In addition an immense rock, hung over his head, threatened every moment to crush him.
It is said that Tantalus, when in the flesh, had betrayed the secrets of the gods and also committed other great crimes. For this he was “tantalized” with food and drink, which, seeming always to be within his reach, ever mocked his hopes by eluding his grasp.
The groans of a crowd of disheveled women next attracted the affrighted attention of Hercules. They were forty-nine of the fifty daughters of Danaus, King of Argos, who, at the instigation of their father, had killed their husbands because Danaus thought they were conspiring to depose him.
One only of the fifty, to wit Hypermnestra, had the courage to disobey this unlawful command and so saved the life of Lynceus, her husband, with whom she fled. Later on Lynceus returned and slew the cruel King in battle.
To punish the forty-nine Danaides, Jupiter cast them into the outer darkness of Black Tartarus, where they were ever engaged in the hopeless task of pouring water into a sieve. Hypermnestra, on the contrary, was honored while alive, and also after her death, for loving goodness even more than she loved her father.
Glutted with horror Hercules at length quitted gloomy Tartarus and beheld in front of him still another river. This was Lethe. Whoso drank the waters of this river, which separated the place of torment from the abode of the blest, lost memory of all that had been aforetime in his mind, and so was no longer troubled by even the remembrance of human misery.
Across Lethe stretched the Elysian Fields where the shades of the blest dwelt in bliss without alloy. An enchanting greenness made the sweet-smelling groves as pleasant to the eye as they were to the sense of smell. Sunlit, yet never parched with torrid heat, everywhere their verdure charmed the delighted eye, and all things conspired to make the shades of the good and wise, who were privileged to dwell in these Elysian Fields, delightfully happy.
Hercules saw, in these shady regions of the blest, a crowd of kings, heroes and men and women of lower degree who, while on earth, had loved and served their fellow men.
Having at length found and released Theseus, Hercules set out with him for the upper world. The two left Hades by an ivory door, the key of which Pluto had confided to their care.
What awesome tales they had to recount to their wondering friends of the marvels of Black Tartarus and of Radiant Elysium!
THE TUNIC OF NESSUS THE CENTAUR
There abode in Thessaly, in the days of Hercules, a strange race of men who had the head and arms of a man together with the body of a horse. They were called Centaurs, or Bull-Slayers.
One of them named Cheiron, famous for his knowledge of medicine, music and botany, had been the teacher of Hercules. But many of them, although learned, were not good. Hercules and Theseus had waged war on them and had killed many, so that their numbers were greatly lessened.