Hercules married a second wife, Deianira. He won her hand in marriage by wrestling with the river-god Acheloos, who took the form of a centaur. During the fight, Hercules broke off one of Acheloos' horns.

Berlin F 1851, Attic black figure neck amphora, c. 510 B.C.
Hercules fighting Acheloos.
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the Staatliche Museen
zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz: Antikensammlung

Once, when Deianira and Hercules were traveling, they came to the Evenus River. A centaur, Nessos, had been appointed ferryman there. As he carried Deianira across, he tried to assault her, and Hercules, hearing her screams, ran to rescue his damsel in distress. Hercules shot the centaur in the heart with one of his arrows.

Munich 1428, Attic black figure Tyrrhenian amphora, c. 550-540 B.C.
Hercules fighting Nessos, who holds Deianira aloft.
Photograph copyright Staatl. Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, München

Just before he died, Nessos set up his revenge by telling Deianira that the blood spilling from his wound could be used as a love potion, if need be. Deianira picked up some of the centaur's blood and saved it. Later, she put it onto a cloak she'd woven for Hercules, hoping it would renew his love for her.

The blood, of course, was not a love potion, but a deadly poison instead, and its touch burned Hercules' skin. His eventual death is described in the biography section.

Poor woman, ill-fated, what a plan she devised! Widely powerful envy destroyed her...

Bacchylides, Odes 16.35

The story of Deianira and Hercules became the subject of one of Sophocles' tragic plays, Trachiniae (The Women of Trachis). Like many Greek tragedies. this play explored the disruptive and horrible consequences when gods and mortals interacted.

Boston 00.345, Attic red figure cup, c. 425-400 B.C.
Hercules fights the centaur Nessos, rescuing Deianira
From Caskey & Beazley, plate CIII. With permission of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


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