Mythology Mondays: A Truly Herculean Task

Labours numbers 4 and 5, the Erymantian Boar and the Augean Stables.

The story of the Erymantian Boar itself is not very interesting. Very similar to the labours set to Heracles before, he was to capture the boar, just as he had the Hind. The interesting part of the story is what happened before.

Heracles set out for Mount Erymanthos to complete his fourth labour. On the way, he stopped to visit his old friend Pholus, a centaur. They had dinner, and Heracles wanted some wine to wash it down with. Pholus only had one jar of wine - it had been given to him by Dionysus himself. Heracles convinced Pholus to open it. The smell of the superior win attracted the other nearby centaurs, who descended on the, took the wine, and began to drink. Centaurs, notoriously uncivilized in myth, didn’t know to mix the wine with water and quickly became drunk. They attacked Heracles, and he fought back with his arrows, which had been dipped in the poisonous blood of the Hydra. The centaurs were quickly defeated.  Chiron, the wisest and most civilized of the centaurs, was hit with a poisonous arrow. He was immortal, but not immune to pain. He was in so much agony that he begged to be released of his immortality and promised, in exchange, to take Prometheus’ place, chained to the rock. Heracles brought Chiron to where Prometheus was chained, and the two switched places. Then Heracles shot the eagle with another poisonous eagle, so that Chiron wouldn’t have to suffer Prometheus’ torture.

In gratitude, Chiron told Heracles that to capture the Boar, he must drive it into a snow bank first. It worked and Heracles returned to Eurystheus with the Boar.

The next task set byEurystheus was to clean the Augean Stables.

Augeas , one of the Argonauts and the King of Elis, and had the single biggest herd of cattle in all of Greece. His stables had never been cleaned. Eurystheus was growing tired of the fame Heracles’ previous labours had won and wanted a way to degrade him. And so Heracles was to clean the biggest pile of shit in Greece in just one day.

Heracles, a hero and the son of a god, had likely never done any manual labour in his life. He was far better suited to swinging a sword than a shovel. He arrived in Elis, and stood in front of the mess that was Augeas’ stables. The cattle were a gift from a god, and thus immune to disease. But to enter the stables would probably be fatal to anyone else. Because of this, Heracles came up with a plan. Instead of cleaning the stables himself, he diverted two rivers to wash them clean. The task was done in less than a day, and Augeas was more than suprised. Thinking that the task was insurmountable, he had promised to give Heracles a tenth of his cattle if he completed it in one day. When Heracles finished, Augeas refused to honour the agreement and Heracles killed him.


herculean [her-kew-lee-an]

1. (of a task) requiring tremendous effort or strength
2. Of unusual size, power, or difficulty.
3. resembling Hercules, hero of classical myth, in strength or courage

For me the Augean Stables have always been the best measure of a herculean task. I imagine this as most insurmountable tasks, a huge pile of shit that you have no idea whether you’ll ever be able to clean. And you stand and stare at the mess and wonder how you’re going to make it to the end of the day. But often it’s not a matter of picking up a shovel, but of coming up with a new solution to the problem. When I’m faced with a truly difficult task, I often picture the stables in my head.


  • By Sebastian, May 26, 2009 @ 10:16 am

    Did Hercules just get ordered to clean the stable? Or did he just have a tendency to do whatever challenges were set for him, glutton-for-punishment style?

  • By Hezabelle, May 26, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

    He had to do whatever Eurystheus told him to, to cleanse himself of the guilt of “accidentally” killing his wife and children. And Eurystheus hated him, and so kept trying to get him killed.

  • By GarykPatton, June 15, 2009 @ 11:57 pm

    Hello, can you please post some more information on this topic? I would like to read more.

  • By wow gold, August 4, 2009 @ 11:46 pm

    This is a great article. I’m new to blogging but still learning. Thanks for the great resource.

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment