Fifth Labor - Hercules (Heracles - Herakles)
Apollodorus Labor 5 - Stables of Augeas
This is a retelling of the fifth of twelve labors the Greek hero Hercules performed for Eurystheus.Hercules was next instructed to perform a smelly service that would benefit mankind in general, but especially King Augeas of Elis [see Peloponnese map section bB], son of Poseidon.
King Augeas was cheap, and while he was rich enough to own many, many herds of cattle, he had never been willing to pay for the services of someone to clean their mess. The mess has become proverbial. Augean stables is now synonymous with "Herculean task," which is itself the equivalent of saying something is all but humanly impossible.
As we've seen in the preceding section (Labor 4), Hercules enjoyed the finer, costly things in life, including a large meat meal like the one the unfortunate Pholus provided him. Seeing all the cattle Augeas wasn't taking care of, Hercules got greedy. He asked the king to pay him a tenth of his herd if he could clean the stables in one day.
The king didn't believe it was possible, and so agreed to Hercules' demands, but when Hercules diverted the neighboring river and used its force to cleanse the stables, King Augeas reneged on his deal. (He would eventually rue the day he thwarted Hercules.) In his defense, Augeas had an excuse. Between the time he made the bargain and the time Hercules delivered the goods, Augeas had learned that Hercules had been ordered to perform the labor by King Eurystheus, and that Hercules wasn't really offering the services of a man free to make such bargains -- or at least that is how he justified keeping his cattle.
When Eurystheus learned that Hercules had offered to work for King Augeas for pay, he denied the labor as one of the ten.