The Nemean Lion, Heracles (Hercules) First labor

Heracles is commonly identified in ancient Greek paintings or sculptures because he is wearing a lion hide. Some myths suggest the hide came from a lion that terrorized Mount Kithaeron that he had killed many years before. However the most popular story behind his armor is that it came from the Nemean Lion, a giant, fierce beast with impenetrable skin that lived in a cave in Nemea. It would roam the hills of Nemea killing people and their livestock.

The Nemean Lion’s skin was so impenetrable that mortals’ weapons would bounce off its golden hide. Their useless attack would only serve to intensify the beast’s anger. The beast was thought to be twice the size of an average lion and had the strength of ten. Even its claws were sharper than swords.

Heracles was sent by King Eurystheus to kill the Nemean Lion and bring back its body as the first of his twelve labors. Heracles set out to complete the task and wandered into a town called Cleonae. It was there he met and stayed with a poor shepherd called Molorchus. The poor shepherd warned him that the creature he was intending to slay was not spawned by a lion, but by a monster. Molorchus promised to sacrifice an animal to Zeus after 30 days if Heracles managed to kill the lion. However if Heracles died in the battle, Molorchus would instead sacrifice an animal in Heracles’ name as a mourning offering.

Heracles continued on his journey to search for the lion. Eventually he found huge paw prints that sunk heavily into the ground. He followed them across a vast landscape of mountains and rivers for many days until he came across a cave. Judging from the paw prints at the mouth of the cave, Heracles realized that this must be its lair. When he finally saw the lion, he took out his bow and took aim at the lion’s forehead, pulling as hard as he could. He then shot another to its throat but both the arrows merely bounced off. It dawned on Heracles that his opponent was no ordinary lion – it would require more than strength to kill it. Heracles would need to be tactful to defeat this beast.

The cave had two entrances and Heracles blocked one of them with boulders before approaching the lion through the other. He threw a bunch of dry branches into the cave and set fire to them. When the lion came roaring out through the smoke, Heracles clubbed the lion on the head before hurling himself on its neck. Stunned from having its skull shattered, the lion struggled to stand on its own feet and Heracles strangled it to death with his bare hands.

Intending to bring the Nemean Lion’s body to King Eurystheus, Heracles realizes that the journey back to Mycenae is too long and the body is too heavy. To relieve the burden, he attempted to skin the lion with a knife and then a stone but is unable to do so. Finally he pulls a claw off one of the lion’s paws and easily skins the hide before cladding himself with it.

The Labors

Will add details soon....

  1. The Nemean Lion
  2. The Hydra
  3. The Erymanthian Boar
  4. The Ceryneian Hind
  5. The Stymphalian Birds
  6. The Augean Stables
  7. The Cretan Bull
  8. The Horses of Diomedes
  9. The Amazon Girdle
  10. The Cattle of Geryon
  11. Cerberus
  12. The Apples of the Hesperides