The Nemean Lion

Determined to win or be killed, Hercules blocked one of the entrances with a large rock and entered from the other side. He faced the powerful lion in the darkness of the cave…

Throwing a haughty gaze towards his cousin, Eurystheus uttered:

"My advisors have informed me about your predicament. The will of the God should never be ignored, so I will promptly introduce you to your first Labor. You shall travel to Nemea, a land terrorized by the fiercest lion that has ever set foot in our realm. You must slay the beast and bring me its pelt as proof of your deed."

Thus Hercules, armed with his great club and his trustworthy bow, set for Nemea. His rival cousin, King Eurystheus, smirked as the hero left, because he knew that the lion's golden fur was impenetrable. As the son of Zeus arrived at the nearby city of Cleonae, he realized that the news had travelled faster than he did.
He was approached by an old shepherd who had lost his son to the beast. "Mighty hero", he said, "my name is Molorchos. I have been about to offer a sacrifice to Zeus Soter (Saviour) to free our land from the clutches of this foulest of beasts. But the sign of your arrival shows that you may indeed be the saviour he has sent in answer to our prayers." Hercules felt sympathy for the old man and advised him to postpone the sacrifice for thirty days - if in that time he managed to destroy the beast and return to Cleonae, they would perform the sacrifice to Zeus together as a thankful prayer. Otherwise, the old man should dedicate that sacrifice to Hercules for he would then be a glorified dead hero. The old man agreed and Hercules, feeling the weight of his commitment, continued on his way.

After many days of fruitless search, he reached the grove of the Nemean Zeus. There he met the dreaded lion lying on the grass, the ground around it sown with the bones of its victims. The hero drew his bow and, without a moment of hesitation, shot an arrow towards the beast. But the invincible beast's hide deflected the arrow and alarmed it to the hero's presence. Enraged, the beast attacked Hercules and the hero barely managed to grab his great club and hit the monster hard on the head. The lion, dazed and shocked by the blow, retreated to its den, a nearby cave. Hercules inspected the area and realized that two entrances to the cave existed. Determined to win or be killed, he blocked one of the entrances with a large rock and entered from the other side. He faced the powerful beast in the dark and, after a long and perilous fight; he strangled it with his bare hands.

Unable to skin it with a knife due to its hardy skin, Hercules had to use one of the lion's teeth to finally procure its pelt. He put the pelt on his shoulders and left the cave. Thirty days had passed since the hero had arrived in Cleonae and Molorchos, disheartened, was about to sacrifice to the dead hero. But as he was preparing the sacrifice, the hero suddenly appeared triumphant with the lion's pelt covering his shoulders. The old man rejoiced as Hercules approached him and they sacrificed together to Zeus Soter, before the hero was back on his way to his cousin’s city. In the fortified city of Tiryns, King Eurystheus was terrified when he saw the monster's hide on Hercules’s stout shoulders and, noticing the impact of the Labor's proof on his subjects, he ordered his cousin to demonstrate the future fruits of his Labors outside the city walls. The hero humbly accepted that condition, for he knew there was a long way ahead if he was to achieve redemption.

That night, in his camp outside Tiryns, the hero slept peacefully. He dreamt of heavenly beings, approaching him and nodding to him to follow them. He was lead to a familiar site - the grove of Nemean Zeus. There, the voice of his immortal father reached his ears: "My son, you have done well. For you have faced and beaten your first enemy, the beast of selfishness. You have served your cousin and the people, no matter how unwanted or indifferent you may feel towards them. Never forget that the selfish beast in you cannot be controlled by your thoughts and intentions, only by dedication to your cause. At the end, you always have to take the greatest risk to ensure victory. This, my child, is a triumph worthy of a god’s son – my son."