The Cattle of Geryon
The oxen of Geryon in Erytheia. The fetching of these oxen was a subject which, like the preceding one, was capable of great poetical embellishments, owing to the distant regions into which it carried the hero.
The adventure is mentioned by Hesiod, but it is further developed in the later writers, and more especially by the Roman poets, who took a more direct interest in it, as it led the hero to the western parts of the world. The story runs as follows: — Geryon, the monster with three bodies, lived in the fabulous island of Erytheia (the reddish), so called because it lay under the rays of the setting sun in the west. It was originally conceived to be situated off the coast of Epeirus, but afterwards it was identified either with Gades or the Balearian islands, and was at all times believed to be in the distant west.
Geryones kept a herd of red oxen, which fed together with those of Hades, and were guarded by the giant Eurytion and the two-headed dog Orthrus. Heracles was commanded by Eurystheus to fetch those oxen of Geryon. He traversed Europe, and, having passed through the countries of several savage nations, he at length arrived in Libya. Diodorus makes Heracles collect a large fleet in Crete, to sail against Chrysaor, the wealthy king of Iberia, and his three sons. On his way he is further said to have killed Antaeus and Busiris, and to have founded Hecatompolis. On the frontiers of Libya and Europe he erected two pillars (Calpe and Abyla) on the two sides of the straits of Gibraltar, which were hence called the pillars of Heracles.
As on his journey Heracles was annoyed by the heat of the sun, he shot at Helios, who so much admired his boldness, that he presented him with a golden cup or boat, in which he sailed across the ocean to Erytheia. He there slew Eurytion, his dog, and Geryon, and sailed with his booty to Tartessus, where he returned the golden cup (boat) to Helios.
On his way home he passed the Pyrenees and the Alps, founded Alesia and Nemausus in Gaul, became the father of the Celts, and then proceeded to the Ligurians, whose princes, Albion and Dercynus, attempted to carry off his oxen, but were slain by him. In his contest with them, he was assisted by Zeus with a shower of stones, as he had not enough missiles; hence the Campus Lapideus between Massilia and the river Rhodanus. From thence he proceeded through the country of the Tyrrhenians. In the neighborhood of Rhegium one of his oxen jumped into the sea, and swam to Sicily, where Eryx, the son of Poseidon, caught and put him among his own cattle. Heracles himself followed, in search of the ox, and found him, but recovered him only after a fight with Eryx, in which the latter fell.
According to Diodorus, who is very minute in this part of his narrative, Heracles returned home by land, through Italy and Illyricum; but, according to others, he sailed across the Ionian and Adriatic seas. After reaching Thrace, Hera made his oxen mad and furious. When, in their pursuit, he came to the river Strymon, he made himself a road through it, by means of huge blocks of stone. On reaching the Hellespont, he had gradually recovered his oxen, and took them to Eurystheus, who sacrificed them to Hera.
- Diodorus Siculus, iv, 17 ff., v, 17, 25.
- Dionysius, i, 34.
- Herodotus. Histories iv, 8.
- Hesiod. Theogony, 287 ff.
- Pindar. Nemean Odes iii, 21.
- Pseudo-Apollodorus. The Library ii, 5.10.
- Servius on Virgil's Aeneid vii, 662.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
- Strabo. Geography iii, pp. 221, 258 ff.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.