Timeline/Dimension: Earth-616, c. 1260-1245 B.C.

Instigators: Eurystheus, Hera

Purpose: Hercules' penance for the slaying of his sons

Allies: Abderus, Apollo, Argonauts, Artemis, Brittanus, Copreus, Dexamenus, Helios, Hephaestus, Hermes, Hylas, Iolaus, Jason, Lycus, Minos, Molorchus, Nereus, Pholus, Phyleus, Poltys, Prometheus, Pylius, Sylea,

Opposition: Achelous, Admete, Albion, Alcaeus, Amyntor, Antaeus, Atlas, Augeas, Busiris, Cacus, CentaursCerberus, Hera, The Cerynein Hind, The Cretan Bull, Dercynus, Diomedes, Emathion, Erymanthian Boar, Eryx, Eurytion, Geryon, The Hydra, King Augeas, Ladon, Laomedon, Mygdon,  The Nemean Lion, Nereus (formerly), Polygonus, Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons, Sthenelus, Telegonus, The Stymphalian Birds, Thanatos,

Location: Mobile over the Mediterranean countries in the 13th Century BC

First Appearance: (Mentioned) Avengers I#39 (April, 1967), (recounted) Hercules III#1 (June, 2005)

History: (Greek Myth/Legend) Hercules was born the son of Zeus, King of the Olympian Gods, and Alcmene, a Mycenaean princess and heiress to the House of Perseus. Hera, Queen of the Olympian Gods, hated all of Zeus's children by extra-marital affairs, but Hercules received the full brunt of most of her wrath. Endowed with great strength, Hercules used his godly attributes to slay a lion that had been menacing Cithaeron near Thebes.

King Creon of Thebes, grateful to Hercules for slaying the lion, allowed him to marry his daughter, Megaera. They had several sons, but years afterward, upon returning from war with the Minyans, the battle-fatigued Hercules slew his sons after mistaking them for enemy soldiers who had entered his home. Megaera was horror struck at the act, not realizing it had been an illusion created by Hera. Hercules left Thebes to be purified of the murders by King Nausithous of Drepane. During his stay here, Hercules slept with a minor goddess named Melite and she bore him a son named Hyllus (not to be confused with Hyllus, Herculesí son by Deianeira). Hercules then went to Delphi where the oracle revealed to him that he was the son of Zeus and revealed as well that as punishment he had to carry out whatever ten labors his weak cousin King Eurystheus imposed upon him. If Hercules carried out these ten labors, he would gain immortality.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) King Eurystheus dispatched Hercules on his first labor to slay the Nemean Lion, a spawn of Typhon and Echidna. Hercules found it to be invulnerable to weapons and had to kill it by strangulation. On his route to kill the lion, Hercules had stayed the night with a poor laborer named Molorchus who wanted to make a sacrifice to him as the son of Zeus. Hercules had told him to wait until he was successful, but after the lionís death, Molorchus sacrificed to Hercules. As Hercules brought the dead lion to Eurystheus in Mycenae, the cowardly king hid in a bronze storage jar. He then arranged for Hercules to take all his orders through a messenger named Copreus. Not wanting anything to do with the lionís carcass, Eurystheus allowed Hercules to skin it. Hercules turned its pelt into another tunic to replace his previous one.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Thor I#356 (fb), Hercules III#1 (fb)) Eurystheus then sent Hercules on his second labor to kill the nine-headed Hydra, which dwelled in the swamp at Lerna. Driving it out of the swamp with burning arrows, he quickly learned it grew two new heads for each one severed. With the help of Iolaus, the son of Iphicles, Hercules used heated brands to cauterize each head and prevent new heads from forming. Burning the rest of the creatureís body, he collected enough of its venom to dip its arrows within and render them that much more potent.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Eurystheus then sent Hercules on his third labor to capture alive a Cerynein Stag, a deer sacred to Artemis, hoping he would earn dishonor from the goddess for harming it. Hercules pursued it for a full year and finally subdued it in Arcadia when it stopped to drink by the river Ladon by sneaking up and throwing a net over it. Apollo and Artemis appeared to stop him as he tried to carry it back to Mycenae. Artemis tried to take the deer from him, but Hercules appeased her by laying the blame on Eurystheus. She permitted him to carry the unharmed deer back to  Mycenae where it was released once more unharmed. 

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Hercules was then sent back to Arcadia by Eurystheus on his fourth labor to capture alive the Erymanthian Boar ravaging the city of Psopkis near Mount Erymanthus. On his way to Arcadia, Hercules was a guest of the centaur Pholus, but upon smelling the wine being served, the other centaurs behaved badly and Hercules drove them off. Pholus was accidentally grazed by one of Herculesí arrows dipped in the blood of the Hydra during the melee and suffered from several years afterward from this wound because of his immortality. Hercules applied medicines to him to waylay the pain for the time and then went on to capture the Erymanthian boar. Trapping the boar in deep snow on the mountain, he took it to King Eurystheus who again hid in a jar on his approach.

During this labor, Hercules had heard that Jason had called upon every hearty young man to become Argonauts in a quest for the golden fleece, Hercules could not bear to be left out and joined the adventure even going as far as favoring Jason as leader in the endeavor. Hercules took the young man Hylas as his ward and spurred the Argonauts on into the quest when they became distracted at Lemnos. With the Argonauts, he slew giants that attacked them at the Port of Fair. In Mysia, however, Hylas was abducted by faerie spirits, which presided in a local well. Hercules refused to depart without him and departed the Argonauts to find him. Jason refused to leave without him, but Zetes and Calais spurred him on. Hercules contracted an oath from the Mysians to always search for Hylas.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Hylasí departure had been engineered by Zeus to remind Hercules of his labors, and Eurystheus angry at Herculesís temporary defection assigned him the fifth labor of cleaning out the vile stables of King Augeas of Elis. The dung was so thick across the land that it was almost untellable. Hercules even went as far as bargaining with Augeas that he could clean the stables within one day if Augeas would give him one tenth of the cattle as payment. Not trusting Augeas, Hercules had Augeasí son, Phyleus, witness the wager. Hercules then redirected the Alpheus and Peneius Rivers through the land to clean it. Augeas refused to honor the wager and exiled his son Phyleus to keep him from testifying against him. Vowing revenge, Hercules became a guest of King Dexamenus of Olenus. He killed the Centaur Eurytion to keep him from marrying the kingís daughter out of request.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Eurystheus meanwhile did not count that labor because Hercules had tried to get payment for it. He sent Hercules to slay the Stymphalian birds raised by Ares the war-god and taught to eat human flesh. The birds had made Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia their home in order to avoid the wolves, but Hercules espoused them from the area with noises from brass castanets created by Hephaestus for Athena. Athena lent them to Hercules for the occasion and with the birds in retreat, Hercules shot them out of the sky.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Thor I#356 (fb), Hercules III#1 (fb)) For his seventh labor, Hercules was sent out of the Peloponessus for the first time by Eurystheus who hoped he would meet dire ends in foreign lands. Sent to Crete, Hercules was sent to slay the Cretan Bull, which had fathered the Minotaur and was now terrorizing the island. The bull had become an embarrassment to King Minos because of his dealings with it. Minos gave Hercules permission to Hercules to slay it, but Hercules instead brought it to Mycenae and freed it there out of spite.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Eurystheus proved to be just as vindictive by sending Hercules to Thrace on his Eighth Labor to claim the man-eating mares of King Diomedes. During his journey, Hercules stayed for lodgings with King Admetus as his wife Alcestis was being buried upon her death. She had given her life up for her husband, but Hercules fought Thanatos, the grim reaper himself, in order to get the god of dead to free her from taking his place in the afterlife. Alcestis returned to life as a result. A young man named Abderus joined Hercules with several volunteers to help drive the man-eating mares into the sea, and Diomedes and his soldiers then attacked Hercules. The mares ate Abderus while Hercules was distracted, but Hercules tamed the mares by throwing them their own master, Diomedes, to feast upon. The act repulsed the Thracian army and Hercules brought the tamed mares to Mycenae and abandoned them there.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Admete, daughter of Eurystheus, meanwhile, heard of the golden belt of Queen Hippolyta of the Amazons, and Eurystheus sent Hercules to fetch it for her for his Ninth Labor. Accompanied by Theseus and a team of companions, Hercules sailed east for the land of the Amazons. On the way, Hercules and his hearty band stopped at Paros for supplies and were attacked by the Parians. He took hostage Alcaeus and Sthenelus, two grandsons of Cretan King Minos who had ruled the island in the siege in order to quell the attack. Herculesí voyage to the land of the Amazons remained uneventful until he reached Mysia where Lycus, King of the Mariandyni, treated him royally. Hercules repaid his kindness by slaying King Mygdon, King of the Bebryces, and surrendered his land to Lycus. Lycus renamed the land Heracleia out of his generosity.

Hercules eventually reached Themiscyra and encountered Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and received her golden belt without incident, but Hera frustrated by the ease of this encounter incited the Amazons against the invaders by convincing them that Hercules planned to kill Hippolyta. Hippolyta was erroneously reported as killed in the resulting battle and Theseus abducted Hippolytaís sister, Antiope, as a bride when she surrendered herself to prevent further bloodshed.

On Herculesí homeward journey home, King Laomedon of Troy beseeched him for help rescuing his daughter, Hesione, who had been promised as a sacrifice to a sea serpent named Delphyne over an insult to the god Apollo. Hercules promised to save the girl, but he wanted Hesione and Laomedonís prize mares as a reward. Laomedon promised, but once his daughter was safe, he reneged on the deal. The betrayal incensed Hercules, but not having enough of a force after the Amazons to claim his payment, he backed off.

On the journey home, Hercules was warmly received by King Poltys of Thrace. He abandoned his Parian refugees on the nearby island of Thasus which Alcaeus and Sthenelus then claimed as their own. At the port of Torone, Hercules was challenged to a wrestling match by Polygonus and Telegonus, sons of the sea-god Nereus and killed them both. He then returned to Mycenae to present Hippolytaís belt to Admete where a very frustrated Eurystheus once again sought more means to lead Hercules to his death. 

(Greek/Roman Myth, Hercules III#1 (fb)) Always desiring the cattle of King Geryon of Erytheia (modern Cadiz, Spain), he dispatched Hercules to retrieve them for his tenth labor. Hercules set sails for Erytheia, but became shipwrecked by storm in Libya.  Killing more wild beasts along his way, he set up a set of pillars to mark how far he had come. Wearied by heat on his way, he drew his bow and arrow on Helios the sun god out of annoyance, but the sun god amused by his nature surrendered him a great cup to sail through the straits of Gibraltar to land on the east coast of Britain ruled by Albion, son of Poseidon. Albion expected Hercules to be an advanced scout for an invasion and attacked him, but Hercules slew the paranoid king and left the Ancient Britons under the rile of Brittanus, a Celtic chieftain. (They would be conquered by Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas and ancestor of King Arthur, over a century later). Since Brittanus had no sons to serve as his heir, Hercules sired Celtus with his daughter, Celtina, and eventually departed; he soon arrived on west coast of Erytheia near Mount Abas where he slew Orthrus, the two-headed hellhound and spawn of Typhon and Echidna, which guarded the cattle. Hercules also dispatched Eurytion who guarded the cattle and met King Geryon, brother of Echidna, on the river Anthemus. Slaying the three-headed ruler, Hercules began driving the prized cattle overland for Mycenae.

Near Ligura (modern Marseilles), Hercules slew Ialebion and Dercynus, sons of the Ligurian King Pos for trying to steal some of the cattle.  He then rained stones down upon attacking Ligurians to make his escape. Near the future site of Rome, he slew the giant Cacus who also tried to steal some of the cattle. The natives honored Hercules for disposing of the ruthless thief.  As Hercules rested, though, some of the cattle wandered off. Hercules found them in the company of Sylea, a priestess who lived in an area known only as Forest. She shared her bed with him and had three sons by him named Scythes, Agathyrsus and Gelonus. As adults, the three sons would conquer an area off the Black Sea called Scythia. (It is rumored that Sylea was actually the goddess Circe, but this is unconfirmed.)

In Rhegium, Hercules left the cattle in the custody of Hephaestus, the smith-god, who owned forges on nearby Sicily. The prize bull of the herd had been lured away by King Eryx and the crafty ruler would not return it unless Hercules boxed with him through three bouts as he did with all invaders.  Hercules lasted all three bouts and then killed the evil king before returning to Mycenae with the full head of cattle.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Thor I#356 (fb), Hercules III#1 (fb)) Because Eurystheus wasnít counting the Augean Stables, which Hercules had tried to get payment for, or the Hydra, which his nephew Iolaus had helped him to overtake, Eurystheus challenged Hercules with two more labors. For the eleventh labor, Hercules was sent to retrieve apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, the Garden of Hera, whose location had been forgotten and confused. As Eurystheus figured Hera would kill the hero herself for violating her garden, Hercules traveled through Ormenium on his way to Eridanus in Italy searching for Nereus, the sea-god, for the secret of the gardenís location, but King Amyntor, believing Hercules was coming to overthrow him, refused him acts of hospitality. Hercules slew the ornery king, but Amyntorís daughter, Deidameia, granted Hercules great hospitality and shared her bed with him. She sired him a son, Ctessipus.

Upset over the death of his sons killed at the port of Torone, Nereus fled far to the east than to relinquish the secret of the Hesperides. The Horae, daughters of Zeus and Themis, guided Hercules to search him out near the Black Sea. Hercules finally seized the wily sea-god as Nereus tried to sleep and held on to him as he shape-shifted through several horrible incarnations.  Finally, the sea-god relented and told Hercules to search for the Hesperides in the shadow on the Atlas Mountains in Western Libya.  While Hercules was in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains, he sought out Prometheus for advice on how to handle Atlas who was the Titanís brother. He slew the eagle that terrorized the long-suffering Titan and then freed the grateful Prometheus. In Greece, Prometheus encountered the suffering Centaur Pholus stricken by Herculesí arrows and removed his immortality so that Pholus could die in peace and pass on to the afterlife.

Passing through Arabia, Hercules killed the evil King Emathion of Arabia as well as King Busirus of Egypt who sacrificed all strangers to his land in the name of Zeus. In Libya, Hercules killed King Antaeus of Libya, a son of Poseidon and Gaea. Hercules could not understand why he could not defeat Antaeus until he realized Antaeus drew power while in touch with the earth. Finally, he lifted him off the ground and squeezed the life out of him.

In the Hesperides, Hercules killed Ladon, the dragon that protected the apples, but he needed Atlas to pick them for him. Offering to hold back the heavens while Atlas picked the apples, Hercules was trapped under the burden of the heavens as Atlas decided to leave him and take the apples to Mycenae himself. Using his wits, Hercules asked Atlas to hold back the heavens long enough to get a better grip on them, but as Atlas took back his place, Hercules snatched up the apples and departed in haste. Before departing entirely, he created a freshwater spring to refresh himself which in his absence also saved the Argonauts from thirst as they fought to return to Greece.

(Greek/Roman Myth, Thor I#356 (fb), Hercules III#1 (fb)) Eurystheus turned over the apples to the goddess Athena who returned them to the Hesperides. He then sent Hercules on his twelfth and last labor to fetch up from the underworld Cerberus himself. Before he could ascend into Tartarus, Hercules had to be indoctrinated into the Eleusinian mysteries. Before being initiated, he had to be purified for his previous murders by Eumolpus, but since foreigners could not be initiated, he had to be adopted by Pylius of Eleusis.

Descending into Tartarus though the caves at Taenarum, Hercules was guided by Hermes himself and encountered the shades of the Argonaut Meleager, the dead Gorgon Medusa and the captive Argonauts Theseus and Peirithous who had previously arrived to abduct Persephone. Hercules rescued Theseus, but was forbidden by Hades from rescuing Peirithous who had wanted Persephone for himself. Hades allowed Hercules to try his luck with Cerberus if he used no weapons. Using his great strength, Hercules dragged the three-headed hellhound to Mycenae by force, but the sight and ferociousness of the beast so terrified Eurystheus that he rendered an end to the labors. Cerberus, however, let loose hurriedly raced back to the underworld on his own.

(Hercules III#3) - In modern years, Eurystheus, since reanimated since his death by Hera, coerced Hercules into reliving his labors with Zabu, HYDRA, Lockjaw, Dragon Man, Attuma and his hordes,  the Red Skull's "Dust of Death," and the Abomination standing in for the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra, Erymanthian Boar, The Cerynian Hind, Stymphalian Birds, Augean Stables and the Cretan Bull, respectively.

(Hercules III#4) - From behind their facades as a mortal conglomerate, the Olympian Gods passed down new versions of the labors for Hercules. Hercules was sent after the monster rejects of the Mole Man, Captain America's shield, one of Doctor Doom's Doombots and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier as substitutes of the Man-Eating Mares of King Diomedes, Girdle of Hippolyta, Red Cattle of Geryon and Golden Apples of the Hesperides, but when he was sent to the Underworld to retrieve a flower from the hair of his first wife, Megara, he realized he could not force himself to face her once more.

 (Hercules III#5) -  Drinking himself into submission back at the Extra Points Bar, Hercules was confronted by director Gordon Allsworth who talked him into being a man and finishing what he started just before he himself passed out. Accompanied by his film crew, Hercules entered the underworld and confronted Megara who didn't hold him responsible for her murder. She willingly surrendered her flower from her hair and Hercules completed his new labors.

Comments: Adapted by Frank Tieri and Mark Texeira and James Palmiotti

As far as can be discerned, Avengers I#39 is the earliest reference Hercules makes of his famous Twelve Labors.

According to the myths, Hercules was seventeen years old and already six feet tall when he killed the Cithaeron Lion and twenty years old when he married Megaera during the ten year reign of King Creon of Thebes (c. 1270 BC?). When Zeus seduced Alcmene, he is said to have "extended the night," which sounds like a lunar eclipse. Figuring the cycles of lunar eclipses over Greece and assuming my mathematical equations are correct, Hercules was born in 1276 BC (February 13 and October 31 have both popped up as his birthdays). Using this date, the Twelve Labors began in 1259 BC and ended 1247 BC or thereabouts.

Much of this text is reformatted from the Hercules entry on The Guide to the Mythological Universe Web-Site. If you're interested in reading the original longer more mythologically-faithful text (with non-canonical Marvel data tossed in as well), you can find it here.

Mythologically, Hercules did not get to complete the Argosy with Jason; however, in the MU, he has hazy memories of helping in talking the fleece. Either he believes his old legends, or the events in his life occurred differently than the actual myths. The story of the Argonauts can be found here.

In the modern version of the twelve labors, the similarities between the labors seem to overlap. Just as Apollo and Artemis confronted Hercules over the Cerynein Hind, Ka-Zar and Shanna confront him when their companion Zabu is substituted for the Nemean Lion.   

Some criticism on the new labors: The modern version of the Amazons could have been the Femizons who have not seen since their appearance in Captain America, but they don't make an appearance. Nick Fury wears a holster to bed when Hercules takes the Heli-carrier. Allsworth somehow tracks down the Abomination who should be in whatever is posing as the Vault now. Hercules and crew make it to the moon as if just about anyone in the Marvel Universe can head to the moon. What's up with that?

Gordon Allsworth and actor Ty Stone from the New Labors storyline seem to resemble director Sam Raimi and Kevin Sorbo from "The Legendary Journeys." 

I feel as if I've been ripped off. I came up with the concept as the gods of earth living in mortal roles years ago in an unfinished manuscript I started in 1995 and now Marvel Comics takes roughly the same idea and develops it for themselves. Thanks, guys!!!"


 CLARIFICATIONS: The Twelve Labors are not to be confused with:  

Avengers I#39 (April, 1967) - Roy Thomas (writer), Don Heck (pencils), George Roussos (inks), Stan Lee (editor)
Thor I#356 (June, 1985) - Bob Harras (writer), Jackson Guice (pencils), Bob Layton (inks), Mark Gruenwald (editor)
Hercules III#1-5 (June - October, 2005) - Frank Tieri (writer), Mark Texeira (pencils), Jimmy Palmiotti (inks), Axel Alonso (editor)

Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.

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