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Stymphalian Birds

by Ron Leadbetter
On his fifth labor, Eurystheus sent Heracles to rid the marshes surrounding Lake Stymphalus in Arcadia of an enormous flock of birds, (in one version they had migrated to this place to escape an invasion of wolves). The birds were breeding at an astonishing rate, so much so that the surrounding countryside was over-run by them. Their feathers were metallic which made them very sharp; anyone coming in contact with them were speared to death. The birds were also destroying the crops and fruit trees and local inhabitants were being terrorized by them. (Some versions say that these birds were of the same flock, which attacked the Argonauts on their famous voyage).

The great hero set off on his journey thinking this should be quite an easy task to accomplish, but on reaching Lake Stymphalus Heracles realized this was not so. The forest in which the birds would roost was very dense, and so dark it was hard to see anything. Heracles, trying to think of a way in which to drive the birds from their hiding place, was approached by Athena, goddess of invention, and also a protectress of Heracles. It was she, with the help of Hephaestus, the smith-god, who devised a way to drive the birds from the forest.

On Athena's instruction, Hephaestus fashioned a huge pair of bronze clappers, to startle the birds into flight. Heracles, with his great strength, smashed the clappers together, which drove the birds to flight, and then, as the birds came into sight he shot them down with his deadly arrows. (there is evidence shown on a black-figure amphora, which depicts Heracles shooting down the birds with a catapult). Those that escaped the deadly arrows (or catapult) kept on flying ,and never returned again to Greece.


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