Study Guide

Heracles (Hercules): The Twelve Labors Impossible Task Stories

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Impossible Task Stories

There are many stories, legends, fables, and fairy tales across cultures that involve a hero or an ordinary person tackling impossible tasks – tasks that require divine assistance (help from the gods or magical beings) in order to complete. Sometimes these tasks involve a quest for immortality, as is the case with Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh.
or with Juan Ponce de León in the popular legend about his search for the Fountain of Youth. Other examples of impossible tasks are found in popular fairy tales like "Rumpelstiltskin" or "Cinderella." In "Rumpelstiltskin," the miller's daughter must spin an entire room full of hay into gold. Cinderella must clean an entire castle by herself in one day or else her stepmother won't let her attend the ball of her dreams.

Stories that involve impossible tasks are really fun to read and listen to, because the characters in them must use their brains, their brawn, their charm, and their hearts in order to achieve the most extraordinary and superhuman things. Reading about everyday people who achieve the impossible sometimes makes us feel like we can do the same. (For an interesting list of other impossible task stories, click here.)

Heracles, however, isn't the only Greek hero or god who completes an impossible task. Consider the stories of "Cupid and Psyche," "Perseus and Medusa," and the Odyssey.

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