The First Labor
Source: Myths And Legends Of All Nations.
The first labor that Eurystheus assigned to Hercules was to bring him
the skin of the Nemean lion. This monster dwelt on the mountain of
Peloponnesus, in the forest between Kleona and Nemea, and could be
wounded by no weapons made of man. Some said he was the son of the
giant Typhon and the snake Echidna; others that he had dropped down
from the moon to the earth.
Hercules set out on his journey and came to Kleona, where a poor
laborer, Molorchus, received him hospitably. He met the latter just as
he was about to offer a sacrifice to Jupiter.
"Good man," said Hercules, "let the animal live thirty days longer;
then, if I return, offer it to Jupiter, my deliverer, and if I do not
return, offer it as a funeral sacrifice to me, the hero who has
So Hercules continued on his way, his quiver of arrows over his
shoulder, his bow in one hand, and in the other a club made from the
trunk of a wild olive tree which he had passed on Mount Helicon and
pulled up by the roots. When he at last entered the Nemean wood, he
looked carefully in every direction in order that he might catch sight
of the monster lion before the lion should see him. It was mid-day,
and nowhere could he discover any trace of the lion or any path that
seemed to lead to his lair. He met no man in the field or in the
forest: fear held them all shut up in their distant dwellings. The
whole afternoon he wandered through the thick undergrowth, determined
to test his strength just as soon as he should encounter the lion.
At last, toward evening, the monster came through the forest,
returning from his trap in a deep fissure of the earth.
He was saturated with blood: head, mane and breast were reeking, and
his great tongue was licking his jaws. The hero, who saw him coming
long before he was near, took refuge in a thicket and waited until the
lion approached; then with his arrow he shot him in the side. But the
shot did not pierce his flesh; instead it flew back as if it had
struck stone, and fell on the mossy earth.
Then the animal raised his bloody head; looked around in every
direction, and in fierce anger showed his ugly teeth. Raising his
head, he exposed his heart, and immediately Hercules let fly another
arrow, hoping to pierce him through the lungs. Again the arrow did not
enter the flesh, but fell at the feet of the monster.
Hercules took a third arrow, while the lion, casting his eyes to the
side, watched him. His whole neck swelled with anger; he roared, and
his back was bent like a bow. He sprang toward his enemy; but Hercules
threw the arrow and cast off the lion skin in which he was clothed
with the left hand, while with the right he swung his club over the
head of the beast and gave him such a blow on the neck that, all ready
to spring as the lion was, he fell back, and came to a stand on
trembling legs, with shaking head. Before he could take another
breath, Hercules was upon him.
Throwing down his bow and quiver, that he might be entirely
unencumbered, he approached the animal from behind, threw his arm
around his neck and strangled him. Then for a long time he sought in
vain to strip the fallen animal of his hide. It yielded to no weapon
or no stone. At last the idea occurred to him of tearing it with the
animal's own claws, and this method immediately succeeded.
Later he prepared for himself a coat of mail out of the lion's skin,
and from the neck, a new helmet; but for the present he was content to
don his own costume and weapons, and with the lion's skin over his arm
took his way back to Tirynth.
Next: The Second Labor
Previous: The Labors Of Hercules