Herculean task: Meaning, synonyms & origin + 9 example sentences

What does “Herculean task” mean?

The idiom “Herculean task” means a difficult, effortful and challenging task, especially one that requires great effort and seems almost impossible to accomplish. Aside from this, the given idiom might also be used for a task that involves extreme physical strength and exertion.

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9 examples of how to use “Herculean task” in a sentence

  • It is going to be a Herculean task to control the rapid spread of Covid-19 throughout the world. 
  • Finding the origin of these fossils was a Herculean task, but we have finally managed to locate them. 
  • The assignment sure was a Herculean task, but with Ahmed’s help, we were able to get it done.
  • Getting through life has become a Herculean task for me. I have no motivation left to move forward. 
  • Convincing him was a Herculean task; he is so stubborn! 
  • For some of you, philosophy might be a piece of cake, but for most of the students, acing this subject will be a Herculean task. 
  • Mountaineering is a Herculean task, especially for the newbies—but you are doing just fine.
  • It was a Herculean task to travel from one city to another in the past times since there was no means of transportation. 
  • Studying mathematics might be a Herculean task for you, but with determination, perseverance, and sheer tenacity, anything is possible!

The origin of “Herculean task”

The idiom, “Herculean task” has an interesting background to it. The origins lie in Greek and Roman mythology, particularly the myth of Hercules/Heracles. Hercules was the illegitimate son of the god Zeus, and the mortal woman Alcmene, making him a demi-god. This invoked the anger of Hera, (the wife of Zeus and the goddess of family and marriage), and she tried harming Hercules from the time of infancy (Hera sent two serpents to kill Hercules in the cradle, but he managed to strangle them with his bare hands!).

Hercules, however, possessed great strength and stamina, and hence dealt with the problems. Nevertheless, when he grew older, he tried to appease Hera. For doing so, he went to the Oracle of Delphi, where Pythia (a vehicle of God Apollo) gave Hercules the solution. Long story short, Hercules was sent to King Eurystheus, where he became his subject and started serving him. But there, the king gave him the task to complete 12 labors. These famous tasks were almost impossible to achieve and asked for great strength and struggle. Hercules however, agreed to do them and completed all of them. Since then, he became a renowned hero in Greco-Roman mythology, and the phrase Herculean task, came into usage. 

In conclusion, a task that seems impossible to achieve, or requires great strength and effort is said to be a Herculean task. The variant Herculean effort, also came into usage from the same association, which means great effort.

Synonyms for “Herculean task”

Arduous, onerous, formidable, prodigious, backbreaking, challenging, demanding, difficult, effortful, exacting, formidable, grueling, strenuous, hard, severe, tough, rigorous, daunting, exhausting, painstaking, drudging, laborious, wearying, Sisyphean, burdensome, intensive, exigent, onerous, toilsome, wearisome, knackering, struggle, tussle, draining, complicated, hard-fought, hard-won, hard-earned, heavy-going, taxing, tricky, rugged, severe.

Idioms related to “Herculean task”

  • Augean labor
  • Rocket science
  • Catch-22
  • Tough row to hoe
  • A (heavy) cross to bear
  • An uphill battle
  • A tall order
  • Thread the needle
  • Between a rock and a hard place
  • Finding needle in the haystack
  • Be an effort
  • Be hard-pressed (to do something)
  • Be no joke
  • Be no tea party
  • Be murder
  • Easier said than done
  • Like painting the Forth Bridge
  • Like getting blood from a stone
  • Like hell
  • Try as someone might
  • In Deep Water
  • Donkey work