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Heracles and the Mares of Diomedes Eurystheus pits his cousin against a son of Ares and some man-eating horses. Music: Gustav Holst

© Nchatzitou, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0. Source

About this picture …

Lake Vistonida in Thrace, which was said to be home to the tribe of the Bistones (in Greek pronunciation Vístones). It lies in the Nestos National Park, to the east of the fertile delta of the River Nestos. The lake is separated from the Aegean Sea by just a slim finger of land, and provides a habitat for all kinds of wildlife, from sheep on its shoreline to heron and flamingos stepping gingerly through its muddy flats. See more at Visit Greece.

Heracles and the Mares of Diomedes
After seven failed attempts, King Eurystheus has still not rid himself of his cousin Heracles. Perhaps, he thinks, combat with a warrior-king of divine birth, some man-eating mares, and a savage tribe would to be enough; and certainly, things do not look good for our hero at first.

ARES, the god of war,* had a son named Diomedes, lord of the Bistones, a warrior-tribe that lived near Lake Vistonida in Thrace.* Down by the sea Diomedes kept a string of savage mares, chained to bronze mangers in which he gave them man’s flesh to eat.

Understandably, in sending Heracles to steal these man-eating mares from their warlike master and his barbarous tribe, King Eurystheus hoped that even his cousin would meet his match.

Heracles began by driving the mares into the sea, but to his horror they dragged his friend Abderus in after them, who drowned while Heracles fended off the enraged Bistones. In a fury of vengeance he fed Diomedes to his own mares, which instantly became tame, and followed Heracles back meekly to Tiryns.

Having no real use for them, Eurystheus let the placid mares wander onto Mount Olympus, where wild beasts devoured them, though rumour had it that one of their descendants became a favourite of Alexander the Great.

Twelve Labours of Heracles Next: Heracles and the Girdle of Hippolyte

Ares in Greek mythology corresponds roughly to Mars in Roman mythology; but for the Greeks, Ares was very much the god of brute force and violence only; the deity of military strategy and generalship was his sister Athena.

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Heracles was sent to Thrace by Eurystheus, to kidnap the man-eating mares of King Diomedes, which proved unexpectedly easy when, angered by the death of his friends, Heracles threw Diomedes himself to the mares, after which they became suddenly tame. Frustrated once again in his campaign to see Heracles ‘accidentally’ killed, Eurystheus let the horses go. (56 / 60 words)


Based on ‘Library’ II.5.8 by Pseudo-Apollodorus (ca. 1st or 2nd century AD) and ‘Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome’, by E.M. Berens.

Suggested Music

Planets Suite (1916)

Mars, the Bringer of War

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras.

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In This Series

Twelve Labours of Heracles 8 of 12

1. Heracles and the Nemean Lion

2. Heracles and the Hydra

3. Heracles and the Cerynaean Hind

4. Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar

5. Heracles and the Augean Stables

6. Heracles and the Birds of Lake Stymphalia

7. Heracles and the Cretan Bull

8. Heracles and the Mares of Diomedes

9. Heracles and the Girdle of Hippolyte

10. Heracles and the Cattle of Geryon

11. Heracles and the Garden of the Hesperides

12. Heracles and Cerberus

Twelve Labours of Heracles

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