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

Page: 101

Hercules’ choice.

The youthful hero, dismissed by his instructor, now set out to seek his fortunes. He had not gone very far, however, before he met two beautiful women, who immediately entered into conversation with him, and drew from him a confession that he was in search of adventures. The women, Arete (Virtue) and Kakia (Vice), each offered to be his guide, but bade him choose which he preferred to follow.

Kakia, to induce him to follow her guidance, promised riches, ease, consideration, and love; while Arete, a modest maiden, warned him that in her wake he would be obliged to wage incessant war against evil, to endure hardships without number, and spend his days in toil and poverty.

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HERCULES AND CENTAUR.—Bologna. (Florence.)

[223] “Nothing else
Could clean the Augean stables.”

When Hercules saw that the work of purification was thoroughly accomplished, he guided the stream back to its original bed, and returned home to announce that the fifth labor was accomplished. The fabulous filth of the Augean stables, and the radical methods employed for their cleansing, have given rise to proverbial expressions still in current use.

Hercules next journeyed off to Crete to accomplish his sixth task, the capture of a mad bull given by Neptune to Minos, king of the island. The god had sent the animal with directions that he should be offered up in sacrifice; but Minos, charmed with his unusual size and beauty, resolved to keep him, and substituted a bull from his own herds for the religious ceremony.

Angry at seeing his express command so wantonly disobeyed, Neptune maddened the bull, which rushed wildly all over the island, causing great damage. This was the animal that Hercules, with his usual strength and skill, caught and bound fast, thus finishing the sixth task.

Diomedes’ steeds.

He then hastened on to Thrace, where Diomedes, the king, kept some fine coursers, which were fed on human flesh. In order to obtain a sufficient supply of fresh meat for his horses, Diomedes had decreed that all strangers who ventured into his kingdom should be seized, and, when sufficiently fat, executed, and served up in his horses’ mangers. To punish Diomedes for this long-continued barbarity, Hercules fed him to his own horses, which were then led off to Eurystheus, as a token that the seventh labor was done.

Hippolyte’s girdle.

Now, at the court of Eurystheus was his beautiful daughter, Admete, a vain princess, who delighted in dress and jewels, and who was never happier than when she obtained some new ornament or article of apparel. One day Admete heard a traveler describe a girdle worn by Hippolyte, [224] queen of the Amazons, and was immediately seized by the desire to possess the ornament.

She imparted this wish to Eurystheus, who, delighted to gratify her as long as he could do so without taking any personal risk or trouble, sent Hercules in quest of the coveted jewel. The journey to the land of the Amazons—a fierce, warlike nation of women—was long and dangerous; but Hercules traveled on undaunted, nor paused, except when his services were needed in furthering some good work for mortals, until he reached their land, presented himself before their queen, and boldly explained the cause of his presence. Hippolyte listened to his explanation and request with queenly condescension, promised to consider the matter, and in the mean while bade him feast and rest in her palace.

Hercules would have succeeded in this undertaking without any trouble, had not Juno suddenly remembered his existence, and resolved to continue her never entirely forgotten persecutions. In the guise of an Amazon, she mingled among the women, and artfully spread the report that Hercules had really come to kidnap their queen, and that the pretended quest of the girdle was a mere excuse, and only intended to distract their attention from his real purpose. The Amazons yielded implicit belief to these rumors, flew to arms, and surrounded their queen.

“The Amazons array their ranks,
In painted arms of radiant sheen
Around Hippolyte the queen.”
Virgil (Conington’s tr.).

The assembled force then attacked Hercules, who met their onslaught single-handed, defeated them, and finally bore away the prize he had risked so much to obtain. It was on his homeward journey from this expedition that he saved Hesione, Laomedon’s daughter, from the jaws of the sea monster who was about to devour her, as he had devoured many a fair Trojan maid before her (p. 152).


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MOUNTED AMAZON GOING TO THE CHASE.—Thorwaldsen. (Copenhagen.)

Stymphalian birds.

[226] Eurystheus, well pleased with the manner in which Hercules had accomplished eight out of the twelve tasks, bade him now go forth and slay the dangerous, brazen-clawed birds which hovered over the stagnant waters of Lake Stymphalus. The poisoned arrows now served him in good stead, and enabled him to put a speedy end to the whole flock.

“His arrows slew
The monsters hov’ring fell Stymphalus round.”
Cattle of Geryones.

Hercules was next told to capture the divine cattle of Geryones, a giant of Erythea. On his way home with this marvelous herd, Hercules paused on Mount Aventine, where, during the night, the loathsome giant Cacus stole some of his cows. To punish him for this theft, Hercules forced his way into his cave, attacked him, and, after a memorable encounter, slew him. The animals were soon after delivered into the hands of Eurystheus, who then sent Hercules in search of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.

Hesperian apples.

This commission sadly perplexed Hercules, for he did not know in what portion of the world he would find these apples, which had been given to Juno as a wedding present, and which she had intrusted to the care of the Hesperides, daughters of Hesperus, god of the West. After numerous journeys and many inquiries, Hercules discovered that these maidens had carried these apples off to Africa, hung them on a tree in their garden, and placed the dragon Ladon at its foot to guard their treasures night and day. Unfortunately, no one could tell Hercules in what part of Africa the garden of the Hesperides might be situated: so he set out at a venture, determined to travel about until he gained some information. On his way he met with many adventures, and saw many strange sights. For instance, he first met the nymphs of the Eridanus River, and, questioning them about the golden apples, was told to consult old Nereus, god of the sea, who would probably be able to give him some information on the subject.

[227] Hercules, having surprised this aged divinity while asleep on the seashore, held him fast, in spite of the multitudinous transformations he underwent in the vain hope of frightening his would-be interlocutor away. In answer to Hercules’ question, he finally very reluctantly bade him seek Prometheus, who alone would be able to direct him aright.