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The Sixth Labor of Heracles-The Stymphalian Birds
After Hercules returned from his success in the Augean stables, Eurystheus
came up with an even more difficult task. For the sixth Labor, Hercules was to
drive away an enormous flock of birds which gathered at a lake near the town of
Arriving at the lake, which was deep in the woods, Hercules had no
idea how to drive the huge gathering of birds away. The goddess Athena came to
his aid, providing a pair of bronze krotala, noisemaking clappers similar to castanets.
These were no ordinary noisemakers. They had been made by an immortal craftsman,
Hephaistos, the god of the forge.
Climbing a nearby mountain, Hercules clashed the krotala loudly, scaring
the birds out of the trees, then shot them with bow and arrow, or possibly with
a slingshot, as they took flight.
Some versions of the legend say that these Stymphalian birds were
vicious man-eaters. The 2nd century A.D. travel writer, Pausanias, trying to discover
what kind of birds they might have been, wrote that during his time a type of
bird from the Arabian desert was called "Stymphalian," describing them
as equal to lions or leopards in their fierceness. He speculated that the birds
Hercules encountered in the legend were similar to these Arabian birds.
"These fly against those who come to hunt them, wounding and killing them
with their beaks. All armor of bronze or iron that men wear is pierced by the
birds; but if they weave a garment of thick cork, the beaks of the Stymphalian
birds are caught in the cork garment... These birds are of the size of a crane,
and are like the ibis, but their beaks are more powerful, and not crooked like
that of the ibis" (Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.22.5)
Pausanias also saw and described the religious sanctuary built by the Greeks of
Stymphalos and dedicated to the goddess Artemis. He reported that the temple had
carvings of the Stymphalian birds up near its roof. Standing behind the temple,
he saw marble statues of maidens with the legs of birds.
This text is cited July 2004 from
Perseus Project URL bellow, which contains interesting hyperlinks
Heracles. 6. The Stymphalian birds. They were an innumerable swarm of
voracious birds, the daughters of Stymphalus and Ornis. They had brazen claws,
wings, and beaks, used their feathers as arrows, and ate human flesh. They had
been brought up by Ares, and were so numerous, that with their secretions and
feathers they killed men and beasts, and covered whole fields and meadows. From
fear of the wolves, these birds had taken refuge in a lake near Stymphalus, from
which Heracles was ordered by Eurvstheus to expel them. When Heracles undertook
the task, Athena provided him with a brazen rattle, by the noise of which he startled
the birds, and, as they attempted to fly away, he killed them with his arrows.
According to some accounts, he did not kill the birds, but only drove them away,
and afterwards they appeared again in the island of Aretias, whither they had
fled, and where they were found by the Argonauts. (Apollod. ii. 5.6; Hygin. Fab.
30; Paus. viii. 22.4, &c.; Serv. ad Aen. viii. 300; Apollon. Rhod. ii. 1037, with
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Nov 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Apollodorus, Library and Epitome (ed. Sir James George Frazer)