In April 2018, I set out on a bike tour of the Peloponnese. The trip was themed around the myth of the Labours of Hercules.
A Greek Mythology Bike Tour
I've always been fascinated by mythology, whether it's Greek, Norse, Aztec or Sumarian. Tales of heroes on quests inspired me as a kid, and I couldn't wait to turn the pages as I followed their journeys through books.
One of the myths I must have read a hundred times, was of Hercules and his 12 labours. Little did I know that years later, I would find myself living in Greece and then trying to retrace the journey on a bicycle!The idea for my one month bike tour of the Peloponnese in Greece, was to combine visiting archaeological sites and places mentioned in the myths, whilst cycling through the beautiful landscape. Before that though, a little about the Greek Mythology involved!
Hercules or Herakles – What's in a name?
Before I go any further, we need to talk about the name. The original Greek name would have been Herakles, or Iraklis which roughly means ‘Glory to Hera'.
Over thousands of years however, Hercules has become the most common form of the name outside of Greece. To keep things simple, I'm going to use this most well known spelling of the name.
If you are Greek and reading this, please note that I'm with you on the Macedonia issue, but I think you've lost the battle over how Hercules is pronounced and spelt!
For my American cousins, let's not even go into should it be ‘Labors' or ‘Labours'!
The 12 Labours of Hercules
With the spelling problem addressed, let's look at these 12 labours and what order they were performed in.
Oh dear… it's another problem!
The legend of Hercules and the 12 Labours would have been oral at first, and unlikely to have been written down.
As such, there is no real definitive order for them to be placed in. Most people use the order written down in the Bibliotheca by Apollodorus (probably not authors real name). This seems good enough to me!
- Slay the Nemean Lion.
- Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
- Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
- Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
- Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
- Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
- Capture the Cretan Bull.
- Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
- Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
- Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
- Steal the apples of the Hesperides.
- Capture and bring back Cerberus.
Where did the Labours of Hercules take place?
I can feel my headache for this project getting bigger!
At least 6 of the labours took place in the Peloponnese, but the rest took place in various other areas of the world known to the ancient Greeks at the time. One even took place in the underworld!
Still, the 6 Hercules labours in the Peloponnese give me something to go by, and has enabled me to build up a rough route.
I've also included some locations in the Peloponnese which occur in lesser known versions of the tale, or that appear in the local folklore of the Peloponnese.
Scholars who are far more dedicated than me have spent their lives trying to figure out the locations and meaning behind the myths. I've got about a month of planning before I hit the road on the bike, so I've done the best I can!
Key Hercules 12 Labours Locations in the Peloponnese
Below are the key locations mentioned in various different versions of the Hercules 12 Labours myth. I've listed them in sequence based on the above order of the labours. Does that make sense?
Nemean Lion Labour Locations
- Tiryns – One of three important ancient Mycenaean cities of the time, home of King Eurystheus.
- Mycenae – Some versions make it unclear whether it is Mycenae the city or the wider state being referred to. I've included it here.
- Cleonae – On the way to slay the Nemean Lion, Hercules stops off here (according to one legend).
- Nemea – A city close to where Hercules slew the Lion.
Lernaean Hydra Labour Locations
- Lake Lerna – Where Hercules slew the Lernaean Hydra.
- Spring of Amymone
Golden Hind of Artemis Labour Locations
- Ceryneia- A town about 50 miles away from Myceanae
- Artemisia, Messenia- In one version, the hind was going to rest here after being chased all over Greece and beyond.
- River Ladon – In one version, Hercules eventually catches the hind on the banks of the river
Erymanthian Boar Labour Locations
- Mount Erymanthos
- Foloi forest (Centaur Pholus hosted him)
- Cape Malea – chased the centaurs here
Augean Stables Labour Locations
- Elis (along with Ancient Olympia)
- Rivers Alpheus and Peneus
Stymphalian Birds Labour Locations
- Lake Stymphalos
Cerberus Labours Locations
- Taenarum in Laconia
- Emeia near Mycenae
- Troezen (must check out the Devil's Bridge near there!!)
Planning a route
With all the key locations in the Peloponnese connected with the Hercules Labours myth now written down, the next step was to plan out the route! You can check out the full Hercules bike touring route in the Peloponnese here.
Tour Concept Video
Here's a short video which outlines the concept of the Herculean Bike Tour in more detail.
Follow my journey
I'll be making plenty of updates from the road, with photos and little video clips. If you love social media, why not add me?
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Find out more about the Hercules Bike Tour here.