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

Page: 104

No great deeds were now required of Hercules, whose strength was derided by his new mistress, and who, governing him easily by his admiration for her, made him submit to occupations unworthy of a man, and, while he was busy spinning, decked herself in his lion’s skin, and brandished his renowned club.

“His lion spoils the laughing Fair demands,
And gives the distaff to his awkward hands.”
Refer to caption


However unworthy these effeminate tasks may seem for such a hero, they proved very agreeable indeed to Hercules, who, having fallen in love with his new mistress, seemed to wish nothing better than to remain her slave forever, and end his days in idleness and pleasure. Great labors were awaiting his mighty arm, [232] however; and the gods, at the appointed time, freed him from his bondage to the Lydian queen, and bade him go forth and do all the good in his power.

Hercules and Deianeira

In the course of his wanderings, Hercules next met Deianeira, daughter of Œneus, and, having fallen in love with her, expressed a desire to marry her. But unfortunately another suitor, the river god Achelous, had already won the father’s consent.

Achelous came,
The river god, to ask a father’s voice,
And snatched me to his arms.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).

So sure was this suitor of his attractions, that he did not even deem it necessary to secure the maiden’s good graces; and when Hercules made known his love, she immediately promised to marry him, if he would only free her from the lover her father would fain force upon her. Delighted to be able to win his bride and punish his rival at the same time, Hercules challenged Achelous; and now began a wrestling match, the fame of which has come down to us through all the intervening centuries.

Achelous was an opponent worthy of Hercules, and, besides, took advantage of his power to change his form at will, further to perplex and harass the sturdy hero. At last he assumed the shape of a bull, and with lowered horns rushed toward Hercules, intending to toss him aside. The hero, skillfully avoiding his first onset, seized him by one of his great thickset horns, and held it so firmly that all the bull’s efforts to free himself from his powerful grasp were vain, until the horn broke.

The Goddess of Plenty, the Attican Fortuna, a witness of this strange combat, appropriated the broken horn, stuffed her treasures in its hollow, and was so well pleased with the effect, that she decreed it should henceforth be one of her attributes. The fight, only temporarily suspended, was now resumed with redoubled ardor, for each of the lovers was intent upon winning the hand of the fair Deianeira.


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FORTUNA. (Vatican, Rome.)

[234] “Warm, and more warm the conflict grows:
Dire was the noise of rattling bows,
Of front to front opposed, and hand to hand:
Deep was the animated strife
For love, for conquest, and for life.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).