The Stables of Augeas

Hercules went on to dig ceaselessly for many hours. In the end of the day, he had diverted the flow of the two rivers so that they passed through the stables of Augeas...

"I have to admit that, in your Labors so far, you have repeatedly demonstrated your strength and bravery. But these qualities, as useful and appreciated as they may be, are not the only assets a hero should have. You see, cousin, humility is another vital quality and also a hard lesson one has to learn before fulfilling his destiny and becoming a King. A king of himself, like you, or a King of others, like myself." Eurystheus made a gesture like presenting himself. Hercules threw his cousin a questioning gaze, ignoring the underlying insult. "What do you mean, cousin?" The man smiled slightly and waved for his guards to leave the room.

After a few moments, he responded: "I mean that… my testing of humility has been going on since I was born, just a day before your birth. You see, every single one of our relatives has been looking at me with disappointment, all these years… I was never as strong or as brave as you. Everyone wished if only I had been born a day later or... never. I could hear my dear mother crying every time I turned my back. Everyone was poisoning her mind against me… She’s been the only one supporting me - her, and the law. So in the end, here I am, cousin, after all the humiliation and degradation I have endured, I am still the King of Mycenae, and you are my subject, despite the wishful thinking of a kin of poisonous snakes.

That makes me more than a fitting teacher for your lesson of humility, I reckon. And here is your next task: You must go to King Augeas of Elis; the largest herd of cattle resides in his lands. The royal stables of Elis have not been cleaned in a decade from the animal gross. You have to cleanse the stables from the filth in a single day and then return to me. Be gone now, cousin!" King Eurystheus looked at his cousin with unmasked hatred. Maintaining his temper, the hero left the throne room contemplating a way to accomplish his task. Several days later, at dawn, Hercules met King Augeas in person on a hill overlooking his infamous stables. The landscape was disturbing: the animal filth ranged for several stadiums and the oxen were wandering everywhere.

King Augeas smiled at the hero and addressed to him:
"Do not be disheartened by what you see - I don't expect you to clean this mess in a day. Who would?" He laughed. "Although, just to give you a motivation, allow me to promise this: if you manage to clean the stables today, I will give you one tenth of my herds." The hero looked at the King and nodded. "I accept your promise, King Augeas." His eyes looked fiery - "This will not end in my humiliation, but theirs!" he thought, and headed downhill with large strides. While travelling to that place, he had noticed that the rivers Alpheios and Peneos were flowing in a relatively small distance from the stables. After yelling at the oxen and forcing them to gather out of their pastures, Hercules went on to dig ceaselessly for many hours. In the end of the day, he had diverted the flow of the two rivers so that they passed through the stables. The rushing waters carried every piece of filth, all that in a single day's work. King Augeas was shocked at the sight of the inundation: "You have destroyed my stables! How can my cattle ever reside in this flooded mess?"

"This was not a part of the agreement between you and me. Besides, your oxen are unharmed. Now, I require my payment, King of Elis!" Hercules demanded. King Augeas gave him a harsh look and replied: "I did not ask Eurystheus for any of this. Now, be gone from my sight or I will have you executed!" Hercules left without as much as a word but instead of going to Tiryns, he headed back to his hometown. He had to settle the injustice. A few days later, he returned to Elis with the army of Thebes on his side. The city was besieged and after its fall, King Augeas was put to the sword for breaching his promise.

The hero returned to Tiryns, victorious and glorified. His cousin’s plan to humiliate him and make him fail his Labor had not been successful. King Eurystheus met him with an unexpected smile on his face. "Oh, cousin". You have proven your valor once more, but what about your humility? You knew that Augeas was a valuable ally of Tiryns – still you executed him for lying to you... But that is not the point.’’ Hercules looked at the Eurystheus impatiently. ‘‘What is the point then?’’ ‘‘The point is…’’ his cousin’s smile broadened, ‘‘that you have failed this Labor, for you asked for payment. No Labor should require payment, otherwise it’s only mundane work like mere slaves do. Most are slaves out of duty, but you acted like a slave of money, dear cousin. So, there are still three Labors that you have to undertake to consider your task complete. Rest now, for you will need to for your next Labor." The King left, the smile on his face unremoved. Hercules left speechless and troubled, feeling that his cousin was right this time. For the first time since he began his Labors, the hero felt humbled: he had become a slave of greed.

Deep in the night, he was unable to move. A strange, shadowy figure stepped behind him, pressing a pointy knife against his back.
"You are not dreaming, this is real." Hercules was sure this was another of those dreams, although the voice insisted it was not. "You are sleeping alone, as you have been living alone. All that because you defy me.

For I am you
and you are me
the two are one -
will always be.
Away from Olympus and dazing heights
where equals live, thrive and unite,
you'll stay with me in shadow-hue,
until the others become you."
Hercules felt an acute pain in his ribs, like a knife tearing its way through. He awoke at his camp; it was dawn and he humbly thanked the gods that he was still alive and capable of amending his shortcomings.