Word of the day: Augean

This is an adjective describing a task which is both difficult and unpleasant.

The origin of the word is a story from Greek mythology involving  the king Augeas of Elis (in the western Peloponnesus) whose stables, filled with 3,000 immortal cattle, had not been cleaned for over 30 years. The cattle, moreover, were not only immortal but also divinely robust and healthy and therefore produced a prodigious amount of dung.

Hercules’ fifth task was to clean the dung in Augeas’ stables, a task that was deliberately meant to be humiliating and impossible. Hercules cleansed the stables by diverting the river Alpheus through them. 

The word Augean entered English at the end of the 16th century.


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