A Treasury of Literary Classics -
Greek Mythology Series


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The Labours of Hercules

Hercules (in Roman) or Heracles (in Greek) is regarded as the greatest of all Greek heroes because of his immense strength and unflinching courage. Tales about his life were retold by different Greek writers such as Euripides, Pindar, Sophocles and Ovid. "The Labours of Hercules" focuses on twelve different feats performed by Hercules during the twelve years he served Eurystheus, the King of Tiryns, to atone for his crimes of killing his children and wife. This cycle of adventures has become canonical and is often known as the "Twelve Labours".

1. Which of the following is not a skill that Hercules possessed?

A. wrestling
B. archery
C. playing music
D. calligraphy

Your answer:

"The celebrated athlete Polydeuces, whose story will be told later, trained him in the use of arms; from Autolycus, a son of Hermes, he learned to wrestle; and from Eurytus, grandson of Apollo, he learned to shoot with bow and arrows. He was instructed in the arts, too, and became a fine lute player."

2. What kinds of life did Pleasure and Virtue offer for Hercules' choice

Kind of life
2a. Pleasure
2b. Virtue

"Their names were Pleasure and Virtue, and they offered him a choice. Pleasure offered a life of ease and plenty, Virtue a life of toil and struggle and some sorrow, but with the promise of glory at the end of it."

3. Why did Hercules go to Delphi to find the oracle?

  1. He wanted to cure his madness.
  2. He wanted to take revenge on Hera.
  3. He wanted to express repentance for the crime committed.
  4. He wanted to ask the oracle for power and glory.

" ... and Hercules, grief-stricken, journeyed to Delphi to ask the oracle how he could atone for what he had done."

4. Symbolism means the use of a concrete object or image to represent some abstract qualities and ideas. After killing the Nemean lion in the first labour, Hercules was always dressed in the skin of the Nemean lion. What might the lion skin symbolise?

A. his will power and bravery
B. his barbaric and savage nature
C. his triumph and glory
D. his love of animals

Your answer:

5. Number the following based on the order Hercules dealt with them in the story. The first and last items have been done for you as examples.

5a. The Stymphalian birds
5b. The golden girdle of Hippolyte
5c. The hind of Ceryneia
5d. Cerberus 12
5e. The apples from the tree of Hesperides
5f. The nine-headed Lernaean Hydra
5g. The stables of King Augeias
5h. The oxen of Geryon
5i. The Erymanthian boar
5j. The Cretan bull
5k. The Nemean lion 1
5l. The mares of Diomedes

Read the story again from pages 2 to 8.

6. Match the following creatures with the appropriate descriptions.

A. the Hydra in Lerna B. the Stymphalian birds
C. the Erymanthian boar D. the bull on the island of Crete
Feature Creature
6a. Its body was huge and it could breathe fire.
6b. A new bead would grow when one head was cut off.
6c. Its tusks were of the length of a man's arm.
6d. The claws and beaks were brass and the feathers could pierce the skull of a person.

6a: "... an enormous, fire-breathing bull which was running free on the island of Crete (p.5)
6b: "People said that when one head was cut off another at once grew in its place so that the monster was as strong as before" & "Hercules advanced and struck at the Hydra with his sword. A head flew through the air, but instantly another began growing in its place." (p.3)
6c: "A savage boar of enormous size has reduced the whole province to a state of terror. Its tusks are said to be the length of a man's arm, and it fears neither man nor beast." (p.4)
6d: "The birds, which were rather like storks, had claws and beaks of brass and could shed heavy, brass feathers from their wings at will." (p.5)

7. What did Hera do to Hercules out of vengeance?

  1. sending two poisonous snakes to bite baby Hercules
  2. creating two women named Pleasure and Virtue to challenge Hercules
  3. making Hercules insane and commit murder
  4. making Hercules a slave of King Eurystheus
  5. causing two giant crabs to claw Hercules' feet
  6. spreading rumours to make the Amazons fight with Hercules

A. (i), (ii), (iv) & (v)
B. (i), (iii), (iv) & (vi)
C. (i), (iii), (v) & (vi)
D. (i), (iv), (v) & (vi)

Your answer:

i: "She decided to put two posionous serpents in his cradle." (p.1)
iii: "Hera saw her chance to strike once more and she drove Hercules mad, so that he imagined that Megara and his children were his enemies. In a terrible rage, he killed them all." (p.2)
v: "She caused two giant crabs to crawl ... their armored claws closed on Hercules's bare ankles." (p.3)
vi: "Hera decided to interfere once more. She spread a rumor that Hercules's true purpose was seize Hippolyte herself and carry her off." (p.7)

8. Which of the following gave Hercules help and guidance in his twelve labours? Choose two answers.

A. Athene
B. Hermes
C. Hades
D. Persephone

Your answer:

- "He told her (Athene) about his problem and she produced for him a huge brass rattle, which had been made for her by Hephaestus." (p.5)
- "Hercules, with Hermes as his guide, soon came to the dark, swirling waters of the River Styx." (p.8)

9. Hercules is often regarded as an embodiment of pathos, which means an emotion of pity and compassion, in Greek literature. In what ways can Hercules evoke readers' sympathetic pity?

  1. He was driven to madness and destruction of his family.
  2. He made a wrong decision in his life in choosing Virtue over Pleasure.
  3. He was alone to fight with the ordeals and beasts without any supoort.
  4. He experienced great struggles and suffering before achieving glory and immortality.

A. (i) and (iii)
B. (i) and (iv)
C. (i), (ii) and (iv)
D. (i), (iii) and (iv)

Your answer:

i: Hera drove Hercules mad and made him kill his family out of rage.
ii: They story does not show his regret over choosing Viture.
iii: Gods and goddesses (e.g. Athene and Hermes) helped him along his way.
iv: His success came with great pain and challenges.

10. The adjective "herculean" originates from this myth. Based on the story and the following examples, what do you think is the meaning of the adjective "Herculean"?
(i) Revampling this building is a Herculean task.
(ii) This research project requires a Herculean effort.

A. needing a large sum of money
B. needing luck and God's grace
C. needing help and support
D. needing strength and determination

Your answer:

What is the most admirable quality of Hercules? Was he rich, lucky, in need of help or strong and determined?

The Labours of Hercules

Score Sheet

Questions Results
Question 1
Question 2a
Question 2b
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5a
Question 5b
Question 5c
Question 5e
Question 5f
Question 5g
Question 5h
Question 5i
Question 5j
Question 5l
Question 6a
Question 6b
Question 6c
Question 6d
Question 7
Question 8
Question 9
Question 10

Extension: Think and Share

11. Hercules' labours can be seen as metaphors for difficulties and adversities in our life. What tactics or lessons did you learn about handling challenges in your life from Hercules' story?

12. What are the qualities of heroes? Would you consider Hercules a hero? Can you think of another figure who also demonstrates immense strength and courage in today's world?