What Is the Nemean Lion?
The Nemean Lion is the child of Echidna, the half-snake half-woman known as the Mother of Monsters, and Typhon, the child of Gaia who challenged Zeus for dominion over the cosmos.
While the Nemean Lion is generally accepted to be the child of Echidna and Typhon, there are conflicting stories. Some scholars believe that Zeus had an affair with Selene, Goddess of the Moon, and that the Nemean Lion fell to earth as a result of this activity. Still others believe that he is born of the Chimera, generally accepted to be his sibling.
Regardless of which origin is correct, it is generally accepted that the Nemean Lion was sent to Peloponnesus to terrorize Nemea and the surrounding areas. He is said to have captured maidens in order to lure heroes to their deaths, sacrificing their bones to Hades.
The Nemean Lion had razor sharp claws and a beautiful golden coat that could not be penetrated by any earthly weapon, a feature that would cause some difficulty to those who would defeat it.
Killing the Unkillable
The Nemean Lion is featured as the first Labor of Heracles, set down for him by King Eurystheus in honor of Hera. As he set out to take on this endeavor, Heracles acquired a quiver of arrows that he thought would make this an easy task. However, upon encountering the lion, he discovered that the arrows were incapable of penetrating his golden hide. Realizing that this task would require a more direct approach, Heracles attacked the Nemean Lion with his sword. Unfortunately, this was no more effective, and the sword bent against the lion’s impenetrable skin. Heracles did, however, manage to drive the lion back to its den.
Knowing that there were two exits, Heracles blocked one with boulders using his enormous strength. He then cornered the lion and the two began a struggle that could lead only to death for one of them. Heracles managed to get the Nemean Lion in a stranglehold, eventually choking the life from its massive form.
Skinning the Unskinnable
But Heracles’ troubles with the Nemean Lion were not finished yet. King Eurystheus had demanded delivery of the hide as proof of Heracles’ triumph. But no weapon or stone would pierce the hide so that Heracles could skin it. Eventually he realized, possibly through the divine intervention of Athena, that only the Nemean Lion’s own claws could remove the hide.
The Lion’s Revenge
When Heracles returned to King Eurystheus with his trophy, the regent was so shocked and disturbed at Heracles’ ability to defeat the undefeatable Nemean Lion that he became afraid of Heracles and forbade him from ever entering the city again.
Nothing else is known of the Nemean Lion, although there is one potential tribute to this mighty beast. In Mycenae, which is also in Peloponnesus, there remains to this day the main entrance to the citadel known as “The Lion Gate.” As this gate is in the same region, and the Nemean Lion is the most notable lion from Greek history, one has to wonder if this is a tribute to his might.