Eurystheus bids Hercules to kill the monstrous invulnerable Lion of Nemea, the offspring of Echidna and Typhon, which ravaged the country near Mycenæ.
Hercules first attacked it unsuccessfully with his arrows and club; then he drove it into its cavern, where he strangled it with his hands.
He afterwards carried it on his shoulders to Mycenæ, clothed himself with its impenetrable hide, upon which nothing could make an impression save the beast’s own claws, and took the body to Eurystheus, who was so astonished that he ordered Hercules not to enter the gates of the city when returning from his expeditions, but to wait outside the walls.
The Lion, as king of the animals, represents the highest aspect of power and form of all the kingdoms of Nature, over which man is destined to be lord, within and without. But the Lion of Nemea, as the seed of Echidna and Typhon, denotes a perversion of this power.
Mycenæ is symbolical of the heavenly city.
Nemea is “the wooded place”, and represents Hyle, or the material realm.
Leo – “The Lion”, is the Zodiacal Sign of Moulding Power and Fabricative Form. Some of its inverted aspects are pride, intolerance, obstinacy, self-will, haughtiness, self-exaltation, and ambition.
Its pure aspects are dignity or worth, tolerance, deliberation, honesty, magnanimity, comprehensiveness, inner strength, and courage.
This task may be regarded as the conquest of the lower ambition and the pride of self-will.
The kingship, power, and glory of which the lion is an appropriate symbol, are truly invulnerable, whether they pertain to the highest achievements or whether they refer merely to the lower self. In the one case there is that inner strength over which no external force can prevail, but in the other case there is that ravaging power which regards might as right, and strives to subjugate all things to its own aggrandisement.
The arrows and club of Hercules are again inadequate, for the evil must be conquered by the Soul itself, after being driven back to its cavern, implying that the inner as well as the outer pride is to be rooted out.
This victory renders Hercules invulnerable, for it marks the triumph of the human Soul over Nature and the utilization of its highest forms (lion and its hide) for the Soul’s purposes. The end of the mythos is an indication of the tremendous powers which the Soul gains through this Labour, but is also a warning to those who, having overcome certain adversaries, would attempt to enter the Kingdom of Heaven by human force.