Behind the Book: Hercules’s Twelfth Labor

We’ve made it to the twelfth labor! But let’s not linger over celebrations, let’s see what Herc has to face this time and how I worked the labor in The Trials of Hercules: Book One of the Osteria Chronicles….

Hercules’s Twelfth Labor in Mythology

Welcome to the Underworld!

Welcome to the Underworld!

Eurystheus may have meant it as an insult when he told Hercules to go to hell, but whatever the king commands, his subjects must do. And with this command, Hercules is ordered to go to the Underworld to retrieve Hades’s dog – the three-headed monster, Cerberus.

In this final labor, Eurytheus hopes to devise a task that Hercules has no way of completing….or surviving, for that matter. After all, the Underworld isn’t a tourist attraction you just wander into, have a peek and then wander out again. Luckily, our hero has a habit of getting out of tough scrapes and ruining everyone’s diabolical plans.

The problem with the Underworld is that it was a bit of an exclusive club. There’s no dress code, but you do have to be dead to get in. To keep eager folks who are still-breathing out of the Underworld, Cerberus guards the entrance like an ancient three-headed bouncer.

Cerberus himself has an interesting lineage – maybe not AKC-level standards, but interesting nonetheless. His mom was Echinda – a woman who happened to be half serpent. And dear old dad was the titan Typhon who was just a mess of a monster with dragons and snakes all over his body. But the two made a nice couple and produced loads of cute little babies like Cerberus, Orthos (the two-headed dog who guarded Geryon’s cattle in Labor #10), the nine-headed hydra from Labor #2 and the chimera. In some legends, Typhon and Echidna are also the parents of the Nemean Lion from Labor #1. while in other legends the lion is the incestuous offspring of Orthus and the chimera. Just imagine what Thanksgiving might have been like at that family gathering!

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Hope he brought a chew toy…or three!

But back to the labor. Hercules can’t just walk into the Underworld and take Cerberus home with him. One foot into the Underworld and you might not come back out. To ensure he knows the trick of getting in and out of Hades’s realm, Hercules learns the Eleusian Mysteries, which are mysterious ceremonies taught at Eleusia (makes sense).

Once filled with the knowledge of these mysteries, Hercules finds the entrance to the Underworld, apparently sneaks right past Cerberus (stupid dog), battles against some creepy creatures of the Underworld and, much like a video game, finally clears enough levels to get to Hades himself.

Hercules then asks Hades, “Hey, can I have your dog?” Hades, perhaps angry that Cerberus didn’t guard the entrance well enough, says, “Why sure.” Just as Hercules starts jumping for joy at how easy the task is turning out to be, Hades says, “But…” (Ugh, there’s always a but isn’t there?) “But, you have to subdue him without any weapons.”

Hercules is not only super strong, but he’s also a superb wrestler. After a tough match, Hercules wins and takes Cerberus home to Eury. As any normal person would do when he sees a three-headed hellhound, Eury hides. With no one to give the dog to Hercules lets Cerberus go and, like a faithful mutt, Cerberus runs home to his master.

Behind the Book

The chapter that this labor appears in in The Trials of Hercules was probably my second favorite to write (Labor #11 being my first). Not only does my favorite god, Hermes, make an appearance, but there’s plenty of intense action that keeps the chapter moving.

I also enjoyed wrenching Herc’s resolve a bit at the start of the chapter and as he faces entering into the Underworld – he may be heroic, but he’s also very human in his fears. I did cut the Eleusian Mysteries because this is another one of those bits of the myth that would have taken away from the pace of the novel. A pace that is ramped up with his battle against Cerberus and the flesh-craving undead he must get through to get out of the Underworld. I may have been watching too much Walking Dead when I wrote that scene.

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TAMMIE PAINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF THE TRIALS OF HERCULES: BOOK ONE OF THE OSTERIA CHRONICLES AND AN ARTIST WHO DEDICATES HERSELF TO THE TEDIUM OF CREATING IMAGES WITH COLORED PENCILS.

 

 

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