THE LIFE AND LABORS OF HERACLES
ERACLES was the son of Zeus, but he was born into the family of
a mortal king. When he was still a youth, being overwhelmed by a
madness sent upon him by one of the goddesses, he slew the
children of his brother Iphicles. Then, coming to know what he
had done, sleep and rest went from him: he went to Delphi, to the
shrine of Apollo, to be purified of his crime.
At Delphi, at the shrine of Apollo, the priestess purified him,
 and when she had purified him she uttered this prophecy: "From
this day forth thy name shall be, not Alcides, but Heracles. Thou
shalt go to Eurystheus, thy cousin, in Mycenæ, and serve him in
all things. When the labors he shall lay upon thee are
accomplished, and when the rest of thy life is lived out, thou
shalt become one of the immortals." Heracles, on hearing these
words, set out for Mycenæ.
He stood before his cousin who hated him; he, a towering man,
stood before a king who sat there weak and trembling. And
Heracles said, "I have come to take up the labors that you will
lay upon me; speak now, Eurystheus, and tell me what you would
have me do."
Eurystheus, that weak king, looking on the young man who stood as
tall and as firm as one of the immortals, had a heart that was
filled with hatred. He lifted up his head and he said with a
"There is a lion in Nemea that is stronger and more fierce than
any lion known before. Kill that lion, and bring the lion's skin
to me that I may know that you have truly performed your task."
So Eurystheus said, and Heracles, with neither shield nor arms,
went forth from the king's palace to seek and to combat the dread
lion of Nemea.
He went on until he came into a country where the fences were
overthrown and the fields wasted and the houses empty and fallen.
He went on until he came to the waste around that land: there he
came on the trail of the lion; it led up the side
 of a mountain, and Heracles, without shield or arms, followed the
He heard the roar of the lion. Looking up he saw the beast
standing at the mouth of a cavern, huge and dark against the
sunset. The lion roared three times, and then it went within the
Around the mouth were strewn the bones of creatures it had killed
and carried there. Heracles looked upon them when he came to the
cavern. He went within. Far into the cavern he went, and then he
came to where he saw the lion. It was sleeping.
Heracles viewed the terrible bulk of the lion, and then he looked
upon his own knotted hands and arms. He remembered that it was
told of him that, while still a child of eight months, he had
strangled a great serpent that had come to his cradle to devour
him. He had grown and his strength had grown too.
So he stood, measuring his strength and the size of the lion. The
breath from its mouth and nostrils came heavily to him as the
beast slept, gorged with its prey. Then the lion yawned. Heracles
sprang on it and put his great hands upon its throat. No growl
came out of its mouth, but the great eyes blazed while the
terrible paws tore at Heracles. Against the rock Heracles held
the beast; strongly he held it, choking it through the skin that
was almost impenetrable. Terribly the lion struggled; but the
strong hands of the hero held around its throat until it
struggled no more.
 Then Heracles stripped off that impenetrable skin from the lion's
body; he put it upon himself for a cloak. Then, as he went
through the forest, he pulled up a young oak tree and trimmed it
and made a club for himself. With the lion's skin over him—that
skin that no spear or arrow could pierce—and carrying the club
in his hand he journeyed on until he came to the palace of King
The king, seeing coming toward him a towering man all covered
with the hide of a monstrous lion, ran and hid himself in a great
jar. He lifted the lid up to ask the servants what was the
meaning of this terrible appearance. And the servants told him
that it was Heracles come back with the skin of the lion of
Nemea. On hearing this Eurystheus hid himself again.
He would not speak with Heracles nor have him come near him, so
fearful was he. But Heracles was content to be left alone. He sat
down in the palace and feasted himself.
The servants came to the king; Eurystheus lifted the lid of the
jar and they told him how Heracles was feasting and devouring all
the goods in the palace. The king flew into a rage, but still he
was fearful of having the hero before him. He issued commands
through his heralds ordering Heracles to go forth at once and
perform the second of his tasks.
It was to slay the great water snake that made its lair in the
swamps of Lerna. Heracles stayed to feast another day, and then,
with the lion's skin across his shoulders and the great
 club in his hands, he started off. But this time he did not go
alone; the boy Iolaus went with him.
Heracles and Iolaus went on until they came to the vast swamp of
Lerna. Right in the middle of the swamp was the water snake that
was called the Hydra. Nine heads it had, and it raised them up
out of the water as the hero and his companion came near. They
could not cross the swamp to come to the monster, for man or
beast would sink and be lost in it.
The Hydra remained in the middle of the swamp belching mud at the
hero and his companion. Then Heracles took up his bow and he shot
flaming arrows at its heads. It grew into such a rage that it
came through the swamp to attack him. Heracles swung his club. As
the Hydra came near he knocked head after head off its body.
But for every head knocked off two grew upon the Hydra. And as he
struggled with the monster a huge crab came out of the swamp, and
gripping Heracles by the foot tried to draw him in. Then Heracles
cried out. The boy Iolaus came; he killed the crab that had come
to the Hydra's aid.
Then Heracles laid hands upon the Hydra and drew it out of the
swamp. With his club he knocked off a head and he had Iolaus put
fire to where it had been, so that two heads might not grow in
that place. The life of the Hydra was in its middle head; that
head he had not been able to knock off with his club. Now, with
his hands he tore it off, and he placed
 this head under a great
stone so that it could not rise into life again. The Hydra's life
was now destroyed. Heracles dipped his arrows into the gall of
the monster, making his arrows deadly; no thing that was struck
by these arrows afterward could keep its life.
Again he came to Eurystheus's palace, and Eurystheus, seeing him,
ran again and hid himself in the jar. Heracles ordered the
servants to tell the king that he had returned and that the
second labor was accomplished.
Eurystheus, hearing from the servants that Heracles was mild in
his ways, came out of the jar. Insolently he spoke. "Twelve
labors you have to accomplish for me," said he to Heracles, "and
eleven yet remain to be accomplished."
"How?" said Heracles. "Have I not performed two of the labors?
Have I not slain the lion of Nemea and the great water snake of
"In the killing of the water snake you were helped by Iolaus,"
said the king, snapping out his words and looking at Heracles
with shifting eyes. "That labor cannot be allowed you."
Heracles would have struck him to the ground. But then he
remembered that the crime that he had committed in his madness
would have to be expiated by labors performed at the order of
this man. He looked full upon Eurystheus and he said, "Tell me of
the other labors, and I will go forth from Mycenæ and accomplish
Then Eurystheus bade him go and make clean the stables of
Augeias. Heracles came into that king's country. The smell
from the stables was felt for miles around. Countless herds of
cattle and goats had been in the stables for years, and because
of the uncleanness and the smell that came from it the crops were
withered all around. Heracles told the king that he would clean
the stables if he were given one tenth of the cattle and the
goats for a reward.
The king agreed to this reward. Then Heracles drove the cattle
and the goats out of the stables; he broke through the
foundations and he made channels for the two rivers Alpheus and
Peneius. The waters flowed through the stables, and in a day all
the uncleanness was washed away. Then Heracles turned the rivers
back into their own courses.
He was not given the reward he had bargained for, however.
He went back to Mycenæ with the tale of how he had cleaned the
stables. "Ten labors remain for me to do now," he said.
"Eleven," said Eurystheus. "How can I allow the cleaning of King
Augeias's stables to you when you bargained for a reward for
Then while Heracles stood still, holding himself back from
striking him, Eurystheus ran away and hid himself in the jar.
Through his heralds he sent word to Heracles, telling him what
the other labors would be.
He was to clear the marshes of Stymphalus of the man-eating birds
that gathered there; he was to capture and bring
 to the king the golden-horned deer of Coryneia; he was also to
capture and bring alive to Mycenæ the boar of Erymanthus.
Heracles came to the marshes of Stymphalus. The growth of jungle
was so dense that he could not cut his way through to where the
man-eating birds were; they sat upon low bushes within the
jungle, gorging themselves upon the flesh they had carried there.
For days Heracles tried to hack his way through. He could not get
to where the birds were. Then, thinking he might not be able to
accomplish this labor, he sat upon the ground in despair.
It was then that one of the immortals appeared to him; for the
first and only time he was given help from the gods.
It was Athena who came to him. She stood apart from Heracles,
holding in her hands brazen cymbals. These she clashed together.
At the sound of this clashing the Stymphalean birds rose up from
the low bushes behind the jungle. Heracles shot at them with
those unerring arrows of his. The man-eating birds fell, one after
the other, into the marsh.
Then Heracles went north to where the Coryneian deer took her
pasture. So swift of foot was she that no hound nor hunter had
ever been able to overtake her. For the whole of a year Heracles
kept Golden Horns in chase, and at last, on the side of the
Mountain Artemision, he caught her. Artemis, the goddess of the
wild things, would have punished Heracles for capturing the deer,
but the hero pleaded with her, and she relented and agreed to let
him bring the deer to Mycenæ and show her
 to King Eurystheus. And
Artemis took charge of Golden Horns while Heracles went off to
capture the Erymanthean boar.
He came to the city of Psophis, the inhabitants of which were in
deadly fear because of the ravages of the boar. Heracles made
his way up the mountain to hunt it. Now on this mountain a band
of centaurs lived, and they, knowing him since the time he had
been fostered by Chiron, welcomed Heracles. One of them, Pholus,
took Heracles to the great house where the centaurs had their
Seldom did the centaurs drink wine; a draft of it made them wild,
and so they stored it away, leaving it in the charge of one of
their band. Heracles begged Pholus to give him a draft of wine;
after he had begged again and again the centaur opened one of his
Heracles drank wine and spilled it. Then the centaurs that were
without smelt the wine and came hammering at the door, demanding
the drafts that would make them wild. Heracles came forth to
drive them away. They attacked him. Then he shot at them with his
unerring arrows and he drove them away. Up the mountain and away
to far rivers the centaurs raced, pursued by Heracles with his
One was slain, Pholus, the centaur who had entertained him. By
accident Heracles dropped a poisoned arrow on his foot. He took
the body of Pholus up to the top of the mountain and buried the
centaur there. Afterward, on the snows of Erymanthus, he set a
snare for the boar and caught him there.
 Upon his shoulders he carried the boar to Mycenæ and he led the
deer by her golden horns. When Eurystheus had looked upon them
the boar was slain, but the deer was loosed and she fled back to
the Mountain Artemision.
King Eurystheus sat hidden in the great jar, and he thought of
more terrible labors he would make Heracles engage in. Now he
would send him oversea and make him strive with fierce tribes and
more dread monsters. When he had it all thought out he had
Heracles brought before him and he told him of these other
He was to go to savage Thrace and there destroy the man-eating
horses of King Diomedes; afterward he was to go amongst the dread
women, the Amazons, daughters of Ares, the god of war, and take
from their queen, Hippolyte, the girdle that Ares had given her;
then he was to go to Crete and take from the keeping of King
Minos the beautiful bull that Poseidon had given him; afterward
he was to go to the Island of Erytheia and take away from
Geryoneus, the monster that had three bodies instead of one, the
herd of red cattle that the two-headed hound Orthus kept guard
over; then he was to go to the Garden of the Hesperides, and from
that garden he was to take the golden apples that Zeus had given
to Hera for a marriage gift—where the Garden of the Hesperides
was no mortal knew.
So Heracles set out on a long and perilous quest. First he went
to Thrace, that savage land that was ruled over by Diomedes, son
of Ares, the war god. Heracles broke into the
 stable where the
horses were; he caught three of them by their heads, and although
they kicked and bit and trampled he forced them out of the stable
and down to the seashore, where his companion, Abderus, waited
for him. The screams of the fierce horses were heard by the men
of Thrace, and they, with their king, came after Heracles. He
left the horses in charge of Abderus while he fought the
Thracians and their savage king.
Heracles shot his deadly arrows amongst them, and then he fought
with their king. He drove them from the seashore, and then he
came back to where he had left Abderus with the fierce horses.
They had thrown Abderus upon the ground, and they were trampling
upon him. Heracles drew his bow and he shot the horses with the
unerring arrows that were dipped with the gall of the Hydra he
had slain. Screaming, the horses of King Diomedes raced toward
the sea, but one fell and another fell, and then, as it came to
the line of the foam, the third of the fierce horses fell. They
were all slain with the unerring arrows. Then Heracles took up
the body of his companion and he buried it with proper rights,
and over it he raised a column. Afterward, around that column a
city that bore the name of Heracles's friend was built.
Then toward the Euxine Sea he went. There, where the River
Themiscyra flows into the sea he saw the abodes of the Amazons.
And upon the rocks and the steep place he saw the warrior women
standing with drawn bows in their hands. Most
dan-  gerous did they seem to Heracles. He did not know how to approach them;
he might shoot at them with his unerring arrows, but when his
arrows were all shot away, the Amazons, from their steep places,
might be able to kill him with the arrows from their bows.
While he stood at a distance, wondering what he might do, a horn
was sounded and an Amazon mounted upon a white stallion rode
toward him. When the warrior-woman came near she cried out,
"Heracles, the Queen Hippolyte permits you to come amongst the
Amazons. Enter her tent and declare to the queen what has brought
you amongst the never-conquered Amazons."
Heracles came to the tent of the queen. There stood tall
Hippolyte with an iron crown upon her head and with a beautiful
girdle of bronze and iridescent glass around her waist. Proud and
fierce as a mountain eagle looked the queen of the Amazons:
Heracles did not know in what way he might conquer her. Outside
the tent the Amazons stood; they struck their shields with their
spears, keeping up a continuous savage din.
"For what has Heracles come to the country of the Amazons?" Queen
"For the girdle you wear," said Heracles, and he held his hands
ready for the struggle.
"Is it for the girdle given me by Ares, the god of war, that you
have come, braving the Amazons, Heracles?" asked the queen.
 "For that," said Heracles.
"I would not have you enter into strife with the Amazons," said
Queen Hippolyte. And so saying she drew off the girdle of bronze
and iridescent glass, and she gave it into his hands.
Heracles took the beautiful girdle into his hands. Fearful he was
that some piece of guile was being played upon him, but then he
looked into the open eyes of the queen and he saw that she meant
no guile. He took the girdle and he put it around his great
brows; then he thanked Hippolyte and he went from the tent. He
saw the Amazons standing on the rocks and the steep places with
bows bent; unchallenged he went on, and he came to his ship and
he sailed away from that country with one more labor
The labor that followed was not dangerous. He sailed over sea and
he came to Crete, to the land that King Minos ruled over. And
there he found, grazing in a special pasture, the bull that
Poseidon had given King Minos. He laid his hands upon the bull's
horns and he struggled with him and he overthrew him. Then he
drove the bull down to the seashore.
His next labor was to take away the herd of red cattle that was
owned by the monster Geryoneus. In the Island of Erytheia, in the
middle of the Stream of Ocean, lived the monster, his herd
guarded by the two-headed hound Orthus—that hound was the
brother of Cerberus, the three-headed hound that kept guard in the
Mounted upon the bull given Minos by Poseidon, Heracles
 fared across the sea. He came even to the straits that divide
Europe from Africa, and there he set up two pillars as a memorial
of his journey—the Pillars of Heracles that stand to this day.
He and the bull rested there. Beyond him stretched the Stream of
Ocean; the Island of Erytheia was there, but Heracles thought
that the bull would not be able to bear him so far.
And there the sun beat upon him, and drew all strength away from
him, and he was dazed and dazzled by the rays of the sun. He
shouted out against the sun, and in his anger he wanted to strive
against the sun. Then he drew his bow and shot arrows upward.
Far, far out of sight the arrows of Heracles went. And the sun
god, Helios, was filled with admiration for Heracles, the man who
would attempt the impossible by shooting arrows at him; then did
Helios fling down to Heracles his great golden cup.
Down, and into the Stream of Ocean fell the great golden cup of
Helios. It floated there wide enough to hold all the men who
might be in a ship. Heracles put the bull of Minos into the cup
of Helios, and the cup bore them away, toward the west, and
across the Stream of Ocean.
Thus Heracles came to the Island of Erytheia. All over the island
straggled the red cattle of Geryoneus, grazing upon the rich
pastures. Heracles, leaving the bull of Minos in the cup, went
upon the island; he made a club for himself out of a tree and he
went toward the cattle.
The hound Orthus bayed and ran toward him; the
two-  headed hound
that was the brother of Cerberus sprang at Heracles with
poisonous foam upon his jaws. Heracles swung his club and
struck the two heads off the hound. And where the foam of the
hound's jaws dropped down a poisonous plant sprang up. Heracles
took up the body of the hound, and swung it around and flung it
far out into the Ocean.
Then the monster Geryoneus came upon him. Three bodies he had
instead of one; he attacked Heracles by hurling great stones at
him. Heracles was hurt by the stones. And then the monster beheld
the cup of Helios, and he began to hurl stones at the golden
thing, and it seemed that he might sink it in the sea, and leave
Heracles without a way of getting from the island. Heracles took
up his bow and he shot arrow after arrow at the monster, and he
left him dead in the deep grass of the pastures.
Then he rounded up the red cattle, the bulls and the cows, and he
drove them down to the shore and into the golden cup of Helios
where the bull of Minos stayed. Then back across the Stream of
Ocean the cup floated, and the bull of Crete and the cattle of
Geryoneus were brought past Sicily and through the straits called
the Hellespont. To Thrace, that savage land, they came. Then
Heracles took the cattle out, and the cup of Helios sank in the
sea. Through the wild lands of Thrace he drove the herd of
Geryoneus and the bull of Minos, and he came into Mycenæ once
But he did not stay to speak with Eurystheus. He started off to
find the Garden of the Hesperides, the Daughters of the
 Evening Land. Long did he search, but he found no one who could
tell him where the garden was. And at last he went to Chiron on
the Mountain Pelion, and Chiron told Heracles what journey he
would have to make to come to the Hesperides, the Daughters of
the Evening Land.
Far did Heracles journey; weary he was when he came to where
Atlas stood, bearing the sky upon his weary shoulders. As he came
near he felt an undreamt-of perfume being wafted toward him. So
weary was he with his journey and all his toils that he would
fain sink down and dream away in that evening land. But he roused
himself, and he journeyed on toward where the perfume came from.
Over that place a star seemed always about to rise.
He came to where a silver lattice fenced a garden that was full
of the quiet of evening. Golden bees hummed through the air, and
there was the sound of quiet waters. How wild and laborious was
the world he had come from, Heracles thought! He felt that it
would be hard for him to return to that world.
He saw three maidens. They stood with wreaths upon their heads
and blossoming branches in their hands. When the maidens saw him
they came toward him crying out: "O man who has come into the
Garden of the Hesperides, go not near the tree that the sleepless
dragon guards!" Then they went and stood by a tree as if to keep
guard over it. All around were trees that bore flowers and fruit,
but this tree had golden apples amongst its bright green leaves.
 Then he saw the guardian of the tree. Beside its trunk a dragon
lay, and as Heracles came near the dragon showed its glittering
scales and its deadly claws.
The apples were within reach, but the dragon, with its glittering
scales and claws, stood in the way. Heracles shot an arrow; then
a tremor went through Ladon, the sleepless dragon; it screamed
and then lay stark. The maidens cried in their grief; Heracles
went to the tree, and he plucked the golden apples and he put
them into the pouch he carried. Down on the ground sank the
Hesperides, the Daughters of the Evening Land, and he heard their
laments as he went from the enchanted garden they had guarded.
Back from the ends of the earth came Heracles, back from the
place where Atlas stood holding the sky upon his weary shoulders.
He went back through Asia and Libya and Egypt, and he came again
to Mycenæ and to the palace of Eurystheus.
He brought to the king the herd of Geryoneus; he brought to the
king the bull of Minos; he brought to the king the girdle of
Hippolyte; he brought to the king the golden apples of the
Hesperides. And King Eurystheus, with his thin white face, sat
upon his royal throne and he looked over all the wonderful things
that the hero had brought him. Not pleased was Eurystheus; rather
was he angry that one he hated could win such wonderful things.
He took into his hands the golden apples of the Hesperides. But
this fruit was not for such as he. An eagle snatched the
 branch from his hand, and the eagle flew and flew until it came
to where the Daughters of the Evening Land wept in their garden.
There the eagle let fall the branch with the golden apples, and
the maidens set it back upon the tree, and behold! it grew as it
had been growing before Heracles plucked it.
The next day the heralds of Eurystheus came to Heracles and they
told him of the last labor that he would have to set out to
accomplish—this time he would have to go down into the
Underworld, and bring up from King Aidoneus's realm Cerberus, the
Heracles put upon him the impenetrable lion's skin and set forth
once more. This might indeed be the last of his life's labors:
Cerberus was not an earthly monster, and he who would struggle
with Cerberus in the Underworld would have the gods of the dead
But Heracles went on. He journeyed to the cave Tainaron, which
was an entrance to the Underworld. Far into that dismal cave he
went, and then down, down, until he came to Acheron, that dim
river that has beyond it only the people of the dead. Cerberus
bayed at him from the place where the dead cross the river.
Knowing that he was no shade, the hound sprang at Heracles, but
he could neither bite nor tear through that impenetrable lion's
skin. Heracles held him by the neck of his middle head so that
Cerberus was neither able to bite nor tear nor bellow.
Then to the brink of Acheron came Persephone, queen of the
 Underworld. She declared to Heracles that the gods of the dead
would not strive against him if he promised to bring Cerberus
back to the Underworld, carrying the hound downward again as he
carried him upward.
This Heracles promised. He turned around and he carried Cerberus,
his hands around the monster's neck while foam dripped from his
jaws. He carried him on and upward toward the world of men. Out
through a cave that was in the land of Trœzen Heracles came,
still carrying Cerberus by the neck of his middle head.
From Trœzen to Mycenæ the hero went and men fled before him at
the sight of the monster that he carried. On he went toward the
king's palace. Eurystheus was seated outside his palace that day,
looking at the great jar that he had often hidden in, and
thinking to himself that Heracles would never appear to affright
him again. Then Heracles appeared. He called to Eurystheus, and
when the king looked up he held the hound toward him. The three
heads grinned at Eurystheus; he gave a cry and scrambled into the
jar. But before his feet touched the bottom of it Eurystheus was
dead of fear. The jar rolled over, and Heracles looked upon the
body that was all twisted with fright. Then he turned around and
made his way back to the Underworld. On the brink of Acheron he
loosed Cerberus, and the bellow of the three-headed hound was
It was then that Heracles was given arms by the gods—the sword of
Hermes, the bow of Apollo, the shield made by Hephæstus; it was
then that Heracles joined the Argonauts and journeyed with them
to the edge of the Caucasus, where, slaying the vulture that
preyed upon Prometheus's liver, he, at the will of Zeus,
liberated the Titan. Thereafter Zeus and Prometheus were
reconciled, and Zeus, that neither might forget how much the
enmity between them had cost gods and men, had a ring made for
Prometheus to wear; that ring was made out of the fetter that had
been upon him, and in it was set a fragment of the rock that the
Titan had been bound to.
The Argonauts had now won back to Greece. But before he saw any
of them he had been in Oichalia, and had seen the maiden Iole.
The king of Oichalia had offered his daughter Iole in marriage to
the hero who could excel himself and his sons in shooting with
arrows. Heracles saw Iole, the blue-eyed and childlike maiden,
and he longed to take her with him to some place near the Garden
of the Hesperides. And Iole looked on him, and he knew that she
wondered to see him so tall and so strongly knit even as he
wondered to see her so childlike and delicate.
Then the contest began. The king and his sons shot wonderfully
well, and none of the heroes who stood before Heracles had a
chance of winning. Then Heracles shot his arrows.
 No matter how
far away they moved the mark, Heracles struck it and struck the
very center of it. The people wondered who this great archer
might be. And then a name was guessed at and went around—Heracles!
When the king heard the name of Heracles he would not let him
strive in the contest any more. For the maiden Iole would not be
given as a prize to one who had been mad and whose madness might
afflict him again. So the king said, speaking in judgment in the
Rage came on Heracles when he heard this judgment given. He would
not let his rage master him lest the madness that was spoken of
should come with his rage. So he left the city of Oichalia
declaring to the king and the people that he would return.
It was then that, wandering down to Crete, he heard of the
Argonauts being near. And afterward he heard of them being in
Calydon, hunting the boar that ravaged Œneus's country. To
Calydon Heracles went. The heroes had departed when he came into
the country, and all the city was in grief for the deaths of
Prince Meleagrus and his two uncles.
On the steps of the temple where Meleagrus and his uncles had
been brought Heracles saw Deianira, Meleagrus's sister. She was
pale with her grief, this tall woman of the mountains; she looked
like a priestess, but also like a woman who could cheer camps of
men with her counsel, her bravery, and her good companionship;
her hair was very dark and she had dark eyes.
 Straightway she became friends with Heracles; and when they saw
each other for a while they loved each other. And Heracles forgot
Iole, the childlike maiden whom he had seen in Oichalia.
He made himself a suitor for Deianira, and those who protected
her were glad of Heracles's suit, and they told him they would
give him the maiden to marry as soon as the mourning for Prince
Meleagrus and his uncles was over. Heracles stayed in Calydon,
happy with Deianira, who had so much beauty, wisdom, and bravery.
But then a dreadful thing happened in Calydon; by an accident,
while using his strength unthinkingly, Heracles killed a lad who
was related to Deianira. He might not marry her now until he had
taken punishment for slaying one who was close to her in blood.
As a punishment for the slaying it was judged that Heracles
should be sold into slavery for three years. At the end of his
three years' slavery he could come back to Calydon and wed
And so Heracles and Deianira were parted. He was sold as a slave
in Lydia; the one who bought him was a woman, a widow named
Omphale. To her house Heracles went, carrying his armor and
wearing his lion's skin. And Omphale laughed to see this tall man
dressed in a lion's skin coming to her house to do a servant's
tasks for her.
She and all in her house kept up fun with Heracles. They
set him to do housework, to carry water, and set vessels on the
tables, and clear the vessels away. Omphale set him to spin with
a spindle as the women did. And often she would put on Heracles's
lion skin and go about dragging his club, while he, dressed in
woman's garb, washed dishes and emptied pots.
But he would lose patience with these servant's tasks, and then
Omphale would let him go away and perform some great exploit.
Often he went on long journeys and stayed away for long times. It
was while he was in slavery to Omphale that he liberated Theseus
from the dungeon in which he was held with Peirithous, and it was
while he still was in slavery that he made his journey to Troy.
At Troy he helped to repair for King Laomedon the great walls
that years before Apollo and Poseidon had built around the city.
As a reward for this labor he was offered the Princess Hesione in
marriage; she was the daughter of King Laomedon, and the sister
of Priam, who was then called, not Priam but Podarces. He helped
to repair the wall, and two of the Argonauts were there to aid
him: one was Peleus and the other was Telamon. Peleus did not
stay for long: Telamon stayed, and to reward Telamon Heracles
withdrew his own claim for the hand of the Princess Hesione. It
was not hard on Heracles to do this, for his thoughts were ever
But Telamon rejoiced, for he loved Hesione greatly. On the day
they married Heracles showed the two an eagle in the sky.
 He said it was sent as an omen to them—an omen for their
marriage. And in memory of that omen Telamon named his son
"Aias"; that is, "Eagle."
Then the walls of Troy were repaired and Heracles turned toward
Lydia, Omphale's home. Not long would he have to serve Omphale
now, for his three years' slavery was
over. Soon he would
go back to Calydon and wed Deianira.
As he went along the road to Lydia he thought of all the
pleasantries that had been made in Omphale's house and he
laughed at the memory of them. Lydia was a friendly country, and
even though he had been in slavery Heracles had had his good
He was tired with the journey and made sleepy with the heat of
the sun, and when he came within sight of Omphale's house he lay
down by the side of the road, first taking off his armor, and
laying aside his bow, his quiver, and his shield. He wakened up
to see two men looking down upon him; he knew that these were the
Cercopes, robbers who waylaid travelers upon this road. They were
laughing as they looked down on him, and Heracles saw that they
held his arms and his armor in their hands.
They thought that this man, for all his tallness, would yield to
them when he saw that they had his arms and his armor. But
Heracles sprang up, and he caught one by the waist and the other
by the neck, and he turned them upside down and tied them
together by the heels. Now he held them securely
 and he would
take them to the town and give them over to those whom they had
waylaid and robbed. He hung them by their heels across his
shoulders and marched on.
But the robbers, as they were being bumped along, began to relate
pleasantries and mirthful tales to each other, and Heracles,
listening, had to laugh. And one said to the other, "O my
brother, we are in the position of the frogs when the mice fell
upon them with such fury." And the other said, "Indeed nothing
can save us if Zeus does not send an ally to us as he sent an
ally to the frogs." And the first robber said, "Who began that
conflict, the frogs or the mice?" And thereupon the second
robber, his head reaching down to Heracles's waist, began:
THE BATTLE OF THE FROGS AND MICE
A warlike mouse came down to the brink of a pond for no other
reason than to take a drink of water. Up to him hopped a frog.
Speaking in the voice of one who had rule and authority, the frog
"Stranger to our shore, you may not know it, but I am Puff Jaw,
king of the frogs. I do not speak to common mice, but you, as I
judge, belong to the noble and kingly sort. Tell me your race. If
I know it to be a noble one I shall show you my kingly
The mouse, speaking haughtily, said: "I am Crumb Snatcher, and my
race is a famous one. My father is the heroic Bread
 Nibbler, and
he married Quern Licker, the lovely daughter of a king. Like all
my race I am a warrior who has never been wont to flinch in
battle. Moreover, I have been brought up as a mouse of high
degree, and figs and nuts, cheese and honeycakes is the provender
that I have been fed on."
Now this reply of Crumb Snatcher pleased the kingly frog greatly.
"Come with me to my abode, illustrious Crumb Snatcher," said he,
"and I shall show you such entertainment as may be found in the
house of a king."
But the mouse looked sharply at him. "How may I get to your
house?" he asked. "We live in different elements, you and I. We
mice want to be in the driest of dry places, while you frogs have
your abodes in the water."
"Ah," answered Puff Jaw, "you do not know how favored the frogs
are above all other creatures. To us alone the gods have given
the power to live both in the water and on the land. I shall take
you to my land palace that is the other side of the pond."
"How may I go there with you?" asked Crumb Snatcher the mouse,
"Upon my back," said the frog. "Up now, noble Crumb Snatcher. And
as we go I will show you the wonders of the deep."
He offered his back and Crumb Snatcher bravely mounted. The mouse
put his forepaws around the frog's neck. Then Puff Jaw swam out.
Crumb Snatcher at first was pleased to
 feel himself moving
through the water. But as the dark waves began to rise his mighty
heart began to quail. He longed to be back upon the land. He
"How quickly we get on," cried Puff Jaw; "soon we shall be at my
Heartened by this speech, Crumb Snatcher put his tail into the
water and worked it as a steering oar. On and on they went, and
Crumb Snatcher gained heart for the adventure. What a wonderful
tale he would have to tell to the clans of the mice!
But suddenly, out of the depths of the pond, a water snake raised
his horrid head. Fearsome did that head seem to both mouse and
frog. And forgetful of the guest that he carried upon his back,
Puff Jaw dived down into the water. He reached the bottom of the
pond and lay on the mud in safety.
But far from safety was Crumb Snatcher the mouse. He sank and
rose, and sank again. His wet fur weighed him down. But before he
sank for the last time he lifted up his voice and cried out and
his cry was heard at the brink of the pond:
"Ah, Puff Jaw, treacherous frog! An evil thing you have done,
leaving me to drown in the middle of the pond. Had you faced me
on the land I should have shown you which of us two was the
better warrior. Now I must lose my life in the water. But I tell
you my death shall not go unavenged—the cowardly frogs will be
punished for the ill they have done to me who am the son of the
king of the mice."
 Then Crumb Snatcher sank for the last time. But Lick Platter, who
was at the brink of the pond, had heard his words. Straightway
this mouse rushed to the hole of Bread Nibbler and told him of
the death of his princely son.
Bread Nibbler called out the clans of the mice. The warrior mice
armed themselves, and this was the grand way of their arming:
First, the mice put on greaves that covered their forelegs. These
they made out of bean shells broken in two. For shield, each had
a lamp's centerpiece. For spears they had the long bronze needles
that they had carried out of the houses of men. So armed and so
accoutered they were ready to war upon the frogs. And Bread
Nibbler, their king, shouted to them: "Fall upon the cowardly
frogs, and leave not one alive upon the bank of the pond.
Henceforth that bank is ours, and ours only. Forward!"
And, on the other side, Puff Jaw was urging the frogs to battle.
"Let us take our places on the edge of the pond," he said, "and
when the mice come amongst us, let each catch hold of one and
throw him into the pond. Thus we will get rid of these dry bobs,
The frogs applauded the speech of their king, and straightway
they went to their armor and their weapons. Their legs they
covered with the leaves of mallow. For breastplates they had the
leaves of beets. Cabbage leaves, well cut, made their strong
shields. They took their spears from the pond
side—  deadly pointed rushes they were, and they placed upon their heads
helmets that were empty snail shells. So armed and so accoutered
they were ready to meet the grand attack of the mice.
When the robber came to this part of the story Heracles halted
his march, for he was shaking with laughter. The robber stopped
in his story. Heracles slapped him on the leg and said: "What
more of the heroic exploits of the mice?" The second robber said,
"I know no more, but perhaps my brother at the other side of you
can tell you of the mighty combat between them and the frogs."
Then Heracles shifted the first robber from his back to his
front, and the first robber said: "I will tell you what I know
about the heroical combat between the frogs and the mice." And
thereupon he began:
The gnats blew their trumpets. This was the dread signal for war.
Bread Nibbler struck the first blow. He fell upon Loud Crier the
frog, and overthrew him. At this Loud Crier's friend, Reedy,
threw down spear and shield and dived into the water. This seemed
to presage victory for the mice. But then Water Larker, the most
warlike of the frogs, took up a great pebble and flung it at Ham
Nibbler who was then pursuing Reedy. Down fell Ham Nibbler, and
there was dismay in the ranks of the mice.
Then Cabbage Climber, a great-hearted frog, took up a clod
 of mud and flung it full at a mouse that was coming furiously
upon him. That mouse's helmet was knocked off and his forehead
was plastered with the clod of mud, so that he was well-nigh
It was then that victory inclined to the frogs. Bread Nibbler
again came into the fray. He rushed furiously upon Puff Jaw the
Leeky, the trusted friend of Puff Jaw, opposed Bread Nibbler's
onslaught. Mightily he drove his spear at the king of the mice.
But the point of the spear broke upon Bread Nibbler's shield, and
then Leeky was overthrown.
Bread Nibbler came upon Puff Jaw, and the two great kings faced
each other. The frogs and the mice drew aside, and there was a
pause in the combat. Bread Nibbler the mouse struck Puff Jaw the
frog terribly upon the toes.
Puff Jaw drew out of the battle. Now all would have been lost for
the frogs had not Zeus, the father of the gods, looked down upon
"Dear, dear," said Zeus, "what can be done to save the frogs?
They will surely be annihilated if the charge of yonder mouse is
For the father of the gods, looking down, saw a warrior mouse
coming on in the most dreadful onslaught of the whole battle.
Slice Snatcher was the name of this warrior. He had come late
into the field. He waited to split a chestnut in two and to put
the halves upon his paws. Then, furiously dashing amongst
frogs, he cried out that he would not leave the ground until he
had destroyed the race, leaving the bank of the pond a playground
for the mice and for the mice alone.
To stop the charge of Slice Snatcher there was nothing for Zeus
to do but to hurl the thunderbolt that is the terror of gods and
Frogs and mice were awed by the thunder and the flame. But still
the mice, urged on by Slice Snatcher, did not hold back from
their onslaught upon the frogs.
Now would the frogs have been utterly destroyed; but, as they
dashed on, the mice encountered a new and a dreadful army. The
warriors in these ranks had mailed backs and curving claws. They
had bandy legs and long-stretching arms. They had eyes that
looked behind them. They came on sideways. These were the crabs,
creatures until now unknown to the mice. And the crabs had been
sent by Zeus to save the race of the frogs from utter
Coming upon the mice they nipped their paws. The mice turned
around and they nipped their tails. In vain the boldest of the
mice struck at the crabs with their sharpened spears. Not upon
the hard shells on the backs of the crabs did the spears of the
mice make any dint. On and on, on their queer feet and with their
terrible nippers, the crabs went. Bread Nibbler could not rally
them any more, and Slice Snatcher ceased to speak of the monument
of victory that the mice would erect upon the bank of the pond.
 With their heads out of the water they had retreated to, the
frogs watched the finish of the battle. The mice threw down their
spears and shields and fled from the battleground. On went the
crabs as if they cared nothing for their victory, and the frogs
came out of the water and sat upon the bank and watched them in
Heracles had laughed at the diverting tale that the robbers had
told him; he could not bring them then to a place where they
would meet with captivity or death. He let them loose upon the
highway, and the robbers thanked him with highflowing speeches,
and they declared that if they should ever find him sleeping by
the roadway again they would let him lie. Saying this they went
away, and Heracles, laughing as he thought upon the great
exploits of the frogs and mice, went on to Omphale's house.
Omphale, the widow, received him mirthfully, and then set him to
do tasks in the kitchen while she sat and talked to him about
Troy and the affairs of King Laomedon. And afterward she put on
his lion's skin, and went about in the courtyard dragging the
heavy club after her. Mirthfully and pleasantly she made the rest
of his time in Lydia pass for Heracles, and the last day of his
slavery soon came, and he bade good-by to Omphale, that pleasant
widow, and to Lydia, and he started off for Calydon to claim his
Beautiful indeed Deianira looked now that she had ceased to
for her brother, for the laughter that had been under her grief
always now flashed out even while she looked priestesslike and of
good counsel; her dark eyes shone like stars, and her being had
the spirit of one who wanders from camp to camp, always greeting
friends and leaving friends behind her. Heracles and Deianira
wed, and they set out for Tiryns, where a king had left a kingdom
They came to the River Evenus. Heracles could have crossed the
river by himself, but he could not cross it at the part he came
to, carrying Deianira. He and she went along the river, seeking a
ferry that might take them across. They wandered along the side
of the river, happy with each other, and they came to a place
where they had sight of a centaur.
Heracles knew this centaur. He was Nessus, one of the centaurs
whom he had chased up the mountain the time when he went to hunt
the Erymanthean boar. The centaurs knew him, and Nessus spoke to
Heracles as if he had friendship for him. He would, he said,
carry Heracles's bride across the river.
Then Heracles crossed the river, and he waited on the other side
for Nessus and Deianira. Nessus went to another part of the river
to make his crossing. Then Heracles, upon the other bank, heard
screams—the screams of his wife, Deianira. He saw that the
centaur was savagely attacking her.
Then Heracles leveled his bow and he shot at Nessus. Arrow after
arrow he shot into the centaur's body. Nessus loosed his
 hold on Deianira, and he lay down on the bank of the river, his
lifeblood streaming from him.
Then Nessus, dying, but with his rage against Heracles unabated,
thought of a way by which the hero might be made to suffer for
the death he had brought upon him. He called to Deianira, and
she, seeing he could do her no more hurt, came close to him. He
told her that in repentance for his attack upon her he would
bestow a great gift upon her. She was to gather up some of the
blood that flowed from him; his blood, the centaur said, would be
a love philter, and if ever her husband's love for her waned it
would grow fresh again if she gave to him something from her
hands that would have this blood upon it.
Deianira, who had heard from Heracles of the wisdom of the
centaurs, believed what Nessus told her. She took a phial and let
the blood pour into it. Then Nessus plunged into the river and
died there as Heracles came up to where Deianira stood.
She did not speak to him about the centaur's words to her, nor
did she tell him that she had hidden away the phial that had
Nessus's blood in it. They crossed the river at another point and
they came after a time to Tiryns and to the kingdom that had been
left to Heracles.
There Heracles and Deianira lived, and a son who was named Hyllos
was born to them. And after a time Heracles was led into a war
with Eurytus—Eurytus who was king of Oichalia.
Word came to Deianira that Oichalia was taken by Heracles, and
that the king and his daughter Iole were held captive.
 Deianira knew that Heracles had once tried to win this maiden for
his wife, and she feared that the sight of Iole would bring his
old longing back to him.
She thought upon the words that Nessus had said to her, and even
as she thought upon them messengers came from Heracles to ask her
to send him a robe—a beautifully woven robe that she had—that
he might wear it while making a sacrifice. Deianira took down the
robe; through this robe, she thought, the blood of the centaur
could touch Heracles and his love for her would revive. Thinking
this she poured Nessus's blood over the robe.
Heracles was in Oichalia when the messengers returned to him. He
took the robe that Deianira sent, and he went to a mountain that
overlooked the sea that he might make the sacrifice there. Iole
went with him. Then he put on the robe that Deianira had sent.
When it touched his flesh the robe burst into flame. Heracles
tried to tear it off, but deeper and deeper into his flesh the
flames went. They burned and burned and none could quench them.
Then Heracles knew that his end was near. He would die by fire,
and knowing that he piled up a great heap of wood and he climbed
upon it. There he stayed with the flaming robe burning into him,
and he begged of those who passed to fire the pile that his end
might come more quickly.
None would fire the pile. But at last there came that way a young
warrior named Philoctetes, and Heracles begged of him to fire the
pile. Philoctetes, knowing that it was the will of
 the gods that Heracles should die that way, lighted the pile. For
that Heracles bestowed upon him his great bow and his unerring
arrows. And it was this bow and these arrows, brought from
Philoctetes, that afterward helped to take Priam's city.
The pile that Heracles stood upon was fired. High up, above the
sea, the pile burned. All who were near that burning fled—all
except Iole, that childlike maiden. She stayed and watched the
flames mount up and up. They wrapped the sky, and the voice of
Heracles was heard calling upon Zeus. Then a great chariot came
and Heracles was borne away to Olympus. Thus, after many labors,
Heracles passed away, a mortal passing into an immortal being in
a great burning high above the sea.