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Mythological lions – Nemean lion

The Nemean lion – the Chimera’s relative

Mythological lions

The Nemean lion is presented in the story of Hercules whose first labor out of twelve was to kill a powerful predator. According to many mythologists, the Nemean lion was represented by the Leo constellation.

Name

The Nemean lion’s name comes from the place where it lived – a cave at Nemea.

  • Other names: The Nemean lion, the lion from Nemea, Greek: Λέων τῆς Νεμέας Léōn tē̂s Neméas, Latin: Leo Nemaeus.
Hercules versus Nemean lion.
Hercules versus Nemean lion

Unhurtable

The lion was of an enormous size and its skin could not be injured. Depending on the version of the myth, the Nemean lion was the son of Typhon and a half-woman, half-serpent Echidna, which classified it as the brother of the Chimera, the Sphinx, Hydra and other monsters; it could have also been the son of the Chimera and Orthrus, which was mentioned in the description of the Chimera.

In Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, Hera was the Nemean lion’s godmother who asked Gaia and Tartarus for creating a god/monster Typhon who would be the future father of the Nemean lion. Hera, angry with Zeus, sent the beast to Nemea, i.e., to the place where the temple devoted to the most important god was situated. Since then, anyone who had wanted to worship him had to pass by a gigantic, practically invincible lion. It became a real problem for the worshippers, because nobody was able to kill it. It was even said that the lion had been two times bigger than an average lion.

Hercules versus Nemean lion
Hercules using the Nemean lion’s pelt as armor

Hercules and the Nemean lion

It all changes when Hercules is given a mission to find and kill the monster. When the hero finally finds it, he tries to shoot it with arrows, but they do not even nick the incredibly strong skin. The strong young man concludes only after some time that he can not kill the lion in this way, because the skin cannot be pierced with anything.

However, instead of running away from the ferocious beast, Hercules throws himself at it and hits it in the head, knocking it out, and then he chokes it with his bare hands. To prove his victory, the hero has to bring the pelt of the invincible lion to king Eurystheus. Although the beast is already dead, its pelt still cannot be pierced, so after several attempts, Hercules conjectures that the only thing that can break the pelt is a lion’s claw. When he finally brings the pelt to the king, it turns out that he can keep it as his personal armor.

Leo constellation

In several versions of the myth, Zeus or Hera decides to create the Leo constellation, but it is unknown why at that very moment of history. Most of legends say that it was a way to honor Hercules, however, the constellation should have been named after him. The legend also says that Selene – the goddess and personification of the Moon – fed the lion with her own breast.

Hercules or Heracles

The Romans adapted the Greek Heracles’ myths for their literature and art under the name Hercules. Presently in art, literature and in popular culture (movies, games), Hercules is more commonly used than Heracles as the name of the hero, so in our articles we use more often Hercules than Heracles.

Please remember – Hercules is the Roman name of Heracles – the Greek hero.

The Nemean lion versus Hercules - the clash.
The Nemean lion versus Hercules – the clash.

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