| Gods and Heroes|
|by Robert Edward Francillon|
|One of the best introductions to Greek mythology for children. Includes the stories of all the prominent gods and heroes, woven together into a continuous narrative, ending with a full treatment of the twelve labors of Hercules. Ages 8-12 |
HIS FOURTH LABOR: THE BOAR
 THE chase of the stag—with the golden horns had taken
so long that Eurystheus was beginning to give Hercules
up for lost: and he was not sorry, for he was becoming
more and more afraid of the man who only lived to do
his bidding. He could not but think that his cousin
must be playing some deep and underhand game. So when
Hercules came back, with the stag following tamely at
heel, he hid himself again, and by way of welcome bade
Hercules capture and bring him, alive, a very different
sort of wild beast—not a harmless stag, but the
great and fierce wild boar which had its den in the
mountains of Erymanthus, and ravaged the country round.
Hercules was getting weary of these labors, to which he
saw no end. Not for a moment did he think of
disobeying, but he set out with a heavy heart, and with
some rising bitterness against his taskmaster. His way
to the mountains of Erymanthus lay through the country
of the Centaurs, and of his old teacher, Chiron.
Here he halted at the dwelling of one of the Centaurs,
Pholus who received him kindly. But Hercules
 was feeling fairly worn out in spirit, and Pholus
failed to cheer him.
"What is the use of it all?" he complained. "No doubt
the gods are just, and ought to be obeyed; but they are
not kind. Why did they send me into the world, and give
me strength, only to go about after wild beasts at the
bidding of a coward? Why did they give me passions,
only to have the trouble of keeping them down? If I had
been like other men—as weak and as cold-blooded
as they are—I should have been happy, and perhaps
done some real good, and at any rate lived my own life
in my own way. It isn't as if I cared for glory, but I
do want a little peace and pleasure. Come, Pholus let
me have some wine: I want it, and let it be in plenty!"
"I am very sorry," said Pholus, "I have no wine."
"Why, what is that, then?" asked Hercules, pointing to
a big barrel in the corner.
"That is wine," said Pholus; "but I can't give you any
of it, because it is not my own. It belongs to all the
Centaurs; and, as it is public property, nobody may
take any of it without the leave of the whole tribe."
"Nonsense!" said Hercules. "Wine I want, and wine I'll
So saying, he stove in the head of the cask with a
single blow of his fist, and, dipping and filling a
goblet, began to drink eagerly.
 The wine soon began to warm his blood and raise his
heart. After the first cup or two, the cloud which had
been falling over him rolled away, and life again
seemed worth living for its own sake, and not only for
duty's. But he did not stop at two cups, nor at three;
nor even when it began to mount into his brain, and to
bring back those wild instincts which he thought he had
left behind him in the Temple of Apollo.
Meanwhile the news had spread among the Centaurs that
Hercules was among them, and making free with the
public wine. The odor of the broken cask brought a
crowd of them at full gallop, and disturbed Hercules in
the midst of his carouse.
"Do you call this hospitality, you savages?" he
shouted, stumbling out of the house, and laying about
him with his club freely among the crowd, while Pholus,
vainly tried to prevent mischief. Down went Centaur
after Centaur, till those who were uninjured galloped
away panic-stricken, Pholus himself being among the
"To Chiron!" cried the Centaurs; "he will know how to
deal with this madman."
They rode as hard as they could to Chiron's dwelling,
Hercules, furious with wine and anger, still pursuing.
As they were outstripping him, he let fly his arrows
among them; and, as evil luck would have it, at that
very moment Chiron rode out from his gate
 to see what was happening, and to quiet the disorder,
and one of the arrows struck him in the knee, and he
Hercules became sober enough when he came up and found
his old friend and teacher writhing in terrible agony;
for the arrow was one which he had dipped in the deadly
poison of the Hydra. He could only look on with
remorse. Chiron knew him, and, when the agony passed
away into death, gave him a look of forgiveness. What
the wise Centaur's last word to his favorite pupil was,
I know not; but I think it must have been something
like: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest
I will not try to think of what Hercules felt when he
watched the burial of the friends whom he had slain in
a fit of drunken passion, for no cause. However, his
duty lay still before him, and it had become more
clear. Never again would he complain of his fate, or
question the justice of the gods, or think of the life
which had been lent to him as if it were his own.
In due time, after a long and dangerous journey among
the mountains, he came upon the den of the great wild
boar which he was to capture alive. There was nothing
to be done but to follow it as he had followed the
stag, watching for a chance of trapping it unawares:
and in the pursuit another whole year
 passed away. Then, in the middle of winter, there fell
such a snow that the boar was unable to leave its den.
Hercules forced his way through the snowed-up entrance,
and tried to seize the brute as he had seized the
Nemæan lion. The boar, however, rushed past him,
and would have escaped again had not the snow hindered
his running, and at last exhausted him. Hercules,
though nearly exhausted himself, chose the right moment
for closing with him, and, after a long struggle, bound
him with a halter in such a manner that, in spite of
its efforts, he could drag it by main strength down the
Once more Eurystheus had given Hercules up for lost:
and the snow prevented him from hearing any news
beforehand. So when, while he was standing at the city
gate, there suddenly appeared before him, not only
Hercules—all grim and rough from his year's
hunting—but the largest and most savage wild boar
in the world, looking ready to devour him, he was so
terrified that he whisked like a frightened mouse into
his pot, and did not dare come out again for seven
As for Chiron the Centaur, he became a constellation in
heaven, where he is still to be seen. He was the
teacher of nearly all the heroes and demi-gods: and
after his death there seems to have been an end of
them. There have been plenty of brave men since;
 but not like Castor and Pollux, Perseus, Theseus, and
Hercules. Nor, since that fatal day, does one hear of
the Centaurs any more. Thus did one passing fit of
causeless anger, instantly repented of, destroy these
wisest and most valiant creatures, and deprive the
whole world of more than it has ever regained during
thousands of years.
Hercules solemnly sacrificed the boar, and then took a
little rest, meditating on all that had befallen. But
his rest was not to be for long. For there was
Eurystheus in his pot, trying to think of something
that should keep him occupied forever.
And—"I have it!" he exclaimed at last, summoning
Hercules by a stroke on his pot's brazen side.
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