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The Twelve Labors of Hercules

Teacher Guide by Anna Warfield

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Student Activities for Greek Mythology: The 12 Labors of Hercules Include:

Herakles, known more commonly by the Latinized name Hercules, is one of the greatest heroes - ever! We get the word "Herculean" in English, meaning "requiring enormous effort", from the story of Hercules, who had superhuman strength and accomplished twelve seemingly impossible tasks.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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"Hercules" is the hero's name that most people are familiar with. The name "Herakles" actually means "Hera's Glory". This name is ironic as Hera hates Hercules, and certainly would not consider him a gift of hers. Hera's husband, Zeus, had an affair with Alcmene, and Hercules is a constant reminder of her husband's infidelity. Sadly for Hera, Hercules would not be the last by far.


Hercules was very popular in Greek mythology, and continues to be popular in the modern age. Many surviving artwork from ancient Greece have Hercules as the subject, and there have been several films and television shows modeled after him. He is one of the mightiest heroes in mythology, and his character reflects many of the attributes that the Greeks admired, such as great strength, skills in combat, and guile.


Essential Questions for Hercules Myths

  1. What is atonement?
  2. What is the significance of completing the Twelve Labors?
  3. What made Hercules a hero?

Greek Mythology: The 12 Labors of Hercules Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Hercules Myth Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example Plot Diagram for the Myth of Hercules

*Note that this is a very general summary of his mythical story, and does not include his upbringing, the voyage of the Argo, the circumstances of his death, etc. An alternative to a plot diagram would be to make a Hero's Journey storyboard.


Exposition

Zeus had an affair with Alcmene and Hercules was born. Hera was jealous and tried to kill Hercules with two serpents. Hercules strangled the snakes in his crib.


Conflict

Hera hated Hercules. Later in life, she made Hercules go mad and he killed his family.


Rising Action

In order to atone for this sin, Hercules had to complete tasks for Eurystheus. Eurystheus assigned him impossible tasks to try and get Hercules killed.


Climax

Hercules completed the 12 Labors with strength, guile, and help from the gods. The Labors brought him all over the world and he defeated many foes.


Falling Action

Hercules was cleansed of the murder of his family. He won the hand of Deianeira after wrestling with a river god.


Resolution

When Hercules died, his immortal side went to live with the gods on Mount Olympus.



Story of Herakles

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of one of the Hercules myths.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Plot Diagram Template

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Hercules as an Epic Hero


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Hercules is as "epic" as heroes can get. Hercules is thought of by some as one of the greatest heroes of all time, and may have been one of the original archetypal epic heroes as defined by the ancient Greeks. He had extraordinary strength, completed impossible tasks, was beset by many obstacles, and had the ultimate reward of eternal life on Olympus.

Have students identify and depict the elements of an epic hero as they relate to Hercules.


Hercules Epic Hero

ATTRIBUTEDESCRIPTIONExample from Hercules Myths
Noble BirthUsually a king, prince, demi-god, or nobleman of some capacity. Hercules' father is none other than Zeus, king of the gods and lord of the sky.
Superhuman CapabilitiesThe warrior has the potential for greatness based on their attributes. Hercules has superhuman strength that he uses regularly. For example, he defeated the invulnerable Nemean Lion with his bare hands.
Vast TravelerAn epic hero is known for making travels to exotic locations by choice or chance, usually to battle against evil. Hercules literally travels to the ends of the earth to accomplish his tasks. He also journeys to the Underworld and back again.
Unmatched WarriorThis hero typically has a reputation for being a great warrior, even prior to the beginning of the story. Hercules is skilled with club, bow, sword, and unarmed combat.
Cultural Legend Before an Epic Hero can be universally known, he must first be a legend in his culture. Hercules is easy to recognize with his armor made from the Nemean Lion's invulnerable pelt.
HumilityThe hero performs great deeds for their own sake rather than glory. To atone for the death of his family, Hercules completes the Labors given him by a lesser man.
Battles Supernatural FoesThe opponents and obstacles the hero faces are usually supernatural beings. Hercules defeats many monsters before, during, and after his Twelve Labors, and he is often overcoming the obstacles sent by Hera. Monsters include the Lernaean Hydra, Kerberos, Geryon, and Nessos the centaur.

Herakles Epic Hero

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows how Hercules can be considered an epic hero.


  1. Identify events of the story or characteristics of Hercules that fit into attributes of an epic hero.
  2. Illustrate examples for Noble Birth, Superhuman Capabilities, Vast Traveler, Unmatched Warrior, Cultural Legend, Humility, and Battles Supernatural Foes.
  3. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates Hercules as an epic hero.
  4. Save and submit the assignment.



Characteristics of an Epic Hero Template Worksheet

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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The Twelve Labors of Heracles

Hercules is most famous for the Twelve Labors he completed in penance for the murder of his family. Have students create a chart that identifies and visualizes each of the different labors using the traditional storyboard layout. For a more extensive project, students can write descriptions of each one.


The Twelve Labors of Heracles


1 Nemean Lion The Nemean Lion was a ferocious beast that had a pelt that could not be pierced by sword or arrow. Hercules defeated the Nemean Lion by strangling it with his super strength. He crafted armor from the lion's hide.
2 Lernaean Hydra The hydra was a serpentine monster with multiple heads. Whenever one head was cut off, two more heads would grow in its place, making the number of heads increase. Hercules was able to defeat the Lernaean Hydra with the help of his nephew Iolaos. After Hercules chopped off a head, Iolaos burned the stump with a torch. New heads could not grow from the cauterized wounds. When Hercules cut off the main head, he buried it and covered it with a great rock. He dipped his arrowheads in the hydra's poisonous blood.
3 Ceryneian Hind A hind is a doe, or female deer. The Ceryneian Hind was a doe with golden antlers that was sacred to Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Since Hercules did not want to anger Artemis by killing the hind, he chased after the hind for a year until she was exhausted. He was able to capture and bring her to Mycenae.
4 Erymanthian Boar Eurystheus ordered Hercules to capture the Erymanthian Boar alive. When Hercules succeeded and carried the beast back to Mycenae, Eurystheus hid himself in a large storage jar in fear.
5 Augean Stables Augeas had several thousand heads of immortal cattle that were kept in stables that had not been cleaned in many years. Hercules' task was to clean the Augean Stables - a humiliating and disgusting task. As suggested by Athena, Hercules rerouted a river to wash away the years of accumulated dung.
6 Stymphalian Birds Hercules' sixth labor was to kill the monstrous birds that lived in a marshy area. Hercules startled the birds into flight with a bronze rattle (Athena's idea) and shot them down with the arrows poisoned by the hydra's blood.
7 Cretan Bull For this Labor, Hercules went to the island of Crete. His task was to capture an enormous bull that the king of Crete was all too happy to be rid of. Eurystheus again hid in his pot and wanted to sacrifice the bull to Hera, but she refused it due to her hate of Hercules.
8 Mares of Diomedes Diomedes kept horses and trained them to eat human flesh. Hercules fed Diomedes to his own horses, and the meal made them calm enough for Hercules to bind their dangerous mouths closed. He brought them back to Eurystheus.
9 Belt of Hippolyte Eurystheus ordered Hercules retrieve Hippolyte's belt for his daughter. Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, would have given him the belt, but Hera intervened and the Amazons attacked Hercules. He ended up killing Hippolyte and claiming the belt.
10 Cattle of Geryon Geryon was a terrible creature with three heads, three sets of arms, and three sets of legs, and he lived near the edge of the known world. Geryon had special red cows that Hercules had to bring back. Hercules killed Geryon and captured the cattle. On his journey back to Eurystheus, Hera sent a gadfly to irritate the cattle and they wandered off. Hercules spent nearly a year tracking them down and returning.
11 Golden Apples of the Hesperides Hercules was able to acquire the golden apples through trickery. He asked Atlas to retrieve the apples since he was related to the Hedperides. In return, Hercules took on Atlas' duty to hold up the heavens. When Atlas returned with the apples, Hercules tricked him into taking the sky back on his shoulders.
12 Kerberos Hercules' final labor was to bring the three-headed dog Kerberos up from the Underworld. Hades would not permit Hercules to use weapons, so Hercules had to face Kerberos with bare hands. He was able to subdue and chain Kerberos, and bring him back to a terrified Eurystheus.

12 Labors of Herakles

Example

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Labor Spotlight

Hercules performed many different tasks in order to atone for the murder of his family. Identifying the Twelve Labors is important to know more about Hercules' accomplishments, but each Labor is an interesting story on its own. Students can include some of their own invention to fill in any gaps.


Option 1: Narrative

Students can tell a narrative of a single Labor in a paragraph. Students must also include an illustration of the Labor. The example storyboard below uses this option.


Hercules brought peace to the people of Lerna when he killed off the vicious monster, the hydra. Truly only a task for the great Hercules! Whenever the hydra's head was cut off, two more heads would grow in its place. Hercules valiantly beheaded the hydra while his nephew, Iolaos, cauterized the necks to prevent new heads from growing. After Hercules cut off the final head and buried it beneath a rock, the hydra was no more!

Option 2: Newspaper Article

Each of Hercules' Labors were impressive and newsworthy events! Students can write news articles that report his success. They should include fictional quotes from various characters, such as townspeople that were saved, Eurystheus, proud Zeus, angry Hera, or Hercules himself! Students can also choose an unexpected point of view, like reporting for a newspaper for monsters, the gods, or the Amazons.


While the description box below a single large cell may be enough, it is more fun to integrate a completed storyboard cell into a text document to make a real newspaper! Click on the "Download Images / PowerPoint" button to get an image file of your amazing storyboard. Alternatively, print out the storyboard and write the article beneath it. There are several print options available.




Herakles Lernaean Hydra

Example

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•   (English) Greek Mythology: The 12 Labors of Hercules   •   (Español) Mitología Griega: Los 12 Trabajos de Hércules   •   (Français) Mythologie Grecque: les 12 Travaux D'Hercule   •   (Deutsch) Griechische Mythologie: Die 12 Arbeiten von Hercules   •   (Italiana) Mitologia Greca: Le 12 Fatiche di Ercole   •   (Nederlands) Griekse Mythologie: De 12 Werken van Hercules   •   (Português) Mitologia Grega: os 12 Trabalhos de Hércules