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Heracles | Study Guide


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Heracles | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Prologos–Stasimon 1

Heracles takes place in the Greek city of Thebes in front of Heracles's palace. As the play opens, Heracles's family—his wife, Megara, along with his two sons and his stepfather, Amphitryon—are sheltering on the steps leading to Zeus's altar. Megara's father, Creon, the king of Thebes, has been killed by Lycus, who has taken over the government. To prevent Heracles's family from avenging Creon's death, Lycus intends to kill them. The family's only hope is for Heracles to return from Hades, where Heracles went to capture the beast Cerberus—a dog "with bodies three" who guards the entrance to Hades. Amphitryon tries to convince Lycus to send the family into exile instead of killing them, but Lycus refuses. When Amphitryon and the leader of the chorus anger Lycus, he threatens to burn the family alive on a pyre. Megara doesn't want to be burned alive, worrying that such a gruesome death would make her enemies happy. And she fears that her children dying a coward's death such as burning would shame their father. She also asks Lycus to let her dress her children in suitable clothes for their execution, and he agrees.

Episode 2–Stasimon 3

Just as Megara and the children return, robed for execution, Heracles arrives. Amphitryon tells him about recent events in Thebes, and Heracles tells his stepfather about his success in capturing Cerberus. Instead of returning to Eurystheus, the king of Greece who sent Heracles to complete his Labors, Heracles stayed on in Hades to rescue Theseus, the king of Athens. Then Heracles came straight to Thebes to see his family. Heracles and his family go into their palace. Soon Amphitryon comes out to meet Lycus as he arrives with a group of servants who are to kill the family. Amphitryon pretends that he still believes that Heracles is dead. Amphitryon waits outside while Lycus and the servants enter the palace. Soon, Lycus's dying cries are heard.

Episode 4–Stasimon 4

Almost immediately, Iris, the gods' messenger, arrives. With her is the demon Madness, who, Iris says, will make Heracles kill his children. Hera, Zeus's wife, wants Heracles to suffer the horrible guilt that killing them will cause. Madness tries to talk Iris out of the plan, but Iris insists. The two disappear. Soon, a messenger arrives and tells the chorus what happened. Heracles went mad, believing he had traveled far away. He killed his children, thinking they were the children of Eurystheus. Megara died trying to protect the children. Before Heracles could kill Amphitryon, the goddess Pallas appeared and put Heracles into a deep sleep.


The doors of the palace open to show Heracles tied to a column, still asleep. As Amphitryon watches, Heracles slowly wakes. He has no memory of what he's done. Slowly, Amphitryon tells him what happened, explaining that he was under Madness's influence. Heracles decides to kill himself. However, Theseus suddenly arrives. He has heard about Lycus's takeover of Thebes and has brought his warriors to help Heracles fight the usurper. Instead of a battle, Theseus finds a bloodbath. He immediately knows that Hera is to blame and talks Heracles out of suicide. Then, Theseus invites Heracles to return to Athens with him to live out his life in honor. Heracles asks Amphitryon to bury the children with their mother. The two men embrace, and Heracles promises to bring Amphitryon to Athens after the funeral.

Heracles Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Lycus plans to execute Heracles's family.

Rising Action

2 Megara dresses her children for execution.

3 Heracles returns and kills Lycus, saving his family.

4 Iris and Madness arrive to carry out Hera's vengeance.


5 Under Madness's influence, Heracles kills his wife and sons.

Falling Action

6 Heracles learns what he's done and decides to kill himself.


7 Theseus convinces Heracles to come live in Athens.

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