The Twelve Labors of Heracles

The accounts of the twelve labors of Heracles are found only in the later writers, for Homer and Hesiod do not mention them. Homer only knows that Heracles during his life on earth was exposed to infinite dangers and sufferings through the hatred of Hera, that he was subject to Eurystheus, who imposed upon him many and difficult tasks, but Homer mentions only one, viz. that he was ordered to bring Cerberus from the lower world.1 The Iliad further alludes to his fight with a sea-monster, and his expedition to Troy, to fetch the horses which Laomedon had refused him.2 On his return from Troy, he was cast, through the influence of Hera, on the coast of Cos, but Zeus punished Hera, and carried Heracles safely to Argos.3

Hesiod mentions several of the feats of Heracles distinctly, but knows nothing of their number twelve. The selection of these twelve from the great number of feats ascribed to Heracles is probably the work of the Alexandrines. They are enumerated in Euripides,4 Apollodorus, Diodorus Siculus, and the Greek Anthology,5 though none of them can be considered to have arranged them in anything like a chronological order.

The Twelve Labors of Heracles:

  1. The Nemean Lion
  2. The Lernaean Hydra
  3. The Ceryneian Stag
  4. The Erymanthian Boar
  5. The Augean Stables
  6. The Stymphalian Birds
  7. The Cretan Bull
  8. The Mares of Diomedes
  9. The Girdle of Hippolyte
  10. The Cattle of Geryon
  11. The Apples of the Hesperides
  12. The Capture of Cerberus

Heracles performed the first ten labors in the space of eight years and one month. However, Eurystheus declared that two of them were performed unlawfully (the slaying of the Hydra and the cleaning of the Augean stables) and ordered Heracles to perform two more.



  1. Iliad viii, 363 ff.; xv, 639 ff.; Odyssey xii, 617 ff.
  2. ibid. v, 638 ff.; xx, 145 ff.
  3. ibid. xiv, 249 ff.; xv 18 ff.
  4. Hercules Furens.
  5. ii, 651.


  • 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.