Heracles’ seventh Labour: the Cretan Bull

Drawn for revision of the OCR GCSE Classical Civilisation topic.

An illustration based on the metope at Olympia of Heracles fighting to subdue the Cretan Bull. Like the metope, the figures cross over, and Heracles is raising his club to hit it, although it's already been tethered by its nose and he holds the reigns. the bull is trying to escape out of the metope. The bull is huge, the same size as Heracles. Unlike the metope, Heracles is fully dressed in tunic and lion skin, and is saying 'I think a stranglehold would be better' - the myth tells us this is how he subdued the bull. By Greek Myth Comix

Heracles‘ seventh Labour from King Eurystheus was not on the Greek mainland – Heracles had to travel to Crete, to subdue and return with the Cretan Bull.

This bull was no ordinary bullit was the great (possibly white) bull that had fathered the Minotaur. King Minos of Knossos was only too happy to see it gone, as it had gone rogue and was destroying farmland.

Heracles used his brute strength to strangle the bull until it passed out, in order to subdue it. He then tethered it, then rode it across the sea back to the Greek mainland. Again, when it was presented to him, King Eurystheus is meant to have hidden in the pithos, showing how cowardly he was in contrast to Heracles.

Once the bull had fulfilled its purpose – proving Heracles had completed the Labour – he released it. It wandered over to Marathon, where it became the Marathonian Bull that the ‘hero’ Theseus is meant to have captured and sacrificed… before taking on the Minotaur, its child.

See the comic in more detail:

The comic is based on the metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, but has additions in order to help students remember both the metope and the story.

A sketch of the metope from Olympia, suggesting how the missing parts might have been filled in - Heracles is about to hit the bull with his club.
Sketch of the metope (author unknown, from Olympia) as it possibly looked when on the temple (photo taken by me at Museum of Olympia c.2015) – you can see a lot of it is left, and the position of the figures, but not what Heracles is originally holding. The faces are particularly well-preserved.

A photo of the metope at Olympia of the seventh Labour of Heracles. The metope is largely intact, although the lower halves of the figures are missing. Photo by LJB
Remaining parts of the carved stone metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (photo taken by me at Museum of Olympia c.2015)

This metope is filled by the two figures. The Bull is HUGE, almost as tall as Heracles, making the fight a real spectacle. Their battle is portrayed by the cross their bodies form over eachother. Heracles leans to the left, muscles clearly straining against the might of the Bull, which is leaning to the right, as if trying to escape the metope at Heracles’ grasp. However, the Bull has already been caught, with reigns through its nose that Heracles seems to be holding. The faces of both Heracles and the Bull are in high relief, eyes locked.

NOTE: AGAIN Heracles isn’t wearing the lion skin but he IS holding the club to help identify him… even though the myth suggests he used his own brute strength to put the animal in a stranglehold to subdue it. Again, he’s naked!

In the illustration, unlike the metope, Heracles is fully dressed in tunic and lion skin, and is saying ‘I think a stranglehold would be better’ – the myth tells us this is how he subdued the bull.

heracles by greekmythcomix - a lineart drawing of him, older, holding his club over his shoulder. He has a figleaf over his member (hello US audience!) and is carrying his lion skin. He's based on most standing statues of Heracles.

Continue learning about the life of Heracles:

Videos on YouTube

Comix on GMC

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