"Unto this thy son it shall be given,
With his broad heart to win his way to heaven;
Twelve labors shall he work; and all accurst
And brutal things o'erthrow, brute men the worst;
And in Trachinia shall the funeral pyre
Purge his mortalities away with fire;
And he shall mount amid the stars, and be
Acknowledg'd kin to those who envied thee,
And sent these den-born shapes to crush his destiny."
Theocritus (Hunt's tr.).
The ancients were not content to worship the gods only, but also
offered up sacrifices to a few mortals, who, by their heroic deeds and
virtuous lives, had won both admiration and respect. Foremost among
these heroes--generally designated by the title of demigods--is
Hercules (Heracles, Alcides), son of Jupiter and Alcmene, a mortal
[Sidenote: Juno persecutes Hercules.]
As soon as the tidings of Hercules' birth reached Olympus, Juno began
to plot how to destroy her rival's child. Two colossal serpents with
poisonous fangs were therefore dispatched by her orders to attack the
babe in its cradle. The monsters crept along noiselessly, entered the
palace unseen, twined themselves around the cradle, and were about to
crush the child to death in their folds, when, to the utter
astonishment of the helpless attendants, little Hercules caught them
fast by the neck in each tiny hand and strangled them, thus giving the
first proof of the marvelous strength which was to make him famous.
[Illustration: HERCULES AN INFANT. (Louvre, Paris.)]
"First two dread Snakes at Juno's vengeful nod
Climb'd round the cradle of the sleeping God;
Waked by the shrilling hiss, and rustling sound,
And shrieks of fair attendants trembling round,
Their gasping throats with clenching hands he holds;
And Death untwists their convoluted folds."
When Juno perceived how easily Hercules had escaped from the danger
which threatened him, she deemed it useless to make another attempt to
take his life, but decided to vex his proud spirit by inflicting many
petty annoyances, and to prevent his enjoying any lasting peace or
To achieve this purpose, she first extorted from Jupiter a decree that
condemned Hercules to serve his cousin Eurystheus--a mean and cowardly
prince who ruled over the kingdom of Argos--for a certain number of
Hercules' education was carefully attended to by Chiron, a learned
Centaur, who taught him how to use all the different weapons, and
trained him in all kinds of athletic sports. The years passed by
happily and swiftly, until at last the time came when Hercules'
education was completed, and the whole world lay before him, full of
pleasant possibilities, and rich with many attractions.
[Sidenote: Hercules' choice.]
The youthful hero, dismissed by his instructor, now set out to seek
his fortunes. He had not gone very far, however, before he met two
beautiful women, who immediately entered into conversation with him,
and drew from him a confession that he was in search of adventures.
The women, Arete (Virtue) and Kakia (Vice), each offered to be his
guide, but bade him choose which he preferred to follow.
Kakia, to induce him to follow her guidance, promised riches, ease,
consideration, and love; while Arete, a modest maiden, warned him that
in her wake he would be obliged to wage incessant war against evil, to
endure hardships without number, and spend his days in toil and
Silently Hercules pondered for a while over these two so dissimilar
offers, and then, mindful of his tutor's oft-repeated instructions,
rose from his seat by the wayside, and, turning to Arete, declared
himself ready to obey any command she might choose to give him.
"Young Hercules with firm disdain
Braved the soft smiles of Pleasure's harlot train;
To valiant toils his forceful limbs assign'd,
And gave to Virtue all his mighty mind."
Courageously he then trod along the rough and thorny path she pointed
out, and patiently performed the various tasks she assigned him,
delivering the oppressed, defending the weak, and redressing all
[Sidenote: Hercules' madness.]
In reward for these good actions he received the hand of Megara,
daughter of Creon, King of Thebes, in marriage, and by her had three
children, whom he tenderly loved. But Juno was not at all satisfied to
see him leading such a peaceful and prosperous life, and to interrupt
its even course drove the hero mad.
In a fit of delirium he threw his offspring into the fire, and, we are
told, slew his dearly beloved wife. Then only he recovered his senses,
and suffered agonies of sorrow and remorse for the terrible crimes he
had unwittingly committed. In his grief he withdrew to the mountain
solitudes, where he would probably have lingered all the remainder of
his life, had not Mercury come to get him, and announced that he was
to serve Eurystheus, King of Argos, for a twelvemonth.
[Sidenote: Hercules in servitude.]
The messenger god then offered to lead him to his appointed
taskmaster. But when Hercules learned he was doomed to be a slave, he
fell into such a passion, that he nearly lost his reason again; and
instead of killing noxious beasts, and winning the people's blessings
by his deeds of kindness, he wandered about stupidly and aimlessly,
until he finally perceived how vain was his attempt to struggle
against fate, and urged by his chosen adviser, Arete, voluntarily
offered his services to Eurystheus, who informed him that he must
accomplish twelve great labors ere he could again be free.
[Sidenote: Nemean lion.]
Eager to begin the appointed tasks, Hercules set out first to find and
destroy a monstrous lion, whose den was in the Nemean Forest. Far and
wide, throughout the whole neighborhood, this monster committed his
depredations, carrying off cattle and sheep, men, women, and children,
to devour at his ease. All warned Hercules of the danger and
difficulty of the undertaking, described the failure of countless
previous attempts to slay the monster, and prophesied that he would
never return alive. The hero would not be dissuaded, but entered the
forest, tracked the lion to his den, grasped him by the throat, and
strangled him as he had strangled the snakes in his infancy. He then
skinned the monster, whose shaggy pelt became his favorite covering.
"So from Nemea's den Alcides strode,
The lion's yellow spoil around his shoulders flow'd."
Flaccus (Elton's tr.).
[Sidenote: Hydra of Lerna.]
On his return to Argos to report the successful termination of his
first task, Hercules was told to repair to the marshes of Lerna, where
lurked a seven-headed serpent, the Hydra, and put an end to its career
of rapacity, for this snake devoured man and beast. Armed with a great
sword, Hercules succeeded in cutting off one of the seven heads; but
he had no sooner done so, than, to his dismay, he saw seven other
heads suddenly spring from the bleeding stump. To prevent a repetition
of this unpleasant miracle, Hercules bade his friend Iolaus, who had
accompanied him thither to view his prowess, take a lighted brand and
sear the wounds as soon as inflicted. Thanks to this wise plan, the
monster was finally slain, although a friendly crab sent by Juno to
defend Hydra continually pinched Hercules' feet. The hero, angry at
this intervention, crushed the crab, which, however, received its
reward, for the Queen of Heaven placed it in the sky as the
constellation of Cancer (the Crab). The country was thus freed from
its long state of thraldom; but, before leaving the scene of his
second labor, Hercules dipped his arrows in the Hydra's venomous
blood, knowing well that any wound they inflicted, however slight,
would be sure to prove fatal.
[Sidenote: Stag of Cerynea.]
The third task appointed by Eurystheus was the capture of the
golden-horned, brazen-footed stag of Cerynea, whose fleetness was such
that he seemed scarcely to touch the ground. Hercules was obliged to
pursue this animal for many a weary mile before he could overtake him;
and he only managed the capture by driving him into a deep snowdrift,
in a distant northern land, from which he extricated him, and carried
him home in triumph.
[Sidenote: Erymanthian boar.]
The same success crowned his fourth labor, the capture of the wild
boar of Erymanthus in Arcadia. Attacked by the Centaurs during the
performance of this labor, Hercules turned his deadly arrows upon
them, and accidentally wounded his beloved tutor Chiron, who was
coming to settle the dispute. Vainly the hero applied every healing
herb. The wound was mortal, and Chiron died; but in reward for his
good offices the gods transferred him to the sky, where he is known as
the constellation Sagittarius.
[Sidenote: Augean stables.]
Hercules was next sent to Augeas, King of Elis, who had immense droves
of cattle. The stables usually occupied by these animals were in an
incredibly filthy state, as they had not been cleaned in years; and
now Hercules was given the task to remove the accumulated filth, and
make a complete purification of the premises.
Close by these stables rushed a torrent, or rather a river, the
Alpheus. Hercules, with one glance, saw the use he could make of this
rushing stream, which he dammed and turned aside from its course, so
that the waters passed directly through the stables, carrying away all
impurities, and finally washing them perfectly clean.
[Illustration: HERCULES AND CENTAUR.--Bologna. (Florence.)]
Could clean the Augean stables."
When Hercules saw that the work of purification was thoroughly
accomplished, he guided the stream back to its original bed, and
returned home to announce that the fifth labor was accomplished. The
fabulous filth of the Augean stables, and the radical methods employed
for their cleansing, have given rise to proverbial expressions still
in current use.
[Sidenote: Cretan bull.]
Hercules next journeyed off to Crete to accomplish his sixth task, the
capture of a mad bull given by Neptune to Minos, king of the island.
The god had sent the animal with directions that he should be offered
up in sacrifice; but Minos, charmed with his unusual size and beauty,
resolved to keep him, and substituted a bull from his own herds for
the religious ceremony.
Angry at seeing his express command so wantonly disobeyed, Neptune
maddened the bull, which rushed wildly all over the island, causing
great damage. This was the animal that Hercules, with his usual
strength and skill, caught and bound fast, thus finishing the sixth
[Sidenote: Diomedes' steeds.]
He then hastened on to Thrace, where Diomedes, the king, kept some
fine coursers, which were fed on human flesh. In order to obtain a
sufficient supply of fresh meat for his horses, Diomedes had decreed
that all strangers who ventured into his kingdom should be seized,
and, when sufficiently fat, executed, and served up in his horses'
mangers. To punish Diomedes for this long-continued barbarity,
Hercules fed him to his own horses, which were then led off to
Eurystheus, as a token that the seventh labor was done.
[Sidenote: Hippolyte's girdle.]
Now, at the court of Eurystheus was his beautiful daughter, Admete, a
vain princess, who delighted in dress and jewels, and who was never
happier than when she obtained some new ornament or article of
apparel. One day Admete heard a traveler describe a girdle worn by
Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons, and was immediately seized by the
desire to possess the ornament.
She imparted this wish to Eurystheus, who, delighted to gratify her as
long as he could do so without taking any personal risk or trouble,
sent Hercules in quest of the coveted jewel. The journey to the land
of the Amazons--a fierce, warlike nation of women--was long and
dangerous; but Hercules traveled on undaunted, nor paused, except when
his services were needed in furthering some good work for mortals,
until he reached their land, presented himself before their queen, and
boldly explained the cause of his presence. Hippolyte listened to his
explanation and request with queenly condescension, promised to
consider the matter, and in the mean while bade him feast and rest in
Hercules would have succeeded in this undertaking without any trouble,
had not Juno suddenly remembered his existence, and resolved to
continue her never entirely forgotten persecutions. In the guise of an
Amazon, she mingled among the women, and artfully spread the report
that Hercules had really come to kidnap their queen, and that the
pretended quest of the girdle was a mere excuse, and only intended to
distract their attention from his real purpose. The Amazons yielded
implicit belief to these rumors, flew to arms, and surrounded their
"The Amazons array their ranks,
In painted arms of radiant sheen
Around Hippolyte the queen."
Virgil (Conington's tr.).
The assembled force then attacked Hercules, who met their onslaught
single-handed, defeated them, and finally bore away the prize he had
risked so much to obtain. It was on his homeward journey from this
expedition that he saved Hesione, Laomedon's daughter, from the jaws
of the sea monster who was about to devour her, as he had devoured
many a fair Trojan maid before her (p. 152).
[Illustration: MOUNTED AMAZON GOING TO THE CHASE.--Thorwaldsen.
[Sidenote: Stymphalian birds.]
Eurystheus, well pleased with the manner in which Hercules had
accomplished eight out of the twelve tasks, bade him now go forth and
slay the dangerous, brazen-clawed birds which hovered over the
stagnant waters of Lake Stymphalus. The poisoned arrows now served him
in good stead, and enabled him to put a speedy end to the whole flock.
"His arrows slew
The monsters hov'ring fell Stymphalus round."
[Sidenote: Cattle of Geryones.]
Hercules was next told to capture the divine cattle of Geryones, a
giant of Erythea. On his way home with this marvelous herd, Hercules
paused on Mount Aventine, where, during the night, the loathsome giant
Cacus stole some of his cows. To punish him for this theft, Hercules
forced his way into his cave, attacked him, and, after a memorable
encounter, slew him. The animals were soon after delivered into the
hands of Eurystheus, who then sent Hercules in search of the Golden
Apples of the Hesperides.
[Sidenote: Hesperian apples.]
This commission sadly perplexed Hercules, for he did not know in what
portion of the world he would find these apples, which had been given
to Juno as a wedding present, and which she had intrusted to the care
of the Hesperides, daughters of Hesperus, god of the West. After
numerous journeys and many inquiries, Hercules discovered that these
maidens had carried these apples off to Africa, hung them on a tree in
their garden, and placed the dragon Ladon at its foot to guard their
treasures night and day. Unfortunately, no one could tell Hercules in
what part of Africa the garden of the Hesperides might be situated: so
he set out at a venture, determined to travel about until he gained
some information. On his way he met with many adventures, and saw many
strange sights. For instance, he first met the nymphs of the Eridanus
River, and, questioning them about the golden apples, was told to
consult old Nereus, god of the sea, who would probably be able to give
him some information on the subject.
Hercules, having surprised this aged divinity while asleep on the
seashore, held him fast, in spite of the multitudinous transformations
he underwent in the vain hope of frightening his would-be interlocutor
away. In answer to Hercules' question, he finally very reluctantly
bade him seek Prometheus, who alone would be able to direct him
In obedience to this advice, Hercules went to the Caucasian Mountains,
where, on the brink of a mighty precipice, he found Prometheus, still
bound with adamantine chains, and still a prey to the ravenous vulture
(p. 28). To spring up the mountain side, kill the cruel bird, snap the
adamantine chains, and set free the benefactor of all mankind, was the
work of but a few minutes for such a hero as Hercules; and, in
gratitude for the deliverance he had so long sought in vain,
Prometheus directed Hercules to his brother Atlas, telling him he
would be sure to know where the apples could be found.
Hercules wended his way to Africa, where Atlas dwelt, and on his way
passed through the land of a diminutive race of men, called Pygmies,
who were so small that they lived in constant dread of their
neighbors, so much larger and stronger than they, and of the cranes,
which passed over their country in great flocks, and sometimes
alighted to devour their harvests.
To guard against these constant inroads, the Pygmies finally accepted
the services of Antæus, a giant son of Gæa, who generously offered to
defend them against all their enemies. When these little people,
therefore, saw Hercules' mighty form looming up in the dim distance,
they called aloud for fear, and bade Antæus go forth and kill the new
invader, who, they wrongly fancied, had evil designs against them.
Proud of his strength, Antæus went to meet Hercules, and defied him. A
fierce struggle was the immediate result of this challenge, and, as
the combatants were of equal size and strength, the victory seemed
very uncertain. At last Hercules felt his great strength begin to
fail, and noticed that every time his adversary touched the ground he
seemed to renew his vigor. He therefore resolved to try and win by
strategy, and, watching his opportunity, seized Antæus round the
waist, raised him from the ground, and held him aloft in his powerful
The giant struggled with all his might to get free; but Hercules held
him fast, and felt him grow weaker and weaker, now that he was no
longer sustained by his mother Earth, from whom he derived all his
strength, until at last his struggles ceased, and he hung limp and
lifeless in Hercules' crushing embrace.
"Lifts proud Antæus from his mother-plains,
And with strong grasp the struggling giant strains;
Back falls his fainting head and clammy hair,
Writhe his weak limbs, and flits his life in air."
Now that the gigantic defender of the Pygmies no longer blocked his
way, Hercules traveled onward in search of Atlas, whom he finally
found supporting the heavens on his broad shoulders. Atlas listened
attentively to all Hercules had to say, declared he knew where the
apples could be found, and promised to get them if the hero would only
relieve him of his burden for a little while. Glad to accomplish his
purpose so easily, Hercules allowed the burden of the heavens to be
transferred to his shoulders, and Atlas hastened off to fulfill his
part of the agreement.
From afar the giant saw the golden fruit glittering in the sunshine.
Stealthily he drew near, entered the gardens, slew the dragon in his
sleep, plucked the apples, and returned unmolested to the place where
he had left Hercules. But his steps became slower and slower; and as
he neared the hero, he could not help thinking with horror of the
burden he must so soon resume, and bear for centuries, perhaps,
This thought oppressed him. Freedom was so sweet, that he resolved to
keep it, and, coolly stepping up to Hercules, announced that he would
carry the golden apples to Eurystheus, and leave him to support the
heavens in his stead. Feigning a satisfaction which he was very far
from feeling, Hercules acquiesced, but detained Atlas for a moment,
asking him to hold the heavens until he could place a cushion on his
shoulders. Good-natured, as giants proverbially are, Atlas threw the
apples on the grass beside him, and assumed the incumbent weight; but
Hercules, instead of preparing to resume it, picked up the apples,
leaving Atlas alone, in the same plight as he had found him, there to
remain until some more compassionate hero should come and set him
"There Atlas, son of great Iapetus,
With head inclined and ever-during arms,
Sustains the spacious heavens."
It was during the course of one of his mighty labors, that Hercules,
with one wrench of his powerful arm, tore a cleft in the mountains,
and allowed the waters of the Sea to flow into Oceanus; and ever
since, the rocks on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar have borne
the name of Hercules' Pillars.
The twelfth and last task appointed by Eurystheus was the most
difficult of all to perform. Hercules was commanded to descend into
Hades and bring up the dog Cerberus, securely bound.
"But for the last, to Pluto's drear abode
Through the dark jaws of Tænarus he went,
To drag the triple-headed dog to light."
Euripides (Potter's tr.).
This command, like all the others, was speedily obeyed; but Eurystheus
was so terrified at the aspect of the triple-headed dog, from the foam
of whose dripping jaws the nightshade sprang, that he took refuge in a
huge jar, and refused to come out until Hercules had carried the
monster back to his cave.
[Sidenote: Olympian Games.]
The twelve appointed labors were finished; the time of bondage was
ended; and Hercules, a free man, could wander at his own sweet will,
and enjoy the happiness of freedom. A roaming existence had, from
force of habit, become a necessity: so the hero first journeyed to
Olympia, where he instituted games to be celebrated every fifth year
in honor of Jupiter, his father. Thence he wandered from place to
place, doing good, and came to the house of Admetus, where he was
surprised to find all the court in mourning.
His sympathetic inquiries soon brought forth a full account of
Alcestis' sacrifice of her own life to insure the immortality of her
husband (p. 65). The hero's heart was touched by the king's
loneliness; and he again braved the terrors of Hades, and brought
Alcestis back from the grave, and restored her to her husband's arms.
Hercules took a prominent part in many heroic enterprises. Among
others, he joined in the Argonautic expedition (p. 266), in the battle
between the Centaurs and Lapithæ (p. 260), in the war of the gods and
giants, and in the first siege of Troy (p. 152), which proved
[Sidenote: Hercules and Omphale.]
But the hero, although so lately escaped from servitude, was soon
obliged to return into bondage; for in a fit of anger he slew a man,
and was condemned by the assembled gods to serve Omphale, Queen of
Lydia, for a certain lapse of time.
No great deeds were now required of Hercules, whose strength was
derided by his new mistress, and who, governing him easily by his
admiration for her, made him submit to occupations unworthy of a man,
and, while he was busy spinning, decked herself in his lion's skin,
and brandished his renowned club.
"His lion spoils the laughing Fair demands,
And gives the distaff to his awkward hands."
[Illustration: HERCULES AT THE FEET OF OMPHALE.--Gleyre.]
However unworthy these effeminate tasks may seem for such a hero, they
proved very agreeable indeed to Hercules, who, having fallen in love
with his new mistress, seemed to wish nothing better than to remain
her slave forever, and end his days in idleness and pleasure. Great
labors were awaiting his mighty arm, however; and the gods, at the
appointed time, freed him from his bondage to the Lydian queen, and
bade him go forth and do all the good in his power.
[Sidenote: Hercules and Deianeira]
In the course of his wanderings, Hercules next met Deianeira, daughter
of Œneus, and, having fallen in love with her, expressed a desire to
marry her. But unfortunately another suitor, the river god Achelous,
had already won the father's consent.
The river god, to ask a father's voice,
And snatched me to his arms."
Sophocles (Francklin's tr.).
So sure was this suitor of his attractions, that he did not even deem
it necessary to secure the maiden's good graces; and when Hercules
made known his love, she immediately promised to marry him, if he
would only free her from the lover her father would fain force upon
her. Delighted to be able to win his bride and punish his rival at the
same time, Hercules challenged Achelous; and now began a wrestling
match, the fame of which has come down to us through all the
Achelous was an opponent worthy of Hercules, and, besides, took
advantage of his power to change his form at will, further to perplex
and harass the sturdy hero. At last he assumed the shape of a bull,
and with lowered horns rushed toward Hercules, intending to toss him
aside. The hero, skillfully avoiding his first onset, seized him by
one of his great thickset horns, and held it so firmly that all the
bull's efforts to free himself from his powerful grasp were vain,
until the horn broke.
The Goddess of Plenty, the Attican Fortuna, a witness of this strange
combat, appropriated the broken horn, stuffed her treasures in its
hollow, and was so well pleased with the effect, that she decreed it
should henceforth be one of her attributes. The fight, only
temporarily suspended, was now resumed with redoubled ardor, for each
of the lovers was intent upon winning the hand of the fair Deianeira.
[Illustration: FORTUNA. (Vatican, Rome.)]
"Warm, and more warm the conflict grows:
Dire was the noise of rattling bows,
Of front to front opposed, and hand to hand:
Deep was the animated strife
For love, for conquest, and for life."
Sophocles (Francklin's tr.).
The victory, though long uncertain, finally rested with Hercules, who
triumphantly departed with his hard-won bride, for his destiny would
not permit him to tarry long in any place. Instead of wandering alone
now, with none to cheer or sympathize, Hercules had Deianeira ever at
his side; and after many days they came to the river Evenus, whose
usually shallow and peaceful waters were swollen and turbid, for
violent rainstorms had recently swept over that portion of the
[Sidenote: Story of Nessus.]
Hercules paused for a moment to contemplate the stream, and glanced
about for some safe mode to transport Deianeira across. While he was
thus considering, a Centaur by the name of Nessus came to his
assistance, and proposed to carry the fair young bride to the other
shore in complete safety, if she would but consent to mount upon his
"The hoary centaur, who was wont for hire
To bear the traveler o'er the rapid flood
Of deep Evenus: not with oars or sail
He stemm'd the torrent, but with nervous arm
Opposed and pass'd it; me, when first a bride,
I left my father's hospitable roof
With my Alcides, in his arms he bore
Athwart the current."
Sophocles (Francklin's tr.).
Hercules, only too glad to avail himself of the Centaur's kind offer
of assistance, quickly helped Deianeira to mount, saw them descend
into the water, and prepared to follow, holding his bow and arrows
aloft in one hand, and breasting the waves with the other.
Now, the Centaur Nessus did not often have the good fortune to carry
such a pretty passenger as Deianeira over the river, and as he swam he
made up his mind to gallop off with her as soon as he reached the
opposite shore. All his strength and energy, therefore, were called
into requisition; and when he reached the shore, instead of pausing to
allow his fair burden to dismount, he set off as fast as he could run.
[Sidenote: Nessus' robe.]
A loud shriek from Deianeira attracted Hercules' attention, and a
second later one of his poisoned arrows had brought the would-be
ravisher to the ground, pierced through the heart. With dying accents
the Centaur Nessus professed repentance, and bade Deianeira take his
robe,--but slightly stained with the blood which gushed from the wound
inflicted by the poisoned arrow,--and keep it carefully, for it had
magic power; and if she ever found her husband's love waning, he
assured her, that, could she but induce him to put it on, all his
early affection would revive, as pure and fervent as during their
This white robe. It is costly. See, my blood
Has stained it but a little. I did wrong:
I know it, and repent me. If there come
A time when he grows cold--for all the race
Of heroes wander, nor can any love
Fix theirs for long--take it and wrap him in it,
And he shall love again.'"
Deianeira gratefully accepted the proffered gift, and promised to
treasure it up carefully, although she sincerely hoped she would never
be called upon to make use of it. Years passed by. Hercules often left
Deianeira to deliver the oppressed and relieve the suffering, for
people came from great distances to ask for his aid; and although his
absences were sometimes prolonged, he always returned to her side, as
loving as ever, and she had no cause for complaint. Finally duty took
him back to the court of Eurytus, where he beheld Iole, whom he had
seen and loved in the beginning of his career, but whom he had been
obliged to leave to fulfill his arduous tasks. She was still young
and charming, and his first glance into her sweet face rekindled all
his former passion. Day after day he lingered by her side, forgetful
of duty, Deianeira, and all but his first dream of love and happiness.
When absent, Deianeira was wont to hear rumors of his heroic
achievements; but on this occasion the only report which reached her
ear was that he had returned to his allegiance to his first love, and
this roused her jealousy, so long dormant.
[Sidenote: Deianeira's jealousy.]
Finally she heard that Hercules was wending his way homeward again,
and her heart bounded with joy, but only to sink more heavily when
told that he was accompanied by Iole and a numerous train. Then she
remembered the long-forgotten gift of the Centaur. With trembling
hands she sought the glittering robe, gave it to a messenger, and bade
him hasten to meet Hercules, and prevail upon him to wear it for his
triumphant return. The messenger, Lichas, hastened to do her bidding,
and Deianeira waited with fast-beating heart for the success of her
"I only wish the charm may be of power
To win Alcides from this virgin's love,
And bring him back to Deianeira's arms."
Sophocles (Francklin's tr.).
Lichas acquitted himself faithfully of his errand; and Hercules,
viewing the costly garment, and anxious to appear to his best
advantage before the bright eyes of Iole, immediately donned the
richly embroidered robe.
[Sidenote: Hercules' death.]
He had no sooner put it on, than the Centaur's poisoned blood began
its deadly work. First he experienced a burning, stinging sensation,
which ran like fire through every vein. Vainly he tried to tear off
the fatal garment. It clung to his limbs, and the poison ate its way
into his flesh, until the pain was greater than he could bear.
[Illustration: FARNESE HERCULES. (National Museum, Naples.)]
In his rage at the trick which had been played upon him, he seized
Lichas--the unfortunate bearer of the poisoned robe--by the foot,
and flung him from the heights of Mount Œta down into the sea, where
"And Lichas from the top of Œta threw
Into th' Euboic Sea."
Then, resolved to end these unendurable torments by a death worthy of
his whole life, Hercules called his servants, and bade them build his
funeral pyre on the mountain peak; but they, in tears, refused to
obey, for they could not bear the thought of parting with their
beloved master. Commands and entreaties alike failed to move them: so
Hercules climbed up the mountain side alone, tore up the huge oaks by
their roots, flung them one upon the other until he had raised a
mighty pile, upon which he stretched his colossal, pain-racked limbs,
and bade his friend Philoctetes set fire to the stupendous mass.
At first Philoctetes also refused to do his bidding; but, bribed by
the promise of the world-renowned poisoned arrows, he finally
consented to do as Hercules wished, and the red flames rose higher and
higher, the wood crackled and burned, and the hero was soon enveloped
in sheets of flame, which purged him from all mortality.
Then Jupiter came down from his glorious abode, caught the noble soul
in his mighty arms, and bore it off to Olympus, there to dwell in
happiness forever with Hebe, the fair goddess of youth, whose hand was
given him in marriage.
"Till the god, the earthly part forsaken,
From the man in flames asunder taken,
Drank the heavenly ethers' purer breath.
Joyous in the new, unwonted lightness,
Earth's dark, heavy burden lost in death.
High Olympus gives harmonious greeting
To the hall where reigns his sire adored;
Youth's bright goddess, with a blush at meeting,
Gives the nectar to her lord."
Schiller (S. G. B.'s tr.).
[Sidenote: Worship of Hercules.]
Hercules, the special divinity of athletic sports and of strength, was
principally worshiped by young men. He is generally represented in art
as a tall, powerfully built man, with a small, bearded head, a lion's
skin carelessly thrown over his shoulder, and leaning upon a massive
"Great Alcides, stooping with his toil,
Rests on his club."
It is said that some of the games celebrated at Olympia were held in
his honor, although originally instituted by him in honor of Jupiter,
his father. The Nemean Games, celebrated in the forest of Nemea, the
scene of his first great labor, were the principal games held in
Greece in commemoration of his noble deeds and early death.