied with his labor, to which Eurystheus proclaimed fervently that he was, and for Hercules to get the beast out of his kingdom. As he had promised Hades, Hercules escorted Cerberus all the way back to the Underworld, after which the mighty monster returned to his duties.
- Slay the Nemean Lion.
- Kill the 9-headed Lernean Hydra.
- Capture the Cerynian Hind of Artemis.
- Capture the Erymanthian boar.
- Clean the Aegean stables in a single day.
- Kill the Stymphalian Birds.
- Capture the Cretan bull.
- Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
- Obtain the girdle of the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta.
- Capture the cattle of Geryon.
- Steal the golden apples of the Hesperides.
- Capture and bring back Cerberus without using any weapons.
- The first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth labors were done by Percy Jackson and his friends. It's also arguable that he completed two additional labors: the tenth labor, since he subordinated the Cattle of Geryon to his will by dousing them in salt water; the eleventh labor, since he caught the Old Man of the Sea, killed the giant Antaeus, and shouldered the burden of Atlas, all of which were major components of the eleventh labor. Luke Castellan unsuccessfully attempted the eleventh labor as well.
- The expression "Herculean work", refers to a task or objective of extraordinary difficulty.