When they are stuck on the train platform waiting for the next train, Nanny Piggins tells Boris and the children the story of the first labour of Hercules when he had to kill the Nemean Lion. And how it did not quite go that way, thanks to Nanny Piggins distant relative – Iolaus Piggins
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‘Hercules and the Nemean Lion’ as told by Nanny Piggins
Nanny Piggins, Boris and the children were sitting on a bench at a train station waiting for the next train. It was going to be a long wait because they had only just missed the previous one.
And when I say they missed the train, it was really the train that had missed them. Because as the train was pulling in to the station, the driver had spotted Nanny Piggins coming down the stairsand hit the accelerator, driving straight through the station without stopping.
Nanny Piggins tried forcing him to stop by running along the platform and bashing her handbag against the window. But the platform was only a hundred metres long and she was wearing a lovely Louis Vitton gown, so she hadn’t wanted to plummet off the end into a heap of gravel.
To be fair to the driver, he was not pigist. He was just frightened of Nanny Piggins. She had caught his train several months earlier, and scolded him severely for braking too suddenly. She was taking home a pavlova and the sudden changes of speed of the train had made the whipped cream slide off the meringue. She’d been forced to eat the whole thing before further damage could be done.
Which was probably why she had told him off so thoroughly, she was full of all that pavlova eggy sugary goodness so she could think up some really cutting things to say – like ‘where did you get your train drivers license from the back of a toilet cistern?’ and ‘I’ve had smoother rides being blasted out of a Napoleonic cannon.’
So that’s how Nanny Piggins, Boris and the children came to be sitting on the platform feeling forlourn. There were several other confused and disgruntled passengers waiting too.
‘This train station doesn’t even have a good vending machine,’ complained Nanny Piggins.
‘It did have a vending machine,’ Derrick reminded her. ‘But you stole all the chocolate bars out of it last time.’
‘I did not!’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It’s not stealing if the chocolate falls out. I couldn’t leave the chocolate lying on the platform in hot weather. It would melt and be totally ruined.’
‘Yes, but the only reason the chocolate fell out of the vending machine is because you got Boris to pick it up and shake it upside down,’ Samantha reminded her.
‘I thought there might be some loose chocolate in there,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Loose chocolate is like loose change down the back of the couch. That’s a finders keepers situation. Everyone knows that.’
‘We’ve got a half hour to wait,’ said Michael. ‘Since there’s nothing to eat. Why don’t you tell us a story to pass the time.’
‘Alright,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But what story should I tell?’
‘How about one of Hercules labours?’ asked Samantha.
‘Yeah,’ said Derrick. ‘You told us the one where Hercules cleaned the Augean stables. But he had another 9 labours he had to perform, didn’t he?’
‘Hercules actually performed another eleven,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It was only supposed to be ten in total, but his sneaky cousin King Eurystheus said he cheated on two of them and so had to do extra. Cleaning the Augean stables was the fifth labour.’
‘So what was the first labour?’ asked Samantha. ‘Did he have to clean a public toilet? Or clean a sewer pipe? Or clean a really muddy African elephant?’
‘No, it was none of those things,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Hercules first labour involved no cleaning at all. It involved killing! Which probably actually did lead to cleaning, because I’m sure it is a very messy business that require a good bath afterwards.’
‘Huh?’ said Michael.
‘The first labour that King Eurystheus ordered Hercules to perform was to kill the Nemean Lion!’ said Nanny Piggins.
‘That’s awful,’ wailed Boris. ‘What did the Nemean lion ever do to him? Lions are some of the loveliest people I know. Cassandra and Amy from the circus were always so friendly to me. They’d never dream of biting anyone. …Unless you ate their steak when they weren’t looking, in which case they could be very grumpy indeed. But so long as they didn’t marinate their steak in honey, that very rarely happened, and we got along very well.’
‘Yes, I know, dear,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But you must remember – the performing lions at the circus were highly trained professionals. And also, extremely well fed. The Ringmaster was evil, but not a fool. When you run a business, you must keep your overheads low, but under feeding a lion is a terrible false economy.
And the lions you may chance to meet when on safari in Africa can be delightful as well. So long as you make sure, you only photograph them from their best side, when their manes are looking windswept and fabulous.’
But this Nemean Lion wasn’t like a regular lion you might meet in the street.
‘I hope I never meet a lion in the street,’ said Samantha.
‘You say that but if you ever need a can opened…’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘…Bumping into a friendly lion can be very convenient. Their claws are much better designed than any tin opener. That said, this Nemean lion was not the type to help anyone with problematic kitchen goods. The Nemean was a monster.’
‘That’s a bit harsh,’ said Michael. ‘You don’t like it when people are pig-ist. Aren’t you being lion-ist to say that?’
‘Oh, no not at all,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It was literally true. This was the Ancient Greek Story days and they had monsters back then. Real ones. In fact, do you remember when I told you about the Titans?’
‘Yes,’ said Derrick. ‘The Titans were the monsters who rules the world before Zeus and all the other immortal gods came along and threw them out.’
‘Typhon was a Titan, wasn’t he?’ said Michael. ‘The monster with a hundred snake heads who Zeus through an island at.’
‘Yes, that’s right,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Well Typhon is connected to the story of the Nemean lion, you see Typhon was married.’
‘Really?’ said Samantha. ‘That’s amazing. Handsome princes and beautiful princesses always find it very difficult to get married in fairy tales. But you’re saying this huge hideous hundred snake head monster managed to find love?’
‘Yes, I know,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But back in the time of the Titans, there were lots of giant hideous creatures. So finding your perfect love match despite being a murderous, evil, giant wasn’t as hard as it would be today.’
‘So Typhon met someone special and married her. Her name was – Echinda.’
‘What? Like the spiney native Australian mammal?’ asked Michael.
‘Yes, the same name,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘The Echidna was named after Echidna the Titan which was very insulting to the poor animal. Because Echidna the Titan was horrible. She was a giant monster that was half human and half snake.’
‘Which half was which?’ asked Derrick.
‘The top half was human and the bottom half was snake,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Which was a good thing, otherwise her conversation would have been dreadfully tedious.
So, Echidna and Typhon were married. And all their children were monsters. And I don’t mean monsters the way mothers affectionately call their children monsters when they say things like, ‘You little monster, did you help yourself to a cookie out of the cookie jar.’ Then give them a big hug because they are just so cute.
No, all of Echidna and Typhon’s children were literally monsters. All the most horrible monsters from Greek Mythology were their kids. The Nemean Lion, the Sphinx who killed anyone who couldn’t answer her riddle, Cerebus the three headed dog who guarded the underworld and stopped dead people from escaping Haedes and the Caucasion Eagle who every day ripped out Prometheus’ liver and ate it before it grew back and he’d come back the next day and do it again. All these monsters had Echidna and Typhon as their mum and dad.
‘That must have been a very strange family dinners,’ said Samantha.
‘Yes, agreed Nanny Piggins. ‘I can’t imagine that family reunions were very relaxing either. So their child, the Nemean Lion wasn’t just a regular lion.’
‘Which would be scary enough,’ said Samantha.
‘The Nemean Lion was a monstrous lion,’ continued Nanny Piggins. ‘Everyone was terrified of it. It was huge. Much bigger than a regular lion. And much tougher. And much hungrier.
But no one had ever been able to stop the Nemean Lion because it had a trick. It lived in a cave with two entrances. So whenever any human tried to trap it in the cave, the lion would just sneak out the other way.
‘Like we do when the truancy officer comes to the front door,’ said Michael. ‘And we sneak out the back.’
‘Exactly,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Or the upstairs bathroom window. They never expect you to make your get away through the upstairs bathroom window. But it was the Ancient Greek Story days so upstairs bathroom windows had not been invented yet. So the Nemean just had to make do with the two doorways ruse.
As a result of all this the Nemean Lion had been the scourge of Nemea for years.
‘It was called the Nemean lion and it lived in Nemea?’ said Boris. ‘That must have been very confusing.’
‘Not at all,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It was called the Nemean Lion because it lived in Nemea. I suppose so that people wouldn’t confuse it with other, less monstrous lions in other regions.’
‘How did the Nemean Lion come to be there?’ asked Michael. ‘Did Typhon and Echidna drop it off because it was too difficult to look after.’
‘No,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Typhon and Echidna were not really hands-on parents. The Nemean Lion was actually raised by Hera, Queen of the Gods and Zeus’ wife.’
‘I’m so confused,’ sobbed Boris.
‘I’m a bit too,’ said Samantha. ‘Why would the queen of the gods want a horrible monstrous lion as a pet?’
‘I think because she was Queen of the Gods,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘You see, Hera was married to Zeus and he could be very difficult to get along with. He had a terrible temper, as you know. But he also had a very bad habit of kidnapping maidens, seducing princesses and falling in love with nymphs.
As a result, Hera had some serious anger management issues. And she wasn’t one of those women who managed their anger with deep breathing exercises and reasoned conversation – she managed her anger with brutal vengeance and violent retribution!
And for a woman like that, a monstrous murderous horrifying pet can be very handy indeed. She got angry with the people of Nemea one day, and she sent her pet to go and live among them. Worse pet-sitting job ever.’
Hera had particularly trained the Nemean Lion to like eating beautiful young maidens. With Zeus as her husband, the less beautiful young maidens in the world the better as far as she was concerned. She sent the Lion to Nemea and he had been chomping on the local residents ever since.
So, let’s get to the beginning of our story. Smash cut to King Eurytheus. Zeus had asked him to come up with ten labours for Hercules to do. They have to be the ten most awful, dangerous, arduous things imaginable so that Hercules can atone for the terrible sin he had commited.
‘What sin did he commit?’ asked Michael.
‘I don’t want to get into that now,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘It’s a whole other story and a sad one. I think we’re better off focusing on the exciting story about the lion I’m trying to tell you now. All you need to know is that Hercules felt really bad and he wanted to be punished so that he would feel better.
‘Like you did, that time you ate 157 custard pies without sharing,’ said Boris.
‘Please don’t mention that day,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘I did my time. I tap danced for the orphans for three weeks to try to overcome my shame. In the end, it didn’t work and I had to make them another 157 custard pies or I just couldn’t live with myself. I can only imagine that Hercules felt something akin to this level of shame.’
‘So when King Eurystheus saw his much better looking, much stronger, much braver cousin standing before him in shame, he was gleeful. He really wanted Hercules to drop dead. So Eurystheus wracked his mind trying to think of the most dangerous thing imaginable.
Hercules niece, Iolaus had accompanied him.
‘Wasn’t Iolaus a distant relative of yours?’ asked Michael.
‘She was indeed,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Hercules was not always the most sensible man, so the family had asked Iolaus Piggins to tag along and keep him out of trouble. It was not an easy job. She stood there, beside her uncle, waiting impatiently for her other uncle to announce what task Hercules had to do.
‘Your first labour,’ declared Eurystheus. ‘Is to kill the Nemean Lion.’
‘Whoa,’ said Iolaus. ‘That is not safe or reasonable! Also, I’m pretty sure you’ll upset the animal rights activists.’
‘I accept the challenge,’ said Hercules.
Iolaus groaned, ‘Of course you do. You know if you weren’t so relentlessly noble and proud, you wouldn’t nearly as much trouble in the first place.
But Hercules never did believe in listening to common sense or reason, so he immediately set off from the palace and started walking to Nemea.
‘Was it far to walk?’ asked Michael.
‘Oh yes,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Everyone walked everywhere back in the Ancient Story Days. Partly because neither the car nor public transport hadn’t been invented yet, but also for story telling purposes.
It’s much easier to bump into someone and have a subplot if you’re travelling by foot. And that is exactly what happened. As Hercules and Iolaus approached Nemea, he saw a boy tending sheep in a field’.
‘Boy, do you know the whereabout of the Nemean Lion that everyone fears so greatly?’ called Hercules.
‘Of course, I do,’ said the boy. ‘I’d be dead if I didn’t. If you don’t avoid that cave, you’ll be lion supper before you can scream.’
‘Excellent,’ said Hercules.
‘You’re not going over there are you?’ asked the boy.
‘I am indeed,’ said Hercules. ‘For I am Hercules, son of Zeus, and in penance for my crimes I must perform the labour of killing the Nemean Lion.’
‘That’s a tough break,’ said the boy. ‘It would be very good if you could kill the lion, though. It would halve my commute to work if I didn’t have to go the long way around to avoid his cave. I’ll tell you what, I’ll make a sacrifice to the gods to bring you good luck. Then in thirty days if you don’t return safely this way on your way home, I shall sacrifice myself to the gods.’
‘Whoa,’ said Iolus Piggins. ‘You don’t need to do that. Dramatic heroic gestures are all very well in stories, but in real life if you want to achieve things you are much better working consistently over a long period of time to incremental achieve your goals. The gods barely pay attention to anything humans do down here in Ancient Greece. What if they’re looking the other way when you sacrificed yourself?’
‘Iolus speaks the truth, young fellow,’ said Hercules. ‘I bid you wait the thirty days. Then when I pass back this way safely, we can sacrifice a lamb to Zeus together.’
‘Couldn’t you sacrifice a tofu burger together?’ asked Iolus. ‘Something less violent. Also, less wasteful. This boy is a shepherd. He can’t go round sacrificing his workmates all the time.’
Hercules just laughed, he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and sometimes he had trouble following what Iolus. Especially saying when she used big words, so they continued on their way.
Hercules and Iolaus climbed to the top of the hill and from the summit they looked down into the valley where the Nemea Lions cave was situated.
Immediately they saw her – the great fearsome lion was lying spread out on the grass in the sunshine. She looked just like a regular household kitty cat enjoying the sun – except five hundred times bigger.
Iolus began to suspect that the Nemean Lion reputation may have been overstated.
‘I shall launch my trusty arrows from this vantage point!’ declared Hercules. And before Iolaus could workshop some other ideas with him, Hercules stood up, put an arrow in his bow and fired it at the Nemean Lion.
Now, I know I say some critical things of Hercules and his intelligence, but this was just the sort of thing Hercules was seriously good at. He was really good at shooting arrows a very long way and with pin-point accuracy.
His first shot hit the lion right in the centre of her chest right over her heart. She would have been dead instantly if it weren’t for the fact that she was a monstrous lion, so her skin was impervious to weapons. Which meant - the arrow bounced right off. All that happened was she stirred in her sleep, having felt what was too her a mere pin prick.
Hercules couldn’t believe it, so he tried again. This time aiming for her head. He struck powerful shot right between her eyes. But again the arrow bounced right off. He tried again and again and again but the arrows bounced off like they were made of rubber.
‘I’ve run out of arrows,’ said Hercules as he looked into his empty quiver.
‘Oh, what a shame,’ said Iolaus. ‘Let’s go home and strategize.’
But thinking and strategizing was not Hercules way.
‘We shall end it here and now!’ declared Hercules. He drew his trusty sword and ran down into the valley, brandishing it high above his head while screaming ‘To honour Zeus I kill thee!’
He then swung the sword with all his might down onto the neck of the sleeping lion. But again, it’s monstrous skin didn’t even get a scratch. The only damage done was to Hercules sword. It bent in half from the weight of his blow.
This time the Nemean Lion did stir. She opened one eye, lifted her head slightly and said to Hercules. ‘Would you mind, I’m trying to sleep.’ Then lay back down.
Hercules trudged back to the hilltop very disgruntled.
‘Don’t be down hearted,’ said Iolus. ‘The arrows and the sword were both top notch ideas. You’re just tired because we’ve been walking for weeks. How about we get some rest? Then after a good night’s sleep - you can go down and bludgeon or shoot arrows at the lion in the morning.’
Good idea,’ said Hercules. He snuggled down and went to sleep.
As soon as his uncle was snoring, Iolus snuck down into the valley to have a word with the lion.
‘Yoohoo,’ called Iolus as he approached the cave.
‘Who’s that?’ asked the lion. ‘Have you come to sacrifice yourself to me. Because I already had four sheep and two villagers for dinner. I don’t think I could fit another thing in.’
‘No, no, it’s not that,’ said Iolus. ‘I’ve just come down for a quick chat. You see, my uncle, Hercules. Demi-god. Son of Zeues. Really strong guy. He’s come to Nemea to kill you.’
‘Gosh,’ said the Nemean Lion. ‘What did I ever do to him.’
‘Well people in this area are kind of fed up with you eating the local residents,’ explained Iolus. ‘So they were keen for a hero to visit and put a stop to it.’
‘Why didn’t they just say so?’ asked the Nemean Lion. ‘I was thinking of moving to sub-Saharan Africa anyway. Nemea is nice but there aren’t many other lions about for me to socialize with. I’ve been planning to emigrate \ for years.’
‘Perfect,’ said Iolaus. ‘The only thing is that my Uncle Hercules has sworn an oath to kill you.’
‘That’s awkward,’ said the Nemean Lion. ‘I don’t really want to be killed.’
‘I know,’ agreed Iolus. ‘But I think we can find a way around it. You see, Hercules has never killed a lion before, so I’m confident we can come up with a compromise, where he thinks he’s killed you.’
‘What do I have to do?’ asked the Nemean Lion.
‘Is there an Ikea nearby?’ asked Iolus.
‘Hang about,’ said Derrick. ‘There was no Ikea in the Ancient Greek Story days!’
‘Of course, there was,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘Where do you think Vikings bought their furniture?’
Derrick couldn’t answer this question, so Nanny Piggins continued with her story.
‘Iolus popped in to the nearest Ikea. Luckily, Nemea had a store that was open late. She picked up three faux fur rugs and sewed them together into a lion onesie. Then explained to the lion exactly what she had to do.’
Early the next morning Iolaus went to Hercules, ‘Wakey wakey uncle Hercules, time to kill the lion.’
‘But I don’t have any arrows left,’ complained Hercules.
‘That’s okay,’ said Iolus. ‘During the night I came up with a cunning plan.’
‘You did?’ said Hercules. ‘What, a plan that is even better than running down the hill and bludging the lion with my club?’
‘Yes, that is a terrific idea,’ lied Iolus, ‘But I’ve come up with a few extra ideas to make it work even better. Right now, the lion is asleep inside the cave. So, I’ve blocked up one of the entrances. That means, if you sneak down there, you’ll be able to corner the lion, bash it with your club, skin the beast and take the hide back to Eurystheus to prove what you’ve done.
‘Gosh, that does sound good,’ said Hercules. ‘I didn’t fancy chasing the lion about the countryside. She’s got twice as many legs as me. That would be an unfair advantage.
So that is what Hercules did. He snuck down the hill and crept into the cave.
‘He must have been terrified,’ said Michael.
‘Yes, he probably was a bit,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘But Hercules was courageous. He never let a little thing like sure death or dreadful pain deter him. He stepped into the cave where the Nemean Lion was waiting.
Iolus had told her exactly what to do.
The Nemean Lion roared a deafening roar, then bashed Hercules about the head a few times to confuse him and make him think it was a proper fight.
In response Hercules swung his mighty club and bashed the lion right on the head. Which actually seriously irritated her, so the Nemean Lion responded by biting Hercules finger off. He screamed in pain. And the Nemean Lion realised this was her moment to escape. While Hercules was jumping up and down trying to wrap a bandage around his finger, she snuck out the back entrance.
‘But Iolus had blocked it,’ said Michael.
‘No, that’s what Iolaus told Hercules. She had blocked most of it, but there was a lion sized trapdoor. So the Nemean Lion slipped through, ran to the Mediterranean and started swimming to Africa. Where she spent the rest of her days living happily chasing wilderbeast and Zebras like a normal lion.
But back at our story, Hercules was still in the cave. It was dark, he was confused from being bashed about the head and it really hurt where his finger had been. As he stumbled about in the dark, Hercules’ leg brushed up against fur. Lion fur! So Hercules lashed out with his club. Blindly clubbing at the fur over and over again.
‘But it wasn’t the lion,’ said Boris.
‘No, it was the ikea faux fur rug draped over a log,’ said Nanny Piggins. ‘When Hercules grew weary of his clubbing he realised that the lion had stopped moving, so he grabbed the lion’s skin and tore it from it’s body.
At least that’s what he thought he was doing. He really was just whipping it off an old log. Iolus had cleverly smeared the underside of the faux fur rug with ketchup so it looked very convincing.
Hercules staggered out of the cave triumphant. He proudly draped the fur about himself as a cloak and started marching back to the palace of Eurystheus.
Along the way he met the boy, so he didn’t have to sacrifice himself. Instead Iolous persuaded them both to sacrifice some delicious field mushrooms to the god of omlettes and they had a lovely meal.
When Hercules returned to the palace, dressed in a huge realistic looking lion onsies and covered in fake blood, Eurystheus was terrified. He leapt into a huge brass pot and hid from Hercules.
‘He hid in a pot?’ asked Michael. ‘But that doesn’t make any sense. Hercules was super strong. He could just lift the lid off the pot.’
‘I know, it doesn’t make sense,’ agreed Nanny Piggins. ‘But it’s written down in the original Greek Story books that way. Eurystheus often hid in this pot. He must have been a deeply silly man.
And so Hercules first labour was complete. And so they all lived happily ever after, well the lion did, not so much Hercules because he had another eleven labours to perform. The end.
‘Look, the train is coming,’ said Michael.
‘Excellent!’ cried Nanny Piggins. ‘Time to catch the train.’
All the passengers on the train station cheered, and they all caught the train home. The end.