Mythology Monday: The Nemean Lion

I’ve decided to do the Twelve Labours of Heracles for the next few Mythology Mondays. In my Classical Mythology class in second year, we had to memorize these. But I confess, I had to Google it.

Heracles (actually only known as Hercules to the Romans) is the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene. Zeus disguised himself as her husband, Amphitryon, to fool her into sleeping with him. Alcmene became pregnant with twins, Heracles the son of Zeus and Iphicles, the son of Amphitryon. When they were about to be born, Zeus’ wife Hera found out about Zeus’ infedelity. Needless to say, she hated Heracles from the beginning. She sent two serpents to kill him, but he strangled them, born with incredible strength.

Heracles grew up and married, had children. Out of jealousy, Hera drove him mad and caused him to kill his own wife and children. Haunted by the furies, the personification of his guilt, Heracles was forced to put himself under the mercy of his archenemy, Eurytheus and perform ten tasks as required by him.

His first task was to kill the Nemean Lion.

Though called a “lion,” the creature who terrorized Nemea was not only larger than an average lion, but its skin was impenetrable. The arrows Heracles had crafted for use on the Lion were of no use, they bounced off without a scratch.

Eventually Heracles lured the Lion back to its cave. He snuck in through a second entrance and stunned the Lion with his club. He then strangled the Lion to death, and used its own claws to remove its skin. He returned to Eurytheus with the pelt as proof.

From that day on, Heracles wore the Lion’s pelt as his armour, and this is the image we see of him - draped in fur with a lion’s head behind his head. This is the image that inspired centuries of mimics, from Alexander to Antony to Commodus.


  • By Jo, May 12, 2009 @ 9:10 am

    I remember I really liked Mytholgy classes when I was in the secondary school. Thanks for these “little lectures” you’re giving, Hezabelle! : )

  • By Sebastian, May 12, 2009 @ 11:25 am

    There was something about Alexander’s cloak too (if that was meant to symbolise Hercules’ armour, anyway) — Pompey took Alexander’s cloak, after 260 years (apparently it was in storage somewhere…) and used it during his massively successful military campaign — or during his Triumph, I forget.

  • By Hezabelle, May 12, 2009 @ 11:44 am

    Alexander wore a lion’s skin too, and yeah it was meant to mimic Hercules, he claimed to be descended from both him and Achilles. And Pompey stole the cloak from Alexander’s tomb in Alexandria! It was for his triumph after the Mithridatic Wars, according to Plutarch.

  • By Faebala, May 12, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

    “Where’s the Lion?” - Fae
    “Nope… there’s no Lion. Just Alexander.” - Hez

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