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

Page: 107

Then, resolved to end these unendurable torments by a death worthy of his whole life, Hercules called his servants, and bade them build his funeral pyre on the mountain peak; but they, in tears, refused to obey, for they could not bear the thought of parting with their beloved master. Commands and entreaties alike failed to move them: so Hercules climbed up the mountain side alone, tore up the huge oaks by their roots, flung them one upon the other until he had raised a mighty pile, upon which he stretched his colossal, pain-racked limbs, and bade his friend Philoctetes set fire to the stupendous mass.

At first Philoctetes also refused to do his bidding; but, bribed by the promise of the world-renowned poisoned arrows, he finally consented to do as Hercules wished, and the red flames rose higher and higher, the wood crackled and burned, and the hero was soon enveloped in sheets of flame, which purged him from all mortality.

Then Jupiter came down from his glorious abode, caught the noble soul in his mighty arms, and bore it off to Olympus, there to dwell in happiness forever with Hebe, the fair goddess of youth, whose hand was given him in marriage.

“Till the god, the earthly part forsaken,
From the man in flames asunder taken,
Drank the heavenly ethers’ purer breath.
Joyous in the new, unwonted lightness,
Earth’s dark, heavy burden lost in death.
High Olympus gives harmonious greeting
To the hall where reigns his sire adored;
Youth’s bright goddess, with a blush at meeting,
Gives the nectar to her lord.”
Schiller (S. G. B.’s tr.).
Worship of Hercules.

[239] Hercules, the special divinity of athletic sports and of strength, was principally worshiped by young men. He is generally represented in art as a tall, powerfully built man, with a small, bearded head, a lion’s skin carelessly thrown over his shoulder, and leaning upon a massive club.

“Great Alcides, stooping with his toil,
Rests on his club.”
Pope.

It is said that some of the games celebrated at Olympia were held in his honor, although originally instituted by him in honor of Jupiter, his father. The Nemean Games, celebrated in the forest of Nemea, the scene of his first great labor, were the principal games held in Greece in commemoration of his noble deeds and early death.

[240]

CHAPTER XX.

PERSEUS.

The life of Acrisius, King of Argos, had been a burden to him ever since the unfortunate day when an oracle had predicted that he would be killed by his grandson. Until then the king had been very fond of his only child, Danae, and until then, too, had thought with pride of the time when he would bestow her hand in marriage upon the noblest of all who came to woo.

Now his plans were all changed, and his only wish was to keep her unmated,—a somewhat difficult task, for the maiden was very fair, and Acrisius knew that the wily God of Love would endeavor to find some way to outwit him and bring his plans to naught. After much thought, Acrisius decided to lock Danae up in a brazen tower, around which he stationed guards to prevent any one from even approaching the captive princess.


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