The Augean Stables
For the fifth labor, Eurystheus ordered Hercules to clean up King Augeas' stables. Hercules knew this job would mean getting dirty and smelly, but sometimes even a hero has to do these things. Then Eurystheus made Hercules' task even harder: he had to clean up after the cattle of Augeas in a single day.
Now King Augeas owned more cattle than anyone in Greece. Some say that he was a son of one of the great gods, and others that he was a son of a mortal; whosever son he was, Augeas was very rich, and he had many herds of cows, bulls, goats, sheep and horses.
An aerial view of Olympia in Elis, where Augeas ruled his kingdom.
Photograph by Raymond V. Schoder, S.J., courtesy of Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers
Every night the cowherds, goatherds and shepherds drove the thousands of animals to the stables.
Boston 13.195, Attic red figure lekythos, c. 530-500 B.C.
People leading cows.
From Caskey & Beazley, plate IV. With permission of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Hercules went to King Augeas, and without telling anything about Eurystheus, said that he would clean out the stables in one day, if Augeas would give him a tenth of his fine cattle.
Munich 2412, Attic red figure stamnos, c. 440-430 B.C.
A bull drinking water from a basin.
From Furtwängler & Reichhold, pl. 19
Augeas couldn't believe his ears, but promised. Hercules brought Augeas's son along to watch. First the hero tore a big opening in the wall of the cattle-yard where the stables were. Then he made another opening in the wall on the opposite side of the yard.
Next, he dug wide trenches to two rivers which flowed nearby. He turned the course of the rivers into the yard. The rivers rushed through the stables, flushing them out, and all the mess flowed out the hole in the wall on other side of the yard.
Mount Holyoke 1925.BS.II.3, Attic black figure skyphos, c. 500 B.C.
Hercules takes a break. The goddess Athena pours him a cup of wine.
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum
When Augeas learned that Eurystheus was behind all this, he would not pay Hercules his reward. Not only that, he denied that he had even promised to pay a reward. Augeas said that if Hercules didn't like it, he could take the matter to a judge to decide.
The judge took his seat. Hercules called the son of Augeas to testify. The boy swore that his father had agreed to give Hercules a reward. The judge ruled that Hercules would have to be paid. In a rage, Augeas ordered both his own son and Hercules to leave his kingdom at once. So the boy went to the north country to live with his aunts, and Hercules headed back to Mycenae. But Eurystheus said that this labour didn't count, because Hercules was paid for having done the work.
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