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Heracles | Study Guide

Euripides

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Heracles | Episode 3 | Summary

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Summary

Lycus returns with his retinue just as Amphitryon is coming out of the palace. Lycus tells the old man to have Megara and Heracles's children come out for their execution as agreed. Amphitryon dissembles, pretending that Megara is begging the gods to bring Heracles back. He adds that she is "calling on her dead husband, quite in vain." When Lycus says that Heracles won't come, Amphitryon replies, "Unless perhaps a god should raise him from the dead." He refuses to go inside to fetch Megara and the children because doing so would make him "an accomplice in her murder." Lycus accepts this excuse and goes into the palace with his servants to do their "work."'

Amphitryon tells the chorus that Lycus "is marching fairly to his doom" and goes into the palace for the pleasure of seeing Lycus "paying the penalty of his misdeeds." The chorus sings in anticipation of "a retribution, which [Lycus] ... never once thought in his heart would happen." Then they rejoice as they listen to Lycus's dying cries.

Analysis

This short scene is dominated by dramatic irony. Here, however, it does not rely on the audience's knowledge of the Heracles myth. Instead, the audience shares a secret with Amphitryon: they know that Heracles has returned and plans to kill Lycus. Lycus, on the other hand, believes that Heracles is dead and arrives at the palace, expecting to finally be rid of Heracles's family. The audience can gloat with Amphitryon over Lycus's haughty attitude and snicker with him as he tricks the usurper into entering the palace.

Euripides uses stichomythia again to highlight their exchange. Lycus fires questions, demands, and assumptions at Amphitryon about Megara and Heracles's sons. In Amphitryon's short answers, he combines confusion and believable lies about Megara's whereabouts. He also makes some jokes that only those who know that Heracles is alive could appreciate. For example, he says that Megara is "calling on her dead husband, quite in vain." To Lycus this sounds as if he's saying that it's in vain because Heracles is dead. However, Amphitryon means that it's in vain because, since Heracles is alive, she has no dead husband to call on. He also displays wit when he tricks Lycus into going into the palace to fetch Megara.

The overarching dramatic irony of the play is sustained by the audience's knowledge of the Heracles myth. Once again this knowledge prevents them from joining in the characters' victory celebrations, keeping the tone of the play tragic. Amphitryon mentions the pleasure of seeing an enemy getting killed. However, Euripides's audience would be aware of the horror Amphitryon will feel when he sees Heracles murder his family. Similarly, when the chorus sings of the "retribution [Lycus] ... never once thought ... would happen," the audience thinks of the retribution from the goddess Hera that is about to fall on Heracles.

The murder occurs in the skene—the storage shed and dressing room being used to represent Heracles's palace. The audience hears Lycus's death cries but doesn't see him get killed. It is typical of Greek tragedy for murders to occur offstage because it was forbidden to show violence or death onstage.

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