| 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 THIRD LABOR: THE STAG
 THE stag of Œnoe was sacred to Diana; and no wonder,
for besides being so swift that no horse or hound could
follow it, it had brazen feet and horns of pure gold.
Of course this labor was not so dangerous as the
others, but apparently more utterly impossible.
Impossible as it was, however, Hercules had to try. Had
he been ordered to bring the stag to Mycenæ dead,
he might perhaps hope to catch it with an arrow; but
his orders were to bring it alive. So, having started
it from its lair, he followed it with his utmost speed
and skill. At first he tried to run it down; but the
stag was not only the swifter, but had as much
endurance as he. Then he tried to drive it to bay, but
it always managed to escape out of the seemingly most
hopeless corners. He tried to catch it asleep; but his
slightest and most distant movement startled it, and
off it raced again. All the arts of the deer-stalker he
put in practice, but all in vain. And thus he hunted
the stag of Œnoe, scarce resting day and night
for a whole year. It looked as if he were to spend the
rest of his life in pursuing what was not to be caught by
 and the worst of it was that, while there was real use
in destroying wild beasts and monsters, like the lion
and the Hydra, his present labor, even if it succeeded,
would be of no use at all.
Still it had to be attempted; and I suppose you have
guessed that he succeeded, and that it was in some
wonderful way. Well—he did succeed at last, but
it was not in a wonderful way at all. It was just by
not giving in. One of the two had to give in, and it
was not Hercules. One day he managed to drive the stag
into a trap and to seize it by the horns.
As he was returning to Mycenæ, dragging the stag,
he met a tall and beautiful woman, dressed for the
chase, and carrying a bow and quiver. As soon as her
eyes fell upon the struggling stag she frowned
"What mortal are you," she asked, "who have dared to
lay hands on my own stag, the stag sacred to me, who am
Diana? Loose it, and let it go."
Hercules sighed. "I would do so gladly, great goddess,"
he answered; "but it is not in my power."
"Not in your power to open your hand?" she asked, in
angry surprise. "We will soon see that," and she seized
her stag by the other horn to pull it away.
"It goes against me," said Hercules, "to oppose a
goddess; but I have got to bring this stag to
Mycenæ, and neither gods nor men shall prevent
me, so long as I am alive."
 "I am Diana," she said again, "and I command you to let
the stag go."
"And I," said he, "am only Hercules, the servant of
Eurystheus, and therefore I cannot let it go."
"Then I wish," said Diana, "that any of the gods had so
faithful a servant as Eurystheus has! So you are
Hercules?" she said, her frown changing to a smile.
"Then I give you the stag, for the sake of the oracle
of my brother Apollo. I am only a goddess; you are a
man who has conquered himself, and whom therefore even
the gods must obey."
So saying, she vanished. And the stag no longer
struggled for freedom, but followed Hercules to
Mycenæ as gently and lovingly as a tame fawn.
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