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The Monster Geryon in Greek Mythology

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

What is the role of a monster in Greek mythology? To challenge a hero, of course! In this lesson, we'll get to know Geryon, and see which Greek hero he faced off against.

Geryon

Imagine that you are tending your herd when, out of nowhere, a guy with a club shows up to kill your dog and steal your cattle. Who's the villain in this story? Well, would it make a difference if you knew that the herd's owner was a monster with three heads (and sometimes three torsos and three pairs of legs as well)?

Geryon was one of the monstrous figures of Greek mythology, notable for his striking appearance. He also owned a magnificent herd of cattle, which the hero Hercules was sent to fetch as one of his twelve labors. In Greek stories, Geryon is generally portrayed as the villain, but hey, he's just a guy out to protect what's his, right?

Geryon, the three-headed monster
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Geryon's Background

So, how exactly does one end up with three bodies? Physical appearances like this often denoted monstrous power in Greek mythology, as well as a heritage steeped in bad. Geryon's father was Chrysaor, who sprung to life out of the decapitated neck of the Gorgon Medusa. Chrysaor was said in some myths to become a king in Iberia, marrying Geryon's mother, Callirrhoe. Callirrhoe was a nymph-like spirit, the daughter of the powerful Titans Oceanus and Tethys. So, there was a lot of power in Geryon's lineage, which was common of monsters in Greek mythology.

Geryon lived on a remote island called Erytheia, said to be somewhere near the junction of Europe and Libya (often associated with the Strait of Gibraltar). There, he tended a magnificent herd of cattle whose coats had been permanently stained red by the light of the setting sun. He shared this island with his two-headed guard dog Orthrus (brother of Cerberus, guardian of the underworld), as well as the herdsman Eurytion.

Hercules and Geryon

As punishment for killing his family in a Hera-induced fit of rage, Hercules was sentenced to serve twelve years working for the King of Mycenae. The king gave Hercules twelve impossible tasks to perform (embodying the Greek idea that a virtuous struggle and suffering can lead to ultimate glory). Stealing the cattle of Geryon was the tenth task.

Hercules battles Geryon
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