191. Hercules on Oeta, possibly by Seneca (c. 68 BC)

Plot:   Deianira, second wife of Hercules (after he murdered his first wife Meagara in madness), is enraged by the arrival of a batch of slave girls including the beautiful Iole, for whom Hercules has ransacked the town of Oechalia. First she wants to murder him, then changes her mind and uses a potion to reignite his love for her. But the label on the bottle is misleading.

My version was from Seneca, The Complete Tragedies, published by University of Chicago Press and edited by Shadi Bartsch (Vol. 2, ISBN 9780226013602)

My thoughts :

Again this is a retelling of an earlier Greek story, told by Sophocles in his play The Women of Trachis.

A long play in comparison to others (in fact, the longest surviving play from the Ancient Greek and Roman world), with much repetition of ideas (I lost track of how many times I was ‘reminded’ of Hercules’ twelve labours, and how he was the avenger of the world, who destroyed all the evil monsters and tyrants. In Act 1, Hercules is demanding to be put amongst the stars, to be made a god. He rightly points out that the monsters he defeated, even down to the lowly Crab, have been made constellations while he remains earthbound.

Hercules : “Every beast has now invaded the sky’s vault ahead of me!  I, the victor, gaze up from earth at my own labors….”                                                            Act I, lines 72-74

Acts 2 and 3 show Deianira ranting and raving with her nurse, first over her plan to murder Hercules, (and so doing Juno’s work for her) and then using the gore from the wound which killed the centaur Nessus as a love potion. But it was tainted with the Hydra poison from Hercules’ arrow; Nessus’ final revenge on his killer.

Hercules roars in defeat from the one enemy he cannot reach, his body tortured and eaten away by the internal fire. He orders a huge pyre to be built on Mt Oeta, upon which he throws himself, and embraces the flames without showing pain, before rising to the Heavens to be made a God. Deianira commits suicide with a sword, leaving Hercules’s mother and son to carry on in a heroless world.

Personal rating:  Needed editing. Perhaps it was a work in progress that the author never returned to?  3/10

Next :  The last ‘Senecan’ play, and very unlikely to have been written by Seneca, Octavia


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