Padraic Colum > The Golden Fleece > Part III. The Heroes of the Quest > Chapter IV. The Life and Labors of Heracles > II
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Padraic Colum (1881–1972).  The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived before Achilles.  1921.

Part III. The Heroes of the Quest
 
Chapter IV. The Life and Labors of Heracles
 
II
 
IT was then that Heracles was given arms by the gods—the sword of Hermes, the bow of Apollo, the shield made by Hephæstus; it was then that Heracles joined the Argonauts and journeyed with them to the edge of the Caucasus, where, slaying the vulture that preyed upon Prometheus’s liver, he, at the will of Zeus, liberated the Titan. 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.   1
  The Argonauts had now won back to Greece. But before he saw any of them he had been in Oichalia, and had seen the maiden Iole.   2
  The king of Oichalia had offered his daughter Iole in marriage to the hero who could excel himself and his sons in shooting with arrows. Heracles saw Iole, the blue-eyed and childlike maiden, and he longed to take her with him to some place near the Garden of the Hesperides. And Iole looked on him, and he knew that she wondered to see him so tall and so strongly knit even as he wondered to see her so childlike and delicate.   3
  Then the contest began. The king and his sons shot wonderfully well, and none of the heroes who stood before Heracles had a chance of winning. Then Heracles shot his arrows. No matter how far away they moved the mark, Heracles struck it and struck the very center of it. The people wondered who this great archer might be. And then a name was guessed at and went around—Heracles!   4
  When the king heard the name of Heracles he would not let him strive in the contest any more. For the maiden Iole would not be given as a prize to one who had been mad and whose madness might afflict him again. So the king said, speaking in judgment in the market place.   5
  Rage came on Heracles when he heard this judgment given. He would not let his rage master him lest the madness that was spoken of should come with his rage. So he left the city of Oichalia declaring to the king and the people that he would return.   6
  It was then that, wandering down to Crete, he heard of the Argonauts being near. And afterward he heard of them being in Calydon, hunting the boar that ravaged neus’s country. To Calydon Heracles went. The heroes had departed when he came into the country, and all the city was in grief for the deaths of Prince Meleagrus and his two uncles.   7
  On the steps of the temple where Meleagrus and his uncles had been brought Heracles saw Deianira, Meleagrus’s sister. She was pale with her grief, this tall 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.   8
  Straightway she became friends with Heracles; and when they saw each other for a while they loved each other. And Heracles forgot Iole, the childlike maiden whom he had seen in Oichalia.   9
  He made himself a suitor for Deianira, and those who protected her were glad of Heracles’s suit, and they told him they would give him the maiden to marry as soon as the mourning for Prince Meleagrus and his uncles was over. Heracles stayed in Calydon, happy with Deianira, who had so much beauty, wisdom, and bravery.   10
  But then a dreadful thing happened in Calydon; by an accident, while using his strength unthinkingly, Heracles killed a lad who was related to Deianira. He might not marry her now until he had taken punishment for slaying one who was close to her in blood.   11
  As a punishment for the slaying it was judged that Heracles should be sold into slavery for three years. At the end of his three years’ slavery he could come back to Calydon and wed Deianira.   12
  And so Heracles and Deianira 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 Heracles went, carrying his armor 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.   13
  She and all in her house kept up fun with Heracles. They would set him to do housework, 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 Heracles’s lion skin and go about dragging his club, while he, dressed in woman’s garb, washed dishes and emptied pots.   14
  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 for long times. It was while he was in slavery to Omphale that he liberated Theseus from the dungeon in which he was held with Peirithous, and it was while he still was in slavery that he made his journey to Troy.   15
  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 this labor he was offered the Princess Hesione in marriage; she was the daughter of King Laomedon, and the sister of Priam, who was then called, not Priam but Podarces. He helped to repair the wall, and two of the Argonauts were there to aid him: one was Peleus and the other was Telamon. Peleus did not stay for long: Telamon stayed, and to reward Telamon Heracles withdrew his own claim for the hand of the Princess Hesione. It was not hard on Heracles to do this, for his thoughts were ever upon Deianira.   16
  But Telamon rejoiced, for he loved Hesione greatly. On the day they married Heracles showed the two an eagle in the sky. He said it was sent as an omen to them—an omen for their marriage. And in memory of that omen Telamon named his son “Aias”; that is, “Eagle.”   17
  Then the walls of Troy were repaired and Heracles turned toward Lydia, Omphale’s home. Not long would he have to serve Omphale now, for his three years’ slavery was nearly over. Soon he would go back to Calydon and wed Deianira.   18
  As he went along the road to Lydia he thought of all the pleasantries that had been made in Omphale’s house and he laughed at the memory of them. Lydia was a friendly country, and even though he had been in slavery Heracles had had his good times there.   19
  He was tired with the journey and made sleepy with the heat of the sun, and when he came within sight of Omphale’s house he lay down by the side of the road, first taking off his armor, and laying aside his bow, his quiver, and his shield. He wakened up to see two men looking down upon him; he knew that these were the Cercopes, robbers who waylaid travelers upon this road. They were laughing as they looked down on him, and Heracles saw that they held his arms and his armor in their hands.   20
  They thought that this man, for all his tallness, would yield to them when he saw that they had his arms and his armor. But Heracles sprang up, and he caught one by the waist and the other by the neck, and he turned them upside down and tied them together by the heels. Now he held them securely and he would take them to the town and give them over to those whom they had waylaid and robbed. He hung them by their heels across his shoulders and marched on.   21
  But the robbers, as they were being bumped along, began to relate pleasantries and mirthful tales to each other, and Heracles, listening, had to laugh. And one said to the other, “O my brother, we are in the position of the frogs when the mice fell upon them with such fury.” And the other said, “Indeed nothing can save us if Zeus does not send an ally to us as he sent an ally to the frogs.” And the first robber said, “Who began that conflict, the frogs or the mice?” And thereupon the second robber, his head reaching down to Heracles’s waist, began:   22

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