Heracles has murdered his family in a fit of anger, and is performing a series of ‘Labours’ for his cousin King Eurystheus, to work off his guilt. Eurystheus would be just as happy if Heracles perished in his Labours, and in sending him now to clean out the stables of Augeas, King of Elis, appears to hope he can disgust him to death.
AUGEAS, King of Elis, had kept three thousand high-spirited cattle in an enclosure near his palace for thirty years without once mucking them out, even though they were of divine race and produced mountains of potent dung.
Nonetheless, on surveying the ghastly scene Heracles undertook to clear the stables in a day, in exchange for a tenth of the herd. Augeas agreed, unaware that this was supposed to be one of Heracles’s Labours of repentance, not a business transaction.
Heracles seized a mattock, and began excavating a trench. Soon two mighty rivers of Elis, the Alpheus and the Peneus, were flushing the stables out, and Heracles, well satisfied, stumped off to collect his three hundred head of cattle.
By this time, however, Augeas knew about the Labours, and withheld payment. In a rage, Heracles slew him, but Eurystheus, noting that Nature had done most of the work, voided the labour anyway, and sent Heracles to Stymphalia to deal with the man-eating birds of the marshes.