Hercules and His Twelve Labors Analysis

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Tiryns (TIR-inz). Ancient city in southern Greece that is home to Hercules’ cousin King Eurystheus. Driven mad by Juno, Hercules kills his own wife and children and is required by the Delphic oracle to atone for his crime by becoming the vassal of Eurystheus, who sets twelve difficult labors for Hercules to perform. Juno and Eurystheus hope that Hercules will perish while performing one of them.


*Nemea (NEE-mee-ah). City of northern Argolis, northwest of Mycenae, that is the site of Hercules’ first labor: to kill the lion that threatens to eat the people of Nemea. The lion’s cave is on Mount Tretus, two miles from Nemea.


*Lerna. Coastal town, five miles south of Argos, where Hercules performs his second labor: killing the multiheaded hydra, a creature living in a swamp whose body odor kills all who breathe the fetid area. The hydra’s lair is beneath a plane tree at the seven-fold source of the Amymone.


*Erymanthus (ir-a-MAN-thahs). Mountain range in southern Greece, in the northwest Peloponnesus, where Hercules performs another labor: killing the Erymanthian boar. Along his way to Erymanthus, he stops at Pholoë, where he has a dispute with the centaurs when he drinks wine they claim as their own. To escape, he kills most of the half-horse men.


*Arcadia (ar-KAY-dee-ah). Region west of Argolis through which the River Ladon runs. On the river’s banks near Mount Artemisium, Hercules captures the Ceryneian Hind, a deer that he spends a full year chasing down, after following it all the way to Istria in the land of the Hyperboreans, on the coast of the Black Sea.

Stymphalian Marsh

Stymphalian Marsh (stim-fal-ee-an). Wetland in the northeast corner of Arcadia, overlooked by a spur of Mount Cyllene, that is home to the loud man-eating birds that Hercules must remove. The marsh is neither solid enough to walk on nor liquid enough to float a boat on and can increase in size as the channels draining it are blocked. One version of the story has Hercules draining the marsh,...

(The entire section is 893 words.)


(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Bonnefoy, Yves, comp. Mythologies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. An excellent reference source for the beginner. Includes a concise history and interpretation of the twelve labors of Hercules. An excellent companion to the study of mythology as well as source for bibliographic references to major criticism of myth.

Farnell, Lewis Richard. Greek Hero Cults and Ideas of Immortality. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1970. Examines hero worship in Greece. Detailed discussion of the origin, function, and ritual of the cult of Hercules. An exceptional work for a serious study in the meanings and influences of this myth in the Greek culture.

Galinsky, G. Karl. The Herakles Theme. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972. Traces interpretations and characterizations of Hercules through a wide body of literature and art. Examines the twelve labors individually and explores the myth’s influence in literature.

Kirk, G. S. The Nature of Greek Myths. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1975. Traces Hercules’ labors in classical literature. Analyzes the meaning of the myth and how it applies within the Greek culture. Excellent source for analyzing the structure and meaning of myth.

Schoo, Jan. Hercules’ Labors. Chicago: Argonaut, 1969. Includes a detailed description and explanation of each of the twelve labors, as well as bibliographic information. Illustrations supplement discussion of the oral tradition of the Hercules myth. Excellent source.