After Hercules murdered his family in a fit of madness — a tragedy engendered by the goddess Hera, who hated him — the demi-god and son of Zeus was ordered to do penance by performing 12 Labors for the weaselly King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Here are those feats, ranked from most to least badass.
1) Capturing Cerberus, The Three-Headed Hound of Hell
King Eurystheus saved the worst for last, and for Hercules' final labor, he was told to go to hell and capture Cerberus, the giant, three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades. Hercules had to do research at Eleusis just to figure out how to enter and leave Hades without killing himself. Then he had to navigate his way through hell, bully Charon the ferryman into taking him across the river Styx even though he was alive, and the ask his uncle Hades for permission (because you don't steal a god's pet without his approval). Hades agreed only if his nephew could subdue the immortal monster without any weapons. So Herc wrestled a giant, three-headed hellbeast with a dragon's head for a tail until he managed to wrap it up in his Nemean lion skin (see below). This was the most dangerous monster Herc ever fought, with the most difficulty, and again, he had to go to hell to do it. Badass.
2) Obtaining the Apples of the Hesperides
For his 11th labor, King Eurystheus ordered Herc to bring him one of the golden apples of the Hesperides, nymphs who lived where the sun set (a.k.a. Libya). The tree these apples grew on was guarded by Ladon, a 100-headed dragon — a hassle for even Hercules. So Herc used his brain. You may remember Atlas as the Titan sentenced to hold up the sky for all eternity; Herc offered to shoulder his burden for a while if Atlas would grab him an apple (Lacon wouldn't attack the nyphs' dad). Atlas agreed, planning on never taking up his burden again. Unfortunately, Atlas wasn't the brightest constellation in the sky and actually brought the apples back before announcing he was screwing Herules over. Herc asked the slow-witted Titan if he wouldn't mind holding the sky for just one more second so he could get a better grip on it for the rest of eternity; of course, then second Atlas had the sky again, Hercules took the apples and got the hell out of there. The point is Hercules held up the entire sky for like half an hour. That's pretty goddamned impressive.
3) Killing the Hydra
The most impressive of the monsters Hercules had to slay was undoubtedly the Lernaean Hydra, which of course had many heads and when one was cut off, two would take its place. Now we all know this, but it was news to Hercules when he tracked down the beast in the poisonous swamp it lived in and started trying to kick its ass (also, it should be noted, each head had fangs that were poisonous as hell). Even though he was fighting a monster that only got more powerful as he fought it, Hera wasn't satisfied and sent a giant crab to attack Hercules at the same time. Eventually, Herc's nephew Iolaus had the idea to cauterize the Hydra's neck stumps with a torch before the two new heads could grow back. So Hercules stepped on the giant grab, crushing it, and got to business, hacking away at the thing all afternoon until the last head came off. Then he dipped his arrows n the Hydra's poison blood, which turned but later to be an incredibly bad idea, but whatever. The best part about this story? Hera had raised the Hydra solely to be a Hercules-killing machine. She was not pleased, to say the least.
4) Slaying the Nemean Lion
Hercules' first Labor is also his most famous, mainly because it gave him his iconic look. King Eurystheus thought that he's get Hercules out of his life quickly by ordering him to go kill the Nemean lion, a massive lion that was terrorizing the countryside, whose hide could not be pierced by any weapon. But fighting monstrous animals was right in Herc's wheelhouse, and he quickly realized he'd have to take it out without giving it an external flesh would. So Hercules wrestled the lion for a while until he snapped its lion-y neck. It sounds simple, but at the end of the day, Hercules was still wrestling a big-ass killer lion, and that's pretty awesome. And he used the Nemean lion's skin as his badass helmet/cloak from that point on. (Know how he skinned it? He used the lion's own claws.)
5) Cleaning the Augean Stables
As tricking Atlas shows, Hercules wasn't really dumb, he was just way stronger than he was smart. He used both his brains and his brawn to complete his fifth Labor: cleaning the legendary stables of Augeas. Of course, they were legendary because Augeas supposedly had more oxen than anybody else in the entire world, and never once cleaned up after them. By forcing Hercules to clean up veritable mountains of shit,
Eurystheus was trying to defeat Hercules through shame as much as actually physical labor. But Hercules took one sight of the stables — or more likely one whiff — found the nearest river, and moved it until it ran through the stables, washing all the crap away. Hercules didn't have to lift a shovel, although he did have to single-handedly divert an entire river, which is quite a feat.
6) Retrieving the Belt of Hippolyte
The ninth labor is weird. It sounds difficult, but turned out to be really easy… until Hera messed things up for Hercules and suddenly it got hard again. The Labor was this — get the belt of the queen of the Amazons, best known for being badass warriors and hating and/or killing any man they met on sight. Of course, Hercules wasn't as much a man as The Man, and when he wandered into Themiscyra, the Amazons were pretty content to let him go where he wanted. Herc even went up to Queen Hippolyte and asked to have her belt, and she said no problem! So Hercules took a quick break to celebrate an easy Labor and party with his new friends. Hera, meanwhile, was so pissed at how easy this had been that she disguised herself as an Amazon, went down to Themiscyra and started talking shit about Hercules — mostly about how he was going to kidnap the queen — until all the Amazons were trying to kill him. The fact Hercules managed to survive and escape an entire nation of badass, female warriors with chips on their shoulders is the true feat here, and not one that should be dismissed. On a sad note, during his escape, Hercules killed Hippolyte after thinking she'd betrayed him.
7) Capturing the Cerynian Hind
After hearing about all the monsters Hercules fought, just catching a deer hardly seems to compare, does it? What about a deer that could run faster than an arrow? Hercules basically had to run non-stop after this thing for an entire year before he caught it. Hercules was running three full marathons — around 75 miles a day, for about 12 straight hours or so — for 365 days in a row. That's some demi-god level badassery right there. Also, this specific hind was sacred to Artemis, goddess of the hunt;
Eurystheus assigned this Labor specifically to get Herc in trouble with the goddess. So when Hercules finally caught it, he had to fast-talk his more divine cousin into not smiting him. Which he did. Because he's Hercules.
8) Subduing the Erymanthian Boar
Much like the Cerynian Hind, capturing a boar — even a giant boar with big tusks and anger issues — doesn't sound that impressive, given what Hercules accomplished in his other Labors. But let me tell you this: Eurystheus was the King of Tiryns, while the boar was rampaging at Mt. Erymanthos. That's a distance of 134 kilometers, or just over 83 miles. The average boar weighs 180 lbs., but I think we can safely assume the Erymanthian Boar was bigger and heavier. My point is that Hercules carried a 200-lb. boar — a boar that really, really didn't want to be carried or taken anywhere — for 83 miles on foot. Not impressed? Why don't you grab your average 5-gallon, 40-lbs. office water cooler jug, start walking, and let me know how far you get.
9) Eradicating the Stymphalian Birds
Labor #6: Head to Lake Stymphalia in Arcadia and go take care of the crazy birds there whose beaks were like spears, who could shoot their blade-like feather at people like some kind of videogame, and whose poop was pure poison. Sounds insane, doesn't it? Not really. The only reason the Birds are listed this high is because one version of the story says that Hercules shot them all down with his bow and his Hydra-poisoned arrows, and even playing mythological Duck Hunt still requires some skill. But the other version of the story is that Hercules made a rattle, shook it, and scared all the birds away. Let's pretend it was the arrows and move on.
10) Herding the Cattle of Geryon
For his 10th Labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him some cattle. The catch: The cattle were basically located at the edge of the world. Also, the cattle were owned by Geryon, a three-head, six-armed giant who had no intention of giving them up. But Hercules had a harder time getting to Geryon than Geryon himself. He had to cross the Libyan desert, where he was so pissed off by the heat he shot an arrow at the sun, which somehow prompted sun-god Helios to give Hercules a boat. Upon finally arriving at Geryon's island, Hercules conked his two-headed watch dog on the head, did the same to his herdsman, and then shot a single poisoned arrow into Geryon himself, killing him pretty much instantly. Getting the cattle back to Eurystheus was also more difficult than seizing them, because an enraged Hera kept sending gadflies to sting them and make them wander off. But this Labor was less a Labor and more… a Hassle.
11) Stealing the Mares of Diomedes
Unlike Geryon's cattle, these horses were centrally located and not guarded by a three-headed giant. They were just owned by Diomedes, who was kind of an asshole, but a regular mortal. The problem with the mares is that Diomedes had bred them to eat human flesh, and would usually feed his guests to them. But rather than an actually fight with awesome, man-eating horses, Hercules just picked up Diomedes by the scruff of his neck, and tossed him to his own horses to eat. And then the horses were completely chill after that. Basically, Herc tossed a dude over a fence, and then herd a bunch of essentially normal horses. Even I could probably managed that.
12) Capturing the Cretan Bull
Last and certainly least was Hercules' 7th Labor. The Cretan Bull was a bull famous for wreaking havoc across Crete (he was supposedly the father of the minotaur, too), but a ferocious beast he was not. All Hercules has to do to capture it was sneak up behind it and basically put it into a headlock, and then the bull was done. Here's how easy this Labor was: The bull didn't just go docilely back with Hercules to Tiryns, it let Hercules sit on its back while it swam across the Mediterranean back to mainland Greece. It gave Hercules a goddamned ride! That's not a Labor, that's free transportation!