Hercules relief represents one of the twelve labors that
Hercules was required to do by King Eurystheus. King Eurystheus decided
Hercules' first task would be to bring him the skin of an invulnerable lion
which terrorized the hills around Nemea.
Setting out on such a seemingly impossible labor, Hercules came to a town called
Cleonae, where he stayed at the house of a poor workman-for-hire, Molorchus.
When his host offered to sacrifice an animal to pray for a safe lion hunt,
Hercules asked him to wait 30 days. If the hero returned with the lion's skin,
they would sacrifice to Zeus, king of the gods. If Hercules died trying to kill
the lion, Molorchus agreed to sacrifice instead to Hercules, as a hero.
When Hercules got to Nemea and began tracking the
terrible lion, he soon discovered his arrows were useless against the beast.
Hercules picked up his club and went after the lion. Following it to a cave
which had two entrances, Hercules blocked one of the doorways, then approached
the fierce lion through the other. Grasping the lion in his mighty arms, and
ignoring its powerful claws, he held it tightly until he'd choked it to death.
Hercules returned to Cleonae, carrying the dead
lion, and found Molorchus on the 30th day after he'd left for the hunt. Instead
of sacrificing to Hercules as a dead man, Molorchus and Hercules were able to
sacrifice together, to Zeus. When Hercules made it back to Mycenae, Eurystheus
was amazed that the hero had managed such an impossible task. The king became
afraid of Hercules, and forbade him from entering through the gates of the city.
Furthermore, Eurystheus had a large bronze jar
made and buried partway in the earth, where he could hide from Hercules if need
be. After that, Eurystheus sent his commands to Hercules through a herald,
refusing to see the powerful hero face to face.