In Greek mythology, Iole (//; Ancient Greek: Ἰόλη) was the daughter of King Eurytus of Oechalia. According to the brief epitome in the Bibliotheca, Eurytus had a beautiful young daughter named Iole who was eligible for marriage. Iole was claimed by Heracles for a bride, but Eurytus refused her hand in marriage. Iole was indirectly the cause of Heracles' death because of his wife's jealousy of her.
There are different versions of the mythology of Iole from many ancient sources. The Bibliotheca gives the most complete story followed by slight variations of his from Seneca and Ovid. Other ancient sources (i.e. Diodorus Siculus, Gaius Julius Hyginus, and Pseudo-Plutarch) have similar information on Iole with additional variations.
Heracles' love for Iole leads to his death
Apollodorus recounted the tale in his Bibliotheca. King Eurytus was an expert archer who taught his sons his knowledge of the bow and arrow. He promised his daughter Iole to whoever could beat him and his sons in an archery contest. The sons shot so well that they beat all the others from the kingdom. Heracles then heard of the prize and eagerly entered the contest for he desired the maiden. Heracles shot with keenness and even beat Eurytus' scores. It is ironic because Eurytus in his early years had taught Heracles to become an archer.
When the king realized that Heracles was winning, he stopped the contest and forbade him to participate. Eurytus was well-aware of Heracles' murder of his previous wife, Megara and their children and thus afraid that Iole and her offspring by him would suffer the same fate. Eventually, Heracles had won the contest but was not entitled to the prize because of his reputation. Eurytus broke his promise to give his royal daughter to the winner of the archery contest.
Iphitos urged his father to reconsider, but Eurytus did not pay any heed and stood by his decision. Heracles had not left the city yet when Eurytus' mares were run off, presumably by Autolycus, a notorious thief. Iphitos asked Heracles to help him find them, which he agreed to do so. Heracles, in one of his madness, hurled Iphitos over the city walls, murdering him. According to Diodorus Siculus, it was Heracles himself that drove off the mares of Eurytus in revenge. The hero had failed in his courtship to win Iole.
After the archery contest, Heracles went to Calydon, where, on the steps of the temple, he saw Deianira, Prince Meleager's sister. He forgot about Iole for a while and wooed her, eventually won her over and married her. Heracles after acquiring a kingdom and in control of an army, went about to kill Eurytus in revenge for not giving up his promised prize. Hyginus added that Heracles not only murdered Eurytus, but also slayed Iole's brothers and other relatives as well.
The hero plundered Oechalia and overthrew its walls while Iole threw herself down from the high city wall to escape. It turned out that the garment she was wearing, opened up and acted like a parachute which ensured her soft and safe descent. Heracles captured and took Iole unwillingly as captive. His wife, Deianira did not like Iole to become Heracles' concubine but she forebore to object and tolerated it temporarily.
Deianira feared she would lose Heracles to the younger and more beautiful Iole. Years earlier, the centaur Nessus had ferried her across the river Evenus and attempted to rape her when they were on the other side. Heracles saved her from Nessus by shooting him with poisoned arrows. She had kept some of Nessus' blood for the centaur told her in his dying breath that if she were to give Heracles a cloak (chiton) soaked in his blood, it would be a love charm. Deianira, being concerned by Heracles' infidelity, believed Nessus’ lie that Heracles would no longer desire any other woman after he was under the spell of the love philter. This seemed like the perfect solution to her problem to reclaim her husband's love from him Iole, the foreign concubine. The cloak was delivered to Heracles and when he put it on the poison went into his body. Deianira had unwittingly poisoned her husband with this purported love potion because of her sadness over her husband's unfaithfulness. Upon realizing the mistake she had made, Deianira then killed herself. Because of his love for his concubine Iole, Heracles asked his eldest son, Hyllus to marry her so that she would be well taken care of. Iole and Hyllus had a son called Cleodaeus, and also three daughters, Evaechme, Aristaechme, and Hyllis.
Versions of the tale
Ovid's version of this story (Heroides 9) has Heracles under the erotic control of Iole. She specifically has Heracles wear women's clothing and perform women's work. Heracles at this time all the while is bragging about his heroic deeds. However, Deianira reminds him how he is dressed in feminine attire and Iole is wearing his clothing while carrying his club. Deianira ultimately urges silence from him. The same version shows the disgrace and shame of Heracles, who was once a strong warrior fighter, outwitted by Iole in being made to do effeminate acts. In this skillful crafty manner, she had avenged her father's death.
According to Sophocles' play Women of Trachis, Iole's mother was Antiope and her siblings were Iphitos, Clytius, Toxeus, Deioneus, Molion, and Didaeon. In the play, Iole is described as the daughter of King Eurytus, the royal princess of Oechalia. She is among the captive maidens of Oechalia when Heracles ransacks the city. She is to become the concubine of Heracles. Toward the end of the play Heracles asks his son Hyllus to marry her when he dies, so she will be well taken care of. Hyllus agrees to do this for his father.
According to Seneca, Deianira is concerned if the captive Iole that Heracles took as his concubine will give brothers to her sons. She fears that Iole will become daughter-in-law of Jove. He explains how Deianira thinks of the possible children of Heracles by Iole and her chance for vengeance on them. He shows the same jealousy Deianira has of Iole as does Apollodorus.
Appearances in popular culture
- Iole appears as a little girl in 2005's mini-series, Hercules; she is the daughter of Eurystheus and Megara. In an attempt to bring peace between the two branches of the family, Hercules asks for his son Hyllas to be betrothed to Iole- to marry one day, should he fulfill one of his Labours: capturing/ shooting the Cerynian Hind; he's successful, but Eurystheus refuses- having been foretold that Iole's husband would eventually kill him. This is later proved true, when Hyllas throws a knife at the king.
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