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Heracles


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AT: The Madness of Heracles/Hercules (Furens) A: Euripides Pf:c.415 bc, Athens? Tr: 1782 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the palace at Thebes, in the mythical past C: 6m, 2f, extras, chorus (m)Amphitryon, the father of Heracles, fears that his son has died on his mission to fetch Cerberus from the underworld. This will allow Lycus, the King of Thebes, to take advantage of Heracles' demise to kill Heracles' wife and children, and Amphitryon himself. Lycus comes to justify his intended action: having killed Heracles' father-in-law Creon to seize the Theban throne, he does not want Heracles' sons to grow up and avenge their grandfather's murder. Unable to win mercy from the ruthless Lycus, Amphitryon and Heracles' wife Megara prepare themselves and the three boys for death. Heracles returns just in time to save them from the knife and to kill Lycus in the palace. Sent by the goddess Hera, Madness now makes Heracles insane. Soon after, a messenger reveals that, after killing Lycus, Heracles turned on his own sons and wife and slaughtered them all in a terrible bloodbath. Only Amphitryon survives to mourn the dead and despair over Heracles' insanity. Soon, however, Heracles awakes from his madness and is horrified to discover what he has done. Theseus, whom Heracles had saved from the underworld, persuades Heracles not to commit suicide, but to come with him to Athens to begin his penance.

AT: The Madness of Heracles/Hercules (Furens) A: Euripides Pf:c.415 bc, Athens? Tr: 1782 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the palace at Thebes, in the mythical past C: 6m, 2f, extras, chorus (m)

Heracles has traditionally been regarded as one of Euripides' less powerful tragedies, because the action derives not so much from internal conflict as from external factors: the unrelieved wickedness of Lycus, and the violence of Heracles as the result of divine intervention. The play however offers an audience one of the most spectacular tableaux in Greek theatre: the skene opened to reveal the corpses of Megara and her sons soaked in blood and Heracles bound to a pillar. It is also one of the most sceptical of Euripides' tragedies, in which Heracles dismisses tales of the gods' adultery as ‘poets’ lamentable myths'. The only secure foundation for human existence appears to lie in friendship, as exemplified by Theseus' generous attitude towards Heracles. The story was retold by Seneca in his Hercules Furens (1st c. ad).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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