H is for “When Heracles Met Hylas”

Published April 9, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Ahem.  Sorry about the ridiculous title.  I couldn’t help myself.

As I said earlier, I’m not tackling the life of Heracles until I have time to do some complicated figuring, but I just had to use Heracles for H in the A-to-Z challenge!  And as I was looking over the summary of major events, this one jumped out at me as a stand-alone…if a somewhat, er, unusual one.  (Hopefully also a short one.  I have a dentist appointment at 2:00…)

One day, Heracles was wandering in an aimless journey when he came across a pack of satyrs, drinking and whooping it up.  The satyrs offered to let the hero join in their party, and share in their rich, unwatered wine.

Never one to pass up a good time, Heracles joined them gladly, though he did often remark that it would be a better party if there were a few girls about.

By the time the satyrs fell into a drunken slumber and the wine was exhausted, Heracles was raging drunk, and found himself possessed of quite a hunger to match the thirst he had just slaked.  But the satyrs hadn’t had any food on them, so he was forced to set off through the fields looking for something to eat.

Finding a grazing herd, Heracles picked up the nearest ox, threw it over his shoulders, and stumbled away with it.  He came to a cave, where he slaughtered the ox, offering a bit of the meat in sacrifice to his divine father.  In an after-thought, he also offered some to his half-brother Hermes, to thank him for his aid in stealing such a nice meal.  Then he roasted the rest of the ox, and ate it all.

After such a feast, Heracles fell into a a deep, contented slumber, snoring so prodigiously that people for miles around heard him and feared that a terrible monster had taken up residence in the cave.

The local people were Dryopes, a Pelasgian tribe that had resided in Hellas long before the Hellenes arrived, and their king was Theodamas, a fine and handsome fellow who had married the nymph Menodice.  When Theodamas heard his people fretting over the terrible beast they thought to be living in the cave, he called his young son to him.

“Hylas,” he said, “you’ll be a man soon, and it’s time that you learnt how to be a man and a king.  Our people are afraid, so it’s my duty–our duty–to deal with that which troubles them.  I’m going to investigate these reports of a monster, and if there is one, I’ll slay it to protect my people.  I want you to come with me, but keep well clear if a fight should break out.”

His son, as dutiful as he was beautiful, nodded his head obediently.  “Yes, Father,” he said.

Father and son set off towards the cave where Heracles was still snoring like a demonic beast.  The snores echoing out of the cave mouth were so terrifying that not only was Hylas trembling, even Theodamas was fearful.  But he was a king and a father, and he didn’t want to fail his people or his son, so he advanced into the cave as boldly as he could.

Within, he found the remains of one of his prized oxen beside the massive form that was producing the terrible noises.  It rose and fell with each rumbling snore, and Theodamas could see the face of a lion glaring at him through the dim light in the cave.

“It’s a lion,” Theodamas whispered to his son, “of monstrous size.  Keep outside, and I’ll slay it.”  Though even as his son was withdrawing from the cave, Theodamas did wonder just when lions started making fires to roast their meat before consuming it.  He’d never heard of such a thing before…

Drawing his sword, Theodamas approached the sleeper.  As he drew near, and saw that it was not a lion, but a man wearing a lion’s skin, he scowled.  A thief–a drunken thief, by the smell of him–had put his people into this panic?  That would not do!

“Rise and defend yourself, coward!” Theodamas shouted at the sleeping man.  He didn’t want to slay a man in his sleep, after all.  That would be shameful.

Heracles growled in his sleep, and batted a hand in Theodamas’ direction, but did not stir.

“I said rouse yourself!” Theodamas repeated, shouting even louder.

“Bloody bastard!” Heracles bellowed, getting to his feet.  “I’m tryin’ to sleep here!”

The sound of his voice–and the stench of his breath–was an attack in itself, and Theodamas stumbled backwards.  By the time he recovered his faculties a bit, Heracles had picked up his club, and it was already swinging towards his face.

Theodamas’ body flew out of the cave, and sank, lifeless, to the ground at the base of a nearby tree.

Heracles’ body, too, sank to the floor, but he had merely fallen asleep again as soon as the noise had stopped.  It was not until nearly sunset that he finished sleeping off his booze and his feast.

When Heracles did finally awaken, he had a vague recollection of having been interrupted at some point while he had slept, but the details were fuzzy, and he wasn’t entirely sure it hadn’t been a dream.  There was nothing left of the ox but bones, and he had no more wine to combat his fearsome headache, so he left the cave in which he had slept.

Outside the cave, he found poor Hylas weeping over the corpse of his father.  Only then did Heracles realize that he had, indeed, been awoken during the day.

He felt just a tiny bit badly about that.

“That your father, boy?” he asked.

Hylas started in terror at the sound of his voice, then nodded, looking up at Heracles with tears in his eyes.  Heracles was taken aback, seeing just how beautiful the boy was.  Most girls weren’t that beautiful…

“Are you the one who killed him?” Hylas asked.  “Are you the monster that was in the cave?”

Heracles coughed uncomfortably.  “That was…well…I’m a different person when I’ve had too much to drink…”

Hylas looked back down at his father’s body.  “What am I going to do without my father?”

“Look, I…uh…I’ll take care of you,” Heracles offered.  “I’ll make you my squire.”

“Why would I want to be your squire?” Hylas replied, looking up at the man with confusion written on his pretty face.  “You killed my father.  Besides, with my father gone, surely I’m the king of the Dryopes now.”

“Hey,  I’m a great hero, I’ll have you know!” Heracles insisted.  “And my father was Zeus himself!”

Hylas was unconvinced, and did not seem inclined to accept Heracles’ generous offer, but Heracles was not ready to accept a rejection!  He offered to help the boy bury his father, as a way of buying time.  There had to be some way to make that pretty boy want to go with him…

When they returned to the rest of the Dryopes with Theodamas’ body, there was much grief over the king’s death–which Heracles repeatedly accused everyone and everything else of having caused, rather than admitting that he had done the deed himself–but the grief quickly gave way to debate.  None of the Dryopes wanted a boy ruling them.  And Theodamas had had brothers.  Power-hungry brothers who began to squabble over which one of them would get to rule in his stead.

Before the night was out, Heracles found himself being offered a pouch full of gold by the widowed nymph, as payment to take her son far away, where his uncles couldn’t get at him to kill him and eliminate him as a potential rival.

Heracles gladly took both the gold and the boy.

Okay, I must confess.  I made up 99% of that.

The only things that were accurate were the names and the fact that it was over an ox that Heracles killed Hylas’ father.  The first place I saw it mentioned said it was a quarrel over an ox that Heracles had stolen, and the second place seemed to say that Theodamas was plowing a field (despite being a king!) with an ox and when he refused to give it to Heracles, Heracles killed him.  In both scenarios, Heracles simply carried off Hylas (whose age was an unknown quantity) because he was so beautiful.

I, uh, I wanted to make it a little less like Hylas was a slave, you know?

I think this version fits the basic sense of Heracles’ personality pretty well, though.  At least, I hope it does.

The pouch full of gold is somewhat awkward, since they didn’t have money yet in the Late Bronze Age, and therefore didn’t have it in the Heroic Age in which the myths are set…and yet a lot of texts written during the Classical period seem unaware of the ancient lack of coinage, and so…uh…yeah, well…ahem.  Best I could do at short notice.  I’ll fix it if I think of something better.

2 comments on “H is for “When Heracles Met Hylas”

  • I always thought this a really strange relationship, even for the Greeks. A lot of sources call the kid Heracles’ “squire” when they don’t want to point out that the great hero swung both ways, including young boys… And then there is the end of the story. 😀
    I liked your version, though.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary


    • Yeah; I went with the “squire” thing in this story to try and make it look like Heracles’ interest didn’t *start* as being sexual…but then with the reference to Hylas’ age, I’m afraid I made him look like a pedophile instead. (I’m going to remove the age reference right now…)

      When I eventually get to the voyage of the Argo, I plan to be up-front about what’s really going on. Not sure when that’s going to be…though I might do the Lemnos stage for the L day this month…


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