|Hercules with his wife Deianira|
Hercules had been sentenced to perform ten labors which later, for reasons that do not concern us here, became twelve. They are listed below.
The Nemean Lion
|Hercules and the Nemean Lion|
The existence of a lion in Greece may puzzle some, but they probably did exist there in the Mycenaean era, the legendary time in which Hercules' adventures are set. They were certainly still to be found in Macedonia in historical times. The Nemean Lion, however, was different from your average lion, for he had fallen off the moon. Hercules was told to kill him, but no blade would pierce his skin. Hercules slew him by striking him with a club and later skinned him by using his own claw.
This was ferocious beast with seven heads which was to be found in the Marsh of Lerna. If you cut off one of its heads, two would grow in its place.
|Hercules and the Hydra|
The Stymphalian Birds
These birds were of a ferocious nature, with wings made of bronze. Hercules used his archery skills to kill them off, though some of them preserved themselves by fleeing. They had both bronze wings and beaks One suggestion is they were an allegorical representation of marsh gas. Another is that they were based on the waldropp (Geronyius eremita), a kind of ibis.
The Golden Hind
The Golden Hind was sacred to the goddess Artemis. Hercules had to pursue it afoot and bring it back.
The surprising thing about the Hind was that it had antlers, which most female deer do not have. This means it must have been a reindeer, the only species that are so equipped. Hercules, to obtain it, must have gone northwards into the unknown, following the trail by which amber reached the Mediterranean ultimately from the Baltic.
The Erymanthian Boar
This wild boar was in origin possibly a cult animal, which Hercules captured.
The Augean Stables
These hadn't been mucked out for years and were in a stinking condition. Hercules diverted a river which flooded them out. Nothing particularly cryptid here.
The Cretan Bull
The Mycenaean Age had been the successor to the Minoan Age which had its center in Crete. It was still in existence to some extent while the Mycenaean Age flourished on mainland Greece. The bull seems to have been symbolic of Crete. A King Minos was supposed to have reigned there, but this may have been a dynastic name. Bulls keep cropping up in legends about Crete. Pasiphae, the wife of Minos, gave birth to the Minotaur, a bull-human hybrid. (You don't see a lot of them these days). The Bull Hercules was set to capture had been ravaging Crete, but Hercules was successful in capturing it.
The Mares of Diomedes
King Diomedes of Thrace had horses which he had transformed into ferocious beasts by making them eat human flesh. (Such a diet is not recommended for horses these days). They were so fierce they were even said to breathe fire. Not realizing just how fierce they were, Hercules took them and left them in the charge of a man named Abderus. Guess what the horses had for their evening meal. Hercules placed the steeds on an island which he carved out with an ax.
The Amazon Queen's Girdle
She gave it voluntarily.
The Oxen of Geryon
These oxen were hardly cryptids, but Geryon was a bit of a one himself, having three heads, while his dog Orthus had two. Perhaps it was something in the water. Hercules slew them both and took the oxen.
The Golden Apples
Hercules had to obtain the Golden Apples, guarded by nymphs called the Hesperides and by a vigilant serpent called Ladon. Hercules, of course, made short work of Ladon.
|Hercules and the Hesperides|
The Hound of Hades
This was Hercules' direst labor. He had to go into Hades, the realm of the dead, and procure Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guarded it. Whatever his experience as a spelunker, down he went and, with the dog in bonds, up he came. I'm sure these various traditions of Hercules and polycephalic creatures would make an interesting study for a thesis.
Did Hercules actually exist and, if so, when? His adventures are set in the Mycenaean Age, which ended about BC 1200. There was then a Greek dark age for four hundred years. About BC 800 literacy returned, but all that was remembered of Greece'sformer glory was legend and, as you can see, Hercules was the stuff of legend. The Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet to their own use and it is possible they incorporated the Phoenician god Melqarth into their mythology and he may have been the original of Hercules. This is about as far as we can go in assessing his historicity. Some of the cryptids he encountered may be based on actual beasts.