Hey loyal Hercules fans, I know we’re due for another interview with a character from The Trials of Hercules, but it’s been a busy day on the road visiting family, so I’m dipping into my stock of labors. Looking back on my blog roll, it looks like we’re up to Labor No. 5 which has nothing to do with Chanel. Quite the opposite.
The Fifth Labor of Hercules
By the time we get to Hercules’s fifth labor, Eurystheus is getting pretty darn tired of Old Herc being able to complete the tasks without even breaking a sweat. So, for the fifth labor Eury opts for a task that is seemingly impossible, somewhat degrading, and downright disgusting: He orders Hercules to clean the Augean stables…in a single day.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Surely a dude that can conquer an impossible-to-conquer lion and a head-regenerating water serpent can handle mucking out some stalls. Turns out the stalls of Augeas house a huge herd of rather unique animals. In some sources, the animals are all cattle, in others they are a mix of livestock, and in still others they are all horses. I like the idea that they’re all horses so let’s stick with that (horses are also the animal I chose to use in the book).
What’s so unique about this herd of beasts? They were gifts to King Augeas from Hera and they just happen to be immortal. Now, for some reason, immortal horses produce ENORMOUS quantities of poop. Who knew, right? To make matters worse, Augeas’s stable hands haven’t kept up on their duties so the stables are wall to wall with horse nasty.
To make matters even worse, if one scrap of poo is left behind when the stables do get cleaned, the entire stable fills again with poop. Yeah, gross. Luckily the horses are immortal and won’t die of infection…unlike modern day cattle kept in CAFOs (seriously, those things are cruel and should be banned).
On Eurystheus’s command Hercules toodles on over to Augeas and says he’ll clean up the mess. Augeas, probably thinking, Yeah, I’ve heard that one before, says, “Dude, if you can do that, you can have a tenth of my horses.” Hercules, not being a very shrewd businessman, doesn’t bother to get this offer in writing.
Still, Hercules isn’t a dummy. He uses some engineering tactics to dig out trenches and divert two rivers so they flow through Augeas’s stables, washing out every tiny bit of muck and making everything shiny clean.
Hercules wanders back up to Augeas’s house and asks for payment. Augeas somehow has found out that Hercules was sent by Eurystheus. Apparently Augeas and Eurystheus have some bad blood between them because Augeas refuses to pay anyone who works for Eurystheus and then has the gall to say he never offered Hercules payment in the first place.
Well, this won’t do. Luckily for Hercules, Augeas’s son Phyleus happened to witness the deal and called out his dad’s foul. In some versions, Hercules kills Augeas and grants Phyleus the kingdom, but in others, Augeas is simply deposed and Phyleus takes his rightful place as king.
But our hero isn’t out of the woods yet. Once he gets home and says, “Labor Five. Check.” Eurystheus says, “No, I don’t think so.” In some versions Eurystheus nitpicks and says since the water actually did the work of cleaning the stables, the labor didn’t count as being completed by Hercules – seriously, you just want to slap the guy. In others, because Hercules got paid, Eurystheus says the deed doesn’t count. Either way, Eurystheus is a picky little weenie head and Hercules is left having to add another labor to his penance.
In the Book
In The Trials of Hercules, I stick close to the legend with a few enhancements. I had fun making Augeas the epitome of grumpy old codger. Unfortunately, because Eury wants to keep Herc away, Herc doesn’t get a chance to take his newly acquired horses home and must immediately face a new challenge that truly tests Herc’s meddle.