Classical Texts Library >> Theocritus, Idylls >> Idylls 19-25



IDYLLS 1 - 4

1. Thyrsis
2. The Spell
3. The Serenade
4. The Herdsmen

IDYLLS 5 - 11

5. The Goatherd & the Shepherd
6. A Country Singing Match
7. The Harvest-Home
8. Second Country Singing-Match
9. Third Country Singing-Match
10. The Reapers
11. The Cyclops

IDYLLS 12 - 18

12. The Beloved
13. Hylas
14. The Love of Cynisca
15. Women at the Adonia
16. The Charites
17. The Panegyris of Ptolemy
18. The Epithalamy of Helen

IDYLLS 19 - 25

19. The Honey-Stealer
20. The Young Countryman
21. The Fishermen
22. The Dioscuri
23. The Lover
24. The Little Heracles
25. How Heracles Slew the Lion


26. The Bacchanals
27. The Lovers' Talk
28. The Distaff
29. The First Love-Poem
30. The Second Love-Poem
B. Inscriptions
C. Fragments



This little poem probably belongs to a later date than the Bucolic writers, and was brought into the collection merely owing to its resemblance to the Runaway Love of Moschus.

[1] When the thievish Love one day was stealing honeycomb from the hive, a wicked bee stung him, and made all his finger-tips to smart. In pain and grief he blew on his hand and stamped and leapt upon the ground, and went and showed his hurt to Aphrodite, and made complaint that so a little a beast as a bee could make so great a wound. Whereat his mother laughing, ‘What?’ cries she, ‘art not a match for a bee, and thou so little and yet able to make wounds so great?


A neatherd, chafing because a city wench disdains him, protests that he is a handsome fellow, and that Gods have been known to make love to country-folk, and calls down upon her the curse of perpetual celibacy. This spirited poem is a monologue, but preserves the mime-form by means of dumb characters, the shepherds of line 19. Stylistic considerations belie the tradition which ascribes it to Theocritus.

[1] When I would have kissed her sweetly, Eunica fleered at me and flouted me saying, ‘Go with a mischief! What? kiss me miserable clown like thee? I never learned your countrified bussing; my kissing is in the fashion o’ the town. I will not have such as thee to kiss my pretty lips, nay, not in his dreams. Lord, how you look! Lord, how you talk! Lord, how you antic! Your lips are wet and your hands black, and you smell rank. Hold off and begone, or you’ll befoul me!’ Telling this tale she spit thrice in her bosom, and all the while eyed me from top to toe, and mowed at me and leered at me and made much she-play with her pretty looks, and anon did right broadly, scornfully, and disdainfully laugh at me. Trust me, my blood boiled up in a moment, and my face went as red with the anguish of it as the rose with the dewdrops. And so she up and left me, but it rankles in my heart that such a filthy drab should cavil at a well-favoured fellow like me.

[19] Tell me true, master Shepherds; see you not here a proper man, or hath some power taken and transmewed him? Marry, ‘twas a sweet piece of ivy bloomed ere now on this tree, and a sweet piece of ivy bloomed ere now on this tree, and a sweet piece of beauty put fringe to this lip; the hair o’ these temples lay lush as the parsley; this forehead did shine me white above and these eyebrows black below; these eyes were beamy as the Grey-eyed Lady’s, this mouth trim as a cream-cheese; and the voice which came forth o’ this mouth was even as honeycomb. Sweet also is the music I make, be it o’ the flute or the crossflute. And there’s not a lass in the uplands but says I am good to look to, not one but kisses me, neither; but your city pieces, look you, never a kiss got I o’ them, but they ran me by and would not listen because I herd cows.

[33] Doth not the beautiful Dionysus ride a bull i' the dells? Wist she not Cypris ran mad after a neatherd and tended cattle i' the Phrybian hills? And the same Cypris, loved she not Adonis in the woods and in the woods bewailed him? And what of Endymion? Was it not a neatherd the Lday Moon loved when he was at his labour, and came down from Olympus into Latmos vale to bow herself over him of her choice? Thou too, great Rhea, dost bewail a neatherd; and didst not e’en thou, thou Son of Cronus, become a wandering bird for the sake of a lad o’ the kine? Nay, ‘twas left to mistress Eunica to deny a neatherd her love, this piece that is a greater than Cybelè and Cypris and the Lady Moon! Wherefore I beseech thee, sweet Cypris, the same may never more whether in upland or in lowland come at the love of her leman, but may lie lone and sleep sole for the rest of her days.


The poet begins with a dedication in the manner of XI, and passes quickly to his story. Two fishermen lie awake at night in their cabin on the shore, and one of them tells a dream he has just had of the catching of a golden fish. He asks his friend what the dream may mean, for he fears he may have to break his dream-oath that he would be a fisherman no longer. To this the friend replies that it was no oath he took, and that the moral of the dream is that his only wealth is the sea. Many considerations go to show that the traditional ascription of the poem to Theocritus is mistaken.

[1] There’s but one stirrer-up of the crafts, Diophantus, and her name is Poverty. She is the true teacher of labour; for a man of toil may not so much as sleep for the disquietude of his heart. Nay, if he nod ever so little o’ nights, then is his slumber broke suddenly short by the cares that beset him.

[6] One night against the leafy wall of a wattled cabin there lay together upon a bed of dry tangle two old catchers of fish. Beside them were laid the instruments of their calling; their creels, their rods their hooks, their weedy nets and lines, their weels and rush-woven lobster-pots, some net-ropes, a pair of oars, and upon its props an aged coble. Beneath their heads lay a little mat, and for coverlets they had their jackets of frieze. This was all the means and all the riches of these poor fishermen. Key, door, watchdog, had they none; all such things were ill-store to the likes of them, seeing in that house kept Poverty watch and ward; neither dwelt there any neighbour at their gates, but the very cabin-walls were hemmed by the soft and delicate upflowing of the sea.

[19] Now or ever the chariot of the Moon was half-way of its course, the fishermen’s labour and trouble did rouse them, and thrusting slumber from their eyelids stirred up speech in their hearts.

[22] It seems they speak not true, friend, that say the summer nights grow less when they bring us the long days. Already I have had a thousand dreams, and the dawn is not yet. Or am I wrong when I say how long the watches of these nights are?

[26] Asphalion, the pretty summer deserves not thy fault-finding. ‘Tis not that Time hath truly and in himself over-run his course, but Care makes thy night long by curtailing thy slumber.

[29] Hast ever learnt to interpret a dream? I’ve had a good one this night, and am fain thou go shares in’t.

[31] Aye, we share our catch, and e’en let’s share all our dreams. For shall I not be making conjecture of thee according to the saying, the best interpreter of dreams is he that learns of understanding? And what’s more, we have time and to spare, for there’s little enough for a man to do lying sleepless in a greenbed beside the sea. ‘Faith, ‘tis the ass in the thorns and the lamp in the town-hall, and they are the morals for waking.1 Come, thy dream; for a friend, look you, is always told a man’s dreams.

[39] When I fell asleep last night after my labours o’ the sea – and faith, ‘twas not for fulness, if you mind, seeing we supped early to give our bellies short commons – I dreamt I was hard at my work upon a rock, seated watching for the fish and dangling my piece of deception from my rod’s end, when there rose me a right gallant fellow – for mark you, I surmise a fish as a sleeping dog will a bear, – well hooked too, for ‘a showed blood, and my rod all bended wi’ the pull of him, bended straining and bowing in my hand, insomuch that I questioned me sore how I was to deal with so great a fish with so weak tools to my hand. Howbeeit I gently pricked him to mind him o’ the hook, and pricking let him have line,2 and when he ran not away showed him the butt. Now was the prize mine. I drew up a golden fish, a fish smothered in gold, such indeed that I feared me lest he were a fish favoured of Poseidon, or mayhap a treasured possession of sea-green Amphitritè; aye, and unhooked him very carefully and slow lest ever the tackle should come away with gold from his mouth. Then, standing over, I sang the praises of that my glorious catch, my seaman made landsman, and sware I’ld nevermore set foot o’ the sea, but I would rest ashore rather and king it there with my gold. And with that I awoke. And now, good friend, it remains for you to lend me your understanding; for troth, that oath I sware –

[63] Be of good cheer; never you fear that. ‘Twas no swearing when you sware that oath any more than ‘twas seeing when you saw the golden fish. Howbeit there’s wisdom to be hand of empty shows; for if you will make real and waking search in these places there’s hope of your sleep and your dreams.3 Go seek the fish of flesh and blood, or you’ll die of hunger and golden visions.

1. “The morals for waking” : i.e. ‘proverbial for keeping awake.’
2. “Let him have line” : not, of course, from a reel.
3. “There’s hope of your dreams” : ‘hope of your getting some advantage from them.’


This hymn to Castor and Polydeuces consists, first, of a prelude common to both, and secondly, of two main parts concerned one with Polydeuces and the other with Castor. The first of these, in a combination of the Epic style with the dialogue, tells how Polydeuces fought fisticuffs with Amycus on his way to Colchis, and the second how, when the brothers carried off the daughters of Leucippus, Castor fought Lynceus with spear and sword.

[1] Our song is of the sons of Leda and the Aegis-Bearer, Castor to wit and with him Polydeuces, that dire wielder of the fist and of the wrist-harness of the leathern thong. Twice is our song and thrice of the boys of Thestius’ daughter, the two Spartan brethren which wont to save both men that are come upon the brink and horses that are beset in the bloody press; aye, and ships also, that because they sail in despite of rise or set of the stars do fall upon evil gales, which, or fore or aft or where they list, upraise a great surge, and both hurl it into the hold and rive with it their timbers whether on this side or on that. Then hang sail and shroud by the board; and night comes, and with it a great storm from the sky, and the broad sea rattles and plashes with the battery blast and of the irresistible hail. But for all that, ye, even ye, do draw both ship and despairing shipmen from out the hell; the winds abate, the sea puts on a shining calm, the clouds run asunder this way and that way; till out come the Bears peeping, and betwixt the Asses lo! that Manger so dim, which betokens all fair for voyaging on the sea. O helpers twain of men, O friends both of mortals, O horseman harpers, O boxer bards, whether of Castor first or Polydeuces shall I sing? Be my song of both, and yet the beginning of it of Polydeuces.

[27] The Together-coming Rocks were safely passed and the baleful mouth of the snowy Pontic entered, and Argo with the dear children of the Gods aboard her had made the country of the Bebrycians. Down the ladders on either side went crowding the men of Jason’s ship, and soon as they were out upon the soft deep sand of that lee shore, set to making them greenbeds and rubbing fire-sticks for fire. Then when Castor of the nimble coursers and Polydeuces ruddy as the wine together wandering afield from the rest, for to see the wild woodland of all manner of trees among the hills. Now beneath a certain slabby rock they did find a freshet brimming ever with water pure and clear. The pebbles at the bottom of it were like to silver and crystal, and long and tall there grew beside it, as well firs and poplars and planes and spiry cypresses, as all fragrant flowers which abound in the meadows of outgoing spring to be loved and laboured of the shag bee. In that place there sat taking the air a man both huge and terrible. His ears were crushed shapeless by the hard fist, and his giant breast and great broad back were orbed with iron flesh like a sledge-wrought effigy; moreover the sinews upon his brawny arms upstood beside the shoulder like the boulder-stones some torrent hath rolled and rounded in his swirling eddies; and, to end all, over his neck and about his back there was hung by the claws a swinging lion-skin.

[53] First spoke the champion Polydeuces. ‘Whoever you may be, Sir,’ says he, ‘I bid you good morrow. Pray tell me what people possesseth this country.’

[55] Is it good-morrow, quotha, when I see strangers before me?

[56] Be of good cheer. Trust me, we be no evil men nor come we of evil stock.

[57] Of right good cheer am I, and knew it or ever I learnt it of you.

[58] Pray are you a man o’ the wilds, a churl come what may, a mere piece of disdain?

[59] I am what you see; and that’s no goer upon other’s ground, when all’s said.

[60] Come you upon my ground and welcome; you shall not go away empty.

[61] I’ll none of your welcomes and you shall none of mine.

[62] Lord, man! would you have me denied even a drink of this water?

[63] That shall you know when there comes you the parching languor o’ thirst on the lips.

[64] Would you silver or aught else for price? Say what you’ll take.

[65] Up hands fight me man against man.

[66] Fisticuffs is ‘t? or feet and all? mind you, I have a good eye.1

[67] Fists be it, and you may do all your best and cunningest.

[68] But who is he for whom I am to bind thong to arm?

[69] You see him nigh; the man that shall fight you may be called a woman, but ‘faith, shall not deserve the name.

[70] And pray is there a prize we may contend for in this our match?

[71] Whethersoever shall win shall have the other to his possession.

[72] But such be the mellays of the red-crested game-cock.

[73] Whether we be like cock or lion there shall be no fight betwixt us on any other stake.

[75] With these words Amycus took and blared upon his hollow shell, and quickly in answer to his call came the thick-haired Bebrycians and gathered themselves together beneath the shady platens. And in like manner all the heroes of the ship of Magnesia were fetched by Castor the peerless man-o’-war. And so the twain braced their hands with the leathern coils and twined the long straps about their arms, and forth and entered the ring breathing slaughter each against the other.

[83] Now was there much ado which should have the sunshine at his back; but he cunning of my Polydeuces outwent the mighty man, and those beams did fall full in Amycus his face. So goes master Amycus in high dudgeon forward with many outs and levellings o’s fists. But the child of Tyndareüs was ready, and catched him a blow on the point o’ the chin; the which did the more prick him on and make him to betumble his fighting, so that he went in head-down and full-tilt. At that the Bebrycians holla’d him on, and they of the other part cried cheerily unto the stalwart Polydeuces for fear this Tityus of a man should haply overpeise him and so bear him down in that narrow room. But the son of Zeus stood up to him first on this side and then on that, and touched him left and right and left again; and for all his puissance the child of Poseidon was stayed in ‘s onset, insomuch that he stood all drunken with his drubbing and spit out the crimson blood. Whereat all the mighty men gave joyful tongue together by reason of the grievous bruises he had both by cheek and jowl; for his eyes were all-to-straitened with the puffing of their sockets. Next did my lord maze his man awhile with sundry feints and divers passes all about, and then, as soon as he had him all abroad, let drive at him to the bone, and laid him flatlong amid the springing flowers.

[107] His rising was the renewing of the fray, and a bitter one; aye, now were those swingeing iron gloves to fight unto death. The high lord of Bebrycia, he was all for the chest and none for the head; but as for the never-to-be-beaten Polydeuces, he was for pounding and braying the face with ugly shameful blows: and lo! the flesh of the one began to shrink with the sweating, and eftsoons was a great man made little; but even as the other’s labour increased, so waxed his limbs ever more full and round and his colour ever better.

[115] Now Muse, I pray thee tell – for thou knowest it – how the child of Zeus destroyed that glutton; and he that plays thy interpreter will say what thou willest and even as thou choosest.

[118] Then did Amycus, as who should achieve some great thing, come from his ward and with his left hand grasp Polydeuces’ left, and going in with the other, drive the flat of his hand2 from his right flank. And had the blow come home, he had wrought harm to the king of Amyclae. But lo! my lord slips his head aside and the same moment struck out forth-right from the shoulder and smote him under the left temple; and from that gaping temple the red blood came spirting. Then his left hand did beat him in the mouth, so that the rows of teeth in ‘t crackled again; aye, and an ever livelier patter o’ the fists did maul the face of him till his visage was all one mash. Then down went he in a heap and lay like to swoon upon the ground; and up with both his hands for to cry the battle off, because he was nigh unto death. But thou, good boxer Polydeuces, for all thy victory didst nothing presumptuous. Only wouldst thou have him swear a great oath by the name of his father Poseidon in the sea, that he would nevermore do annoyance unto strangers.

[135] The tale of thy praise, great Lord, is told; and now of thee, good my Castor, will I sing, Castor the Tyndarid, lord of coursers, wielder of spears, knight of the corselet of brass.

[137] The twin children of Zeus were up and away with the daughters twain of Leucippus, and the two sons of Aphareus were hotfoot upon their track, Lynceus to wit and doughty Idas, the bridegrooms that were to be. But when they were got to the grave of Aphareus dead, they lighted all from their chariots together and made at once another in the accoutrement of spear and shield. Then up spake Lynceus and cried aloud from beneath his casque, saying: ‘Sirs, why so desirous of battle? How come you so unkind concerning other men’s brides? and wherefore these naked weapons in your hands? These daughters of Leucippus were plighted to us, to us long ere you came; we have his oath to it. But as for you, you have prevailed on him unseemly for other men’s wives with cattle and mules and what not; ye be stealing bridal with a gift. Yet time and again, god wot, albeit I am no man of many words, I have myself spoke to your face and said: “It ill becometh princes, good friends, to go a-wooing such as be betrothed already. Sparta is wide, and so is Elis o’ the coursers; wide likewise the sheep-walks of Arcady and the holds of Achaea; Messenè also and Argos and all the seaboard of Sisyphus3: there’s ten thousand maidens do well in them at the houses of their fathers, wanting nothing in beauty or in parts, of the which you may take whomso you will to your wives. For many there be would fain be made wife’s father unto a good man and true, and you are men of mark among all heroes, you and your fathers and all your fathers’ blood of yore. Nay then, my friends, suffer us to bring this marriage to fulfilment, and we’ll all devise other espousal for you.” Such was my often rede, but the wind’s breath was ever away with it unto the wet sea-wave, and no favour followed upon my words; for ye hard men both and relentless. Yet even at this hour I pray you give heed, seeing ye be our kin by the father.’

(The beginning of Castor’s reply is lost)

‘. . . But and if your heart would have war, if kindred strife must needs break forth and hate make an end in blood, then shall Idas and my doughty Polydeuces stand aside from the abhorred fray, and let you and me, Lynceus, that are the younger men, fight this matter out. So shall we leave our fathers the less sorrow, seeing one is enough dead of one household, and the two that be left shall glad all their friends as bridegrooms instead of men slain, and their wedding-song shall be of these maidens. And in such sort, I ween, a great strife is like to end in but little loss.’

[181] So he spake and, it seems, god was not to make his speaking vain. For the two that were the elder did off their armour and laid it upon the ground; but Lynceus, he stepped forth with his stout lance a-quiver hard beneath the target’s rim, and Castor, he levelled the point of his spear even in the same manner as Lynceus, the plumes nodding the while upon either’s crest. First made they play with the tilting of the lance, if haply they might spy a naked spot; but or ever one of them was wounded the lance-point stuck fast in the trusty buckler and was knapped in twain. Then drew they sword to make havoc of each other; for there was no surcease of battle. Many a time did Castor prick the broad buckler or horse-haired casque; many a time did the quick-eyed Lynceus come at the other’s targe or graze with the blade his scarlet crest. But soon, Lynceus making at his left knee, Castor back with his left foot and had off his fingers, so that his falchion dropped to the ground and he went scurrying towards his father’s grave, where stout Idas lay watching the kindred fray. Howbeit the son of Tyndareüs was after him in a trice and drave his good sword clean through flank and navel, so that he bowels were presently scattered upon his face, and lo! there sped down upon his eyelids profoundest sleep.

[205] But neither was the other of Laocoösa’s children to be seen of his mother a wedded man at the hearth of his fathers. For Idas of Messenè, he up with the standing stone from the grave of Aphareus and would have hurled it upon the slayer of his brother, but Zeus was Castor’s defence, and made the wrought marble to fall from his enemy’s hands; for the consumed him with the flame of his levin-bolt. Ah! ‘tis no child’s-play to fight with the sons of Tyndareus; they prevail even as he that begat them prevaileth.

[214] Fare you well, ye children of Leda; we pray you may ever send our hymns a goodly fame. For all singers are dear unto the sons of Tyndareus and unto Helen and unto other the heroes who were Menelaüs’ helpfellows at the sacking of Troy. Your renown, O ye princes, is the work of the singer of Chios, when he sang of Priam’s town and of the Achaean ships, of Trojan frays and of that tower of the war-cry Achilles; and here do I also bring your souls such offerings of propitiation as the melodious Muses do provide and my household is able to afford. And of all a god’s prerogatives song is the fairest.

1. “A good eye” : reading and meaning doubtful.
2. “The flat of the hand” : or ‘his great fist.’
3. “The seaboard of Sisyphus” : the district of Corinth.


This poem, known to the Latin poets, cannot be ascribed to Theocritus. It was apparently sent by a lover to his neglectful beloved. The author tells how in a like case unrequited friendship led to the suicide of the one, and to the death of the other at the hands of an effigy of Love. The actual death of a boy through the accidental falling of a statue probably gave rise to a folk-tale which is here put into literary shape.

[1] There was once a heart-sick swain had a cruel fere, the face of the fere goodly but his ways not like to it; for he hated him that loved him, and had for him never a whit of kindness, and as for Love, what manner of god he might be or what manner of boy and arrows carry, or how keen and bitter were the shafts he shot for his delectation, these things wist he not at all, but both in his talk and conversation knew no yielding. And he gave no comfort against those burning fires, not a twist of his lip, not a flash of his eye, not the gift of a hip from the hedgerow, not a word, not a kiss, to lighten the load of desire. But he eyed every man even as a beast of the field that suspects the hunter, and his lips were hard and cruel and his eyes looked the dread look of fate. Indeed his angry humour made change of his face, and the colour of his cheeks fled away because he was fair to view; his wrath served only to prick the lover more.

[16] At last the poor man would bear no more so fierce a flame of the Cytherean, but went and wept before that sullen house, and kissed the doorpost of it, and lifted up his voice saying “O cruel, O sullen child, that wast nursed of an evil she-lion; O boy of stone which art all unworthy to be loved; lo! here am I come with the last of my gifts, even this my halter. No longer will I vex you with the sight of me; but here go I whither you have condemned me, where they say that path lies all lovers must travel, where is the sweet physic of oblivion. Yet if so be I take and drink that physic up, every drop, yet shall I not quench the fever of my desire.

[26] And lo! now I bid this thy door farewell or ever I go. I know what is to be. The rose is fair and Time withers it, the violet is fair in the year’s spring and it quickly growth old; the lily is white, – it fades when its flowering’s done; and white the snow, – it melts all away when the wind blows warm: and even so, the beauty of a child is beautiful indeed, but it liveth not for long. The day will come when you shall love like me, when your heart shall burn like mine, and your eyes weep brinish tears. So I pray you, child, do me this one last courtesy: when you shall come and find a poor man hanging at your door, pass him not by; but stay you first and weep awhile for a libation upon him, and then loosing him from the rope, put about him some covering from your own shoulders; and give him one last kiss, for your lips will be welcome even to the dead. And never fear me; I cannot do thee any mischief; thou shalt kiss and there an end. Then pray thee make a hole in some earthy bank for to hide all my love of thee; and ere thou turn thee to go thy ways, cry over me three times ‘Rest, my friend,’ and if it seem thee good cry also ‘My fair companion’s dead.’ And for epitaph write the words I here inscribe upon thy wall: Here’s one that died of love; good wayfarer, stay thee and say: his was a cruel fere.”

[49] This said, he took a stone and set it up, that dreadful stone, against the wall in the midst of the doorway; then tied that slender string unto the porch above, put the noose about his neck, rolled that footing from beneath his feet, and lo! he hung a corpse.

[53] Soon that other, he opened the door and espied the dead hanging to his own doorway; and his stubborn heart was not bended. The new-done murder moved him not unto tears, nor would he be defiling all his young lad’s garments with a dead corpse; but went his ways to the wrestling-bouts and betook himself light of heart to his beloved bath. And so came he unto the god he had slighted. For there stood an image of him upon the margin looking towards the water. And lo! even the graven image leapt down upon him and slew that wicked lad; and the water went all red, and on the water floated the voice of a child saying “Rejoice ye that love, for he that did hate is slain; and love ye that hate, for the god knoweth how to judge.”


This Epic poem, unlike the Hylas, is not an artistic whole. It tells first how the infant Heracles killed the two snakes sent by the outraged Hera to devour him, and next of the rites which the seer Teiresias advised his mother Alcmena to perform in order to avert her wrath. We are then told of the education of Heracles, and the poem breaks off abruptly in the MSS. After an account of his diet and clothing. Such a poem would doubtless be acceptable at the Alexandrian court in the early years of the child who was afterwards Ptolemy III. For the Ptolemies claimed descent from Heracles.

[1] Once upon a time when the little Heracles was ten months old, Alcmena of Midea took him and Iphicles that was his younger by a night, and laid them, washed both and suckled full, in the fine brazen buckler Amphitryon had gotten in spoil of Pterelaüs, and setting her hand upon their heads said “Sleep my babes, sleep sweetly and light; sleep, sweethearts, brothers twain, goodly children. Heaven prosper your slumbering now and your awakening to-morrow.” And as she spake, she rocked the great targe till they fell asleep.

[11] But what time the Bear swings low towards her midnight place over against the uplifted shoulder of mighty Orion, then sent the wily Hera two dire monsters of serpents, bridling and bristling and with azure coils, to go upon the broad threshold of the hollow doorway of the house, with intent they should devour the child Heracles. And there on the ground they both untwined their ravening bellies and went writhing forward, while an evil fire shined forth of their eyes and a grievous venom was spued out of their mouth. But when with tongues flickering they were come where the children lay, on a sudden Alcmena’s little ones (for Zeus knew all) awoke, and there was made a light in the house. Iphicles, he straightway cried out when he espied the evil beasts and their pitiless fangs above the target’s rim, and kicked away the woollen coverlet in an agony to flee; but Heracles made against them with his hands, and gripping them where lies a baneful snake’s fell poison hated even of the gods, held them both fast bound in a sure bondage of the throat. For a while thereat they two wound their coils about that young child, that suckling babe at nurse which never knew tears; but soon they relaxed their knots and loosed their weary spines and only strove to find enlargement from out those irresistible bonds.

[34] Alcmena was the first to hear the cry and awake. “Arise, Amphitryon,” quoth she; “for as for me I cannot arise for fear. Up then you, and tarry not even till you be shod. Hear you not how the little one cries? and mark you not that all the chamber walls are bright as at the pure day-spring hour, thou sure ‘tis the dead of night? Troth, something, dear lord, is amiss with us.” At these her words he up and got him down from the bed, and leapt for the damasked brand which ever hung to a peg above his cedarn couch, and so reached out after his new-spun baldric even as with the other hand he took up his great scabbard of lotus-wood. Now was the ample bower filled full again of darkness, and the master cried upon his bond-servants that lay breathing slumber so deep and loud, saying “Quick, my bondservants! bring lights, bring lights from the brazier,” and so thrust his stout door-pins back. Then “Rouse ye,” quoth the Phoenician woman that had her sleeping over the mill, “rouse ye, strong-heart bondservants; the master cries:” and quickly forth came those bondservants with lamps burning every one, and lo! all the house was filled full of their bustling. And when they espied the suckling Heracles with the two beasts in the clutch of his soft little fingers, they clapped their hands and shouted aloud. There he was, showing the creeping things to his father Amphitryon and capering in his pretty childish glee; then laughing laid the dire monsters before his father’s feet all sunken in the slumber of death. Then was Iphicles clipped aghast and palsied with fright to Alcmena’s bosom, and the other child did Amphitryon lay again beneath the lamb’s-wool coverlet, and so gat him back to bed and took up his rest.

[64] The cocks at third crow were carolling the break of day, when he that never lied, the seer Teiresias, was called of Alcmena and all the strange thing told him. And she bade him give answer how it should turn out, and said “Even though the gods devise us ill, I pray you hide it not from me in pity; for not even thus may man escape what the spindle o Fate drives upon him. But enough, son of Eueres; verily I teach the wise.” At that he made1 the queen this answer: “Be of good cheer, O seed of Perseus, thou mother of noblest offspring; be of good cheer and lay up in thy heart the best hope of that which is to come. For I swear to you by the dear sweet light that is so long gone from my eyes, many the Achaean women that as they card the soft wool about their knees at even, shall sing hereafter of the name of Alcmena, and the dames of Argos shall do her honour of worship. So mighty a man shall in this your son rise to the star-laden heavens, to wit a Hero broad of breast, that shall surpass all flesh, be they man or be they beast. And ‘tis decreed that having accomplished labours twelve, albeit all his mortal part shall fall to a pyre of Trachis, he shall go to dwell with Zeus, and shall be called in his marriage a son of the Immortals, even of them who despatched those venomous beasts of the earth to make an end of him in his cradle.2 But now, my lady, let there be fire ready for thee beneath the embers, and prepare ye dry sticks of bramble, brier, or thorn, or else of the wind-fallen twigs of the wild pear-tree; and with that fuel of wild wood consume thou this pair of serpents at midnight, even at the hour they chose themselves for to slay thy son. And betimes in the morning let one of thy handmaids gather up the dust of the fire and take it to the river-cliff, and cast it, every whit and very carefully, out upon the river to be beyond your borders; and on her homeward way look she never behind her: next, for the cleansing of your house, first burn ye therein sulphur pure, and then sprinkle about it with a wool-wound branch innocent water mingled, as the custom is, with salt: and for an end offer ye a boar pig to Zeus pre-eminent, that so ye may ever remain pre-eminent above your enemies.”

[101] So spake Teiresias, and despite the weight of his many years, pushed back the ivory chair and was gone.

[103] And Heracles, called now the son of Amphitryon of Argos, waxed under his mother’s eye like sapling set in a vineyard. Letters learned he of a sleepless guardian, a Hero, son of Apollo, aged Linus; and to bend a bow and shoot arrows at the mark, of one that was born to wealth of great domains, Eurytus; and he that made of him a singer and shaped his hand to the box-wood lyre, was Eumolpus, the son of Philammon. Aye, and all the tricks and falls both of the cross-buttockers of Argos, and of boxers skilly with the hand-strap, and eke all the cunning inventions of the catch-as-catch-can men that roll upon the ground, all these learnt he at the feet of a son of Hermes, Harpalycus of Phanotè, who no man could abide confidently in the ring even so much as to look upon him from aloof, so dread and horrible was the frown that sat on his grim visage.

[119] But to drive horses in a chariot and guide the nave of his wheel safely about the turnpost, that did Amphitryon in all kindness teach his son himself; for he had carried off a multitude of precious things from swift races in the Argive grazing-land of steeds, and Time alone had loosed the harness from his chariots, seeing he kept them ever unbroken. And how to abide the cut and thrust of the sword or to lunge lance in rest and shield swung over back, how to marshal a company, measure an advancing squadron of the foe, or give the word to a troop of horse – all such lore had he of horseman Castor, when he came an outlaw from Argos, where Tydeus had received the land of horsemen from Adrastus and held all Castor’s estate and his great vineyard. And till such time as age had worn away his youth, Castor had no equal in war among all the demigods.

[134] While Heracles’ dear mother thus ordered his upbringing, the lad’s bed was made him hard by his father’s, and a lion-skin it was and gave him great delight; for meals, his breakfast was roast flesh, and in his basket he carried a great Dorian loaf such as might surely satisfy a delving man, but after the day’s work he would make his upper sparely and without fire; and for his clothing he wore plain and simple attire that fell but a little below the knee . . .

1. “At that he made,” etc. : P. Ant. Has for 1. 72 tan d’ Euêpeitas toiôd apam[esbeto muthô].
2. l. 86-87 omitted. These lines, rightly omitted by Briggs as due to a Christian interpolator, occur in P. Ant. (c. A.D. 500).


This Epic poem comprises three distinct parts, one of which still bears its separate title. It is not really a fragment, but pretends by a literary convention to be three “books” taken from an Odyssey, or rather Heracleia, in little. The first part, which bears the traditional stage-direction Heracles to the Husbandman, is concerned first with a description of the great farm of Augeias or Augeas, king of the Epeians of Elis – the same whose stables Heracles at another time cleaned out – put into the mouth of a garrulous old ploughman of whom Heracles has asked where he can find the king; then the old man undertakes to show the mysterious stranger the way, and as they draw near the homestead they have a Homeric meeting with the barking dogs. The second part bears the title The Visitation. In it we are told how the enormous herd of cattle given by the Sun to his child Aegeas returned in the evening from pasture, how the king and his son Phyleus took Heracles to see the busy scene in the farmyard, and how Heracles encountered the finest bull in the whole herd. In the third part, which has not traditional title, Heracles, accompanied by the king’s son, is on his way to the town, and their conversation leads to Heracles’ telling how he slew the Nemean lion. It has been doubted whether the poem is by Theocritus.

[1] And the old ploughman that was set over the kine ceased from the work he had in hand, and answered him, saying: “Sir, I will gladly tell you all you ask of me. Trust me, I hold the vengeance of Hermes o’ the Ways in mickle awe and dread; for they say he be the wrathfullest god in heaven an you deny a traveller guidance that hath true need of it.

[7] King Augeas’ fleecy flocks, good Sir, feed not all of one pasture nor all upon one spot, but some of them be tended along Heilisson, others beside divine Alpheüs’ sacred stream, others again by the fair vineyards of Buprasium, and yet others, look you, hereabout; and each flock hath his several fold builded. But the herds, mark you, for all their exceeding number, find all of them their fodder sprouting ever around this great mere of river Menius; for your watery leas and fenny flats furnish honey-sweet grass in plenty, and that is it which swells the strength of the horned kine. Their steading is all one, and ‘tis there upon your right hand beyond where the river goes running again1; there where the outspreading platens and the fresh green wild-olive, Sir, make a right pure and holy sanctuary of one that is graciousest of all gods, Apollo o’ the Pastures. Hard by that spot there are builded rare and roomy quarters for us swains that keep close watch over the king’s so much and so marvellous prosperity; aye, we often turn the same fallows for the sowing three and four times in the year.

[27] And as for the skirts of this domain, they are the familiar place of the busy vine-planters, who come hither to the vintage-home when the summer draweth to its end. Yea, the whole plain belongeth unto sapient Augeas, alike fat wheatfield and bosky vineyard, until thou come to the uplands of Acroreia and all his fountains; and in this plain we go to and fro about our labour all the day long as behoveth bondsmen whose life is upon the glebe.

[34] But now pray tell me you, Sir, – as ‘faith, it shall be to your profit – what it is hath brought you hither. Is your suit of Augeas himself, or of one of the bondsmen that serve him? I may tell you, even I, all you be fain to know, seeing none, I trow, can be of ill seeming or come of ill stock that makes so fine a figure of a man as you. Marry, the children of the Immortals are of such sort among mortal men.”

[42] To this the stalwart child of Zeus answered, saying: “Yea verily, gaffer, I would look upon Augeas king of the Epeians; that which brings me hither is need of him. And so, if so be that caring for his people he abideth with them at the town to give judgment there, pray, father, carry me to one of the bondsmen that is elder and set in authority over these estates, unto whom I may tell what my suit is and have my answer of him. For ‘tis god’s will that one man have need of another.”

[51] And the gallant old ploughman answered him again: “Sure one of the Immortals, Sir,” saith he, “hath send you this way, so quickly come you by all you would. Augeas child of the Sun is here, and that piece of strength, his son the noble Phyleus, with him. ‘Twas only yesterday he came from the town for to view after many days the possessions he hath without number upon the land. For in their hearts, ‘faith, your kings are like to other men; they wot well their substance be surer if they see to it themselves. But enough; go we along to him. I will show you the way to our steading, and there it is like we find him.”

[62] With this he led on, musing as well he might concerning the skin of a beast he saw the stranger clad in, and the great club that filled his grasp, and whence he might be come; aye, and was minded and minded again to ask him right out, but ever took back the words that were even upon his tongue, for fear he should say him somewhat out of season, he being in that haste; for ‘tis ill reading the mind of another man.

[68] Now or ever they were come nigh, the dogs were quickly aware of their coming, as well by the scent of them as by the sound of their footfalls, and made at Heracles Amphitryoniad from this, that, and every side with a marvellous great clamour; and the old man, they bayed him likewise, but ‘twas for baying’s sake, and they fawned him about on the further side. Then did gaffer with the mere lifting stones from the ground fray them back again and bespake them roughly and threateningly, every one, to make them give over their clamour, howbeit rejoicing in his heart that the steading should have so good defenders when he was away; and so upspake and said: “Lord! what a fiery inconsiderate2 beast is here made by the high gods to be with man! If there were but as great understanding within him and he knew with whom to be angered and whom to forbear, there’s no brute thing might claim such honour as he; but it may not be, and he’s nought but a blusterer, wild and uncouth.” This said, they quickened their steps and passed on and came to the steading.


[85] Now had the sun turned his steeds westward and brought evening on, and the fat flocks had left the pastures and were come up among the farmyards and folds. Then it was that he cows came thousand upon thousand, came even as the watery clouds which, be it of the Southwind or the Northwind out of Thrace, come driving forward through the welkin, till there’s no numbering them aloft nor no end to their coming on, so many new doth the power of the wind roll up to join the old, row after row rearing crest ever upon crest – in like multitude now came those herds of kine still up and on, up and on. Aye, all the plain was filled, and all the paths of it, with the moving cattle; the fat fields were thronged and choked with their lowing, and right readily were the byres made full of shambling kine, while the sheep settled themselves for the night in the yards.

[100] Then of a truth, for all there were hinds without number, stood there no man beside those cattle idle for want of aught to do; but here was one took thongs cut straight and true and had their feet to the hobbles for to come at the milking; here was another took thirsty yeanlings and put them to drink of their dams’ sweet warm milk; this again held the milking-pail, and that did curd the milk for a good fat cheese, and yonder was one a-bringing in the bulls apart from the heifers. Meanwhile King Augeas went his rounds of the byres to see what care his herdsmen might have of his goods; and through all that great wealth of his there went with him his son also, and grave-minded Heracles in his might.

[112] And now, albeit he was possessed within him of a heart of iron ever and without ceasing unmoved, the child of Amphitryon fell marvellously a-wondering, as well he might, when he saw the unnumbered bride-gift of the god. Indeed, no man would have said, nay, nor thought, that so many cattle could belong to ten men, let alone one; and those ten must needs have been rich in sheep and oxen beyond any kings.3 For the Sun did give him that was his child a most excellent gift, to wit to be the greatest master of flocks in the world; and what is more, himself did make them all to thrive and prosper unceasingly without end, for of all the distempers that destroy the labours of a keeper of oxen never came there one upon that man’s herds, but rather did his horned dams wax ever year in year out both more in number and better in kind, being never known to cast their young and all passing good bringers of cow-calves.

[126] Moreover there went with them three hundred bulls, white-shanked and crump-horned, and other two hundred dun, and all leapers grown; and over and above these, there was a herd of twelve sacred to the Sun, and the colour of them glistering white like a swan, so that they did outshine all shambling things; and what is more, they were lone-grazers all in the springing pastures, so marvellous proud were they and haughty; and the same, when swift beasts of the field came forth of the shag forest after the kine that went in herds, ever at the smell of them would out the first to battle, bellowing dreadfully and glancing death.

[138] Now of these twelve the highest and mightiest both for strength and mettle was the great Lucifer (Phaethon), whom all the herdsmen likened to that star, for that going among the other cattle he shined exceedingly bright and conspicuous; and this fellow, when he espied that tanned skin of a grim lion, came at the watchful wearer of it for to have at his sides with his great sturdy front. But my lord up with a strong hand and clutched him by the left horn and bowed that his heavy neck suddenly downward, and putting his shoulder to’t had him back again; and the muscle of his upper arm was drawn above the sinews till it stood on a heap. And the king marvelled, both he and his son the warlike Phyleus, and the hinds also that were set over the crump-horned kine, when they beheld the mettlesome might of the child of Amphitryon.


[153] Then did Phyleus and Heracles the mighty leave the fat fields behind them and set out for the town. Their swift feet were gotten to the end of the little path which stretched from the farmsteads through the vineyard and ran not over-clearly in the midst of the fresh greenery, and they were just come to the people’s highway, when the dear son of Augeas up and spake to the child of most high Zeus that was following behind him, and with a little turn of his head over his right shoulder, “Sir,” says he, “there’s somewhat I had heard of you, and O how late am I, if of you it were, to bethink me on’t but now! ‘Tis not long since there came hither from Argos an Achaean of Helicè-by-the-sea, who told a tale, look you, unto more than one of us Epeians, how that he had seen an Argive slay a beast of the field, to wit a lion dire that was the dread of the countryside and had the den of his lying beside the grove of Zeus of Nemea – yet he knew not for sure, he said, whether the man was truly of sacred Argos itself or was a dweller in Tiryns town or in Mycenae. Howbeit, such was his tale, and he said also, if I remember true, that for his lineage the man was of Perseus.

[174] Now methinks there is but one of those men-o’-the-shore could do a deed like that, and you are he; moreover the wild-beast-skin your frame is clad in signifieth clearly enough the prowess of your hands. Come on, my lord, have me well to wit, first whether my boding be true or no, whether you be he the Achaean of Helicè told us of, and I know you for what you are; and then tell me, pray, how yourself destroyed that same pestilent beast and how he came to be dwelling in the well-watered vale of Nemea; for I ween you shall not find such a creature as that if you would, the Apian lands4 around, seeing they breed not anything so huge, but only the bear and the boar and the fell wolf. Therefore, also did they wonder that heard that tale; indeed they said the traveller lied with intent to pleasure the company with an idle tongue.”

[189] With these words Phyleus bent him sidelong from the midst of the road both to make room enough for them twain to go together, and that he might the easier hear what Heracles had to say. Who now came abreast of him, and “Son of Augeas” quoth he, “your former question you have answered yourself, readily and aright; but of this monster, being you so desire it, I will tell you how it all fell out every whit, save whence he came; for not one man in all Argos can speak certainly to that; only were we persuaded it was some god sent him to vex the children of Phoroneus because he was wroth concerning some sacrifices. For all the lowlanders were whelmed with him as he had been a river in flood; he plundered them all without cloy or surfeit, but most of all the people of Bembina, whose borders to their very great and intolerable misfortune marched with his.

[204] Now this did Eurystheus make my very first task; he charged me to slay that direful beast. So I took with me my supple bow and a good quiverful of arrows, and in the other hand a stout cudgel, made, without peeling or pithing, of a shady wild-olive which myself had found under holy Helicon and torn up whole and complete with all her branching roots; and so forth and made for those parts where the lion was. Whither when I was come, I took and tipped my string, and straightway notched a bearer of pain and grief, and fell a-looking this way and that way after the pestilent monster, if so be I might espy him ere he should espy me. ‘Twas midday now, yet could I nowhere mark his track nor hear his roaring; neither was there any man set over a plough-team and the toil of the seed-furrow that I could see and ask of him, seeing pale wan fear kept every man at the farmstead. Howbeit, I never gave over to search the leafy uplands till I should behold him and put my strength speedily to the test.

[223] Now towards evening he came his ways unto his den full fed both of flesh and gore, his tangled mane, his grim visage and all his chest spattered with blood, and his tongue licking his chaps. To waylay him I hid myself quickly in a brake beside the woody path, and when he came near let fly at his left flank. But it availed me not; the barbèd shaft could not pass the flesh, but glanced and fell on the fresh green sward. Astonied, the beast lift suddenly up his gory head, and looked about him and about, opening his mouth and showing his gluttonous teeth; whereupon I sped another shaft from the string (for I took it ill that the fist had left my hand to no purpose), and smote him clean in the middle of the chest where the lungs do lie. But nay; not even so was the hide of him to be pierced by the sore grievous arrow; there it fell vain and frustrate at his feet.

[240] At this I waxed exceedingly distempered and made to draw for the third time. But, ere that, the ravening beast rolled around his eyes and beheld me, and lashing all his tail about his hinder parts bethought him quickly of battle. Now was his neck brimming with ire, his tawny tresses an-end for wrath, his chine arched like a bow, as he gathered him up all together unto flank and loin. Then even as, when a wainwright, cunning man, takes the seasoned wild-fig boughs he hath warmed at the fire and bends them into wheels for an axled chariot, the thin-rinded figwood escapes at the bending from his grasp and leaps at one bound afar, even so did that direful lion from a great way off spring upon me, panting to be at my flesh. Then it was that with the one hand I thrust before me the cloak from my shoulders folded about my bunched arrows, and with the other lift my good sound staff above my head and down with it on his crown, and lo! my hard wild-olive was broke clean in twain on the mere shaggy pate of that unvanquishable beast. Yes as for him, or ever he could reach me he was fallen from the midst of his spring, and so stood with trembling feet and wagging head, his two eyes being covered in darkness because the brains were all-to-shaken in the skull of him.

[262] Perceiving now that he was all abroad with the pain and grief of it, ere he might recover his wits I cast my bow and my broidered quiver upon the ground and let drive at the nape of that massy neck. Then from the rear, lest he should tear me with his talons, I gat my arm about his throat, and treading his hind-paws hard into the ground for to keep the legs of them from my sides, held on with might and main till at length I could rear him backward by the foreleg, and vasty Hades received his spirit.

[272] That done, I fell a-pondering how I might flay me off the dead beast’s shag-neckèd skin. ‘What a task!’ thought I; for there was no cutting that, neither with wood nor with stone nor yet with iron. At that moment one of the Immortals did mind me I should cut up the lion’s skin with the lion’s talons. So I to it, and had him flayed in a trice, and cast the skin about me for a defence against he havoc of gashing war.

[280] Such, good friend, was the slaying of the Lion of Nemea, that had brought so much and sore trouble both upon man and beast.”

1. “goes running again” : after leaving the mere.
2. “fiery inconsiderate” : the Greek word means ‘one that acts first and thinks afterwards’; see Class. Rev. 1913. 73.
3. or by inheritance from kingly grandsires.
4. “the Apian lands” : the Peloponnese.