The Cerynitian Hind or the Third Labour of Heracles

A crash in brambles, and the hind is caught;
Now worn down, Heracles has what he sought.
Through forests, valleys, over mountain tops,
Through fields that yielded a bounty of crops,
The warrior chased her: but she was swift,
And northwards she tended always to drift;
For though in the south the chase had begun,
To Hyperborea did the doe run;
And Heracles laboured through cold and snow,
Where winds that are bitter bluster and blow.
The hind would have left Heracles behind,
But great strength within himself did he find:
His father was Zeus, from him he received
Such might as the mind has barely conceived;
He lost the deer not, but southward again
He followed to where, reared up o’er the plain
The Artemision, the mount of old,
Where the goddess herself her hunts did hold.
The hind yet pressed on, with horns like the stags;
She leaped and she bounded over the crags;
Then onward she pressed, and came through the wood,
Which by the river known as Ladon stood:
A bush snagged her horns; she shook with her might,
To free herself, that she could resume flight;
She freed herself, but the warrior’s ambit
Is such that a shot is surely to hit
(At least for a son born to the god Zeus:
For others to try would be of no use).
Now Heracles sees; he notches his bow,
Then pulls the string back, and last, marks the doe.
He looses his shaft; the arrow flies straight,
The reindeer is struck by the hand of Fate:
But he was careful, that only the haunch
Was struck by the missile that he did launch;
He knew that the deer was sacred to she
Who rules the woodlands, the goddess, the free;
Had he killed the hind, the goddess, engaged,
Might have killed him, when in anger she raged.
But such as it was, the doe was alive,
And Heracles, too, would also survive.
He carried the hind, and went on his way;
Across his shoulders, his catch did he lay;
With speed he we went, with this labour employed,
But yet Artemis he couldn’t avoid:
Apollo was with her, crossing the land;
Before Heracles revealed did she stand.
Accused she the hero of trying to kill,
And thus, of defying her sacred will,
The hallowed hind: but Heracles pleaded,
And said the deed was desperately needed;
Eurystheus required him: he was bound
To bring him the hind, when it had been found.
When Artemis heard, then she let him go,
And onward he went, still bearing the doe.
The warrior returned to Mycenae,
And the labour the king could not deny;
The deer that he had was surely the one,
By which the damage before had been done.
Eurystheus hoped the hero would fail;
And, deep in his soul, he gave a great wail;
The strength of the lion could not succeed,
Neither the hydra could finish the deed:
The might of Heracles overcame these,
And, now, the hind, he had captured with ease.
Eurystheus feared, and sent him away,
To call for a labour another day.


The stallion, shaker of the earth,
Who brought the Cyclops to the birth,
Whose rage was famed in history,
Who drowned great Ajax in the sea;
Poseidon, brother of the king,
Whose trident strike brings forth a spring;
If he but shake his mighty head,
He gluts the seas with sailors dead;
Their ships are dashed; they’re cast ashore,
Or sink below: they’re seen no more.
He rends the earth to swallow those,
Whose hubris made them to suppose
That they, but men, could so defy
The god whose brother rules the sky;
If he should find with men a fault,
He fills their streams and springs with salt.
For those he loves, he calms the seas,
And sends a gentle, guiding breeze;
Their wells give water clean and pure,
By this their lives are made secure.
His horses’ hooves like thunder sound,
In rhythmic echoes they resound.
The king of earth Poseidon is,
The lands, the oceans, all are his.


Boötes, farmer, driver of the ox,
Who tilled the Earth instead of keeping flocks;
He was Demeter’s child, a demigod,
But mortals raised him to work and till the sod,
To turn a field of wild grass into such
As would when planted with wheat bring forth much.
But not Boötes only Demeter had,
For she bore twins and birthed another lad;
These two, they worked a farm, and then they went
To hunt and fish each day till they were spent.
Now, Plutus was Boötes’ brother’s name,
He had great wealth, but would not share the same;
And so Boötes tilled the land to feed
Himself; in season planted he the seed;
And though each year, it sprang forth and grew,
The work was heavy and exhausting too:
But then Boötes’ ingenuity,
Devised a way that with facility
The work could be performed; with a device
But little labour from him would then suffice:
This thing was called the plow, and bread was earned
When oxen were yoked, and the land was turned.
Demeter learned of this deed of her son,
Of the fame among men that he had won;
And so she stretched her hand down from on high,
And plucked her son and placed him in the sky.
A constellation, he now hunts the Bear,
Pursuing it all year, through the nightly air;
When he has struck Ursula, in the fall,
When Persephone first hears Hades’ call,
Then turn the leaves of trees to red with blood,
Which fall from Ursula as a gory flood:
But when in spring the Bear rises again,
Boötes chases him across heaven’s main;
Demeter’s son enjoys his greatest love,
To hunt a starry foe in the dome above.

The Lernaean Hydra or the Second Labor of Heracles

That second labor, most renowned in fame,
Eurystheus proclaimed when Heracles came:
For there was a beast, Typhon’s half-breed son,
That sprang from the swamp, and in the land had done
Whate’er it listed, killing cattle and
Ravaging the fields, the pasture, the whole land;
This Eurystheus told Heracles to slay,
And Heracles went out without delay.
Iolaus accompanied him and drove
The chariot of the fierce son of Jove.
When they reached Lerna, Heracles beheld
The hydra on a hill. His bloodlust swelled,
And his brands he put quickly to the flame,
Then fired at the hydra; from the hill it came.
Though Typhon had a hundred heads, his son
Had only nine: immortal though was one.
When Heracles approached, the serpent twined
Itself about his legs, seeking thus to bind
The demigod, who stood both firm and tall,
Whose club upon each head one by one did fall:
But soon as one was struck, forth sprang two more;
So bit by bit the hero was pressed sore;
Moreover, the foul hydra had a friend,
A crab against which he had to defend;
Whether the crab sought truly to help the snake,
Or whether thought it opportune to take
Advantage of an easy meal, attacked
It the foot of Heracles: but he cracked
The crab with his club, and broke it to bits:
The hydra by this point was giving him fits;
And lest his strength should fail, and he expire,
He called to Iolaus, who set a fire
In a nearby forest, and took in his hands,
Two branches, which he used as fiery brands:
Together then, they two worked to defeat
The hydra; with his club, Heracles would beat
Off one of the heads, then Iolaus would
Burn the root: this destroyed the heads for good.
Now, once the mortal heads had all been slain,
And the hero knowing he couldn’t brain
The immortal head, he rather dug a hole,
And buried it instead; then a stone did roll
Over its grave, and so was put to rest
The fiend by which the land had been possessed.
In the hydra’s blood the hero dipped his darts,
(It was a poison worse than Hecate’s arts)
And coated the points; this dreadful toxin slew
Whoe’er was pierced by the foul serpent’s brew.
But when he returned, Eurystheus swore
That this labor would not be counted, for
He had been helped; the labor had been shared;
And alone the danger had not been bared.

The Nemean Lion or the First Labor of Heracles

The lion of Nemea roamed the plain.
By it how many were devoured and slain?
It fed on men and beasts, and like a king,
When it wished it did on its lessers spring.
The man who, in the field, was caught unawares,
Was slain as surely as foxes caught in snares;
It pounced upon them and tore from their bones
Their flesh: first they howled, then gave sickly moans;
The thirsty ground drank up the blood that poured
From their wounds. The lion triumphant roared.
In agony did men and women weep,
When they beheld their kinfolk slain like sheep;
And so, with great desire they sorely sought
A hero, by whom the beast could be caught,
And not only caught, but wholly destroyed,
That quiet peace again might be enjoyed:
But until Heracles, none could do the deed;
Thus, from the lion Nemea wasn’t freed.
But, Eurystheus sent Heracles to slay
The lion, for his first labour to pay
For the crime that he in madness had committed;
Only by labours could he be acquitted.
And Heracles went out to seek his prey;
He found it, and he shot it where it lay;
The arrow from his bow could not pierce its hide,
By its golden fur ‘twas lightly pushed aside.
He waited then and watched it from afar,
Seeking a better chance with the beast to spar;
At last, the lion to its den returned:
The entrance to its cave, Heracles discerned.
The mount on which it sat, he circled first,
Careful, lest the lion, sensing him should burst
From out the cave, and seize him unaware:
He treaded lightly, and took the utmost care.
Another entrance to the den he found;
A giant boulder he pushed along the ground;
With this he covered the mouth of the cave,
Then went to make the den the lion’s grave.
The second entrance led him to his foe,
Into the lair he crept, cautiously and slow;
The beast was fast asleep, it did not sense
Heracles’ approach. The hero in suspense
Approached within a span, and raised his arm;
He made not a sound, he gave no alarm;
He raised his club, and with one brutal blow,
He battered the brains of the beast below:
The lion – dazed – could not tear Heracles,
Who in his godlike arms the beast did seize.
He strained: the labour took all of his might,
But he embraced the deed, for he loved a fight.
Though suffering o’ershadowed all his life,
He never shrank in fear from pain or strife.
The beast, it strained to break free from his grip,
And sought by heaving to make the hero trip:
But Heracles held fast his roaring prey;
By suffocation he took its life away.
When finally, the beast slumped down in death,
Then Heracles at last could catch his breath;
And then, as proof to all of what he smote,
He took the lion’s skin to be his coat.
When Eurystheus saw what he had done,
He quaked with fear and was almost undone.
That the labour was fulfilled, he agreed,
Then sent Heracles on his way with speed;
And after this, Eurystheus had made
A jar of bronze, which in the earth was laid:
From that day forth, when Heracles would come,
To command the labour, he’d send other some,
While he himself would hide, in abject fear,
And to Heracles wouldn’t dare come near.