| 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 |
 PERSEUS and Andromeda had two sons, Alcæus, King of
Thebes, and Electryon, King of Argos and
Mycēnæ. Alcæus had a son named
Amphitryon and Electryon had a daughter
named Alcmēna. These two cousins—Amphitryon
and Alcmena—married; and Jupiter resolved that
they should have a son who should be the greatest and
most famous of men.
But Juno was in one of her jealous moods; and she was
especially jealous that such favor should be shown to
Alcmena. Having considered how she should spoil his
plan, she came to Jupiter in seeming good-humor, and
"I have a question to ask you. Of two first cousins,
which shall rule the other, and which shall
serve—the elder or the younger?"
"Why, of course, the elder must rule the younger,"
"You swear that—by the Styx?" asked Juno.
 "By the Styx," Jupiter answered, wondering what she
could mean by what seemed so trifling a question, and
then thinking no more of the matter. But Juno knew what
she meant very well. Alcmena had a brother,
Sthĕnĕlus, who had married the Princess
Nicippe of Phrygia. And Juno said to herself, "They
also may have a son as well as Alcmena. Then the two
boys would be first cousins; and Jupiter has sworn that
the first-born shall rule the other. So if Nicippe has
a son first, Alcmena's son will have to serve him and
obey him: and then, O Jupiter, there will be a greater
man than Alcmena's son; for he who rules must be
greater than he who obeys."
Now it is Juno herself who settles when children shall
come into the world. It was easy, therefore, for her to
manage so that Nicippe's son should be born two whole
months before Alcmena's. Jupiter was enraged when, too
late, he found what a trick had been played upon him;
but he had sworn by the Styx—the oath which could
not be broken. Thus it became the will of heaven that
the son of Alcmena should be the servant of the son of
The son of Nicippe was named Eurystheus: the son of
Alcmena was named Hercŭles.
About the childhood of Eurystheus there was nothing
remarkable. But when Hercules and his twin-brother,
Iphĭcles, were only eight months old, the whole
 of Amphitryon was alarmed by the screams of Iphicles,
which brought Alcmena and the whole household running
into the room where the two children had been left
alone. They saw a strange sight indeed. Poor Iphicles
was found half dead with fright in a corner; and no
wonder, for Hercules was being attacked by two huge
serpents which were trying to crush him to death in
their coils. But so far from being frightened, Hercules
had got one of his baby hands round the neck of each
serpent right and left; and so he quietly throttled
them till they lay dead upon the floor. And this at
only eight months old!
His strength grew with him till it became a marvel like
that of Samson among the children of Israel, and in
bulk and stature also he towered over all other men.
Like many who are large and strong, he was grave and
somewhat silent, using, when he spoke, but few words,
not easily moved either to action or to anger, but,
when once roused, then roused indeed. One seems to
think of him as of some great lion. As for training, he
had the best that could be given him. Castor taught him
how to use the sword; Pollux how to use his fists;
Eurytus, the finest archer in the world, taught
him to shoot; Autŏlycus, to ride and drive.
Nor were accomplishments forgotten; for Linus, the
brother and pupil of Orpheus, taught him to play the
lyre, and Eumolpus to sing. Finally, he was sent to
finish his education
 under Chiron, the Centaur, who had taught Jason, and
indeed nearly all the heroes of that age.
At eighteen he was already famous for his strength, his
accomplishments, and his promise of a great career. But
he was far from perfect in other ways. One finds
nothing of the knightliness of his great-grandfather
Perseus or of Theseus, in this strong young giant full
of pride and passion, feeling himself already greater
than the best of his fellow-creatures, and looking upon
the world as if it were made for him alone. He would
allow of no opposition to his least desire; he did not
desire glory so much as power. Good-tempered as he
mostly was, it was not safe to provoke him, as Linus,
his music-master, found, who had his own lyre broken
upon his head for presuming to correct his pupil a
little too sharply.
Hercules now began to think of adventures worthy of his
strength, and presently, as if to give him one, a lion
came forth from the forests of Mount Cithæron,
and ravaged the lands of Thespius, a neighboring king.
To hunt and kill it unaided was child's-play to
Hercules. And other services he did to the country, of
small account in his own eyes but great in those of
others; so that Creon, who was then King of Thebes,
gave him his daughter in marriage, and made him his
But Nicippe's son, Eurystheus, now king of Argos and
Mycenæ, remembered that he had a right to his
 younger cousin's services by the oath of Jupiter. So
Eurystheus sent a message to Hercules, commanding him
to come forthwith to Mycenæ, and become the
king's servant there.
Hercules, as may well be supposed, haughtily refused to
obey this insolent order. Why should he, the ruler of
Thebes, already the most famous man in all Greece, as
well as the strongest, make a sort of slave of himself
to a kinsman whom he scorned? For Eurystheus was just a
commonplace person, with even less than common courage,
who only wanted to feed his own vanity by having in his
service such a man as Hercules to do whatever he bade.
"Hercules may be master of Greece; but I am master of
Hercules," was the sort of boast that ran in his mind.
I have said it was not strange that Hercules flatly
refused to go to Mycenæ at his cousin's bidding.
But it was more than strange that, from this moment, he
began to fall into so strange a state of mind that any
one would think he was being haunted by the Furies,
until he, the pride of Thebes and the hope of Greece,
became a dangerous madman, whom none dared approach for
fear of being slain. And all the time his strength
still increased; so that it seemed as if he had come
into the world to be a terror and a curse to mankind.
Many dreadful things he did in his madness. And when at
length the frenzy passed from him, he was left
 in a more dreadful condition still. He was in an agony
of remorse for all the violence he had done, and
believed himself to be accursed and an outcast from his
fellow-men. Melancholy and despairing, he fled from
Thebes, and wandered out alone among the forests and
the mountains. And thus he lived like a savage, hiding
himself away from the sight of men.
The time came when he thought he could bear life no
longer. He felt as if he were hunted by demons, and
with the scourges of Hades. In his last despair he
wandered to Delphi, in whose temple Apollo's oracle, or
living voice, was heard; and implored the gods to tell
him what he should do.
And the voice of Apollo answered him and said:—
"O Hercules! those things were not sins which you did
in your madness. Your madness is not sin, but the
punishment for your real sin—the sin of pride,
and self-love, and defiance of the will of Heaven. In
rebelling against Eurystheus, you have rebelled against
the gods, who decreed even before your birth that he
should rule and you should serve. Is it not so, always?
are not oftentimes the good made subject to the wicked,
the wise to the foolish, the strong and valiant to the
weak and craven? This is the oracle—the gods give
each man his own different place and work: to you they
have appointed service—therefore Obey. Seek not
to know why this should be, nor question the
 justice of the gods. Know your duty, and do it with
your might; and so you will be great enough; for no man
can do more than serve the gods with such strength as
they have given him."
For long Hercules stood before the altar, doing battle
with his pride. Then, at last, he took the road to
Mycenæ. And as he went, each step became quicker,
his heart grew lighter, the shadow left his soul, and
his peace of mind returned.
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