Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

Herakles

Introduction: The twelve “labors” of Herakles were not his only exploits. Diodorus relates several in which Herakles battles king after king who will not give Herakles the hand of their daughters in marriage; the kings claim that Herakles is already married. In each case, Herakles takes the daughter by force after killing the father, or brothers, as the case may be. The last mentioned was Iolȇ, the daughter of Eurytus, king of a region on the island of Euboea. Following his victory, Herakles sends a servant back to his wife for his sacred clothes in order to make thank offerings to the Gods. She, hearing of Herakles’ new paramour, decides to soak the robe in a magic potion which will turn his love toward her. However, the potion was given to Herakles’ wife, Deїneira, by a centaur, who is secretly plotting his death. The potion is really a deadly poison. When Herakles puts on the robe, the poisonous fumes attack his flesh and he begins to die in horrible torment. We pick up the story at this point.


Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.38.3–5; 39.1–2

38.3–5. As he suffered more and more from his sickness, he sent Likumnios and Iolaos to Delphi to ask Apollo what it was necessary to do to heal the illness. Meanwhile, Deїneira (Herakles’ wife) was so overcome by the severity of Herakles’ circumstances, and, being aware that it was her fault, ended her life by hanging.

The God delivered the oracle that Herakles was to be carried to O'ite with his battle gear; they were to construct a great funeral pyre near him. The rest, it said, remained for Zeus to do. When these orders were carried out by Iolaos, and he had pulled back a way to see what was to happen, Herakles gave up hope and climbed onto the pyre. He called for each person who came up to light it. When no one dared to obey, only Philoktetes was moved to comply. He received, because of his service, the gift of Herakles’ bow and arrows; then he lit the pyre. Immediately, a lightning bolt fell from the heavens; the pyre was completely consumed. After this, those who were with Iolaos came to the bone-gathering, but they found not one bone anywhere. They supposed that Herakles, as the oracle had proclaimed, had crossed over from human circumstances to that of the Gods.

39.1.… The Athenians were the first of all to honor, with sacrifices, Herakles as a God, showing, as an example to other men, their piety to the God.

-199-

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