Although he had now won immortality, the rest of Heraklesí life is not much different from the period of his labors; he will again be driven mad, he will become a servant again, and he will spend most of his time sacking cities, fighting innumerable monsters and formidable opponents (especially those who irritated him during the labors), and, in general, occupied with the interminable task of proving his manliness and heroism.


Annibale Carracci, Hercules and Iole (1597-1601), Farnese Gallery, Rome
Annibale Carracci, Hercules and Iole (1597-1601), Farnese Gallery, Rome

In those versions where Megara is still alive, Herakles now gave her to Iolaos. Wanting a new wife, he went to participate in the archery contest which Eurytos of Oichalia, Heraklesí former archery instructor, was holding for the hand of his daughter Iole. Although Herakles won the contest (and the support of Iphitos, Eurytosí oldest son), Eurytos feared that Herakles would again kill his children and refused to give Iole to him. He got Herakles drunk at a banquet after the contest and drove him out of his land.

Shortly afterwards twelve mares (or cows) of Eurytos were stolen and came into Heraklesí possession; some said that the famous thief Autolykos had taken them, and sold them to Herakles, while others said that Herakles himself robbed Eurytos to get revenge for the treatment he had received at Oichalia. Eurytosí son Iphitos, while searching for the mares, first met Odysseus and exchanged weapons with him, then came to the home of Herakles in Tiryns. Herakles entertained him, then went mad and killed him by throwing him from the walls of Tiryns.

Once again Herakles had to be purified for murder. He went first to Pylos in the southwestern corner of the Peloponnese and asked king Neleus to perform the ceremony, but Neleus, who was a friend of Eurytos, refused (although Nestor, youngest of Neleusí twelve sons, favored Heraklesí request). He then went to Amyklai (near Sparta) and was purified by a certain Deiphobos. Since he still suffered from a terrible disease because of his crime, he now went to Delphi and asked the Pythia (the Delphic priestess) how he could be cured. When she did not answer immediately he decided to carry off the oracular tripod and set up his own oracle, but Apollo appeared and began to fight with Herakles for the tripod. The battle ended when Zeus threw a thunderbolt between the combatants, just as he intervenes in the battles of Herakles with Kyknos and Ares. Herakles now received an answer from Apollo and the Pythia, that he would be released from sickness only if he was sold into slavery for three years (or one year) and if the price paid for him was given to Eurytos as recompense.

This cycle of madness, murder, and slavery repeats the events which first forced Herakles to perform the labors for Eurystheus, and some versions have Herakles kill his family (instead of Iphitos) after the labors were completed.

According to Euripides and Hyginus, the usurper Lykos tried to kill Heraklesí wife and children while Herakles was finishing his final labor. Herakles returned home in time to prevent this, but Hera drove him mad and he killed them himself. In Euripidesí account Herakles was about to commit suicide when Theseus arrived and took him to Athens; Hyginus has Herakles go to Delphi and steal the tripod, whereupon Zeus orders him to return it and Apollo tells him that he must become a slave.

The battle between Herakles and Apollo over the Delfic tripod is portrayed on the pediment of the Treasury of the Siphnians, in the Museum at Delfi.

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