The 12 Trials of Heracles
1. Slay the Nemean Lion
The first trial was to kill the Lion of Nemea, son of Typhon and Echidna. With his club and bow & arrows armed and ready, Heracles hunted down the creature in the land of Argolis. Eventually, Heracles found the creature in the Nemean forest. He first tried to shoot it with arrows, but to no avail. Everything Heracles dished out was simply refracted off the lion. He then used his mighty club and smashed the lion in the head, stunning the beast. Realizing this creature couldn't be killed by weapons, Heracles fought the beast hand to hand and strangled it to death. After the lion was killed, Heracles skinned the beast and used it as armor.
2. Slay the Hydra of Lerna
The second trial for Heracles was to kill yet another child of Typhon and Echidna...the Hydra living in the swamps near Lerna in Argolis. This creature was serpent like with nine heads, eight of which grew two more in place of each one that was cut off and one of which was immortal and impervious to attack. It's also said that it's breath alone was enough to kill a man.
Heracles hunted down the beast in the swamp near Lerna along with his nephew, Iolaus. While in battle, Heracles quickly found out that each head he cut was replaced by two, so he then had Iolaus scorch the base of the necks of each head that Heracles cut off to stop this growth. In the midst of this battle, Hera became angry at the progress made by Heracles, so she sent down a giant crab which attacked Heracles' feet. It was more of a nuisance than anything as Heracles simply squashed the pest. Finally, he set his sights on the final head which was immortal. Heracles made quick work of this as he smashed the head with his mighty club, tore the head off of it's body, buried it, and placed a large rock over it's burial. Heracles' prize this time was the poison blood of the Hydra which he dipped his arrows into to make them deadly.
3. Capture the Erymanthian Boar
The third trial was to hunt and bring back to Eurystheus, the great boar living on Mount Erymanthus in Arcadia. Along the way, Heracles took a break from his quest to stay with the centaurs. To make a long story short, one of the centaurs opened a sacred bottle of wine which prompted the other centaurs to attack. Heracles scared them all off with his deadly arrows and in that whole melee, he shot his friend Chiron in the leg (ouch!). More on this on the zodiac page.
Anyway, Heracles went on with his mission. He found the boar and chased all over the mountain region until the beast tired out. He then tied it up while it was fatigued and brought it back to Eurystheus.
4. Capture the Golden Deer
The fourth task was to capture the Cerynitis, a sacred animal of Artemis living on Mount Cerynaea (in the Arcadia area). This creature had Golden horns, bronze hoofs, and was large as a bull. Heracles chased the creature all over the place, but unlike the boar in the previous trial, the Cerynitis didn't tire. Finally when the stag stopped to drink, Heracles disabled the animal by shooting it in the leg. He them treated the wound and brought the animal back to the Palace of Eurystheus. Upon reaching the palace, he was greeted by Artemis and Apollo who charged Heracles with sacrilege. Heracles then simply explained that it was necessary to complete his trial and was forgiven.
5. Kill the Birds of Stymphalus
Trial number five was yet another trial given to Heracles by Eurystheus. He had to get rid of the ravinous birds living around Lake Stymphalus. These birds had metallic-like feathers so any who went to close, were skewered to death. Heracles set off to do the deed but when he got to the bird's hiding place, he couldn't think of any way to drive them out. Athena then came down and instructed Heracles to take two bronze plates made by Hephaestus and slam them together. Heracles did just that and the birds all flew out of their dank hiding place. Heracles then shot each of them down with his poison tipped arrows.
6. Clean the Augean Stables
The next trial was to clean the Augean stables in one day which had years of built up filth which would take the average man ages to clean. Luckily, Heracles was not an average man. He began his task by breaking the wall near the stable down. He then diverted two rivers using a canal into the stables. This washed all the filth out and not only cleaned the stable, but also cultivated the land.
7. Capture the Cretan Bull
The seventh trial was to capture a mad bull who was terrorizing Crete. Heracles chased the bull all over until it was fatigued. He then roped the bull by the horns and brought it back to Eurystheus.
8. Return the Mares of Diomedes
The eighth trial was to bring back to Eurystheus the savage mares of Diomedes. Diomedes was an evil man who threw unsuspecting strangers in with the savage mares to feed the mares. When Heracles made his arrival at the Palace of Diomedes, he threw Diomedes in with the savage mares as retrobution for all the evil he had done. After eating Diomedes, the mares became calm which allowed Heracles to easily bring the mares back to Eurystheus.
9. Retrieve the Girdle of Hippolyte
Trial nine was to retrieve the girdle of Hippolyte of the Amazons. This trial came about as a cause of Eurystheus' daughter, Admete, begging for the sacred girdle. Heracles secured the help of Telamon and Theseus for this journey as he knew it would be trouble. Upon reaching the land of the Amazons however, they were very well received much to their surprise. Hippolyte was a little infatuated with Heracles and offered to give the girdle as a gift...no strings attached. Hera didn't like this and wouldn't allow Heracles to win this trial that easily. So with that, Hera disguised herself as an Amazon and spread rumors among the Amazons that Heracles was only there to take their queen.
Soon after, the Amazons started fighting Heracles, Telamon and Theseus. Heracles then proceeded to kill Hippolyte thinking she was behind this attack. Eventually, the greek trio beat back the Amazons and made their way back.
10. Retrieve the Cattle of Geryon
The tenth trial was to bring back to Eurystheus the cattle of Geryon. Geryon was really quite a site to see. This creature had three bodies, three heads, six arms, six legs, and the body of a great warrior.
Before getting to Erytheia where Geryon lived, Heracles had to make his way through the Lybian Desert. When the heat go to be too much, Heracles began shooting arrows at the sun which prompted Helios to aid Heracles by lending him the Golden Goblet to ride across the sea to Erytheia. En route to Erytheia, Heracles set two landmarks which still stand today that flank the straight of Gibralter.
When Heracles finally landed on Erytheia, he immediately killed the watch dog of Geryon, Orthrus, with his mighty club. The herdsman Eurythion then came to help only to get smashed and killed by the club as well. Finally, Geryon came into the battle. Despite his power, Geryon was taken care of fairly easily by Heracles' poison arrows. All this finally being finished, Heracles returned the cattle of Geryon back to Eurystheus. This tenth trial was suppose to be it, Heracles thought he was finished, but no. Eurystheus discounted two of the trials due to the outside help he received. With that, Heracles was given two final tasks...
11. Steal the Apples of Hesperides
Trial number eleven was to retrieve three of the golden apples guarded by the Hesperides. This was an incredibly daunting task as the garden was nearly impossible to find. Heracles then proceeded to find Nereus to ask for directions. Nereus wouldn't tell, so Heracles jumped the sea god and tried fighting the directions out of him. Eventually, Nereus gave in and told Heracles the where-abouts of the garden.
Along the way, Heracles met Prometheus and freed him from his horid torture of having his liver eaten daily by a giant condor. In gratitude, Prometheus gave Heracles the advice to seek the help of Atlas to retrieve the golden apples.
After a long journey, Heracles finally reached his destination and found Atlas. He made a deal with Atlas saying that if Atlas were to retrieve the three golden apples, Heracles would hold the weight of the earth and heavens until he returned. Atlas figured this was an easy way out of his punishment perminantly, so he graciously agreed. When Atlas returned with the apples, he refused to take back the weight. Heracles then pretended to enjoy his new state and asked Atlas if he would take the weight for just a moment while he constructed relief for the weight. Atlas, being the dummy that he is, took back the weight and Heracles proceeded to take the apples and leave Atlas high and dry. Titans… not too smart.
12. Capture Cerberus
Finally, Heracles' final trial was to capture alive the guard dog of the Underworld, Cerberus. To do this, Heracles first gained the help of Athena and Hermes to get into the underworld. Heracles was then confronted my Hades at which time Heracles asked to take Cerberus to the land of the living. Hades agreed on the premise that Heracles not use any weapons in the capture. Heracles agreed to these terms and began his fight with Cerberus. He wrestled and faught until finally he wore the beast out. Heracles then brought the creature back to the court of Eurystheus. Eurystheus was so shocked and frightened by the presence of Cerberus that he agreed to releave Heracles of his labors if he would only take Cerberus back to the underworld. Heracles obliged and so ended his labors.