The Cattle of Geryon

For his next labour, Heracles headed west towards the setting sun to distant lands, associated with death. Beyond the fringes of the continent close to Ocean lay the red island of Erythreia. Here lived Geryon (a fearsome creature with three heads, three fused bodies and six hands), the owner of a fine herd of cattle, which Heracles was to steal and bring back to Tiryns.

The Cattle of Geryon Photo Gallery

Where the Mediterranean debouches into the Atlantic he set two mighty rocks, named in antiquity ‘The Pillars of Heracles’. Today we know them as Ceuta (on the African side) and Gibraltar (on the European). There, as Heracles gazed out across the rolling sea wondering how he could cross it, Helios gave him as a ship a large golden cup.

So, running up his lion skin as a sail, Heracles was transported to his destination. He had already despatched both herdsman and guard dog (the twoheaded Orthus), when Geryon stormed across the pastureland brandishing weapons in all six hands. Undaunted, Heracles strung his bow, and brought down the monster. Then he drove the herd inside the golden cup and sailed back to Europe.

The subsequent trek to Tiryns gave mythographers – and cities keen to forge a link with Heracles -a field day. Legends described his route through Spain, the south of France, across the Alps, down Italy’s west coast (including to the future site of Rome), across to Sicily, back up the east coast, through Epirus, Thrace and Scythia, before finally striking south for Tiryns.

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