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Nemean Lion

by Ron Leadbetter
The first labor for the hero Heracles, was to rid the Nemean plain of the wild, enormous and extremely ferocious beast known as the Nemean Lion. This huge creature was the son of the monsters Typhon (who had 100 heads) and Echidna (half maiden - half serpent), and brother of the Theban Sphinx, in some legends it is said that the Nemean lion was suckled by Selene the goddess of the moon, other versions say that it was nursed by the goddess Hera.

Heracles set out to find the monster, which roamed the land of Argolis. Armed with his bow and arrows, (in some versions usually the Classical period he also had a bronze sword) and his club (made from an olive tree which he tore up from the roots). Hunting through the Nemean forest trying to find the lions lair, he suddenly stopped in his tracks when he heard a fearsome roar. Heracles turned and saw the huge lion rushing toward him. Quick as a flash Heracles drew his bow and released an arrow, but it failed to harm the lion. As the monster bore down on Heracles he quickly fired another arrow, and again it did no harm, the bronze heads bending as if hitting solid rock; the skin of this creature could not be penetrated by the sharpest of points. The lion pounced, but Heracles smashed his heavy club into the on coming monster, stunning it.

Realizing no weapon could kill this monster he rid himself of them, and fought the monster with his bare hands, with incredible strength, Heracles wrapped his great arms around the lions neck and strangled it to death. Once the huge monster was dead Heracles set about skinning the beast, but the skin was so tough he could neither tear or cut it. Then he tried the enormous claws which were very sharp, this time it penetrated the hide and Heracles removed his trophy. Realizing how impenetrable it was he threw it over himself as a cloak, and pulling the head over his own as a helmet making the pelt into armor which would make him even more powerful. From this time on the skin of the Nemean Lion became one of the attributes of Heracles, and so did the olive-wood club.

In art the hero is usually depicted wearing the Nemean lion skin, its jaws forming the peak of the helmet while its great clawed paws are knotted at his chest forming a hooded cloak, and he is usually leaning on his club, or hanging it on his shoulder.


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