smi277b: Heracles with the Erymanthian boar, and Eurystheus.
"I hasten to inform you
that today there has been born a noble child who is
to be King of the Argives. They have called him
Eurystheus, and his father is Sthenelus, son of Perseus. So he comes of your stock, and it
is quite a proper thing that he should have
dominion over the Argives." (Hera to
"And Euryshteus, such as
he was, was not king over either Argos or Mycenae, for he was not king even over
himself." (Epictetus 3.26.32).
Eurystheus sat on the throne of Mycenae and Tiryns, a position that Zeus had reserved for Heracles 1 but that
fell to his share thanks to Hera's deft manoeuvres.
Following Heaven's arrangements, Eurystheus became
the tormentor of Heracles 1, ordering him to perform his LABOURS. After Heracles 1's death,
Eurystheus, fearing his rival's descendants,
pursued them, and attempted their annihilation
until he was defeated in battle.
Procreation of Heracles 1 and announcement of Zeus
Some believe that Zeus'
love for Perseus 1's
granddaughter Alcmena was rather an experiment in procreation; for he, by
prolonging the time of procreation three times,
fathered a son, Heracles 1, of most unusual strength and courage.
Knowing beforehand which would be the result of his
threefold night of love, the god announced in
Heaven that the Perseid that was about to be born
should be king of Mycenae. He said:
"Listen to me, all you gods, and goddesses … I wish you to know that this day Ilithyia, the goddess of travail, will bring into the world a human child, born of a stock with my blood in their veins, who shall have dominion over all his neighbours." (Zeus to the gods.
Homer, Iliad 19.100).
This announcement, it is told, was inspired by Ate (Delusion), who is said to blind everybody, gods and men alike. When Hera heard what Zeus had ordained, she
decided to outwit her husband by letting his
announcement come true, although not in the way
foreseen by him. Through Hera's agency, the goddess
Ilithyia retarded Alcmena's delivery, and
Eurystheus, who also was a Perseid, was born a
seven-month child before Heracles 1.
Agreement of Zeus and Hera
Now, the words of gods differ from those of
mortals in that neither intention nor deed are
divorced from them, a circumstance or quality that
some call integrity: thought, word and deed
constituting what is integrated in harmonious
oneness. That is why Zeus did not go against his own word, although he did seize Ate by her hair, and having whirled her round his head, cast her out from Heaven and down to earth, where she may still be found among men. Instead Zeus, wishing to
take care of both word and son, persuaded Hera to agree that while
Eurystheus should be king (for being the first born
Perseid, as he had proclaimed), Heracles 1 would be
allowed to serve him and perform twelve LABOURS, to be
prescribed by Eurystheus himself. But that after he
them, Heracles 1 should be
Previous differences on earth
This was the nature of the relationship that
Heaven established between Eurystheus and Heracles 1. Before
them, however, differences had aroused between Heracles 1's
stepfather Amphitryon, and Eurystheus' father Sthenelus 3. The background of it all may be said to be the infiltration of the Pelopides, who succeeded, through Sthenelus 3 and Eurystheus, in replacing the dynasty of the Perseids on the throne of Mycenae. For although
Eurystheus was a Perseid on his father's side, he
opened the way for the dominance of the Pelopides, his mother
being daughter of Pelops 1. The conflict expressed by Eurystheus and Heracles 1 continued
after their departure from this world, and only
ended when the Perseids, renamed HERACLIDES, returned
to the Peloponnesus, and took possession of what
they regarded as their legitimate inheritance.
Heracles 1's fate
revealed by the Pythia
Heracles 1 learned
what he was supposed to do when he recovered his
wit after having been maddened by Hera; for it is this
goddess, some say, who caused him to flung his
children by Megara, and two children of his
half-brother Iphicles into the fire. But
afterwards, having returned to sanity, Heracles 1 came to
consult the Oracle at Delphi, where the Pythian
priestess told him to dwell in Tiryns, and serving
Eurystheus for twelve years, perform the LABOURS that the
king would impose on him; and when the LABOURS were accomplished, the Pythia added, he would gain immortality.
Eurystheus plays his part
Hera: made it possible for Eurystheus to become king. 6935: Juno. Konstakademin, Stockholm.
So when Heracles 1,
obeying the Pythia, appeared in Tiryns, Eurystheus
started to give him tasks, ordering him first to
bring the Nemean Lion, an invulnerable beast
offspring of Typhon. Heracles 1 captured
the lion and choked it putting his arm round his
neck. He then brought it to Mycenae where
Eurystheus, amazed at the sight, ordered him to
leave thenceforth the fruits of his LABOURS before the gates without entering the city. Some have said that these regulations were
dictated by Eurystheus' cowardice, and as evidence
they add that he owned a bronze jar inside which he
could hide under the earth; yet not few would
confess the difficulty of looking brave beside Heracles 1. It is also
suggested that, for the same reason, Eurystheus
sent to Heracles 1 his
commands through the herald Copreus, son of Pelops 1 and father of the same Periphetes 1, who years later was killed by Hector 1 at Troy.
Eurystheus accurate reckoning
When, as a second labour, Heracles 1 destroyed
the Hydra of Lerna,
Eurystheus argued that this labour could not be
reckoned, since Heracles 1 had been assisted by his charioteer Iolaus 1, son of Iphicles, half-brother of Heracles 1. A similar dispute took place when Heracles 1, following
Eurystheus' commands, carried out the dung of the
cattle of King Augeas of Elis in a single day. Here
Eurystheus said that this labour could not be
counted, alleging that it had been performed for
hire, since Augeas had promised to give Heracles 1 the tenth
part of the cattle.
Eurystheus receives no benefits from the LABOURS
Normally, Eurystheus obtained no material gain
out of the LABOURS performed by Heracles 1, and he often just limited himself to verify
that they had been properly accomplished. For
example, when Heracles 1 brought to Eurystheus the Cretan Bull (said
to be the same that had ferried Europa for Zeus), the king, after
having seen the animal, set it free. Similarly,
when Heracles 1 brought to Mycenae the carnivorous MARES OF DIOMEDES 1 from Thrace, Eurystheus let them go, and they were later destroyed by wild beasts at Mount Olympus. A different case is presented by the Belt of Ares that the Amazon Hippolyte 2 had in her power, since Eurystheus ordered this labour in order to please his daughter Admete 2, who wished to possess it. Another instance is the labour that consisted in bringing the Cattle of Geryon; for when Heracles 1, after a
long trip, presented them at Mycenae, King Eurystheus
sacrificed them to Hera,
the goddess to whom he owned his throne.
The last two LABOURS
The LABOURS were ten from the beginning, but as Eurystheus did
not reckon two of them, they became twelve, the
eleventh consisting in bringing the Apples of the HESPERIDES. Here
again, when Heracles 1 brought the golden apples, Eurystheus bestowed them
on his rival, who in turn gave them back to Athena, to be returned to
the HESPERIDES; for
as they say: it was not lawful for these fruits to
be anywhere. And when Heracles 1 performed
the twelfth labour by capturing the three-headed
hound of the Underworld, Eurystheus, perfectly satisfied, just ordered Cerberus 1 to be returned to its place, as if it were a regular beast from a regular place.
Eurystheus did not invent the LABOURS
Eurystheus' display of authority and
simultaneous indifference may disconcert, or even
cause hilarity, firstly because the benefits that
he obtained from the LABOURS are not
apparent, and secondly because Too Much for Nothing
often calls for irrepressible laughter. But
Eurystheus is not the inventor of the LABOURS, which
were conceived in Heaven and then transmitted to Heracles 1 by the
Pythian priestess. In similar manner, Eurystheus
found himself to be a seven-month child and king of Mycenae, not on account
of his wishesfor he was not yet born when
that was ordainedbut because a goddess had
arranged it so. But Amphitryon,
they say, thought that Heracles 1 had
submitted to Eurystheus' authority for his sake,
believing that his stepson, by offering Eurystheus
the service of freeing the world of savage
monsters, would cause the king to soften and recall
him from Thebes, where Amphitryon was exiled, letting him find a home in his own land, from which he had been banished for the slaying of his father-in-law Electryon 1.
The HERACLIDES persecuted
In any case, when Heracles 1 had
performed his LABOURS, Eurystheus expelled him from Argolis, and when Heracles 1 died,
Eurystheus showed his determination to annihilate
his descent. Accordingly, the HERACLIDES were
banished from one city to another, learning about
the misery of the humiliated, the homeless, and the
persecuted.They took refuge in Trachis, where King Ceyx had received their
father and ancestor; but when Eurystheus demanded
their surrender threatening war, they were kindly
invited to leave that kingdom and seek refuge in Athens, where Ceyx sent them arguing that
he was not strong enough to oppose Eurystheus.
Eurystheus killed by Hyllus 1
In their new exile, the HERACLIDES sat down
on the altar of Mercy and claimed protection, which Theseus or his son Demophon 1 granted. But when Eurystheus realised that Athens would not
surrender his enemies, he declared war and invaded
Attica. However, in the battle that ensued,
Eurystheus's army was defeated, and he and his sons
lost their lives. Eurystheus' head, they say, was
brought to Alcmena by her grandson Hyllus 1, and she, in such a moment of victory and vengeance, showed her delight or her disgust by gouging out the eyes from her enemy's head with weaving-pins.
Eurystheus killed by Iolaus 1
Yet, it has also been told that Eurystheus' army
met the HERACLIDES under Iolaus 1's command at Marathon, where, aided by the Athenians, the HERACLIDES obtained victory. Eurystheus, they say, fell in battle along with his sons, being buried at Gargettus, a place in Attica. But his head, they add, was cut off by Iolaus 1, and buried separately at Tricorynthus, also in Attica. Others have said that the tomb of Eurystheus
could be found close to the Scironian road near Megara, where he was killed by Iolaus 1, the man who had defeated his army in Attica. Iolaus 1, nephew and former charioteer of Heracles 1, was an old man at the time of these events.
But Hebe, they say, granted him to be young again for one day, so that he could exact retribution from his enemy. Iolaus 1 himself was later buried by the tomb of his grandfather Amphitryon at Thebes.
Eurystheus before Alcmena
Still others tell that Iolaus 1, having received his vigour back, captured the four-horse chariot of Eurystheus near the Scironian cliffs (on the Saronic coast of the Isthmus of Corinth), bringing the
Mycenaean king captive to Athens, where Alcmena, before passing
a death sentence against him, called him hateful
creature and villain, and reproached him each and
every one of his deeds against her son and the
children of her son. Eurystheus, who had rather
chosen to die in battle than confront Alcmena's hate did not
ask for mercy:
"I shall not … say any word on behalf of my life by which a man might win the name of coward. I did not choose this quarrel of my own will…But whether I wished to or notfor a divinity was at workHera caused me to suffer this
disease." (Eurystheus to Alcmena. Euripides, Heraclides 985).
Not surprisingly, he also believed that anyone
else in his place would have acted towards his own
enemies with the same ruthlessness:
"… Should not I, who am hated by these children and aware of their inherited hatred of me, have left no stone unturned in machinations to kill or exile them? If I did so, my interests were likely to be safe. You, no doubt, claim that if you had taken up my fortunes you would not have hounded the hostile offspring of the lion your enemy but would have modestly allowed them to live in Argos. You will convince no one of this." (Eurystheus to Alcmena. Euripides, Heraclides 1004).
Eurystheus' last words
Although Athens considered it an unholy act to kill an enemy that
had been taken alive in battle, Alcmena managed to order
his execution. But before the old woman sent him to
his death, Eurystheus declared that his body
beneath the earth would be most hostile to the
descendants of Heracles 1, and most protective towards the city that
shrank from killing him, adding that Alcmena's benefit from
his death should be matched by the harm done to the HERACLIDES by the same dead body beneath the earth. But since those who cherish vengeance are not
inclined to let themselves be affected by
mysterious warnings or tales of guardian spirits, Alcmena, fearing the
living more than the dead, sent him to his death.
Such was the end of Eurystheus, who, before seeing the light of this world, had his birth, position, quarrels and death ordained by the gods to serve their purposes. No glory ever touched him, except for that of the great man, whom, by heaven's decision, he must lead to immortality through torment. Eurystheus succeeded in his task, and therefore he must carry, up to the end of time, the burden of being the detestable master of a superior man. That is perhaps "Eurystheus' Labour", and the gods know whether it weighs heavier than his rival's twelve.