I was recently hearing this phrase bandied about with my family and it got me to thinking.  What constitutes a real “HERCULEAN” effort?  Did we put in 100%?  A 110%?  Who knows.  But it FELT positively HERCULEAN to us.  All of us certainly like to say we have done this after being especially proud over some finished project wrought by our own hands.

This made me and several family members go on our tiny hand held devices and find out enough to know more of what we were speaking about.

Sure enough we had plenty of responses on “Herculean” as it relates to labor.  In fact the math said that there were a total of 12 labors of Hercules without delay.

It seems old Herc was settling a bet and serving some kind of penance.  For what you might ask?

Oh some small trifling thing about killing his children while stricken by a bout of insanity (an ancient version of the Twinkie defense?).  I don’t know all the details.

So given this bit of background, it’s probably best that none of us try to duplicate the entire sequence of events in order to produce a truly Herculean situation.

By successfully completing these labors, Hercules would not only pay for his crime, but also achieve immortality and take his rightful place among the gods—lower case too darn them!

The important thing to note here is that he had 13 big challenges in order to pay his debt to society.  A few of the notables for starters includes: The Nemean Lion, The Lerna Hydra, The Apples of Hesperides (oh come on how hard could that be?), The Cattle of Geryon, The Belt of Hippolyte, The Erymanthian Boar (no one likes a boar), The Stymphalian Birds (couldn’t be worse than Alfred Hitchcock), The Cretan Bull, (no one likes bull from a Cretan!) and The Augeian Stables.

Oh speaking of the Augeian Stables.  Let’s focus on that one a minute.  It was the 6th labor for Hercules.  He was told to clean the stables of Augeias, king of Elis (located on the western coast of Peloponnesus) and a son of the sun god Helius.

Augeias, who had taken part in the expedition of the Argonauts, had countless herds. When Hercules asked for one-tenth of the king’s animals as his fee for cleaning the stables, the king agreed because he was convinced that the task was impossible. Just like when the Wizard of Oz mentioned as an aside to Dorothy to bring back the broomstick of the Wicked Witch, this one must have made old King pretty smug.

But Hercules, proved to be cleverer than the king had imagined: He tore down a wall and diverted the waters of the rivers Alpheius and Peneius into the stables.

Wow.  Brains and brawn!  Good thing too. Imagine if he had to actually shovel out horse manure in just sandals!

To make a long story short, the stables were cleaned in a matter of hours, but Augeias refused to keep his promise, insisting that Hercules had a duty to perform this labor for Eurystheus. To make matters worse, the King refused to give him credit for accomplishing the labor, contending that he had done it as a job for hire.

Other storytellers insist that the deal fell through because Eurystheus withheld credit and Augeias refused payment, because the stable owner and the King both contended that the river gods Alpheius and Peneius, accomplished the feat rather than Hercules himself.

Now how is this saga relevant to today’s world and YOU yourself you might ask?

Why it’s obvious.  First, we can take comfort that even in THOSE rarified, myth making days of glory, there was still incidents of the same kind of referee ruining, dispute driven hocus pocus that we specialize in now in this modern world.

I mean—what a rip-off!  Hercules was the guy who twisted and contorted those 2 rivers like garden hoses to achieve his purposes NOT those 2 river gods.

You talk about your stall cleaning entrepreneur!

Secondly, Hercules made the best of a bad situation didn’t he?  Even after being railroaded with a misleading deal of cleaning out some horse stalls.

And we can take inspiration from all this.  Because all of us get loaded down with horse manure at the very worst time, without the benefit of full disclosure beforehand.

And most realistic of all, despite our countless times of solving all those horse manure dilemmas we get faced with, we can almost always expect no credit for it at the end.

So we just do it anyway.  And then we do it again.  And while we aren’t built like Hercules (and thankfully don’t have his crime to contend with) we should give ourselves more credit for all the many times we reroute rivers and solve things faster than we previously thought we could.

We just won’t get a prize most likely.  Except for this little pat on the back that I am offering you now!

Hey You!  Congratulations on shoveling out all that horse manure!




About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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