It was then that Herakles was given arms by the Gods--the sword of Hermes, the bow of Apollo, the shield made by Hephæstos; it was then that Herakles, coming to the Caucasus, slew the vulture that preyed upon Prometheus's liver, and, at the will of Zeus, liberated the Titan from his bonds. Thereafter Zeus and Prometheus were reconciled, and Zeus, that neither might forget how much the enmity between them had cost Gods and men, had a ring made for Prometheus to wear; that ring was made out of the fetter that had been upon
him, and in it was set a fragment of the rock that the Titan had been bound to.
Now there was a king who had offered his daughter in marriage to a hero who could excel himself and his sons in shooting with arrows, Herakles had seen the maiden, the blue-eyed and child-like Iole, and he longed to win her. The contest began. The king and his sons shot wonderfully well, and so did the heroes who entered the contest with Herakles. Herakles shot his arrows. No matter how far away they moved the mark, Herakles struck it, and struck the very centre of it. The people wondered who the great archer might be. And then a name was guessed at and went round--Herakles!
When the king heard the name of Herakles he would not let him strive in the contest any more. For the maiden Iole would not be given to one who had been mad and whose madness might afflict him again. So the king said, speaking in judgment in the market-place.
Rage came on Herakles when he heard this judgment given. He would not let his rage master him lest the madness that was spoken of should come with this rage. He left the city, declaring to the king and people that he would return.
In Kalydon he saw Deianeira. She was tall, this woman of the mountains; she looked like a priestess, but also like a woman who could cheer camps of men with her counsel, her bravery, and her good companionship; her hair was very dark and she had dark eyes. Straightway she became friends with Herakles; and when they saw each other for a while they loved each other. And Herakles forgot Iole, the child-like maiden whom he had wanted to win. To win Deianeira he strove with Acheloos, the River God. Acheloos in the form of a bull wrestled with him. Herakles broke off one of his horns. Then, that he might be given the horn back, the River God gave up his claim to Deianeira.
Then a dreadful thing happened in Kalydon; by an accident, while using his strength unthinkingly, Herakles killed a lad who was related to Deianeira. He might not marry her now until he had taken punishment for slaying one who was close to her in blood.
As a punishment for the slaying it was judged that Herakles should be sold into slavery for three years. At the end of his three years' slavery he could come back to Kalydon and wed Deianeira.
So Herakles and Deianeira were parted. He was sold as a slave in Lydia; the one who bought him was a woman, a widow named Omphale. To her house Herakles went, carrying his armour and wearing his lion's skin. And Omphale laughed to see this tall man dressed in a lion's skin coming to her house to do a servant's tasks for her.
She and all her household had fun with Herakles. They would set him to do house-work, to carry water, and set vessels on the tables, and clear the vessels away. Omphale set him to spin with a spindle as the women did. And often she would put on Herakles's lion-skin and go about dragging his club, while he, dressed in woman's garb, washed dishes and emptied pots.
But he would lose patience with these servant's tasks, and then Omphale would let him go away and perform some great exploit. Often he went on long journeys and stayed away long times. It was while he was in slavery to Omphale that he made his journey to Troy. At Troy he helped to repair for King Laomedon the great walls that, years before, Apollo and Poseidon had built around the city. As a reward for his labour he was offered the Princess Hesione in marriage. But Herakles permitted Telamon to take Hesione. On the day they married Herakles showed the pair an eagle in the sky. He said it was sent as an omen for their marriage. And in memory of that omen Telamon named his son "Aias," that is, "Eagle."
Omphale, the widow, received him mirthfully when he got back to Lydia; she set him to do tasks in the kitchen while she sat and talked to him about Troy and the affairs of King Laomedon. And afterwards she put on his lion's skin, and went about in the courtyard dragging the heavy club after her. Mirthfully and pleasantly she made the rest of his time in Lydia pass for Herakles; the last day of his slavery soon came; he bade good-bye to Omphale, and he started off to Kalydon to claim his bride, Deianeira.
Beautiful, indeed, Deianeira looked now that she had ceased to mourn; the laughter that had been under her grief now flashed out; her dark eyes shone like stars, and her being had the spirit of one who wanders from camp to camp always greeting friends and leaving friends behind her. Herakles wed Deianeira, and they set out for Tiryns.
They came to the River Evenos. Herakles could have crossed the
river by himself, but at the part he came to be could not cross carrying Deianeira. He and she went along the river, seeking a ferry that might take them across. They wandered along the side of the river, happy with each other, and they came to a place where they had sight of a Centaur.
Herakles knew this Centaur. He was Nessos, one of the Centaurs whom he had chased up the mountain on the day when he went to hunt the Erymanthean boar. The Centaur spoke to Herakles as if he had friendship for him. He would, he said, carry Herakles's bride across the river.
Herakles crossed the river. He waited on the other side for Nessos and Deianeira. Then Herakles heard screams--the screams of his wife. He saw that the Centaur had attacked her. Herakles leveled his bow. Arrow after arrow he shot in Nessos's body. The Centaur loosed his hold on Deianeira. He lay down on the bank of the river, his lifeblood streaming from him.
Nessos, dying, but with his rage against Herakles unabated, thought of a way by which the hero might be made to suffer for the death he had brought upon him. He called to Deianeira; she, seeing he could do her no more hurt, came close to him. He told her that in repentance for his attack upon her he would bestow on her a great gift. She was to gather up some of the blood that flowed from him; his blood, the Centaur said, would be a love-philtre, and if ever her husband's love for her waned it would grow fresh again if she gave to him something from her hands that would have this blood upon it.
Deianeira, who had heard from Herakles of the wisdom of the Centaurs, believed what Nessos told her. She took a phial and let the blood pour into it. Then Nessos plunged into the river and died there as Herakles came up to where Deianeira stood.
She did not speak to him about the Centaur's words to her, nor did she tell him that she had hidden the phial that had Nessos's blood in it. They crossed the river at another point; they came after a time to Tiryns, to the kingdom that had been left to Herakles.
There Herakles and Deianeira lived, and a son who was named Hyllos was born to them. And after a time Herakles was led into a war against Oichalia, the kingdom that Iole's father had ruled over.
Word came to Deianeira that Oichalia was conquered by Herakles
and that Iole was taken captive by him. Deianeira knew that Herakles had once tried to win Iole for his wife, and she feared that the sight of the maiden would bring his old longing back to him.
She thought upon the words that Nessos had said to her, and even as she thought upon them messengers came from Herakles to ask her to send him a robe--a beautifully woven robe that she had--that he might wear it while making sacrifice. Deianeira took down the robe; through this robe, she thought, the blood of the Centaur could touch Herakles, and then his love for her would revive. Thinking this, she poured Nessos's blood over the robe.
Herakles was in Oichalia when the messengers returned to him. He took the robe that Deianeira sent, and he went to the mountain that overlooked the sea that he might make sacrifice there. Iole went with him. He put on the robe. When it touched his flesh the robe burst into flame. He tried to tear it off; deeper and deeper into his flesh the flames went. The flames burned and none could quench them.
Then Herakles knew that his end was at hand. He would die by fire; knowing this he had a great pile of wood made, and he climbed up on it. There he stayed with the robe burning upon him, and he begged of those who passed to fire the pile that his end might come more quickly.
None would fire the pile. But at last there came that way a young warrior named Philoktetes, and Herakles begged of him to fire the pile. Philoktetes, knowing that it was the will of the Gods that Herakles should die that way, lighted the pile. For that Herakles bestowed upon him his great bow and his unerring arrows. And it was this bow and these arrows, brought from Philoktetes, that afterwards helped to take Troy, King Priam's city.
The pile that Herakles stood upon was fired. High up, above the sea, the pile burned. All who had been near fled--all except Iole. She stayed and watched the flames mount up and up. They wrapped the sky, and the voice of Herakles was heard calling upon Zeus. Then a great chariot came, and Herakles was borne away to Olympos. Thus, after many labours. Herakles passed away, a mortal passing into an immortal being, in a great burning high above the sea.