Nessus (young bird or animal) In Greek mythology, a centaur, son of Ixion and a cloud, who attempted to rape Deianira, wife of Heracles. Nessus was killed by Heracles with an arrow poisoned with the blood of the Lernean Hydra. Some of the blood spilled on Nessus’s shirt, which later was given to Heracles by Deianira in the belief that it would reclaim Heracles’ love for her.
In fact, the shirt caused Heracles’ death. The expression “shirt of Nessus” is used to indicate a fatal gift. Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 4) tells the tale, and it is alluded to in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well (4.3.283) and Anthony and Cleopatra (4.12.93). In The Divine Comedy (Inferno, cantos 12, 13) Vergil points out Nessus to Dante. Later Nessus is deputed by Chiron to escort Vergil and Dante and to show them the ford across the river Phlegethon.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante