The Nemean Lion

The first of the Twelve Labors of Heracles.

The mountain valley of Nemea, between Cleonae and Phlius, was inhabited by a lion, the offspring of Typhon (or Orthrus) and Echidna.1 Eurystheus ordered Heracles to bring him the skin of this monster.

When Heracles arrived at Cleonae, he was hospitably received by a poor man called Molorchus. This man was on the point of offering up a sacrifice, but Heracles persuaded him to delay it for thirty days until he should return from his fight with the lion, in order that then they might together offer sacrifices to Zeus Soter; but Heracles added, that if he himself should not return, the man should offer a sacrifice to him as a hero. The thirty days passed away, and as Heracles did not return, Molorchus made preparations for the heroic sacrifice; but at that moment Heracles arrived in triumph over the monster, which was slain, and both sacrificed to Zeus Soter.

Heracles, after having in vain used his club and arrows against the lion, had blocked up one of the entrances to the den, and entering by the other, he strangled the animal with his own hands. According to Theocritus,2 the contest did not take place in the den, but in the open air, and Heracles is said to have lost a finger in the struggle.3

He returned to Eurystheus carrying the dead lion on his shoulders; and Eurystheus, frightened at the gigantic strength of the hero, took to flight, and ordered him in future to deliver the account of his exploits outside the gates of the town.4

Next labor: The Lernaean Hydra.



  1. Hesiod. Theogony, 327; Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 5.1; comp. Aelian. History of Animals xii, 7, Servius on Virgil's Aeneid viii, 295.
  2. xxv, 251 ff.
  3. Ptolemaeus Hephaestus, 2.
  4. Diodorus Siculus, iv, 11; Pseudo-Apollodorus, Theocritus,


  • Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.

This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.