Word of the Day: Augean

The Word of the Day this summer is Augean. According to Merriam-Websters, Augean means “extremely formidable or difficult and occasionally distasteful”, as in an Augean task.

The reason Augean means what it does should become clear once we learn about the fifth labor of Hercules.

Hercules Takes a Break

If you’re not familiar with the story of the twelve labors of Hercules, I’ll outline it briefly for you now. Hera (wife of Zeus) wished to make life difficult for poor old Hercules, so she caused him to go insane. While he was out of his mind, he killed his wife and children. When he came to his senses, he asked Apollo what he she do to atone for the murders he committed. Apollo said that he should serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years. Eurystheus proposed twelve labors that Hercules must perform to absolve himself of his sins.

Well, I won’t bore you with all the twelve labors. The fifth labor, however, is in what we’re particularly interested. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to clean the stables of King Augeas (hence Augean). King Augeas was very wealthy and owned a great many herds of cows, goats, horses, and sheep. So cleaning out the stables would take a, excuse the pun, Herculean effort. Hercules proposed a bet to King Augeas. If Hercules could clean the stables in one day, then Augeas would give Hercules one tenth of his cattle herds.

Well, my money is on Hercules, of course! Hercules diverted two rivers, which then flowed into the stables and cleaned out all the dung, much to King Augeas surprise.

In the end, Augeas reneged on the bet and the matter had to be taken up in court.

And that is how the word Augean came into existence!

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