Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 94

  "Even here, in this region of wonders, I find
  That light-footed Fancy leaves Truth far behind,
  Or at least, like Hippomenes, turns her astray
  By the golden illusions he flings in her way."

Chapter XII

Hercules. Hebe and Ganymede

Hercules (in Greek, Heracles) was the son of Jupiter and Alemena. As Juno was always hostile to the offspring of her husband by mortal mothers, she declared war against Hercules from his birth. She sent two serpents to destroy him as he lay in his cradle, but the precocious infant strangled them with his own hands. (On this account the infant Hercules was made the type of infant America, by Dr. Franklin, and the French artists whom he employed in the American Revolution. Horatio Greenough has placed a bas- relief of the Infant Hercules on the pedestal of his statue of Washington, which stands in front of the Capitol.) He was however by the arts of Juno rendered subject to his cousin Eurystheus and compelled to perform all his commands. Eurystheus enjoined upon him a succession of desperate adventures, which are called the twelve "Labors of Hercules." The first was the fight with the Nemean lion. The valley of Nemea was infested by a terrible lion. Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the skin of this monster. After using in vain his club and arrows against the lion, Hercules strangled the animal with his hands. He returned carrying the dead lion on his shoulders; but Eurystheus was so frightened at the sight of it and at this proof of the prodigious strength of the hero, that he ordered him to deliver the account of his exploits in future outside the town.

His next labor was to slaughter the Hydra. This monster ravaged the country of Argos, and dwelt in a swamp near the well of Amymone, of which the story is that when the country was suffering from drought, Neptune, who loved her, had permitted her to touch the rock with his trident, and a spring of three outlets burst forth. Here the Hydra took up his position, and Hercules was sent to destroy him. The Hydra had nine heads, of which the middle one was immortal. Hercules struck off its head with his club, but in the place of the head knocked off, two new ones grew forth each time. At length with the assistance of his faithful servant Iolaus, he burned away the heads of the Hydra, and buried the ninth or immortal one under a huge rock.

Another labor was the cleaning of the Augean stables. Augeas, king of Elis, had a herd of three thousand oxen, whose stalls had not been cleansed for thirty years. Hercules brought the rivers Alpheus and Peneus through them, and cleansed them thoroughly in one day.

His next labor was of a more delicate kind. Admeta, the daughter of Eurystheus, longed to obtain the girdle of the queen of the Amazons, and Eurystheus ordered Hercules to go and get it. The Amazons were a nation of women. They were very warlike and held several flourishing cities. It was their custom to bring up only the female children; the boys were either sent away to the neighboring nations or put to death. Hercules was accompanied by a number of volunteers, and after various adventures at last reached the country of the Amazons. Hippolyta, the queen, received him kindly, and consented to yield him her girdle; but Juno, taking the form of an Amazon, went among the other Amazons and persuaded them that the strangers were carrying off their queen. The Amazons instantly armed and came in great numbers down to the ship. Hercules, thinking that Hippolyta had acted treacherously, slew her, and taking her girdle, made sail homewards.