It's been a little while since we last met Hēraklēs for a labour. Last time, he managed to fashuion a rattle to scare off the blood thirsty Stymphalian Birds, completing that labour rather effortlessly thanks to the Gods. Now, Hēraklēs is sent on a mission which--in theory--is far tougher: to capture the Cretan Bull.

To many, the Cretan Bull will be familiar, either because of it's own part in the tale or the fallout, namely the Minotaur. The classic myth goes as follows: Minos, king of Krete, requested Poseidon raise a bull from the sea, which the King promised to sacrifice; but when Minos refused to do so, Poseidon caused his wife Pasiphaê to fall in love with the bull. The child that came from this union was deformed in such a way that he had the head of a bull and the body of a man. In the labours of Hēraklēs, the story changes a little depending on the source. Diodorus agrees with the myth, saying in his 'Library of History':

"The next Labour which Heracles undertook was to bring back from Crete the bull of which, they say, Pasiphaê had been enamoured." [4.13.4]

Apollodorus, for example, has a different story to tell, not just about the Cretan Bull, but also about the story of King Minos. It seems the Bull had become feral, terrorizing the land and scaring the inhabitants of the island. From his 'Library':

"The seventh labour he enjoined on him was to bring the Cretan bull. Acusilaus says that this was the bull that ferried across Europa for Zeus; but some say it was the bull that Poseidon sent up from the sea when Minos promised to sacrifice to Poseidon what should appear out of the sea. And they say that when he saw the beauty of the bull he sent it away to the herds and sacrificed another to Poseidon; at which the god was angry and made the bull savage." [2.5.7]

From Philostratus the Elder we get a description of the bull, based off of the description of his second Image Book:

"Pasiphaë outside the workshop in the cattlefold gazes on the bull, thinking to draw him to her by her beauty and by her robe, which is divinely resplendent and more beautiful than any rainbow. She has a helpless look – for she knows what the creature is that she loves – and she is eager to embrace it, but takes no notice of her and gazes at its own cow. The bull is depicting with proud mien, the leader of the herd, with splendid horns, white, already experienced in love, its dewlap low and its neck massive, and it gazes fondly at the cow; but the cow in the herd, ranging free and all white but for a black head, disdains the bull. For its purpose suggests a leap, as of a girl who avoids the importunity of a lover." [1.16]

Contrary to the other labours, there is actually not alot known about how Hēraklēs managed to wrangle in the bull and take him back to the main land. Both versions, however, agree that Minos helped him do it, or at least offered Hēraklēs assistance. If I was Minos, I would want that bull away from my wife and people too! Diodorus literally suffices with a single line on the capture of the Bull:

"[A]nd sailing to the island he secured the aid of Minos the king and brought it back to the Peloponnesus, having voyaged upon its back over so wide an expanse of sea." [4.13.4]

Apollodorus is a little bit more forthcoming:

"To attack this bull Hercules came to Crete, and when, in reply to his request for aid, Minos told him to fight and catch the bull for himself, he caught it and brought it to Eurystheus, and having shown it to him he let it afterwards go free. But the bull roamed to Sparta and all Arcadia, and traversing the Isthmus arrived at Marathon in Attica and harried the inhabitants." [2.5.7]

How Hēraklēs captured the Bull will most likely always remain a mystery. I like to envision him wrestling it down and tying it like the bull capturers; risking life and limb in a heroic effort to make better the lives of the citizens of Krete. And so another labour is completed. Next time we will cover the little break that follows the seventh labour in which Hēraklēs establishes the Olympic Games and frees the Titan Prometheus--amongst other things.

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons.