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Metamorphoses: Book 9: The Death of Hercules Summary & Analysis

Many years later, the stories of Hercules’s deeds spread through the world, and he becomes famous. The fame of her husband’s bastard son infuriates Juno, so she sends the goddess Rumour to Hercules’s wife, Deianira. Rumour tells Deianira that Hercules has fallen in love with Iole, the princess of a city Hercules has recently captured. Distraught to hear that she has a rival, Deianira weeps. She soon realizes that weeping will do no good and wonders how she should act. She considers running away or killing Iole.
For the most part, Jupiter’s children are unable to enjoy their glory because Juno is always in the background venting her rage and jealousy over Jupiter’s infidelities. However, Juno usually can’t target Jupiter’s children directly. For instance, she attacks Bacchus’s family to vent her rage against Bacchus. In Hercules’s case, Juno makes use of Deianira to plot against Hercules.
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Finally, Deianira decides to give Hercules the blood-soaked shirt Nessus gave her in hopes of rekindling his lust towards her. She has a servant deliver the shirt to Hercules, who puts it on and sits before an altar lit with incense for Jupiter. The shirt starts to burn Hercules’s skin. He jumps up and pushes over the altar. The shirt attaches to Hercules’s flesh and starts to sear through it. He calls up to Juno, begging her to kill him. He recounts all the dangerous tasks Juno has forced him to perform and how he has survived them all, but says that he can’t survive this.
The centaur’s cursed shirt is another example to add to the many things that constantly change. Whether by the gods’ powers, by curses, or by sickness, things are metamorphosizing constantly, including a character’s fortune. Hercules is a glorious hero, but his success cannot last, as nothing in the world stays the same way for long but constantly gives way to a new form.
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In his agony, Hercules runs around the mountainside. He finds one of his servants and begs the man to kill him. When the servant refuses, Hercules throws him into the sea. As he falls, the servant is changed into a stone that hides beneath the waves. Hercules chops down trees to build a funeral pyre. He lights the pyre, lies down on it, and awaits death smiling.
Hercules is in such deep pain that he wants to die. He builds his own funeral pyre and lies down on it smiling, suggesting that he is not at all afraid of death, and even welcomes it willingly. This bravery in the face of death leads the gods to consider making him a god.
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The gods watch as Hercules—Earth’s greatest hero— burns to death. Seeing their anxiety, Jupiter says that he is glad the whole world and the gods care for his son, but that they really owe their care to him, Jupiter, for fathering Hercules. Jupiter then tells the gods not to worry because Hercules won’t die; the human part of him will die, but the godly part of him will live on. True to Jupiter’s word, Hercules’s human body burns away until he resembles Jupiter. Then Jupiter transports him to the sky to reside in the heavenly palace.
Although the gods are all-powerful and cannot die, they grow attached to the mortal heroes on earth. Hercules’s transformation into a god is the first instance in the Metamorphoses when the gods transport a human into the divine realm. The fact that Hercules’s body burns away leaving the “godly part” behind suggests that humans have an immortal part of them that lives inside a mortal body and can transition into new bodies without itself dying.
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