Deianira: the woman who accidentally killed Heracles in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Deianira’s name means “destroyer of her husband” or “man-destroyer”. A princess of the Greek city of Calydon in ancient Aetolia, Deianira was one of the three wives of the Greek demigod Heracles. She is most infamous for accidentally killing Heracles and then committing suicide.

Deianira myths and facts | Image: Deianira by Evelyn De Morgan

Fast Facts about Deianira

Parents: Oeneus and Althaea

Siblings: Meleager, Toxeus, Thyreus, Clymenus, Agelaus, Periphas,

Children: Macaria, Ctesippus, Glenus, and Hyllus

Association: Poseidon

Other names: Dejanira/Deianira

Husband: Heracles (Hercules)

Most known for: Unwittingly killing her husband Heracles (Hercules) in Greek mythology

Meaning of her name: “destroyer of her husband” or “man-destroyer”

Background and myths

Deianira, also known as Dejanira, was born to Oeneus and Queen Althaea, the king and queen of Calydon respectively. Her father, Oeneus, was the one who introduced the art of wine-making to Aetolia.  Oeneus learned the technique from the Greek god of wine Dionysus.

Althaea: Deianira’s mother

Deianira’s mother was called Althaea, which means “to cure” in Greek mythology. Althaea was the daughter of Eurythemis and King Thestius, the king of Pleuronians in Aetolia. She had numerous siblings, including Leda, Euippus, Iphiclus and Hypermnestra.

In addition to Deianeira, Althaea gave birth to children like Meleager, Gorge, Melanippe, Eurymede, Toxeus, Clymenus, Agelaus, and Periphas. In some accounts, she and the god of the sea Poseidon bore a son called Ancaeus, who became the king of the island of Samos.

According to the myth, Althaea committed suicide after her brothers were killed by her son Meleager during a hunting exercise.

Deianeira’s father: Oeneus

Deianira’s father Oeneus with coat and sceptre, Attic white-ground lekythos, c. 500 BC, Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Inv. 1905)

The father of Deineira was Oeneus, son of King Porthaon and Euryte. Oeneus had brothers like Agrius, Melas, Leucopeus, Alcathous, and Sterope.

Oeneus inherited the throne from his father and went on to marry Deianeira’s mother, Althaea, with whom he fathered children like Deianeira, Meleager, Toxeus, Clymenus, and Periphas.

Who were the siblings of Deianeira?

Some examples of Deianeira’s siblings were Gorge, Eurymede, Melanippe, Periphas, Clymenus, Toxeus.

Who were the children of Deianira?

In Greek mythology, Deianira was considered the mother of Glenus, Onites, Hyllus, Ctesippus, and Macaria. She bore those children with Heracles.

Her son Hyllus famously slayed King Eurystheus, the leader of an army that tried to invade Athens.

Deianira and Heracles

Deianira was an extremely beautiful princess, so much so that many people in her kingdom lined up to seek her hand in marriage. One time, the river god Achelous, son of Tethys and Oceanus, tried to woe Deianira, according to an account by Sophocles.

Around the same time Heracles was also interested in the hand of Deianira. Therefore, Achelous and Heracles wrestled each other for the right to marry Deianeira. Even though Achelous transformed into a bull, Heracles was still able hold his own and emerge the victor of the contest. Deianira then went on to marry Heracles, becoming the third wife of the demigod.

Deianira and the centaur Eurytion

Another account of the myth states that Deianira was the daughter of King Dexamenus of Olenus, making her the sister of Eurypylus, Theraephon and Theronice. The myth goes on to say that Heracles raped Deianira and vowed to make his way back to her in order to marry her.

In Heracles’ absence, King Dexamenus was forced to give Deianira’s hand in marriage to a centaur called Eurytion. Hearing news of the impending marriage, Heracles quickly returned home and slayed Eurytion. Heracles struck Eurytion down with a poison-laced arrow. Deianira then tied the knot with Heracles.

How Deianira accidentally killed Heracles

Deianira myths and facts |Image: Howard Pyle c. 1888 of “Deianeira and the dying centaur Nessus

The myth of Deianira and the Tunic of Nessus is very famous in Greek mythology. In the story, a very vicious and wild centaur by the name of Nessus tried to either kidnap or rape Deianira; however, the beautiful princess was rescued by her husband Heracles. As stated above, Heracles shot a poisoned arrow into Nessus, bringing down the wild centaur.

Just before Nessus slipped into the land of the dead, he whispered into Deianira’s ears, telling her to quickly take a sample of his blood. Nessus then ordered Deianira to form a love potion by mixing his blood with olive oil. The potion was intended to cure Heracles’ unfaithful habits. The demigod Heracles had just fallen in love with Iole, the daughter of Eurytus, king of Oechalia.

Deianira myths and facts | Heracles, Deianira and Nessus, black-figure hydria, 575-550 BCE

Deianira was in a state of constant fear that Heracles would leave her for Iole. She proceeded to smear the potion on Heracles’ lionskin shirt. Unbeknownst to Deianira, the potion contained the toxic blood of Nessus. No sooner had Heracles put on his shirt than did he start to burn in sheer agony; the demigod then threw himself into a funeral pyre and died.

Absolutely shocked by death of her husband, Deianira committed suicide either by hanging herself or piercing herself with a sword.

Deianira myths and facts | Death of Hercules, Scorched by the Centaur Nessus Tunic – Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) – PD-art-100

More Deiandira Facts

In Greek mythology, there is another character called Deianira, a member of the Amazons who was killed by Heracles while trying to secure the girdle of Hppolyta, one of his Twelve Labors.

Deianira and Heracles’ tragic story is captured in Sophocles’ tragic play called Trachiniae (The Women of Trachis).

In some accounts Deianira’s brother Meleager is believed to be the son of Ares or Dionysus.

The Moirai – the Fates Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos – prophesizing about the destiny of Meleager, the brother of Deianira

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