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In Greek Mythology, Who Was Geryon?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In Greek mythology, Geryon was a giant who lived on the island of Erytheia. According to legend, he kept a herd of cattle which were distinctive for their red color, and guarded by a herdsman and a two-headed dog named Orthrus. Geryon appeared in several Greek myths and legends, perhaps most famously in the labors of Hercules, when Hercules had to steal his cattle. Unfortunately for Geryon, Hercules had to kill the giant in battle before he could take the coveted livestock away.

Like many monsters in Greek mythology, Geryon's looks are a topic for debate. In some stories, he simply has three heads, while in others he actually has three bodies, giving him six arms to work with. It is generally agreed what he was the son of Chrysaor and Calirrhoe, and he was at least unusually large, if not a full blown giant. In most stories, he is depicted as a warrior, and his battle with Hercules is often described as being quite heroic.

A sculpture of Hercules, who killed Geryon.
A sculpture of Hercules, who killed Geryon.

Stories about Geryon usually place him in a mythical land near the Hesperides, a group of nymphs who guard a paradisaical garden. This land is so far West that it is at the end of the world, and is associated with various mythological figures, events, and objects. Visitors to the region must generally use supernatural methods to reach it, although some Greeks believed that Geryon's home correlated with an actual place.

In stories about the labors of Hercules, Hercules is dispatched to Geryon's island in an attempt to steal the cattle. In order to do, Hercules is forced to battle the cattle herdsman and the watchdog before he can finally confront Geryon himself. Ultimately, the giant is felled by a poisonous arrow which Hercules had dipped in the blood of the Lernaean Hydra on an earlier adventure.

Once Hercules steals Geryon's cattle, however, his troubles are far from over. As he drives them back to their destination, members of the herd are stolen, and Hera puts obstacles like swollen rivers and packs of flies in the way. Hercules must overcome these obstacles to deliver the cattle to Eurystheus, who ultimately decides to sacrifice them to Hera.

This 10th labor of Hercules showcased many traits which made Hercules a classical Greek hero. He was able to travel to a region which could not be reached by ordinary mortals with the assistance of the Gods, and once he was there, he managed to defeat a fearsome monster. Hercules also refused to buckle to stress, successfully bringing the cattle of Geryon home despite some major obstacles.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon301223

Was Geryon evil or not? Why?

jholcomb

@rugbygirl--No, there were actually two different magical herds! Geryon was just an unfortunate monster who had some pretty cattle that someone else wanted. Herakles (to use his Greek name) seems to have gotten them all. Also, Geryon apparently kept his cattle at the edge of the world, while Odysseus and his men found the sun cattle on Thrinacia somewhere in the Mediterranean--maybe Malta.

rugbygirl

Are the oxen of Geryon the same as the cattle of the Sun that Odysseus got in trouble for eating? I think baby Hermes once stole them, too.

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    • A sculpture of Hercules, who killed Geryon.
      By: carpathian
      A sculpture of Hercules, who killed Geryon.