herakles (euripides)


  • Hope is also what gets Heracles through his 12 acts; furthermore hope is offered to him by Theseus so as to help Heracles get through the pain and suffering he experiences
    from having mistakenly killed his wife and children.

  • Even though it is Hera that sends Madness to inflict Heracles, it may also be that he is not emotionally sound or stable and this is what causes him to murder his wife and

  • After killing his family, Heracles exclaims that the gods do not exist, while others, especially Theseus, argue the opposite.

  • He tells them the reason for his long absence is that in addition to bringing Cerberus back from Hades and imprisoning him, he also brought back Theseus, who is now on his
    way to his home in Athens.

  • After Herakles murders his family, he questions, in a conversation with Theseus, the true nature of the gods and their existence, while at the same time contemplating suicide.

  • Theseus then attempts to reason with Heracles stating that no mortal man can stain what is divine (line 1231) and that Hera is to blame (lines 1312-1313).

  • If this in fact is true, it means that Heracles himself does not exist because Zeus is his father.

  • Heracles arrives in time to save them, though the goddesses Iris and Madness (personified) cause him to kill his wife and children in a frenzy.

  • During Euripides’ time, though most Greeks, like Euripides’ Theseus, would have been believers, there is a strain of thinkers who questioned traditional religion and the existence
    of the gods, much as Heracles does in the play.

  • Despite evidence of the divine, he chooses to believe, much as Socrates does also, that the gods, as they are commonly believed to be, do not exist.

  • Heracles, not easily comforted, says he can be welcome to no man; it would be better for him to die by suicide.

  • Heracles cannot help his family, for he is in Hades engaged in the last of his twelve labours: bringing back the monster Cerberus who guards the gates there.

  • Megara refuses to accept this threat and although she has the children dressed in robes of death, she still holds out hope for Herakles’ arrival.

  • I never did believe it; I never shall; nor that one god is tyrant of the rest.

  • She could bring about Herakles’ death but instead she wants him to suffer.

  • In lines 1263-1265 and lines 1341-1345 Heracles talks about how Zeus cannot be his father and about how the gods cannot exist because, if they do exist, they must be perfect.

  • The play shows the story of how Heracles suffers the ignominy of killing his family.

  • In the typical chronology it is only after Heracles saves his family from the death threat against them that they are later murdered by Heracles himself after being cursed
    by the living embodiment of Madness, sent by Hera.

  • Theseus even says “how dare you then, mortal that you are, to protest your fate, when the gods do not?”

  • Heracles goes so far as to say, “ah, all this has no bearing on my grief; but I do not believe that gods commit adultery, or bind each other in chains.

  • Madness agrees that what the gods have done is wrong, but Heracles does not hold the gods to blame for what happens.

  • Megara accepts the fact that she and her children are going to die.

  • Though driven mad by them, he accepts all blame for the awful act of killing his family.

  • This is shown when Heracles believes that the gods, if they exist, do no wrong.

  • Amphitryon, however, continues to hope that his son Heracles will return to save them.

  • Yet Lykos is attempting to execute Megara and her children out of fear of something they might do.

  • He is the one that is to blame, almost like a caregiver taking responsibility for the actions of their charge.

  • In it Heracles realizes that he is not completely sure that he himself believes his father, Zeus, is real.

  • She has given up hope for Heracles’ return and gets permission from Lycus to dress the children in robes of death to face their executioners.

  • She also resents his god-like strength and wants to humble him.

  • Iris announces that she has come to make Heracles kill his own children by driving him mad.

  • He argues that even the gods commit evil acts, such as forbidden marriages, yet continue to live on Olympus and face out their crimes.

  • [2] Hope : Euripides’ Heracles is a play which is open to many different interpretations.

  • He claims that Heracles has been killed in Hades and will never help them.

  • Lycus comes to ask how long they are going to try to prolong their lives by clinging to the altar.

  • Characters in the play stand on opposite ends of one another in terms of ideology and characteristics, creating a dichotomy between them.

  • Finally convinced that it would be cowardly to die by suicide, he resolves to go to Athens with Theseus.


Works Cited

[“o Mary Lefkowitz, Euripides and the Gods (2015: Oxford), argues that despite the non-traditional thought present in his plays, Euripides is not trying to undermine traditional religion.
o ^ The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche explores dichotomy in Apollo
and Dionysus.
o ^ Faith, Hope and Worship : aspects of religious mentality in the ancient world, H.S. Versnel (1981: Brill). From Hesiod to Polybius ἐλπίς, both good and bad, is pervasive in Greek literature.
o ^ Brook Holmes, Euripides’ Heracles
in the Flesh (Classical Antiquity, October 2008). In the article Holmes pays particular attention to the connection between Heracles’ body and his identity.
o ^ Stuart Lawrence, Moral Awareness in Greek Tragedy (2012: Oxford)
o ^ Herakles, Emma
Stafford (2012: Routledge) in chapter four looks at virtue and vice in Herakles, Emma Stafford.
o ^ Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides
o ^ Anne Carson’s Obsession with Herakles
• McLeish, Kenneth, trans. 1997. Herakles. By Euripides. In
Plays: V. Ed. J. Michael Walton. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-71640-6.
• Vellacott, Philip, trans. 1963. Medea and Other Plays. By Euripides. Penguin Classics ser. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-044129-1.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin1966/15681454551/”]