DEIANIRA HERCULIJupiter loved Alcmena; and, assuming the appearance of her husband Amphitryon, he by that stratagem obtained her, and begot Hercules (cf. Plautus, Amphytrion). Juno, inflamed with jealousy, and full of hatred to the offspring of this stolen embrace, persuaded Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, to join with her in attempting to destroy it; which he endeavoured to effect by urging Hercules to bold and perilous undertakings. But he had the good fortune to be always victorious. Yet this hero, though superior to all monsters, proved an unequal match for love. He married Deianira, daughter of oeneus, king of aetolia, who had before been betrothed to Achelous; with whom Hercules disputing for her, had the advantage. Afterwards in crossing a river, Nessus the Centaur offered his assistance to carry her over. Waiting till Hercules was on the other side, he attempted to ravish her. The hero, perceiving his design, pierced him with an arrow that had been poisoned in the blood of the monster Hydra. Nessus, dying, presented Deianira with a garment dipped in his own blood; assuring her, that it would prevent her husband from wavering in his affections. It was not long before Hercules gave proof of his inconstancy; for, becoming enamored of Iole, the daughter of Eurytus king of oechalia, he applied to her father for permission to espouse her. His suit being rejected, he captured the city, slew the king, and carried off the princess. His passion for her rose to such a degree of extravagance, that at her desire he laid aside his club, lion's skin, and other badges of heroism, and, putting on woman's apparel, was not ashamed to spin among her maids. Deianira, hearing of this degeneracy, and giving credit to the words of the Centaur, sent him the poisoned shirt. This present was soon after followed by the epistle now before us, in which she upbraids him with his unmanly weakness, and endeavours to awaken him to a sense of glory, by reminding him of his past actions. But hearing, before she concluded her letter, the fatal effects of the shirt, she exclaims against her own rashness, and threatens to end her life by her own hands. Sophocles treats this story in his Trachiniae. Some writers take notice of a distich prefixed also to this epistle, as we have before observed with regard to several others: “Mittor ad Alciden a conjuge conscia mentis
Litera, si conjux Deianira tua est.
” 'This epistle, faithful to my heart, is sent to Alcides by his loving wife; if you will allow Deianira to call herself still yours.'
Oechaliam. The antients mention three cities of this name: one in Thessaly, one in Arcadia, and a third in Euboea. Commentators generally agree, that this is meant of the last. Eurytus held the supreme power in it.--See the preceding note.
 Victorem victae, &c. That is, 'I rejoice in your victory; but complain that you are now the slave of those whom you had conquered, by suffering Iole to rule in your heart, and submitting to her shameful impositions.'
 Pelasgiadas pervenit in urbes. 'A report has been spread all over the cities of Greece.' The Pelasgi were the most ancient of ail the Greeks, and had their name from Pelasgus, the son of Jupiter. The appellation of Pelasgia was at first given only to a part of Thessaly, afterwards to Peloponnesus; and lastly it became a common appellation for all Greece.
 Juno. This goddess, highly resenting the commerce between Jupiter and Alemena, resolved to wreak her vengeance upon the innocent offspring of the intrigue, and thus became the determined enemy of Hercules.Eurystheus; the son of Sthenelus, and king of Mycenae. Juno, wishing to destroy Hercules, applied to him; and by her solicitations prevailed so far, that he set Hercules upon several hazardous attempts, in the hope that in some he might miscarry. But all this tended only to increase his fame, and to place his glory in a more conspicuous point of view; for he had the good fortune to be always conqueror, and thus gained the character of a complete hero.
 Noverca; Juno, who, being the wife of Jupiter, may justly be called Hercules' step-mother.
 Se tibi pax terrae. The Greeks attribute numberless exploits to Hercules. They tell us, that he traversed the whole earth, and settled peace and tranquillity in all the kingdoms through which he passed. The truth is, there were several heroes of this name, all whose enterprises have by the Greeks been ascribed to the Theban adventurer.
 Hercule supposito. Atlas is said to have been assisted by Hercules, in the great task of supporting the heavens. The occasion of the fiction was probably this; that Hercules, having learned astrology from Atals, succeeded him in the profession of that science.
 Quid nisi notitia. This verse, at first sight somewhat obscure, may be thus paraphrased: Quid tibi per praeclara tua facta comparavisti, nisi ut nune magis cognoscatur dedecus tuum?? 'What have you gained by all your mighty achievements, but the propagation of the fame of your degeneracy?' Marius, in Sallust's Jugurthine War, expresses himself nearly to the same effect: “Maiorum gloria posteris lumen est, neque mala eorum in occulto patitur.” 'The bravery of our ancestors does honor to their posterity; nor will it suffer their failings to be concealed from public notice.'
 Non honor est, sed onus, species laesura. To be married to one much above us, is no honor, but a burthen; it is a dignity that hurts the person on whom it is conferred. One thus matched, has many hardships to encounter, must bear sometimes with ill usage without daring to complain, and pretend to be greatly honored by every instance of favor.
 Monstraque. Such was the Hydra of Lerna, a monster with seven, or (according to some) nine heads. Such were also Cerberus and Cacus.Terribilesque feras; as the lion of Nemea, the Erymanthian boar, and others mentioned in the twelve labors of Hercules.
 Operata. Operare was often used by the Romans for sacrifice, rem sacram facere; in which sense it is taken here. She offered up vows and sacrifices for her husband, that he might be protected amidst so many dangers.Esaros lerna per ora canes. This relates to three-headed Cerberus, whom Hercules at the desire of Eurystheus attacked, and forcibly dragged from his infernal habitation.
 Fibrae pecudum. viz. Exta, viscera; the entrails, which anxious for your fate I often search; for the ancients, when they offered sacrifices to the Gods, always inspected the viscera, and from their appearance predicted future events.
 Ominaque arcana; Auguria, says Hubertinus; Responsa ac vaticinia, says Micyllus. Helvetius approves neither of these interpretations. He thinks that by omina are meant random conceptions, formed from any objects indifferently in the night; for nothing is more common than for women to convert the screeching of an owl at midnight, and even the most trifling circumstances in nature, into omens and prognosties.
 Mater abest. She here enumerates the several circumstances of her distress. She was not only abandoned by her husband, but had no friend near her to comfort her. 'Your mother Alemena (she says) is not with me:' for Hercules, having at an entertainment slain oeneus' cupbearer, had retired to Trachin, where he had left his wife Deianira. The story is recounted at large by Apollodorus.
 Hyllus; the son of Hercules, by Deianira. These had been all sent into banishment by Eurystheus.
 Arbiter Eurystheus. We have already taken notice of the power of this prince over Hercules, and the attempts to which he forcibly urged him. He is here by the poet called Arbiter irae Iunonis, because it was at the instigation of Juno, and to gratify her resentment, that he formed the design of oppressing Hercules.
 Partheniis; Arcadian; for Parthenius was a mountain of Arcadia, which derived its name from the sacrifices offered upon it to Venus, by a select company of virgins.Augen. Auge was the daughter of Alens, king of Arcadia, who, being seduced by Hercules, had a son called Telephus.
 Ormeni nympha. This is meant of Astydamia, the daughter of king Ormenus. Hercules had demanded her in marriage of her father; but he refused, knowing him to be already wedded to Deianira. Hercules, enraged at the rejection of his addresses, made war upon him, took his city by attack, and slew him. Astydamia was made prisoner, and had a child by the conqueror.Theutrantia turba. This refers to the fifty daughters of Thespius, the son of Erectheus, king of Athens. All these Hercules is said to have debauched in one night, so as to beget fifty sons called Thespiades. Commentators disagree as to the reason of their being here called Turba Theutrantia. Some derive it from Theutrantes, a king of Mysia; but the most probable conjecture deduces it from Theutrantos, a city of Attica, where was to be seen a masterly picture, in which this story of Hercules was represented.
 Una recens. This is not to be understood of Iole, but of Omphale, queen of Lydia, to whom Hercules subjected himself in the most servile manner, receiving with submission all her commands. Deianira recounts them here at large. By her he had a son named Lamus.
Maeandros, toties qui terris errat in îsdem. The Maeander, which divides Lydia from Caria, is remarkable for its numerous windings and turnings, as the poet hints in this short description of it. Much to the same purpose is the account he gives of it in the Metamorphoses:
“Quique recurvatis ludit Maeandros in undis:
 Pestis Nemeaea, &c. Deianira, astonished at her husband's effeminacy, breaks out in reproaches, and endeavours to make him sensible of his degeneracy, by comparing his past with his present conduct, in which the disproportion was too manifest not to make him ashamed of his recent behaviour. 'Those nervous arms that were formerly more than a match for the lion of Nemaea, and adorned with his skin as a badge of their victory, are now garnished with bracelet, and em-ployed in the unmanly exercises of spinning and weaving.'
 Mitra. Helvetius speaks of it thus: Mitra, Servio teste, nomen est barharum, quo capitis ornamentum quoddam, aut pileus incurvus intellagitur, de quo philyrae dependerent; cuius apud Lydias et Phrygias mulieres, aut quosdum ctiam effeminatos viros, usus erat.
 Diomedis. This, according to fable, was a most cruel king of Thrace, who was accustomed to feed his horses with the flesh of murdered strangers, and to nail their heads to the gates of his palace. Hercules slew him, and retaliated upon him the cruel usage he had shown to others.
 Busiris. This was an Egyptian king, who often sacrificed strangers, to procure an inundation of the Nile. This cruelty was first exercised upon Thrasius, who was the inventor and teacher of it. When the tyrant intended to put it in practice upon Hercules, the hero opposed, and slew him.
 Detrahat; that is, says Helvetius, detrahere cupiat. This figure is somewhat remarkable, and not without its use. It speaks of things past, as future. By it Deianira, to strike Hercules more forcibly, raises Antaeus from the dead.Antaeus. This Antaeus was a monstrous giant, as some will have him, the son of the Earth; according to others, the son of Neptune. He obliged strangers to wrestle with him, and in the contest slew them. Hercules encountered him, and, lifting him from the earth, whence he was said constantly to derive fresh accessions of strength, pressed him to death. Calathum. Caluthus was a basket of vine twigs, fit to hold wool, flowers, and the like articles.
 Eximiis pompis, &c. Heinsius is also in doubt respecting the authenticity of these two lines. The poet alludes to the pomp and magnificence of triumphs, that the image of Hercules, lying prostrate at the feet of his mistress, may have the greater appearance of ridicule.
 Tegeaeus; the Arcadian; from Tegea, a cry of Arcadia. This boar was brought alive by Hercules to Eurystheus.
 Prodigiumque triplex, armenti dives Iberi Geryones. Geryones was king of Spain, or rather of the isles of Gades, Insulae Gaditanae. He reigned over three islands, kept on foot three armies, and was the father of three sons. Hence the fiction of his three bodies took its rise. He was rich in cattle, which Hercules is said to have driven before him into Italy, after he had overcome this monster.
 Quaeque; the Lernaean Hydra, a monster with seven, nine, fifty, some say a hundred heads. What made this encounter the more terrible, was, that any one of the heads being cut off, two others sprang up in its place. Hercules, however, overcame this difficulty, by causing Iolaus to apply a brand to the neck cut off, by which means the flux of blood was stopped.
 Quique inter, &c. This is meant of Antaeus, whom Hercules, to deprive of the continual supplies of strength which he received from his mother Earth, lifting up with his left arm, strangled with his right.
 Et male confisum agmen; the Centaurs, who were fancied in the upper part to resemble a man, and below a horse. They were a people of Thessaly, the first who fought on horse-bark, and probably struck such terror into their enemies, that the force of imagination contributed to make up the extraordinary figure. These were partly slain, and partly put to flight by Hercules.
 Iardanis; Omphale, the daughter of Iardanus, who decked herself with the club, the lion's skin, and other pieces of armour belonging to Hercules.
 Haec tamen audieram. Deianira is not willing to provoke her husband beyond redress: and therefore, after having thrown out against him some keen reproaches, she endeavours to soothe him, by discrediting reports to his disadvantage; or at least laments, that she had in other instances too strong and sensible proofs of his baseuess.
 Pellex; Iole, the last concubine of Hercules.
 Achelous; the son of Oceanus and Terra, or, as others say, Thetis. He had obtained this gift from his mother, That with whomsoever he might engage, he should have it in his power to assume what form he pleased. Contending with Hercules for Deianira, he fought first in the shape of a serpent, afterwards of a bull. Being at length overcome, he hid himself in the river Achelous. The meaning of this fable is explained at large by mythologists. Ovid afterwards gives it more particularly in his Metamorphoses.
 Tunicae tabe; the shirt poisoned with the blood of the Lernaean Hydra, and Nessus the Centaur. For Hercules, after overcoming the Hydra, dipped some arrows in its blood, that with them he might always would mortally. It was with one of these poisoned arrows that he shot Nessus, who, finding himself on the point of expiration, and wishing that his death might not pass unrevenged, called Deianira, and desired her, if she hoped to secure her husband's love, to dip a shirt in the blood that flowed from the wound he had received by the arrow. Deianira, weakly credulous, obeyed him, without giving the least hint to Hercules upon the subject. Hearing afterwards that he loved Iole, she sent him this shirt; which he had no sooner put on, than, quite inflamed by the strength of the poison, and bereft of his reason, he threw himself upon a funeral pile, and caused fire to be set to it.
 oeta; a mountain of Thessaly, where, by the admonition of the oracle, the pile was erected on which Hercules was consumed.
 Agrios; the brother of oeneus, who, taking advantage of the disasters in his brother's family, invaded the kingdom of aetolia, and made himself master of it. This Deianira recounts amongst the other calamities of her house.
 Tydeus; my brother. He, having slain his brother Menalippus, fled to the court of Adrastus king of the Argives, whose daughter Deiphile he married.
 Alter; Meleager, whose history we have given at large in a note to a former epistle.