In Greek mythology, the Shirt of Nessus was a mythological element associated with the hero Heracles. It was a poisoned shirt that was used to kill Heracles. The shirt originally belonged to the centaur named Nessus.
Known for having amazing strength and great courage, Heracles is most famous for completing the Twelve Labors of Heracles and journeyed with Jason and the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece. He was said to be the strongest mortal on earth, stronger even than many of the gods, and he was sometimes called a demi-god.
Heracles eventually married Deianira, the daughter of the king of Calydon. On a journey through Greece, the married couple had to cross the river Euenos. Heracles was able to swim across the river, while the centaur Nessus offered to help ferry Deianira across the rapids. Once Heracles had successfully crossed the Euenos, he looked back to find that Nessus was attacking Deianira.
Heracles used an arrow dipped in the poisonous blood of the Lernaean Hydra, a sea serpent, to shoot and kill Nessus. Before Nessus died, however, he offered his bloodstained shirt to Deianira, promising that the blood would keep Heracles loyal to Deianira forever.
Deianira hid the shirt away for many years, until Heracles fell in love with the Theban queen Ino. Remembering Nessus’s words, Deianira ordered one of their servants, Lichas, to deliver the shirt to Heracles.
Heracles put on the shirt and pain instantly overtook his body. The poison in Nessus’s blood tore away his skin, leaving only bones behind. Heracles assumed Lichas poisoned him, so he threw the servant into the sea where Lichas became a rock.
Heracles then threw himself onto a burning pyre and died. Deianira, who is often associated with war and battle, and whose name means man-destroyer, killed herself after realizing what her jealousy had done.
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