Eurystheus first set Hercules to keep his sheep at Nemea and to kill the lion that ofttimes carried off the sheep, and sometimes the shepherd also.
The man-eater lurked in a wood that was hard by the sheep-run. Hercules would not wait to be attacked by him. Arming himself with a heavy club and with a bow and arrows, he went in search of the lion’s lair and soon found it.
Finding that arrows and club made no impression upon the thick skin of the lion, the hero was constrained to trust entirely to his own thews and sinews. Seizing the lion with both hands, he put forth all his mighty strength and strangled the beast just as he had strangled the serpents in his cradle. Then, having despoiled the dead man-eater of his skin, Hercules henceforth wore this trophy as a garment, and as a shield and buckler.
In those days, there was in Greece a monstrous serpent known as the Hydra of Lerna, because it haunted a marsh of that name whence it issued in search of prey. As his second labor, Hercules was sent to slay this creature.
This reptile had nine heads of which the midmost was immortal. When Hercules struck off one of these heads with his club, two others at once appeared in its place. By the help of his servant, Hercules burned off the nine heads, and buried the immortal one beneath a huge rock.
The blood of the Hydra was a poison so subtle that Hercules, by dipping the points of his arrows therein, made them so deadly that no mortal could hope to recover from a wound inflicted by them. We shall see later that Hercules himself died from the poison of one of these self-same arrows.
The third labor imposed upon Hercules by Eurystheus was the capture of the Arcadian Stag. This remarkable beast had brazen feet and antlers of solid gold. Hercules was to carry the stag alive to Eurystheus.
It proved no easy task to do this. The stag was so fleet of foot that no one had been able to approach it. For more than a year, over hill and dale, Hercules pursued the beast without ever finding a chance of capturing it without killing it.
At length he shot at it and wounded it with an arrow—not, you may be sure, with one of the poisoned ones—and, having caught it thus wounded, he carried it on his shoulder to his brother and thus completed the third of his labors.
In the neighborhood of Mount Erymanthus, in Arcadia, there lived, in those far-off days, a savage boar that was in the habit of sallying forth from his lair and laying waste the country round about, nor had any man been able to capture or restrain him. To free the country from the ravages of this monster was the fourth labor of Hercules.
Having tracked the animal to his lurking place after chasing him through the deep snow, Hercules caught him in a net and bore him away in triumph on his shoulders to the feet of the amazed Eurystheus.
Augeas, King of Elis, in Greece, not far from Mount Olympus, owned a herd of oxen 3,000 in number. They were stabled in stables that had not been cleaned out for thirty years. The stench was terrible and greatly troubled the health of the land. Eurystheus set Hercules the task of cleaning out these Augean stables in a single day!