Once upon a time, King Eurystheus of Mycenae and Tiryns, commanded a labor to Hercules, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, to bring back alive the Cerynitian Hind, a stag with golden antlers and sacred to Artemis.
It was said that there were five golden-horned stags, who were larger than bulls, and herded near the banks of the river Anauros. When Artemis saw the wonderful stags, she chased them on foot and swiftly caught four of them, which were then employed to draw Artemis’ chariot. But the fifth stag escaped to Ceryneia in Arcadia, by the wish of Hera, so that later it could become a labor for Hercules.
With the desire of capturing the stag alive, Hercules pursued it for a complete year, but his efforts were in vain. From Oenoe, the stag fled to Argolis and roamed the mount Artemisium. Hercules relentlessly pursued the stag, who fled to Arcadia and approached the river Ladon. As the stag was crossing the river Ladon, Hercules mounted a swift-flying arrow on his supple bow and loosed the shaft, with the sure aim of only wounding it, for he had to bring the stag alive to Eurystheus.
The arrow found its mark, wounded the stag and its speed slowed down. Hercules overtook the stag and attempted to capture it, while the stag resisted his efforts. During the struggle, Hercules held fast the stag’s antlers, and one of the antlers accidentally broke. Thereafter, on his wide and strong shoulders, Hercules carried away the wounded but alive stag.
Artemis was angry that her sacred stag had been outraged, and along with her brother Apollo, the goddess met Hercules while he was still in Arcadia. They berated Hercules for attempting to kill the stag, but Hercules pleaded that he was urged by necessity and implored them, to allow him to fulfill the labor as given by Eurystheus. Hercules was able to soothe the terrible wrath of Artemis, and he carried the stag alive to Eurystheus in Mycenae.
Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani