ACHELOUS AND HERCULES
Achelous recounts to Theseus and his posse the tale of how he lost his horn in a battle with Hercules. Both Hercules and Achelous were competing for Deianira, a local maiden “sought by many suitors.” Hercules claims that if he is chosen, Deianira will be Jove’s daughter-in-law, and that his mighty labors have earned him great renown. Achelous claims that he is one of her own countrymen and not a stranger, and that he has not earned the wrath of Juno, as Hercules has. Achelous really skewers Hercules when he claims that Hercules must be lying about his divine heritage, or that if his high birth is true, then his mother is a whore. Hercules responds in a manner typical of a strongman “My brawn is better than my tongue. You win in speech, but I can beat you with my blows.”
The two enter an epic scuffle, and after being pinned, Achelous transforms himself into a snake to escape Hercules’ clutches. Hercules laughs at this attempt: “But that was cradle work for me: a babe, I conquered snakes.” If he could beat many snakes in the form of the Hydra, what is one measly snake? Achelous is pinned once more, and transforms himself into his final form, a bull. Achelous charges Hercules, and Hercules pins him one last time, wrenching the horn off Achelous’ head. That horn becomes sacred to the Naiads, who fill it with fruits and flowers, becoming the first cornucopia.
HERCULES, DEIANIRA, NESSUS
Transitioning from Achelous’ stories to Theseus, we return to more tales of Hercules, this time detailing his battle with Nessus. Hercules is returning to Tiryns with Deianira, but the river Evenus is too strong for him to swim across safely while carrying Deianira. Nessus happens to trot by, and offers his assistance. Hercules hurls his belongings across the river and starts to swim. Nessus tries to sneak away with Deanira while Hercules is indisposed. Once across the river, Hercules manages to hit Nessus in the spine with an arrow right before Nessus can escape. The arrow is poisoned with the venom of the Hydra, and the venom does its work on Nessus. As Nessus dies, he hatches a plan for revenge. He gives his cloak to Deianira as a gift, soaked with his poisoned blood, to give to Hercules should his love for her ever wane.
HERCULES AND DEIANIRA
Deianira hears rumors of Hercules’ love for Iole, which are false (as far as we know) and she conspires to punish Hercules for his infidelity. She gives the poisoned cloak of Nessus to Lichas the servant to deliver to hercules as a gift. Hercules quickly succumbs to the venom of the Hydra, and even though he rips the tunic off, it sticks in pieces to his skin, and he cannot be rid of the toxin. He shouts at Juno, describing his misfortune and giving a brief account of his great labors. Hercules thrashes about like a wounded bull, destroying trees and boulders in his pain and agony. Lichas is terrified by this, and Hercules grabs the man who brought this poison upon his flesh and flings him into the sky above the Euboean. Lichas becomes petrified as he flies, and this man of stone becomes a shoal of rock in the sea avoided by sailors.
Hercules, still suffering the effects of the poison (a very slow death it seems) manages to chop down some trees and make a pyre for himself. The gods fear what will happen to “Earth’s Defender” as the fire approaches his body. Jove convinces the other gods that Hercules should become one of them in death, and that his great deeds have earned him such an honor. Even Juno yields to her husband’s decree. The mortal half of Hercules is burned away at the pyre, and all that remains is the divine portion from Jove. He grows more majestic with only his divinity remaining, and Jove takes his son up to Olympus. “Heaven was now heavier on Atlas’ shoulders.”
Alcmena is Hercules’ mother, and in light of her son’s death, she recounts the story of his birth to her now pregnant daughter-in-law (Iole is married to Hyllus, son of Hercules). Juno and Lucina blocked Alcmena’s birth of her son Hercules. They forced her labor to continue for seven days and nights, for Juno wanted Alcmena to suffer for being a lover of Jove (even though it was likely against her will). Juno is sitting at an altar with her fingers locked together around her knees (likely symbolizing her hold on Alcmena’s womb), and Galanthis happens to see her sitting there. To assist her mistress, Galanthis distracts Juno by claiming that Alcmena has already given birth. This causes the goddess to release her clasped hands, and Alcmena does finally birth Hercules.
Galanthis laughs at Juno for the ease at which she decived the goddess. Bad move. Juno grabs Galathis and drags her by the hair off to be punished. Juno transforms Galanthis into a weasel, which apparently “gives birth to younglings through her mouth.”
Iole recounts her own tale of a transformation in response to her mother-in-law. Iole’s sister Dryope was out gathering garlands as offerings to the local Nymphs, and she was carrying her infant son along the way. She grabs some purple berries from a lotus plant, but does not see blood drip from the plant. It turns out the plant was the nymph Lotis, who had been transformed to escape the pursuit of Priapus. Dryope begins to transform after picking the berries, and slowly bark replaces skin, and boughs sprout from her head. Dryope’s husband and father come to see her in the last stages of the transformation, and in her last words she implores those she is leaving behind to teach her son not to make the same mistake.
BYBLIS AND CAUNUS
Miletus leaves his homeland of Crete, and makes Cyanee his wife. Their children and Byblis and Caunus. Byblis loves her brother ardently, and not in a platonic or family way. She is torn by these emotions, and monologues, presenting her logic and the emotion that twists it. This is similar to Scylla, Medea, and Althaea. She resolves to send her brother a letter confessing this love, and let him decide whether to act on it or not.
Caunus is disgusted by the tablets, and Byblis wishes she had not written out her desires but instead dropped hints and worked her way into her brother’s good graces to plant the romance more firmly in his mind. Byblis tries again and again to love her brother, until he flees from the land. Byblis wanders the land in sorrow, lamenting her loss. She eventually lies down in a sacred wood, and her tears (as well as her body) are transformed into a spring.
IPHIS AND IANTHE
Ligdis and Telethusa are a modest, pious couple living in Phaestus. Ligdus tells her newly pregnant wife that they do not have the means to support a girl, and if a girl is born he will have to kill her (because you know, economics). Shortly before the birth, Telethusa has a dream wherein she is visited by Isis, and a few other super-friends of the Egyptian pantheon. Isis instructs Telethusa not to kill her child under any circumstances, and that her prayers have been answered. The gods will take care of everything. The child is born a girl, and Telethusa instructs the nurse to feed the child and clothe it as a boy to hide the gender. After 13 years the child Iphis Ianthe have become regular chums, but are being set-up for marriage. Ianthe is a girl, but so is Iphis, the village just doesn’t know yet. Iphis engages in a bout of teenage angst, for she loves Ianthe but know that their love is forbidden and can never be under any circumstances.
Ianthe is desperate to be wed to the “man” she loves, but the wedding is constantly put on hold by Telethusa for as long as she can muster, buying time until the gods can act and save her daughter Iphis. Soon the wedding day comes, and Telethusa prays one last time to the gods for the miracle they promised. The temple doors tremble slightly, and as the mother and daughter walk to the wedding, Iphis slowly transforms into a man, becoming “more vigorous.” The marriage goes off without a hitch, and Juno, Venus, and Hymen bless the wedding as is customary in all blessed marriages. “These gifts, which Iphis pledged as a girl, are paid by him as a man.”