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For the butterfly genus, see Iolaus (butterfly).
Heracles and his nephew, Iolaus. 1st century BC mosaic from the Anzio Nymphaeum, Rome

In Greek mythology, Iolaus (Greek: Ἰόλαος Iólaos) was a Theban divine hero, son of Iphicles and Automedusa.

He was famed for being Heracles's nephew and for helping with some of his Labors, and also for being one of the Argonauts. Through his daughter Leipephilene, he was considered to have fathered the mythic and historic line of the kings of Corinth, ending with Telestes.

A genus of Lycaenid butterfly has been named after him.


  • Relationship with Heracles 1
  • In popular culture 2
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • External links 5

Relationship with Heracles

As a son of Iphicles, Iolaus was a nephew of Heracles. He often acted as Heracles' charioteer and companion. He was popularly regarded as Heracles's lover, and the shrine to him in Thebes was a place where male couples worshiped and made vows.[1]

The Theban gymnasium was also named after him, and the Iolaeia, an athletic festival consisting of gymnastic and equestrian events, was held yearly in Thebes in his honor.[2] The victors at the Iolaea were crowned with garlands of myrtle.[3]

Repoussé and engraved relief of Hercules and Iolaus on the Ficoroni cista.
4th century BC Etruscan ritual vessel

Iolaus provided essential help to Heracles in his battle against the Hydra, his second labor. Seeing that Heracles was being overwhelmed by the multi-headed monster (the Lernaean Hydra), who grew two heads in place of each one cut off, Iolaus sprang to help, cauterizing each neck as Heracles beheaded it.

Heracles gave his wife, Megara, age thirty three, to Iolaus, then only sixteen years old[4] – ostensibly because the sight of her reminded him of his murder of their three children. They had a daughter, Leipephilene. He was one of the Heraclidae.[5]

Upon Heracles' death, Iolaus lit the funeral pyre. However, according to some mythographers, this was Philoctetes instead. In Sophocles' Philoctetes, Philoctetes was given Herakles' bow and arrow as reward for lighting the funeral pyre.[6] In other versions, it is Poeas.

According to Diodorus Siculus, Iolaus was sent by Heracles in Sardinia together with nine of the sons that he had fifty daughters of Thespius (the Thespiades), to colonize the island, giving rise to the people of Iolaensi.[7]

Iolaus and the Thespians were buried in Sardinia.

Aristotle said that Sardinia had practiced the rite of incubation, which is the liberation ritual of the people who were affected by nightmares and obsessions. These rituals included that the persons suffering from nightmares should sleep next to the tombs of heroes.[8]

Simplicius of Cilicia adds, in the eight books of the Commentaries Aristotle, that "the places where they were deposited and preserved corpses of the nine heroes that Hercules got from the Thespians and who came to Sardinia with the colony of Iolaus, became the famous oracles."[9]

Solinus says: "The Iolians, so named by him (Iolaus), added a temple to his tomb, because he had freed Sardinia for many ills".[10]

In popular culture

In the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spinoff Xena: Warrior Princess, Iolaus is portrayed by Michael Hurst, and he is not related to Hercules. In Young Hercules he is played by Dean O'Gorman.

Iolaus is portrayed by Reece Ritchie in the 2014 Hercules film.

See also


  1. ^ Crompton, Louis, Homosexuality and Civilization, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003, p. 123.
  2. ^ Pindar, Olympian Ode VIII, 84
  3. ^ Pindar, Isthmian Ode IV.
  4. ^ Plutarch, Moralia "The Dialogue on Love / Erotikos / Amatoria", Loeb, V. XII, p.339
  5. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses IX, 394.
  6. ^ Sophocles Philoctetes
  7. ^ Diodorus Siculus, book IV, 29–30.
  8. ^ Aristotle, Physics, IV.
  9. ^ Simplicius, book IV.
  10. ^ Solinus, I-16: Iolenses ab eo dicti sepulcro eius templum addiderunt quod ... Malis plurimis Sardiniam liberasset.

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
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