Myths arise as a form of identity for people or a nation. They are heroic stories, mostly from ancient times, about God’s and outrageously brave men and powerful women. Although most are old, new ones do continue to emerge.

Roald E. Kristiansen, associate professor at the Department of History and Religious Studies at the University of Tromsø explains:

“Nation-building myths often develop in a time of crisis, for example if there is a war, or a period of great political or ideological upheaval. After such a time of turmoil, it feels important to create unity and a national identity. There is a desire to create a future by looking back on past ideals. There will almost be a period of national romanticism, where the myths you share say something about who you wish to be as a people.”

These parables are also trying to tell us something. The are meant to instill in us a set of morals too, not only national pride. Maybe they even tell us who we are, or who we are supposed to be. Take the myth of The 12 Labors Of Hercules for example. You probably already know about Hercules as that legendary strong hero. He is well-known for his strength and courage. But do you really know the full story?

You can begin by watching this short video by Alex Gendler to familiarize yourself with the story:

The following explanations are not meant to be a summary of the story. Rather, they are intended to depict the lessons that transpire through the narrative.

Introduction:

Hera’s curse on Hercules shows how jealousy can lead to great destruction. It causes him to commit the unthinkable tragedy of murdering his own wife and children. But Hercules, being the good person that he is, takes responsibility for his actions even though they were caused by the curse of his evil stepmother. He seeks redemption for his wrong doing and attempts to atone for his sins. The only way for him to absolve himself of the guilt is by counteracting his prior evil deeds with good deeds. This takes courage, which is very important.. For 12 years he has to performing whatever labors Eurystheus might set him. That is his penance and punishment. in return, his sins will be atoned for and he will be granted immortality and a place among the gods in Olympus. He fulfills all the tasks set upon him because he is determined to make amends with his past. Thus, ultimately proving that determination is the key to success.

“Psychologically, we could say that when we successfully confront and overcome an especially difficult inner or outer challenge in life, we are empowered, and take on from that experience a confidence and courage helpful in all future ventures. Or as Nietzsche put it: What does not destroy me makes me stronger.” – Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. for Psychology Today

Labor #1: Slaying the Nemean Lion and Bringing its Hide

When Hercules found that no weapon was able to penetrate the sturdy hide of the Nemean Lion, he was able to come up with another way. By being creative he was able to achieve that what seemed impossible at first. Through his determination, he strangled the lion with his immense strength using his bare hands. Then, he skinned the beast using its own claw to do so.

Insights:

  • Know your enemy so you can use their strengths against them.
  • If you can not face your enemy directly, use alternative means.

Labor #2: Slaying the Lernaean Hydra

“Cut one head down, and two more will grow in its place.”

For this task he was open to suggestions. He took the advice of his nephew, Lolaus, who came up with the brilliant idea of burning the stump of the beast after its head was cut off, thus stunting the growth of new heads. Although this did not kill the beast, it did decommission the monster. Hercules concludes by dipping his arrow tips in the Hydra’s poisonous blood.  This act transforms the bloods daemonic toxicity into a power Hercules can use for good in his one-man war against evil.

“Symbolically, the Hydra’s blood can be likened to toxic anger: When consciously confronted, acknowledged, understood, mastered and controlled, pathological rage, resentment or embitterment can be alchemically transmuted and redirected into a positive force, in the form of healthy aggression, strength, power, resolve and perseverance.” – Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. for Psychology Today

Insights:

  • Don’t be defeated by overwhelming yourself. Deal with your problem one step at a time.
  • Value the input of others, whether or not you will apply their advice. It’s good to keep an open mind.
  • Don’t fight alone if you can get help.
  • Evil can only be controlled, contained, and constantly kept in check. It is not possible to completely or forever eradicated it..
  • Use you victory to empower future endeavors.

Labor #3: Capturing the Ceryneian Hind

In this task he had to catch a hind that was too quick to be caught through standard means. For this, he had to be patient and thoughtful. Furthermore, he had to be diplomatic in order not to upset it’s owner Artemis when he took it away.

Insights:

  • Tackle the problem after taking the time to understand it thoroughly for guaranteed success.
  • There’s no point in chasing something in vain. Be patient and wait for the thing to come to you.
  • Diplomacy is also a strategic maneuver, and at times a necessary one.

Labor #4: Capturing the Erymanthian Boar

With this task, he made friends with the centaur Chiron who informed him about how to make his job of capturing the boar easier. By waiting till winter he could drive the giant wild boar into thick snow. This meant he had to delay the completion of his mission in order to attain security that he would deliver.

Insights:

  • Make friends whenever you can along the way. Everyone knows something you don’t..
  • Allies are an asset..
  • Sometimes patience is the only means to the end. Know thy time.
  • Always collect ideas and advice. They cue up as a series of possibilities and lead us to somewhere.

Labor #5: Cleaning the Augean Stables

For this task he had to think outside the box because the requirements of cleaning stables that were so dirty in only 1 day was physically impossible. This time he had to use brains instead of muscle to succeed. Unfortunately, King Eurystheus said that since the ‘river’ did the cleaning, this labour doesn’t count. This is a representation of the injustice in the world.

Insights:

  • Use lateral thinking in problem solving.
  • Utilize Natures benefits.
  • Life and people are unfair. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong or right. Persevere anyway.

Labor #6: Defeat the Man-eating Stymphalian Birds

With this task he made use of a gift bestowed upon him by his half-sister Athena. By using tools at hand to approach the problem in a thoughtful way he was able to get the birds to expose themselves for the taking. He scared them with the noise and as they became unaware because of fear they took to the air and were shot down by Hercules.

Insights:

  • Compile a set of tools to have at your disposal.
  • Confuse to defuse.
  • Solutions are usually multi-staged. Meaning, there is more than one step; or there are many pieces to a puzzle, etc.

Labor #7: Capture the Cretan Bull

In this task, by catching the bull off guard he was able to take it down.

Insights:

  • Don’t charge into something head on. Take a look at it from all sides and angles.
  • You have to be cunning to outsmart something bigger than you.
  • Tackle your problem from the source. Like the saying goes, “Catch the bull by the horns.”

Labor #8: Bring Back the Mares of Diomedes

To triumph in this task, he feeds the evil with what created the evil in the first place. It’s like how in math a negative and a negative equal a positive.

Insights:

  • Allow the problem to consume itself.
  • If you defy the order of nature, it will find its retribution… In other words, it will come back to bite you in the butt.

Labor #9: Bring the Belt of Hippolyta, the Queen of Amazons.

Hercules almost achieves this task by only impressing Hippolyta. She would have willingly given him her belt but Hera again interferes with another fit of jealousy turning the Amazonians against him. In the end, he had to do what had to be done even though that meant killing Hippolyta in the process.

Insights:

  • Seeds of discord and mistrust brings downfall. Be careful of potential planters. Things will always turn out wrong.
  • A gift of goodwill and friendship is better than a prize of war.

Labor #10: Retrieve the Cattle of Geryon

This task was yet again complicated by Hera’s jealousy. But as usual, Hercules prevailed triumphantly regardless of her persistent attempts to sabotage him. It did end up taking him a year longer than it should have but he found ways around every one of her attacks. In the end, Heracles sacrificed the cattle to Hera, hoping to ease her bitterness.

Insights:

  • You never know what can happen. For example, getting a flat tire on the way to work.
  • Be prepared to face any side issues en course or after a main issue is resolved. This should always be within your planning.

Labor #11: Steal the Apples From the Garden of the Hesperides


This task required Hercules to seek out information beyond himself. Then, he had to get someone else to do the actual task of retrieving the apples but in order to do so he had to come up with a convincing plan.

Insights:

  • Be resourceful. Knowing where and how to get the right information will get you far.
  • Practice the art of delegation. If someone else can do it, assign them to do so and that way you can do something else.
  • Beware of empty promises.

Labor #12: Capture Cerberus, the 3-headed Guardian Hellhound of the Underworld

In the final task, Hercules went straight to the source guided by people who knew the way. He then had to requested permission and compromise to get what he wanted. By complying with the agreement he was able to use the vicious animal to his advantage. The king was paralyzed by fear when Hercules brought Cerberus back alive and his desperation for the beast to be gone made him quickly (impulsively) declare the 12 Labors complete. Without further ado, Heracles finally took his place in Olympus, among the immortal Gods.

Insights:

  • Know the terrain of which you will descend upon. Be familiar with your territory.
  • Have allies that know their territory for they will be most helpful.
  • Be considerate of others and their needs. Act accordingly.
  • Understand the nature of human intent.
  • Have an entrance and exit plan to your strategy.

To sum it all up into one final culminating insight:: There will come a time, if you’re ever to have peace of mind, when you have to confront that which bothers you the most. You have to either deal with it or figure out a way to let it go.

“Hercules and his Twelve Labors reveals to us several vital secrets about human existence: First, that we all have our Herculean labors required of us by life. Second, that we are called upon by life, like Hercules, to be heroic at times, which requires discovering our inner courage, cleverness, strength and fortitude. Third, that we each must eventually and inevitably confront and come to terms with our personal demons, though, like Hercules himself, we all need some assistance, support, encouragement and companionship to successfully do so, and the unequivocal commitment and perseverance to complete this task. Fourth, that we too must learn to deal with our daemonic tendencies more consciously and constructively, lest we come to commit our own evil deeds. And lastly, that, though there is always a painful price to pay, compassion, forgiveness and redemption for evil deeds may be possible, depending on the offender’s readiness and willingness to experience remorse, accept existential guilt, and make adequate and meaningful restitution to society for his or her minor or major crimes of hubris.” – Stephen A. Diamond Ph.D. for Psychology Today

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