The death of Hercules (Book 9: 211–272)

The death and transformation of Hercules (Book 9: 211–272)


Then he caught sight of the terrified Lichas, cowering in a hollow of the cliff, and
pain concentrated all his fury. ‘Was it not you, Lichas,’ he said, ‘who gave me
this fatal gift? Are you not the agent of my death?’ The man trembled, grew
pale with fear, and, timidly, made excuses. While he was speaking, and trying to
clasp the hero’s knees, Alcides seized him, and, swinging him round three or four
times, hurled him, more violently than a catapult bolt, into the Euboean waters.
Hanging in the air, he hardened with the wind. As rain freezes in the icy blasts
and becomes snow; whirling snowflakes bind together in a soft mass; and they,
in turn, accumulate as a body of solid hailstones: so he, the ancient tradition
says, flung by strong arms through the void, bloodless with fright, and devoid of
moisture, turned to hard flint. Now, in the Euboean Gulf, a low rock rises out of
the depths, and keeps the semblance of a human shape. This sailors are afraid to
set foot on, as though it could sense them, and they call it, Lichas.

But you, famous son of Jove, felled the trees that grew on steep Oeta, and made
a funeral pyre, and commanded Philoctetes, son of Poeas, who supplied the
flame that was plunged into it, to take your bow, your ample quiver, and the
arrows, that were fated to see, once more, the kingdom of Troy (as they did when
you rescued Hesione.) As the mass caught light from the eager fire, you spread
the Nemean Lion’s pelt on the summit of the pile of logs, and lay down, your
neck resting on your club, and with an aspect no different from that of a guest,
reclining amongst the full wine cups, crowned with garlands.

Now the fierce flames, spreading on every side, were crackling loudly, and
licking at his body, he unconcerned and scornful of them. The gods were
fearful for earth’s champion. Saturnian Jupiter spoke to them, gladly, since he
understood their feelings. ‘O divine beings, your fear for him delights me, and I
willingly congratulate myself, with all my heart, that I am called father and ruler
of a thoughtful race, and that my offspring is protected by your favour also.
Though this tribute is paid to his great deeds, I am obliged to you, also. But do
not allow your loyal hearts to feel groundless fears. Forget Oeta’s flames! He,
who has defeated all things, will defeat the fires you see, nor will he feel Vulcan’s
power, except in the mortal part that he owes to his mother, Alcmene. What
he has from me is immortal, deathless and eternal: and that, no flame can
destroy. When it is done with the earth, I will accept it into the celestial regions,
and I trust my action will please all the gods. But if there is anyone, anyone at
all, who is unhappy at Hercules’s deification, and would not wish to grant this
gift, he or she should know that it was given for merit, and should approve it,
though unwillingly.’ The gods agreed. Juno, also, appeared to accept the rest
of his words with compliance, but not the last ones, upset that she was being

Meanwhile, Mulciber had consumed whatever the flames could destroy, and no
recognisable form of Hercules remained, no semblance of what came to him
from his mother: he only retained his inheritance from Jove. As a snake enjoys
its newness, sloughing old age with its skin, gleaming with fresh scales; so,
when the Tirynthian hero had shed his mortal body, he became his better part,
beginning to appear greater, and more to be revered, in his high majesty. The
all-powerful father of the gods carrying him upwards, in his four-horse chariot,
through the substance-less clouds, set him among the shining stars.


This story is taken from a compendium of Greek myths, called Metamorphoses, written by the Roman poet Ovid in the 1st century AD.