Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

Page: 103

This thought oppressed him. Freedom was so sweet, that he resolved to keep it, and, coolly stepping up to Hercules, announced that he would carry the golden apples to Eurystheus, and leave him to support the heavens in his stead. Feigning [229] a satisfaction which he was very far from feeling, Hercules acquiesced, but detained Atlas for a moment, asking him to hold the heavens until he could place a cushion on his shoulders. Good-natured, as giants proverbially are, Atlas threw the apples on the grass beside him, and assumed the incumbent weight; but Hercules, instead of preparing to resume it, picked up the apples, leaving Atlas alone, in the same plight as he had found him, there to remain until some more compassionate hero should come and set him free.

“There Atlas, son of great Iapetus,
With head inclined and ever-during arms,
Sustains the spacious heavens.”

It was during the course of one of his mighty labors, that Hercules, with one wrench of his powerful arm, tore a cleft in the mountains, and allowed the waters of the Sea to flow into Oceanus; and ever since, the rocks on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar have borne the name of Hercules’ Pillars.

The twelfth and last task appointed by Eurystheus was the most difficult of all to perform. Hercules was commanded to descend into Hades and bring up the dog Cerberus, securely bound.

“But for the last, to Pluto’s drear abode
Through the dark jaws of Tænarus he went,
To drag the triple-headed dog to light.”
Euripides (Potter’s tr.).

This command, like all the others, was speedily obeyed; but Eurystheus was so terrified at the aspect of the triple-headed dog, from the foam of whose dripping jaws the nightshade sprang, that he took refuge in a huge jar, and refused to come out until Hercules had carried the monster back to his cave.

Olympian Games.

The twelve appointed labors were finished; the time of bondage was ended; and Hercules, a free man, could wander at his own sweet will, and enjoy the happiness of freedom. A roaming existence had, from force of habit, become a necessity: so [230] the hero first journeyed to Olympia, where he instituted games to be celebrated every fifth year in honor of Jupiter, his father. Thence he wandered from place to place, doing good, and came to the house of Admetus, where he was surprised to find all the court in mourning.

His sympathetic inquiries soon brought forth a full account of Alcestis’ sacrifice of her own life to insure the immortality of her husband (p. 65). The hero’s heart was touched by the king’s loneliness; and he again braved the terrors of Hades, and brought Alcestis back from the grave, and restored her to her husband’s arms.

Hercules took a prominent part in many heroic enterprises. Among others, he joined in the Argonautic expedition (p. 266), in the battle between the Centaurs and Lapithæ (p. 260), in the war of the gods and giants, and in the first siege of Troy (p. 152), which proved successful.

Hercules and Omphale.

But the hero, although so lately escaped from servitude, was soon obliged to return into bondage; for in a fit of anger he slew a man, and was condemned by the assembled gods to serve Omphale, Queen of Lydia, for a certain lapse of time.