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The Ceryneian Hind and Heracles in Greek Mythology

Heracles and the Ceryneian Hind

Gods, goddesses and heroes are of course the central figures in stories of Greek mythology, these immortals and mortals though inhabited a world that was also full of mythical creatures.

Some of these creatures, especially the monsters, like the Chimera and the Minotaur, are especially famous, for they were bested by famous heroes (Bellerophon and Theseus). There were though many mythical creatures in Greek mythology which were not monsters, with one such beast being the Ceryneian Hind.

The Ceryneian Hind would become famous for it was encountered by the Greek hero Heracles as he undertook his Labours.

The Ceryneian Hind

The Ceryneian Hind would take its name for in Greek mythology it was said to reside in the region around the ancient town of Ceryneia on the Peloponnesse.

Ancient writers would describe the Ceryneian Hind as having the basic appearance of a deer, but it was no ordinary deer for it was said to be the size of a large bull. Upon its head, the Ceryneian Hind was said to have golden antlers, and its hooves were said to be made of bronze.

Arguably though, the most remarkable feature of the Ceryneian Hind was its turn of speed, as the gigantic deer was said to be able to go faster than the fastest dispatch arrow.

Origins of the Ceryneian Hind

The origins of the Ceryneian Hind are not known, for no parentage is mentioned by ancient sources, but there is a story from Greek mythology of how it came to be found in Ceryneia.

The story commences with Taygete, one of the seven Pleiades, invoking the protection of Artemis, when she found herself being chased by Zeus. Artemis provided her protection to Artemis, and the Pleiad, in gratitude, would present the Greek goddess with five magnificent hinds, which were then stabled on Mount Olympus.

Four of the hinds would be used by Artemis as the creatures that pulled her chariot; these four hinds were subsequently known as the Elaphoi Khrysokeroi. The fifth Hind though escaped from Mount Olympus, and went to live around Ceryneia, but despite not being part of Artemis’ stable, the Hind remained sacred to the goddess.

The 12 Labours of Heracles

Mosaic with the Labors of Hercules, 3rd century AD, found in Liria (Valencia), National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid - Carole Raddato - CC-BY-SA-2.0

Mosaic with the Labors of Hercules, 3rd century AD, found in Liria (Valencia), National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid - Carole Raddato - CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Third Labour of Heracles

The path of the Ceryneian Hind would cross that of the Greek hero Heracles’ for the capture of the Ceryneian Hind was made the hero’s third seemingly impossible task.

King Eurystheus had already set two “impossible” tasks before hand, with the capture of the Nemean Lion, and the killing of the Lernaean Hydra. These two tasks had meant to have been deadly to Heracles, although of course the hero survived; King Eurystheus though believed that even if the capture of the Ceryneian Hind proved possible, in doing so, Heracles would bring down the wrath of Artemis.

Heracles in Ceryneia

Heracles would set out on the Labour un-phased by the task ahead of him, and indeed the locating of the Ceryneian Hind proved easy enough, but the capturing of the fleet of foot deer was something else. As soon as the Ceryneian Hind caught sight of Heracles it started to run, and Heracles would set off in hot pursuit.

Ancient writers would tell of the chase lasting for a whole year, with Heracles and the Ceryneian Hind evenly matched in speed and endurance, as they travelled all over Ancient Greece. Eventually though, Heracles would start to get closer to the deer when the Ceryneian Hind made its was onto Mount Artemisium. Mount Artemisium was a mountain located on the border between Argolis and Arcadia, and as the name suggests it was a mountain sacred to Artemis.

As the Ceryneian Hind made to cross the River Ladon, Heracles found himself within a distance conducive for accurate bow work. Heracles would unleash an arrow, although the hero did not seek to wound the deer, but instead by sending an arrow between its legs, Heracles managed to trip the deer, allowing Heracles to pounce upon it.

Artemis and a Hind

Artemis and a small hind - "Diana of Versailles". Marble, Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy. - Marie-Lan Nguyen - Released into PD

Artemis and a small hind - "Diana of Versailles". Marble, Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy. - Marie-Lan Nguyen - Released into PD

The Ceryneian Hind is taken to Tiryns

Heracles would bind the legs of the deer, and lift it onto his back; Heracles would then set off on the journey back to Tiryns and the court of King Eurystheus. Shortly after setting off, Heracles’ path would be blocked by an angry Artemis, and Apollo, her brother.

Heracles would immediately ask Artemis for her forgiveness, and the Greek hero quickly explained the predicament he found himself in. Heracles also managed to placate Artemis by promising the goddess that he would release the Ceryneian Hind after he had completed his task.

By placating Artemis, Heracles had managed to thwart King Eurystheus twice in one Labour; firstly, Heracles had managed to complete the task by capturing the Ceryneian Hind, and secondly, the Greek hero had managed to avoid Artemis’ anger as well.

The Ceryneian Hind Released

The Third Labour of Heracles though, still had one potential pitfall, for when Heracles returned to Tiryns with the Ceryneian Hind, King Eurystheus decided the magnificent creature should be added to his own menagerie.

Heracles, of course could not have the king keep the Hind, for this would mean breaking his own promise to Artemis. Heracles quickly came up with a plan to keep his promise.

Heracles managed to convince King Eurystheus to come and collect the Ceryneian Hind himself from the hero, but as the king approached, Heracles released the Hind, and of course, the deer returned back to Ceryneia.

Heracles of course blamed the king for being too slow, in taking control of the Hind. Subsequently, no other hunter was able to capture the Ceryneian Hind, and as all of the creatures that pulled the chariots of the god were thought to be immortal, the fleet of foot deer may well still be still roaming Ceryneia.