Heracles and the Hind
In Ancient Greece there was once a demi-God who wanted only one thing.
“I want to be a hero!”
His name was Heracles, but there was a problem. In order to prove himself a hero to the Goddesses, he had to complete tasks set for him by his cousin, King Eurystheus, who really, really, really hated him.
“You think you’re so special, don’t you, Heracles?” King Eurystheus said, when Heracles entered his palace throne room. Heracles did think he was rather special, he was a demi-God after all, but he wasn’t about to say that in front of the King and all his courtiers - heroes were supposed to be humble.
King Eurystheus smirked. “We’ll see how special you are when you kill…”
King Eurystheus never got to finish that sentence, because the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, appeared next to him and she didn’t look happy. “King Eurystheus,” she said. “You weren’t planning on sending this hero to kill an innocent, defenceless animal, were you?”
“A...a...absolutely not, m..my lady, I would never do that.” King Eurystheus spluttered. “I was going to send him to kill a monster.”
Athena’s eyes blazed. “Who are you to say what is a monster?”
King Eurystheus wanted to tell her he was a King and what he said was law, but she was a Goddess. So he folded his arms and stuck out his bottom lip and pointed at Heracles. “He’s not actually a hero you know.”
“Not yet,” Athena said. “So, what task will you set him to prove he has what it takes?”
King Eurystheus thought quickly. It had to be something impossible, that wouldn’t make him look bad. Then he grinned, he’d had a great idea. “You must catch... not kill,” he glanced at Athena who nodded her approval, “the Hind of Artemis.”
Heracles didn’t even flinch. “Easy peasy, I’ll have her for you by lunchtime,” and he turned and sauntered out of the throne room.
King Eurystheus waited until he was out of earshot (and the Goddess had gone) before allowing himself a triumphant giggle. Heracles was not going to find this task as easy as he imagined.
Heracles found the Hind of Artemis grazing in a forest in the north of the world. He was struck by her beautiful golden hooves and her sleek bay coat. It seemed a shame to capture such a beautiful creature for such an unworthy king. Nevertheless, Heracles crept up behind the hind ready to grab her, but she caught a whiff of him on the wind and bounded away.
“Hey, come back!” Heracles chased her over hills and mountains, across fields and meadows, through woods and forests, all the way to the southern seas and back again to the northern shores. Although exhausted, Heracles had to admit he was impressed, he had never known an animal so sleek and swift.
After a year and a day of chasing the hind all over Greece and beyond, the deer came to rest by a lake, where she took a drink.
“Finally,” Heracles muttered, taking an arrow from his pack and tying a rope to the end. He would shoot an arrow that would loop the rope around her neck so he could reel her in. He had done it a hundred times with sheep.
But the Hind of Artemis was no sheep. The moment Heraceles loosed his bow, the hind caught sight of him and bolted, straight into Heracles’ arrow, which hit her in the heart.
“Demeter’s daughter!” Heracles exclaimed and ran to the deer’s side. Desperate to save her, he pulled out the arrow and tried to stop the flow of blood with his hands.
This is when Artemis, accompanied by her twin brother Apollo, arrived, to find her beloved hind dying, and the killer still on the scene, covered in her blood.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Heracles said.
Artemis raised an eyebrow. “Funny, it looks like you just killed my precious hind. Apollo, what does it look like to you?”
Apollo nodded his agreement. “It does look like that, sister.”
Heracles cringed, “OK, maybe it is what it looks like. But I didn’t mean to do it.”
“Oh, well that’s OK then,” the Goddess said.
Heracles couldn’t believe his luck. “Really?”
The Goddess glared at him. “No. A life for a life, you will have to die now, Heracles.”
Heracles fell to his knees. “Please,” he said. “Hear my story.”
Artemis, didn’t care for stories. But her brother – Apollo – stepped in. “Perhaps you should hear him out, for Athena.”
Artemis had always liked her half-sister Athena, “Fine,” she said. “But this better be good.”
So, Heracles explained the task. How he chased the hind all over the world and how he had tried to capture her. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, it was an accident.”
After listening to his story, Artemis was appeased. “Very well,” she said. “I won’t kill you. You may go.”
Heracles bowed to the Goddess. He was about to leave when the Goddess laid her hands on the hind’s wound and, by the power of the Gods, the deer was healed. She stood up and drank from the lake.
“Wow,” Heracles said. “That was amazing.”
Artemis nodded. “I guess we’d better take her to this King of yours.”
Heracles wasn’t sure whether to believe her this time. “Really? You’re going to help me?”
Artemis nodded. “I’d like to see what this King has to say for himself.”
So Artemis, Heracles and the hind jumped into Apollo’s chariot and sped to the palace, where King Eurystheus was waiting.
“Oh, there you are, Heracles!” he said when he saw Heracles walk through the door. “I thought you said you’d be back by lunch…” King Eurystheus’ eyes almost popped out of his head when he saw Artemis and Apollo follow Heracles in.
“Are you the King that sent this man to hunt down my deer?” Artemis asked and narrowed her eyes. “For fun?!”
King Eurystheus squirmed. “Maybe,” he squeaked. “But I didn’t mean for him to succeed. Everyone knows your hind is the swiftest in the land and besides… he didn’t have to accept.” King Eurystheus pointed at Heracles. “It was him that hunted her, if you want to punish anyone, punish him!”
Artemis stood over the King. “Be careful, King Eurystheus,” she said. “You don’t want me as an enemy.”
King Eurystheus gulped and slid down low on his throne. “No, my lady, of course not. A thousand apologies. It will never happen again.”
Artemis turned to Heracles. “You should have come to me first,” she said. “You should have explained your situation, I would have helped.”
Heracles bowed his head. “You’re right. Next time I will come to you,” he said.
The Goddess smiled at him. “One day you will make a great hero, Heracles,” she said before she left.
Heracles hoped she was right. He desperately wanted to be a hero, but he was realising that just wanting to be something isn’t always enough. You have to become it through hard work hard and learning from your mistakes. Heracles vowed that in the future he would ask for help if he needed it.