The First Labor

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

attained immortality."

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.

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