Meet us on:
 
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens."
     

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 12

    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 12
    Previous Chapter
    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.

    Another task enjoined him was to bring to Eurystheus the oxen of
    Geryon, a monster with three bodies who dwelt in the island
    Erytheia (the red), so called because it lay at the west, under
    the rays of the setting sun. This description is thought to
    apply to Spain, of which Geryon was said to be king. After
    traversing various countries, Hercules reached at length the
    frontiers of Libya and Europe, where he raised the two mountains
    of Calpe and Abyla, as monuments of his progress, or according to
    another account rent one mountain into two and left half on each
    side, forming the Straits of Gibraltar, the two mountains being
    called the Pillars of Hercules. The oxen were guarded by the
    giant Eurytion and his two-headed dog, but Hercules killed the
    giant and his dog and brought away the oxen in safety to
    Eurystheus.

    The most difficult labor of all was bringing the golden apples of
    the Hesperides, for Hercules did not know where to find them.
    These were the apples which Juno had received at her wedding from
    the goddess of the Earth, and which she had intrusted to the
    keeping of the daughters of Hesperis, assisted by a watchful
    dragon. After various adventures Hercules arrived at Mount Atlas
    in Africa. Atlas was one of the Titans who had warred against
    the gods, and after they were subdued, Atlas was condemned to
    bear on his shoulders the weight of the heavens. He was the
    father of the Hesperides, and Hercules thought, might, if any one
    could, find the apples and bring them to him. But how to send
    Atlas away from his post, or bear up the heavens while he was
    gone? Hercules took the burden on his own shoulders, and sent
    Atlas to seek the apples. He returned with them, and though
    somewhat reluctantly, took his burden upon his shoulders again,
    and let Hercules return with the apples to Eurystheus. (Hercules
    was a descendant of Perseus. Perseus changed Atlas to stone.
    How could Hercules take his place? This is only one of the many
    anachronisms found in ancient mythology.)

    Milton in his Comus makes the Hesperides the daughters of
    Hesperus, and nieces of Atlas:

    "----- amidst the gardens fair
    Of Hesperus and his daughters three,
    That sing about the golden tree."

    The poets, led by the analogy of the lovely appearance of the
    western sky at sunset, viewed the west as a region of brightness
    and glory. Hence they placed in it the Isles of the blest, the
    ruddy isle Erytheia, on which the bright oxen of Geryon were
    pastured, and the isle of the Hesperides. The apples are
    supposed by some to be the oranges of Spain, of which the Greeks
    had heard some obscure accounts.

    A celebrated exploit of Hercules was his victory over Antaeus.
    Antaeus, the son of Terra (the Earth) was a mighty giant and
    wrestler, whose strength was invincible so long as he remained in
    contact with his mother Earth. He compelled all strangers who
    came to his country to wrestle with him, on condition that if
    conquered (as they all were), they should be put to death.
    Hercules encountered him, and finding that it was of no avail to
    throw him, for he always rose with renewed strength from every
    fall, he lifted him up from the earth and strangled him in the
    air.

    Cacus was a huge giant, who inhabited a cave on Mount Aventine
    (one of the seven hills of Rome), and plundered the surrounding
    country. When Hercules was driving home the oxen of Geryon,
    Cacus stole part of the cattle, while the hero slept. That their
    foot-prints might not serve to show where they had been driven,
    he dragged them backward by their tails to his cave; so their
    tracks all seemed to show that they had gone in the opposite
    direction. Hercules was deceived by this stratagem, and would
    have failed to find his oxen, if it had not happened that in
    driving the remainder of the herd past the cave where the stolen
    ones were concealed, those within began to low, and were thus
    discovered. Cacus was slain by Hercules.

    The last exploit we shall record was bringing Cerberus from the
    lower world. Hercules descended into Hades, accompanied by
    Mercury and Minerva. He obtained permission from Pluto to carry
    Cerberus to the upper air, provided he could do it without the
    use of weapons; and in spite of the monster's struggling he
    seized him, held him fast, and carried him to Eurystheus, and
    afterwards brought him back again. When he was in Hades he
    obtained the liberty of Theseus, his admirer and imitator, who
    had been detained a prisoner there for an unsuccessful attempt to
    carry off Proserpine.

    Hercules in a fit of madness killed his friend Iphitus and was
    condemned for this offence to become the slave of Queen Omphale
    for three years. While in this service the hero's nature seemed
    changed. He lived effeminately, wearing at times the dress of a
    woman, and spinning wool with the handmaidens of Omphale, while
    the queen wore his lion's skin. When this service was ended he
    married Dejanira and lived in peace with her three years. On one
    occasion as he was travelling with his wife, they came to a
    river, across which the Centaur Nessus carried travellers for a
    stated fee. Hercules himself forded the river, but gave Dejanira
    to Nessus to be carried across. Nessus attempted to run away
    with her, but Hercules heard her cries, and shot an arrow into
    the heart of Nessus. The dying Centaur told Dejanira to take a
    portion of his blood and keep it, as it might be used as a charm
    to preserve the love of her husband.

    Dejanira did so, and before long fancied she had occasion to use
    it. Hercules in one of his conquests had taken prisoner a fair
    maiden, named Iole, of whom he seemed more fond than Dejanira
    approved. When Hercules was about to offer sacrifices to the
    gods in honor of his victory, he sent to his wife for a white
    robe to use on the occasion. Dejanira, thinking it a good
    opportunity to try her love-spell, steeped the garment in the
    blood of Nessus. We are to suppose she took care to wash out all
    traces of it, but the magic power remained, and as soon as the
    garment became warm on the body of Hercules, the poison
    penetrated into all his limbs and caused him the most intense
    agony. In his frenzy he seized Lichas, who had brought him the
    fatal robe, and hurled him into the sea. He wrenched off the
    garment, but it stuck to his flesh, and with it he tore away
    whole pieces of his body. In this state he embarked on board a
    ship and was conveyed home. Dejanira on seeing what she had
    unwittingly done, hung herself. Hercules, prepared to die,
    ascended Mount OEta, where he built a funeral pile of trees, gave
    his bow and arrows to Philoctetes, and laid himself down on the
    pile, his head resting on his club, and his lion's skin spread
    over him. With a countenance as serene as if he were taking his
    place at a festal board, he commanded Philoctetes to apply the
    torch. The flames spread apace and soon invested the whole mass.

    Milton thus alludes to the frenzy of Hercules:

    "As when Alcides (Alcides, a name of Hercules; the word means
    "descendant of Alcaeus"), from OEchalia crowned
    With conquest, felt the envenomed robe, and tore,
    Through pain, up by the roots Thessalian pines
    And Lichas from the top of OEta threw
    Into the Euboic Sea."

    The gods themselves felt troubled at seeing the champion of the
    earth so brought to his end; but Jupiter with cheerful
    countenance thus addressed them; "I am pleased to see your
    concern, my princes, and am gratified to perceive that I am the
    ruler of a loyal people, and that my son enjoys your favor. For
    although your interest in him arises from his noble deeds, yet it
    is not the less gratifying to me. But now I say to you, Fear
    not. He who conquered all else is not to be conquered by those
    flames which you see blazing on Mount OEta. Only his mother's
    share in him can perish; what he derived from me is immortal. I
    shall take him, dead to earth, to the heavenly shores, and I
    require of you all to receive him kindly. If any of you feel
    grieved at his attaining this honor, yet no one can deny that he
    has deserved it." The gods all gave their assent; Juno only
    heard the closing words with some displeasure that she should be
    so particularly pointed at, yet not enough to make her regret the
    determination of her husband. So when the flames had consumed
    the mother's share of Hercules, the diviner part, instead of
    being injured thereby, seemed to start forth with new vigor, to
    assume a more lofty port and a more awful dignity. Jupiter
    enveloped him in a cloud, and took him up in a four-horse chariot
    to dwell among the stars. As he took his place in heaven, Atlas
    felt the added weight.

    Juno, now reconciled to him, gave him her daughter Hebe in
    marriage.

    The poet Schiller, in one of his pieces called the Ideal and
    Life, illustrates the contrast between the practical and the
    imaginative in some beautiful stanzas, of which the last two may
    be thus translated:

    "Deep degraded to a coward's slave,
    Endless contests bore Alcides brave,
    Through the thorny path of suffering led;
    Slew the Hydra, crushed the lion's might,
    Threw himself, to bring his friend to light,
    Living, in the skiff that bears the dead.
    All the torments, every toil of earth
    Juno's hatred on him could impose,
    Well he bore them, from his fated birth
    To life's grandly mournful close.
    Till the god, the earthly part forsaken,
    >From the man in flames asunder taken,
    Drank the heavenly ether's purer breath.
    Joyous in the new unwonted lightness,
    Soared he upwards to celestial brightness,
    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."
    S. G. Bulfinch

    HEBE AND GANYMEDE

    Hebe, the daughter of Juno, and goddess of youth, was cupbearer
    to the gods. The usual story is, that she resigned her office on
    becoming the wife of Hercules. But there is another statement
    which our countryman Crawford, the sculptor, has adopted in his
    group of Hebe and Ganymede, now in the gallery of the Boston
    Athenaeum. According to this, Hebe was dismissed from her office
    in consequence of a fall which she met with one day when in
    attendance on the gods. Her successor was Ganymede, a Trojan boy
    whom Jupiter, in the disguise of an eagle, seized and carried off
    from the midst of his playfellows on Mount Ida, bore up to
    heaven, and installed in the vacant place.

    Tennyson, in his Palace of Art, describes among the decorations
    on the walls, a picture representing this legend:

    "There, too, flushed Ganymede his rosy thigh
    Half buried in the eagle's down,
    Sole as a flying star shot through the sky
    Above the pillared town."

    And in Shelley's Prometheus, Jupiter calls to his cup-bearer
    thus:

    "Pour forth heaven's wine, Idaean Ganymede,
    And let it fill the Daedal cups like fire."

    The beautiful legend of the Choice of Hercules may be found in
    the Tatler, No. 97. The same story is told in the Memorabilia of
    Xenophon.

    Next Chapter
    Chapter 12
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Thomas Bulfinch essay and need some advice, post your Thomas Bulfinch essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Finished
    Want to read
    Abandoned

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?