Deianeira was the daughter of Althaea and Oeneus ('wine-man' and thus civilized), the king of Calydon, and the sister of Meleager. Her father betrothed her to the fearsome river god Achelous, horned and bull-like. Now, Deianeira was no passive blushing princess. "This Deianira drove a chariot and practiced the art of war", noted Apollodorus (Library and Epitome, book i, 8:1) But she wanted nothing to do with her suitor, who was able to take the form of a serpent or a bull. Heracles, the greatest hero of the dawning Olympian world of gods and men, had to defeat the river god to win her as his bride.
The central story of Deianeira concerns the Tunic of Nessus. A wild centaur named Nessus attempted to kidnap Deianira as he was ferrying her across the river Euenos, but she was rescued by Heracles, who shot the centaur with a poisoned arrow. As he lay dying, Nessus lied to Deianira, telling her that a mixture of the semen that he had dropped on the ground and his heart's blood would ensure that Heracles would love her forever. Deianira believed his words and kept a little of the potion by her. Heracles fathered illegitimate children all across Greece. When she became uncertain if Heracles would remain true to her in his fashion, Deianira smeared some of the blood on Heracles' famous hide shirt. Heracles' servant, Lichas, brought him the shirt and he put it on. The centaur's toxic blood burned Heracles terribly, and he threw himself into a funeral pyre. In despair, Deianira committed suicide by hanging herself.
- Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898
- Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1955