He was famed for being Heracles's nephew and for helping with some of his Labors, and also for being one of the Argonauts. Through his daughter Leipephilene he was considered to have fathered the mythic and historic line of the kings of Corinth, ending with Telestes.
Relationship with Heracles
As a son of Iphicles, Iolaus was a nephew of Heracles. He often acted as Heracles' charioteer and companion. He was popularly regarded as Heracles's lover, and the shrine to him in Thebes was a place where male couples worshiped and made vows.
The Theban gymnasium was also named after him, and the Iolaeia, an athletic festival consisting of gymnastic and equestrian events, was held yearly in Thebes in his honor. The victors at the Iolaea were crowned with garlands of myrtle.
Iolaus provided essential help to Heracles in his battle against the Hydra, his second labor. Seeing that Heracles was being overwhelmed by the multi-headed monster (the Lernaean Hydra), who grew two heads in place of each one cut off, Iolaus sprang to help, cauterizing each neck as Heracles beheaded it.
Heracles gave his wife, Megara, age thirty three, to Iolaus, then only sixteen years old – ostensibly because the sight of her reminded him of his murder of their three children. They had a daughter, Leipephilene. He was one of the Heraclidae.
Upon Heracles' death, Iolaus lit the funeral pyre, though according to some mythographers, this was Philoctetes instead. In other versions, it is Poeas.
According to Diodorus Siculus, Iolaus was sent by Heracles in Sardinia together with nine of the sons that he had fifty daughters of Thespius (the Thespiades), to colonize the island, giving rise to the people of Iolaensi.
Iolaus and the Thespians were buried in Sardinia.
Aristotle said that Sardinia had practiced the rite of incubation, which is the liberation ritual of the people who were affected by nightmares and obsessions. These rituals included that the persons suffering from nightmares should sleep next to the tombs of heroes.
Simplicius of Cilicia adds, in the eight books of the Commentaries Aristotle, that "the places where they were deposited and preserved corpses of the nine heroes that Hercules got from the Thespians and who came to Sardinia with the colony of Iolaus, became the famous oracles."
In popular culture
- Crompton, Louis, Homosexuality and Civilization, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 123.
- Pindar, Olympian Ode VIII, 84
- Pindar, Isthmian Ode IV.
- Plutarch, Moralia "The Dialogue on Love / Erotikos / Amatoria", Loeb, V. XII, p.339
- Ovid, Metamorphoses IX, 394.
- Diodorus Siculus, book IV, 29–30.
- Aristotle, Physics, IV.
- Simplicius, book IV.
- Solinus, I-16: Iolenses ab eo dicti sepulcro eius templum addiderunt quod ... Malis plurimis Sardiniam liberasset.
- Media related to Iolaus at Wikimedia Commons