Twelfth Labor: To bring Cerebrus from the Underworld
Eurystheus (the guy who assigned Hercules his labors), seeing that Hercules had completed the last eleven, went for a very difficult one this time. He assigned Hercules to bring Cerebrus from the Underworld. This had a lot of tricky parts. Hercules not only has to get down to the underworld, battle a monster, and somehow make this OK enough with Hades that Hercules doesn’t end up in the Underworld forever. And to top it off, he has to have this done in a year!
Before he went, Hercules wisely partook in the mysteries of Elyusis, and purified himself for killing centaurs. After this, he descended into the Underworld.
Charon was so terrified by Hercules’ scowl that he let him across. (Hades had him chained for a year and a day for this offense), and when he stepped off all of the ghosts were so terrified that they fled except the ghost of Medusa and Melenger. He talked to Melenger for a while, and finally agreed to marry his sister Deinara when he returned to the overworld.
Near the gates of Tartarus, Hercules found his old buddies Theseus and Peirithous fasted to chairs (read their story), and decided to pull them out. He yanked Theseus from his chair, leaving part of Theseus behind him (to this day Athenians have thin thighs), but when he tried to remove Peirithous, an earthquake started, so Hercules left him behind. (In a few stories Hercules bargains with Hades for their lives, and though Hades is willing to let Theseus go, Peirithous must stay…read story to find out why) Next he rolled away the stone under which Demeter had imprisoned Aschalapus, and then wishing to make the ghosts happy with a gift of warm blood, slaughtered one of Hades’ cattle.
This did not make the herdsman, Meneote’s, very happy, and Hercules and Meneote shortly got into a fight. Hercules naturally was winning, and had shattered a few of Meneote’s ribs, when Persephone put a stop to it. She greeted Hercules like a brother (funny, I thought they were half-brother and sister) and begged him to spare Meneote, which he naturally did.
Finally Hades appeared and Hercules asked for Cerebrus. Hades told him that he could have the dog if he could master Cerebrus without weapons. So Hercules gripped Cerebrus about the neck, and protected by his lion skin, strangled the dog. As he left he crowned himself with the popular (remnants of Leuce, Hades’ one time mistress), which turned white on his brow.
When Eurystheus saw Cerebrus, he became so scared that he jumped into an urn and pleaded with Hercules to take him away. Not knowing what to do with him, Hercules brought him back to Hades.
Hercules and Alcetis
Hercules stayed a while with a friend, King Admetus. Apollo (for one of his crimes, no doubt) was forced to serve as Ademetus’s slave for a year, and Ademetus had been so kind that Apollo had agreed that if Ademetus could find someone to die for him each time it came for him to die, he could live forever. Well, this time no one really wanted to die for Ademetus. Finally his queen, Alcetis, agreed to die for her. Everyone was sad to loose such a beautiful and good woman, that Hercules decided to retrieve her from the dead.
Hercules stormed into the palace of Hades and demanded the return of Alcetis. Hades, who had a cold, unloving wife, was moved by such devotion, and let Alcetis return to the world. (I wonder if Persephone was given a hard time about this…) In other stories, Hercules, with his inhuman strength, beats Hades in wrestling to allow Alcetis to return to the world. In a few other cases, Alcetis is Hercules's mother. Greek myths are so confusing!
In some cases, Alcetis gets to the underworld and is imediately sent back by Persephone who doesn't believe that young, beautiful women should die for their selfish husbands. (probably also doesn't really want to hear Hades point out what a good wife Alcetis is, and how he wishes he had a good wife, or whatever) and Hades comes after here, after arguing with Persephone about it. Hercules either beats him in wresting, or they promise a pig sacrifice to him, and, deciding that fighting Hercules would not be a good idea, Hades decides that the pig spirit is worth more than that of Ademetus, anyway. (After all, what kind of jerk would force his wife to die for him?)
In a few other stories, just to make things better, Alcetis, when asked why she was willing to die, claims that it's for her children as she knew that her husband's brother would hurt them or even kill them if he reigned, but they'd be safe as long as her husband was in power. There goes the good wife thing. Good thing she didn't tell that to Persephone. (In some stories, Heracles merely wrestles Thanatos who is hanging out at Alcetis' tomb to drink the blood of the sacrificed animals. Rather less dramatic)
The Capture of Pylus
Hercules next goes against Ares, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon with only Athena on his side. He decided to sack the city of Pylus because they were on the side of Elis, someone who apparently was not on Hercules’ side. Hercules went against Poseidon, and Athena went against Ares. (Did Hades and Hera just watch?) Hercules naturally beat Poseidon (after all, Hercules can beat up anyone) and then squared Ares. After Apollo started to heal Ares, Hercules got an arrow into Apollo’s shoulder. He then got revenge on the step-mother who had done nasty things to him by getting a three barbed arrow into Hera’s breast. In a few stories Hades is also wounded by an arrow from Hercules in a story told in The Illiad.
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