51. Heracles, by Euripides (416 BC)

Plot : Lycus has overthrown Creon and rules Thebes, and wants to secure his throne by killing Creon’s daughter Megara and grandchildren, who happen to be Heracles’ wife and sons. Heracles returns from his final Labour in time to kill Lycus, but with the completion of Heracles’ Labours, the goddess Hera is now free to visit the most monstrous revenge on Heracles.

This was the last play in the Penguin edition of Euripides’ Medea and other plays (ISBN 0140441298) translated by Philip Vellacott.

 My thoughts : This threw me a little as I had already read of Heracles and his wife Deianeira (not Megara) in Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, and also of Eurystheus’ seeking out Heracles’ children to prevent them taking revenge on him after Heracles’ death, in Euripides’ earlier play, The Children of Heracles . But I had also remembered hearing of the story of Heracles’ killing his own children in a fit of madness, so I guess Heracles’ family life is the Classical Greek equivalent of our soap operas, with myriad wives and children the norm, even if the timing of years and events doesn’t quite work.

The cruel fate met by Heracles is tempered a little by the friendship of Theseus who refuses to turn his back on his friend and urges him to return home with him and learn to live with the events that have overwhelmed him.

Favourite lines/passages :

“Friends, life’s a brief and trivial thing. Such as it is,

As you pass through, find as much pleasure as you can,

From dawn to nightfall keeping sorrow at arm’s length.

Time as he flies has no care to preserve our hopes; He’s bent on his own business.”

Amphitryon (Heracles’ father)   p. 168

Also the Chorus’ listing of Heracles’ twelve Labours, although they don’t quite align with the modern listing, leaving out the Erymanthian Boar, the Stymphalian birds, the Cretan Bull and the Aegean stables, and adding the “mountain breed of savage Centaurs”, “Cycnus, the guest-murderer”, the pirates of the inlets, and making the shouldering of the heavens in Atlas’ stead a Labour of its own (can’t argue with that!)

“He came to the mansion of Atlas,

And under the central arch of heaven stretched out his arms,

And with his own strength upheld

The star-lit palaces of the Gods”

Chorus, p. 165

Personal rating : 5

Also in the year 416 BC:  Athens’ aggression continues, capturing the island of Melos and sending a force to Sicily

Next  : Euripides’ The Women of Troy




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