THE MADNESS OF HERACLES

He
Most famous of heroes
Since he defeated the Minyans
Megara
Eldest daughter to King Creon
Would be his reward
Her hand in marriage to him
Heracles.

She
Gave to him
Heracles
Son of Zeus
Sons we know today as
The Alcaids.

One
Was to have ruled
Argos
Occupying Eurystheus' palace
(Heracles threw
His trusty lion pelt
Over his shoulder).

Another
The King of Thebes
(His father setting
The mace of defence,
Daedalus' deceitful gift).

A third
Was promised Oechalia
(Which later Heracles would
Lay to waste).

For all
The choicest brides
Alliances
With Athens
Thebes and
Sparta.

When Heracles marched on Thebes
He vanquished Pyraechmus
King of the Euboeans
Ally to the
Minyans.

He orders the king's body
Torn in two by colts
Exposed unburied
Beside the river
Heracleius.

Thus he foments
Terror
Throughout the whole of
Greece.

Hera
Vexed by his excesses
Drives him
Mad.

Six of his own children
He mistakes
For enemies to be shot
So he shoots them down.

And . .
. . hangs their bodies . .
. . into Fire.

When Heracles recovered his
Sanity
And saw what he had done
He shut himself in a dark chamber
Avoiding all intercourse
With humans
For many, many days.

Then
After purification
By King Thespius
He went to
Delphi
There to inquire
What he should do.

The Pythoness
Addressing him
For the first time as
Heracles
Advised him to reside
At Tiryus
To serve Eurystheus for twelve years
To perform whatever Labors
Might be set for him.

In payment for his obeisance
In recompense for his madness
To Mount Olympus he would go
His reward:
Immortality.

Heracles fell
Into deep despair
Loathing as he did
To serve a man
So far inferior
To himself.

Afraid though
He was
To oppose his father
Zeus
His friends arrived
Solace to offer
To relieve him of
His distress.

Finally with the passage
Of the holy healer of Time
His pain was alleviated
He placed himself at
The disposal of
Eurystheus.

When Heracles set forth
On his assigned Labors . .
(Famously Twelve)
Hermes
Gave him a sword
Apollo
A bow
(With smooth-shafted arrows
and eagle feathers)
Hephaestus
A golden breastplate
Athena
A robe
Poseiden
A team of horses.

Zeus
his father, gave
A magnificent
And unbreakable shield
With stories worked on it in
enamel
ivory
electrum
gold and
lapis lazuli

Twelve serpent heads
Carved about the boss
Clashed their jaws whenever
Heracles
Went into battle
Terrifying his opponents.

© 2005 by Michael J. Farrand


Adapted from "The Madness of Heracles" and other pieces in Robert Graves' The Greek Myths (Volume 2), first printed in 1955 by Penguin Books.

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