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Heracles and the Ceryneian Hind.
Bronze fountain, 1st century B.C.
In Greek mythology, the Ceryneian Hind (Greek: ἡ Κερυνῖτις ἔλαφος), also called Cerynitis, was an enormous hind sacred to Artemis, the chaste goddess of the hunt and moon. It had golden antlers like a stag and hooves of bronze or brass, and it was said that it could outrun an arrow in flight. The capture of the hind was one of The Twelve Labours of Heracles.

The Third Labour of Heracles

Eurystheus was greatly angered to find that Heracles had managed to escape death on the previous two labours, and so decided to spend more time thinking up a third task that would spell doom for the hero. The third task did not involve killing a beast, as it had already been established that Heracles could overcome even the most fearsome opponents, so Eurystheus decided to make him capture the remaining Ceryneian Hind as the hind was so fast it could outrun an arrow.

After beginning the search, Heracles awoke from sleeping and he could see the hind from the glint on its antlers. Heracles then chased the hind on foot for a full year through Greecemarker, Thrace, Istriamarker and the land of the Hyperboreans. In some versions, he captured the hind while it slept, rendering it lame with a trap net. In other versions, he encountered Artemis in her temple and she told him to leave the hind and tell Eurystheus all that had happened and his third labor would be considered to be completed.

Eurystheus had given Heracles this task hoping to incite Artemis' anger at Heracles for his desecration of her sacred animal. As he was returning with the hind, Heracles encountered Artemis and her twin, Apollo. He begged the goddess for forgiveness, explaining that he had to catch it as part of his penance, but he promised to return it. Artemis forgave him, foiling Eurystheus' plan to have her punish him.

Upon bringing the hind to Eurystheus, he was told that it was to become part of the King's menagerie. Heracles knew that he had to return the hind as he had promised, so he agreed to hand it over on the condition that Eurystheus himself come out and take it from him. The King came out, but the moment Heracles let the hind go, it sprinted back to its mistress, and Heracles left saying that Eurystheus had not been quick enough.

Origin of the myth

A doe bearing antlers was unknown in Greece, but the story of the hind is suggestive of reindeer, which, unlike other deer, can be harnessed and whose females bear antlers; so the myth's archaic origins may have been northern, Robert Graves thought.

Constellation

When the sun is in the sign of Scorpio, the constellation Hercules rises. The Greeks referred to the constellation of Hercules as the Stag (hind is another word for doe), the identification of the constellation with Hercules was made by the Romans.

The constellation Hercules, is the constellation Sagitta, the arrow, the owner of which varies amongst the various versions of each part of Greek mythology. Artemis (to whom the Ceryneian Hind was said to have been sacred, causing her to draw an arrow at Hercules, just like the constellation Sagittarius appears to be doing), is a key player in the myth discussing the origin of Scorpio and death of Orion, and so has an association with this area of sky. The direction of the arrow also makes it appear that the constellation Hercules (the stag) is trying to outrun it.

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