144. The death of Hercules

Once upon a time, Hercules, with an arrow whose tip was covered with the poison of the Lernaean hydra, had killed the centaur Nessus, because Nessus had tried to force Deianira, the wife of Hercules. Desiring revenge, the dying Nessus gave his blood-soaked poisonous tunic to Deianira, saying that she should give it to Hercules, whenever she found Hercules’ love had started to wane.

Many years passed, and Hercules returning victorious from Oechalia, prepared to offer a sacrifice upon the altar of Jupiter. A rumor grew, from a tiny beginning to a wicked lie that Hercules, burned for the love of the fair Iole. When Deianira heard this rumor, she believed it to be true and initially, wept miserably but later decided to regain Hercules’ love. She remembered the tunic of Nessus, and unknowingly, became the very cause of her own misery.

She instructed Lichas to take the fatal tunic to Hercules, who unsuspecting, put it on, while he was offering frankincense into the sacred flames. The Lernaean hydra’s poison melted into his flesh and Hercules strove to pull the tunic off his body, but the tunic cleaved so tightly, that his skin ripped off and the marrow of his bones dissolved. In agony, Hercules raved about and felled many trees, which lay in a heap around him. Then by chance, seeing Lichas, Hercules picked him up, and threw him into the Euboic sea. But Lichas was changed to a flint-rock, having a clear outline of a human form.

Thereafter, Hercules made a pyre from the fallen trees and slept on it to die. No one lit the pyre, but Philoctetes lit it and for this, Hercules gave him his bow and arrows. When Deianira heard Hercules was dead, in grief she hung herself and died. Meanwhile, Jupiter told the Gods that since Hercules was his son, his immortal part would not burn, and once the mortal part burned away, he would make Hercules a god. The godly Hercules arose from the pyre flames, and Jupiter set him amidst the sparkling stars.

Excerpt from the book “Once Upon A Time-II: 150 Greek Mythology Stories” by Rajen Jani

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