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In Greek mythology, the Ceryneian hind was a deer sacred to Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt. The hind served Artemis, pulling her chariot and performing other tasks for her. Most notably, the Ceryneian hind was briefly kidnapped by Hercules as part of his 12 labors. Several Greek vases and sculptures depict the Ceryneian hind, often with her mistress Artemis, or Diana as she was called by the Romans.
The hind's most distinct feature was a set of golden horns, a rather unusual feature on a female deer, as horns are usually only present on stags. The animal was also said to have metal hooves, made from either bronze or brass. On these hooves, the Ceryneian hind could travel faster than an arrow could fly. This trait made the creature a useful servant for Artemis, since she could travel at high speeds. The speed of the hind proved to be a problem for Hercules when he attempted to capture her, however.
The decision to order Hercules to go after the Ceryneian hind was rather clever. The 12 labors of Hercules were imposed by Eurystheus as part of a punishment, and because Eurystheus was a rival of Hercules, they were extremely difficult, with the goal of getting Hercules injured or killed. The first two tasks involved slaughtering vicious monsters, allowing Hercules to prove himself as a hero who could match even the most terrible of foes. Eurystheus hoped that by asking Hercules to go after the hind, he could invoke the wrath of Artemis, who would kill or at least severely punish Hercules in retribution for the theft.
According to myth, Hercules chased the Ceryneian hind for a year, before the hind finally tired, allowing the hero to capture it. In some stories, Hercules shot the hind in the leg to slow it down. As Hercules carried the hind back to Eurystheus, he encountered Artemis and Apollo, and explained the situation to the gods. Artemis ended up forgiving Hercules for the theft, on the condition that the hind be returned.
In Greek mythology, all deer are sacred to Artemis because of their connection with the Ceryneian hind. Artemis also protected cypress trees, which may explain why so many ancient specimens exist in Greece. The concept of a female hunting god accompanied by an animal such as a deer is actually quite old, and it certainly pre-dates Greek culture, although the Ceryneian hind appears to be a unique twist on the traditional animal companion for the goddess of the hunt.