In Greek mythology, Iolë (Ancient Greek: Ἰόλη) was the daughter of Eurytus, king of the city 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's 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
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Apollodorus says one day Eurytus promised Iole to whoever could beat him and his sons in an archery contest. Eurytus was an expert archer and taught his sons his knowledge of the bow and arrow. The sons of the king shot their arrows and hit their targets. In fact, they shot so well that they beat all the others from the kingdom. Heracles heard of the prize and eagerly entered the contest for he very much wanted Iole. Heracles shot and hit the bullseye and even beat Eurytus's scores. The irony is Eurytus years earlier had taught Heracles to become an archer.
When the king realized that Heracles was winning, he stopped the contest and would not allow him to participate. Eurytus was aware that Heracles had killed his previous wife, Megara, and their children. He was afraid that Heracles would very likely kill Iole and any grandsons she may have should Heracles get into a mad rage again. Although Heracles had won the contest fair and square, he was not entitled to the prize because of his reputation. Eurytus broke his promise to give the royal daughter to the winner of the archery contest.
Iphitos urged his father to reconsider, but Eurytus did not alter his decision. Heracles had not left the city yet when Eurytus's mares were run off, presumably by Autolycus, a notorious thief. Iphitos asked Heracles to help find them, which he agreed to do. Heracles, in one of his fits, got frustrated with the complete mess and hurled Iphitos over the city walls, murdering him. Diodorus Siculus gives an additional input at this point that it was Heracles himself that drove off the mares of Eurytus in revenge. Heracles 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. Heracles forgot about Iole, at least for the time being, as Deianira was a prospect for his new children that he very much wanted. He wooed her, eventually won her over, and ultimately married her. Heracles acquired a kingdom at this time. He was still angry at Eurytus for not giving up Iole, the promised prize. Heracles was now in control of an army and went about to kill Eurytus in revenge. Hyginus adds to the story at this point that Heracles not only eventually murdered Iole's father Eurytus, but he murdered Iole's brothers and other relatives as well.
Heracles ransacked Oechalia and overthrew its walls. 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 softened her landing. She was not hurt from the descent. Heracles captured and took Iole unwillingly captive as his concubine. While his wife Deianira did not like that Iole had become Heracles's concubine, 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 on the other side. Heracles saved her from Nessus by shooting him with poisoned arrows. She had kept some of Nessus' blood, because he had told her with his dying breath that if she were to give Heracles a cloak (chiton) soaked in his blood that it would be a love charm. Deianira, being concerned by Heracles's 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, she ultimately killed herself. Because of his love for his concubine Iole, Heracles asked that his eldest son, Hyllus, 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.
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's play of The Trachiniae Iole's mother was Antiope and her siblings were Iphitus, 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 Hercules by Iole and her chance for vengeance on them. He shows the same jealousy Deianira has of Iole as does Apollodorus.
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