In Greek mythology, the labors of Hercules were 12 tasks assigned to this famous mythological character as a penance for killing his wife and family. In the process of completing these tasks, Hercules became a hero, and his accomplishments are celebrated in many Greek writings. The labors of Hercules are also sometimes referenced in modern culture; in some films and books, for example, a character must be redeemed for a terribly deed by completing a series of tasks which often numbers 12.
According to the story, Hercules was the child of Zeus and Alcmene, the daughter of the king of Mycenae. When Hera, Zeus' wife, found out about this particular dalliance, she took revenge on poor Alcmene by trapping Hercules inside of her, causing him to be born three months overdue. By ensuring that Hercules was born late, she set the stage for a relative, Eurystheus, to become king of Mycenae. Hera apparently wasn't satisfied with her revenge, because she also caused Hercules to go insane, and during his period of madness, he killed his family.
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When Hercules came to and realized what he had done, he prayed to the god Apollo for guidance. Apollo decreed that Hercules could absolve himself by serving his rival Eurystheus for a period of 12 years, and it was Eurystheus who set the various labors of Hercules. By proving himself as a warrior, Hercules made himself into a popular hero, and as a result he was welcomed among the gods after his death on Earth.
In order, the labors of Hercules were as follows: slay the Nemean lion, kill the Lernean Hydra, capture the Ceryneian hind, apprehend the Erymanthian boar, cleanse the Augean stables, defeat the Stymphalian birds, capture the Cretan bull, steal the man-eating mares of Diomedes, obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, steal the cattle of Geryon, capture the golden apples of Hesperides, and capture Cerberus, the three headed dog which guarded the underworld. As if this wasn't enough, Hercules went on to defeat an assortment of tyrants and mythical monsters after the successful completion of these tasks.
The labors of Hercules brought the hero all over the Ancient World, and introduced fans of mythology to a wide range of people, gods, monsters, and other characters. Ultimately, it would seem that this test of character made Hercules into a strong, compassionate man, who ultimately went on to become an ideal of Ancient Greek virtues and values.