Here, kitty, kitty – Hercules First Labor

It’s time for another installment of the story behind The Osteria Chronicles…

In The Trials of Hercules, the first book of the Osteria Chronicles, Herc is ordered to perform twelve tasks to atone for a very very bad crime. Supposedly the tasks are to benefit his home (called Portaceae) but somehow the rewards of Herc’s efforts keep failing to do anything for anyone but Eury, the leader of Portaceae.

In the book, as well as in Greek mythology, Hercules (Herakles in Greek) is sent to battle the Nemean Lion as his first task. In the book, well, I don’t want to give too much away, but to give you a teaser, here’s the myth behind the story.

The Nemean lion was a bad kitty who roamed the mountains near Nemea (in northeastern Greece) nibbling on his favorite snack: people. For his first labor, Eurysthesus (head guy of Mycenae, Eury in the book) sends Hercules off to get the skin of the lion. Not because Eurysthesus needed a new rug or gruesome wall hanging, but because the lion’s pelt was impermeable to everything. Not just rain, but arrows, sword slashes, paper cuts. Everything.

So Hercules traipses off and on his way he meets a guy who says, “Hey buddy, let’s sacrifice to Zeus together so you have a good hunt.” People were like that in Ancient Greece, I guess.

Hercules, being a bit unsure of himself in this labor replies, “Hold that thought.” He tells the guy to wait a month. If he succeeds in getting the lion, they’ll sacrifice to Zeus in thanks. If he fails (as in Hercules becomes kitty chow), the guy is to sacrifice to Hercules himself as a hero. This makes no sense to me either because it wouldn’t be very heroic or worth sacrificing a whole goat over if Hercules fails. But I didn’t write the myth.

Hercules goes off again and finds the lion, tracking it to its den. The cave has two openings (good air flow), so Hercules blocks off one of them. Then, macho dude that he is, Hercules strides into the den, pulls some Nacho Libre-style wrestling moves and then chokes the poor kitty to death. PETA sent a complaint soon after.

Now he’s got to get that skin off. Remember how it was impermeable to everything, well, that includes his knife that he ruins trying to skin the dead beast. Luckily Athena always seem ready to help him out (does she have a thing for him, or what?). She appears to tell him to use one of the lion’s own claws to do the skinning. Hercules slaps himself in the head and says, “Why didn’t I think of that?” or maybe he said “Why didn’t I have a V-8?” Sorry, my Greek is rusty.

So, Herc heads home, stopping off on the way to do a little sacrifice to Zeus with his friend. Back in Mycenae, Eurysthesus is so afraid of Hercule’s anti-lion skills that he hides in a giant vase and tries to avoid facing Hercules ever again. Man, what a puss–I mean, what a Nemean lion!

Of course, the story in the book is slightly different, but Eury does end up quite afraid of Herc after the first task is complete.

Notice: No Nemean Lions were harmed in the making of this blog post.

The Roman Emperor Commodus trying to look like Hercules in a lion skin (poser!).
The Roman Emperor Commodus trying to look like HerculesĀ by wearing a lion skin (poser!).