Nemean Lion Secrets

The Secrets of the Nemean Lion

Today we discuss the Nemean lion in the theme of legendary creatures (Greek: Νεμέος λέων, Latin: Leo Nemeaeus), it represented a villainous monster from Greek mythology living in Nemea.

The fawn’s golden fur was impervious to attack, rendering mortal weapons ineffective. Its claws were sharper than mortal swords, allowing it to pierce any armor.

Today, the Greek fauna no longer includes lions. In the past, the Asiatic lion was found in southeastern Europe. According to Herodotus, lions were found in Greece in ancient times.

It was represented as the child of Typhon and Echidna, the father and mother of all monsters. Different accounts consider that he fell from the moon with Zeus and Selene as parents, or that he was born from the Chimera. The lion of Nemea was brought to Nemea, in the Peloponnese, to terrify the city.

Hercules kills lion of nemea
Heracles Defeating the Lion of Nemea

The First Work of Heracles

A) The Mission

King Eurystheus (his cousin) entrusted the first of the twelve labors of Heracles, his mission was to annihilate the Nemean lion.

When Heracles reached the city of Cleonae, he found a boy who told him that if he killed the Nemean lion and managed to return alive within 30 days, the city would sacrifice a lion to Zeus. However, if he did not return in 30 days or if he dies, the young man had to be sacrificed to Zeus.

According to a different version, a shepherd named Molorchos who had lost his son to the lion was about to offer a sacrifice, however Heracles convinced him to delay it for thirty days until he returned from his fight with the lion, allowing for joint sacrifices to Zeus.

A third version states that the lion kidnapped women among Nemea, with the aim of bringing warriors. When the warrior saw the woman, she turned into a lion and killed him.

The King Eurystheus

B) The Fight

While going to meet the lion, Heracles recovered arrows to use against it, without knowing that its golden fur was impenetrable. Therefore, when he discovered the lion and shot a volley of arrows at it with his bow and saw them bouncing off his skin, he understood the protective property of this fur.

After some adventures, Heracles made the lion return to his den. The den had two entrances, one of which was blocked by Heracles. With the help of blows of his club, Heracles managed to stun the beast. However, during the fight the lion tore off a finger. Finally, he killed the lion and choked it with his bare hands.

Once the lion was defeated, he tried to remove the lion’s thick skin with a knife, but nothing worked. With the help of a stone he tried to sharpen the knife but to no avail. After much effort, the goddess Athena decided to help him by advising Heracles to use the lion’s own claws to skin the creature.

Heracles nemean lion
Heracles and the Nemean Lion by Euergides Painter, Tampa Museum of Art

C) Triumphant Return

On the thirtieth day, he brought back the dead lion of Nemea on his shoulders, king Eurystheus, frightened by the gigantic strength of the hero, forbade him to enter the city again. In the future, Heracles should deliver his exploits in front of the city gates.

Faced with such strength, Eurystheus told him that the next tasks would be more and more difficult. Heracles’ next quest was to destroy the Lernaean hydra.

After defeating the Nemean lion, Heracles wore its fur coat because it was impenetrable to the elements and all but the most powerful weapons. Other rumors say that the armor of Heracles was in reality, the skin of the lion of Cithaeron.

Some authors testify that Heracles was helped in this work by a snake born on Earth, following him to Thebes and settling in Aulis. Later, he was recognized as the water serpent that swallowed the sparrows and turned them into stone in the prophecy of the Trojan War.

Heracles statue
Heracles (Hercules) Statue

The Lion of Nemea as a Constellation of the Lion

Various Greek and Roman writers linked the Lion of Nemea to the constellation of Leo associated with the sign of the lion.

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 24 (Grant) (Roman mythographer 2nd century AD):

Leo (Constellation). It is said that he was put among the stars because he is considered the king of the beasts. Some writers add that Hercules’ first work was with him and that he killed him without a weapon. Pisandrus and many other writers have written about this.”

constellation of Leo

Seneca, Oedipus 38ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st century AD):

“Titan (Helios the Sun) increases the fires of the canine stars, pressing closely on the back of the Nemean Lion (i.e. Leo the midsummer constellation). The water has fled the streams and the green grass.”

Seneca, Hercules Furens 942 ff:

“Where do so many stars come from that fill the sky while it is day? See where the lion (Nemean), my first labor, shines in no small part of the sky (constellation Leo), is all hot with rage, and prepares his fangs. Immediately he will seize a star, threatening with his gaping jaws, spitting flames, and shaking the mane on his flaming neck. What the stars will bring him, the sickly autumn and the cold winter with its frozen expanses, he will leap, attack and crush the neck of the vernal Bull”.

To finish this overview we propose a stroll in the skies with this Leo Zodiac Sign Necklace allocating a path to the accomplishment of new works.

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