The Twelfth Labor





Instead of destroying his hated enemy the labors which Eurystheus had

imposed upon Hercules had only strengthened the hero in the fame for

which fate had selected him. He had become the protector of all the

wronged upon earth, and the boldest adventurer among mortals.



But the last labor he was to undertake in the region in which his

hero strength--so the impious king hoped--would not accompany him.

This was a fight with the dark powers of the underworld. He was to

bring forth from Hades Cerberus, the dog of Hell. This animal had

three heads with frightful jaws, from which incessantly poison flowed.

A dragon's tail hung from his body, and the hair of his head and of

his back formed hissing, coiling serpents.



To prepare himself for this fearful journey Hercules went to the city

of Eleusis, in Attic territory, where, from a wise priest, he received

secret instruction in the things of the upper and lower world, and

where also he received pardon for the murder of the Centaur.



Then, with strength to meet the horrors of the underworld, Hercules

traveled on to Peloponnesus, and to the Laconian city of Taenarus,

which contained the opening to the lower world. Here, accompanied by

Mercury, he descended through a cleft in the earth, and came to the

entrance of the city of King Pluto. The shades which sadly wandered

back and forth before the gates of the city took flight as soon as

they caught sight of flesh and blood in the form of a living man. Only

the Gorgon Medusa and the spirit of Meleager remained. The former

Hercules wished to overthrow with his sword, but Mercury touched him

on the arm and told him that the souls of the departed were only empty

shadow pictures and could not be wounded by mortal weapons.



With the soul of Meleager the hero chatted in friendly fashion, and

received from him loving messages for the upper world. Still nearer to

the gates of Hades Hercules caught sight of his friends Theseus and

Pirithous. When both saw the friendly form of Hercules they stretched

beseeching hands towards him, trembling with the hope that through his

strength they might again reach the upper world. Hercules grasped

Theseus by the hand, freed him from his chains and raised him from the

ground. A second attempt to free Pirithous did not succeed, for the

ground opened beneath his feet.



At the gate of the City of the Dead stood King Pluto, and denied

entrance to Hercules. But with an arrow the hero shot the god in the

shoulder, so that he feared the mortal; and when Hercules then asked

whether he might lead away the dog of Hades he did not longer oppose

him. But he imposed the condition that Hercules should become master

of Cerberus without using any weapons. So the hero set out, protected

only with cuirass and the lion skin.



He found the dog camping near the dwelling of Acheron, and without

paying any attention to the bellowing of the three heads, which was

like the echo of fearful resounding thunder, he seized the dog by the

legs, put his arms around his neck, and would not let him go, although

the dragon tail of the animal bit him in the cheek.



He held the neck of Cerberus firm, and did not let go until he was

really master of the monster. Then he raised it, and through another

opening of Hades returned in happiness to his own country. When the

dog of Hades saw the light of day he was afraid and began to spit

poison, from which poisonous plants sprung up out of the earth.

Hercules brought the monster in chains to Tirynth, and led it before

the astonished Eurystheus, who could not believe his eyes.



Now at last the king doubted whether he could ever rid himself of the

hated son of Jupiter. He yielded to his fate and dismissed the hero,

who led the dog of Hades back to his owner in the lower world.



Thus Hercules after all his labors was at last set free from the

service of Eurystheus, and returned to Thebes.





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