Greek and Roman Mythology > Achelous and Hercules

Achelous and Hercules

The river-god Achelous told the story of Erisichthon to Theseus
and his companions, whom he was entertaining at his hospitable
board, while they were delayed on their journey by the overflow
of his waters. Having finished his story, he added, "But why
should I tell of other persons' transformations, when I myself am
an instance of the possession of this power. Sometimes I become
a serpent, and sometimes a bull, with horns on my head. Or I
should say, I once could do so; but now I have but one horn,
having lost one." And here he groaned and was silent.

Theseus asked him the cause of his grief, and how he lost his
horn. To which question the river-god replied as follows: "Who
likes to tell of his defeats? Yet I will not hesitate to relate
mine, comforting myself with the thought of the greatness of my
conqueror, for it was Hercules. Perhaps you have heard of the
fame of Dejanira, the fairest of maidens, whom a host of suitors
strove to win. Hercules and myself were of the number, and the
rest yielded to us two. He urged in his behalf his descent from
Jove, and his labors by which he had exceeded the exactions of
Juno, his step-mother. I, on the other hand, said to the father
of the maiden, 'Behold me, the king of the waters that flow
through your land. I am no stranger from a foreign shore, but
belong to the country, a part of your realm. Let it not stand in
my way that royal Juno owes me no enmity, nor punishes me with
heavy tasks. As for this man, who boasts himself the son of
Jove, it is either a false pretence, or disgraceful to him if
true, for it cannot be true except by his mother's shame.' As I
said this Hercules scowled upon me, and with difficulty
restrained his rage. 'My hand will answer better than my
tongue,' said he. 'I yield you the victory in words, but trust
my cause to the strife of deeds. With that he advanced towards
me, and I was ashamed, after what I had said, to yield. I threw
off my green vesture, and presented myself for the struggle. He
tried to throw me, now attacking my head, now my body. My bulk
was my protection, and he assailed me in vain. For a time we
stopped, then returned to the conflict. We each kept our
position, determined not to yield, foot to foot, I bending over
him, clinching his hands in mine, with my forehead almost
touching his. Thrice Hercules tried to throw me off, and the
fourth time he succeeded, brought me to the ground and himself
upon my back. I tell you the truth, it was as if a mountain had
fallen on me. I struggled to get my arms at liberty, panting and
reeking with perspiration. He gave me no chance to recover, but
seized my throat. My knees were on the earth and my mouth in the
dust.

"Finding that I was no match for him in the warrior's art, I
resorted to others, and glided away in the form of a serpent. I
curled my body in a coil, and hissed at him with my forked
tongue. He smiled scornfully at this, and said, 'It was the
labor of my infancy to conquer snakes.' So saying he clasped my
neck with his hands. I was almost choked, and struggled to get
my neck out of his grasp. Vanquished in this form, I tried what
alone remained to me, and assumed the form of a bull. He grasped
my neck with his arm, and, dragging my head down to the ground,
overthrew me on the sand. Nor was this enough. His ruthless
hand rent my horn from my head. The Naiades took it, consecrated
it, and filled it with fragrant flowers. Plenty adopted my horn,
and made it her own, and called it Cornucopia.

The ancients were fond of finding a hidden meaning in their
mythological tales. They explain this fight of Achelous with
Hercules by saying Achelous was a river that in seasons of rain
overflowed its banks. When the fable says that Achelous loved
Dejanira, and sought a union with her, the meaning is, that the
river in its windings flowed through part of Dejanira's kingdom.
It was said to take the form of a snake because of its winding,
and of a bull because it made a brawling or roaring in its
course. When the river swelled, it made itself another channel.
Thus its head was horned. Hercules prevented the return of these
periodical overflows, by embankments and canals; and therefore he
was said to have vanquished the river-god and cut off his horn.
Finally, the lands formerly subject to overflow, but now
redeemed, became very fertile, and this is meant by the horn of
plenty.

There is another account of the origin of the Cornucopia.
Jupiter at his birth was committed by his mother Rhea to the care
of the daughters of Melisseus, a Cretan king. They fed the
infant deity with the milk of the goat Amalthea. Jupiter broke
off one of the horns of the goat and gave it to his nurses, and
endowed it with the wonderful power of becoming filled with
whatever the possessor might wish.

The name of Amalthea is also given by some writers to the mother
of Bacchus. It is thus used by Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV.:


"That Nyseian isle,
Girt with the river Triton, where old Cham,
Whom Gentiles Ammon call, and Libyan Jove,
Hid Amalthea and her florid son,
Young Bacchus, from his stepdame Rhea's eye."



Myth Collection


Achelous and HerculesAcis and GalateaAdmetus and Alcestis
Agamemnon, Orestes, and ElectraAmphionAmphitrite
AntigoneApollo and DaphneApollo and Hyacinthus
AriadneArionAristaeus
Aurora and TithonusBacchusBaucis and Philemon
CadmusCastor and PolluxCephalus and Procris
Ceyx and HalcyoneClytieCupid and Psyche
DaedalusDiana and ActaeonDryope
Echo and NarcissusEndymionErisichthon
Glaucus and ScyllaHebe and GanymedeHercules
IbycusIo and CallistoLeucothea dnd Palaemon
LinusMarsyasMedea and Aeson
MelampusMenelaus and HelenMidas
Minerva and ArachneMonstersMusaeus
NeptuneNereus and DorisNiobe
Nisus and ScyllaOrionOrpheus and Eurydice
Pegasus and the ChimaeraPenelopePerseus and Medusa
PhaetonPluto and ProsperinePrometheus and Pandora
PygmalionPyramus and ThisbePython
RhoecusSapphoSimonides
ThamyrisThe Calydonian HuntThe Camenae
The CentaursThe Golden FleeceThe Graeae and Gorgons
The Griffin, or GryphonThe IliadThe Myrmidons
The PygmiesThe Rural DeitiesThe Sphinx
The Trojan WarThe Water DeitiesThe Winds
TheseusThetisVenus and Adonis
Vertumnus and Pomona

 
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