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Heracles | Study Guide


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Heracles | Quotes


Whoso struggles hard to escape destiny shows zeal ... but ... with a taint of folly; for what must be, no one will ever avail to alter.

Megara, Episode 1

Megara is a practical woman who likes to see things as they are. She doesn't cling to false hopes. Therefore, believing that her husband, Heracles, is dead and cannot save them, she feels that she must face up to the fact that her family will be executed. In this conclusion she is both wrong and right. Heracles is still alive, and he does return and save his family. However, through the gods' intervention, he becomes temporarily mad and kills Megara and their children after he saves them. Thus, as she foresaw, they could not "escape destiny."


Either thou art a god of little sense, or else naturally unjust.

Amphitryon, Episode 1

Amphitryon, Megara, and Heracles's sons have been camping out on the steps leading to Zeus's altar, praying for rescue. Zeus, as Heracles's birth father, might be expected to help out his family, especially when Heracles has done so much for Greece and the gods. However, Zeus does nothing at all. When speaking of Zeus here, Amphitryon voices an opinion of the gods commonly found in Euripides's plays: the gods are foolish, fickle, and often unjust.


[I] know not any whose plenteous wealth and high reputation is fixed and sure.

Amphitryon, Episode 2

Amphitryon is speaking here about the likelihood of reversals in fortune. People can never count on having tomorrow what they have today. Until Lycus arrived in Thebes, Heracles's family had status, wealth, and bright prospects for the future. Now they are not allowed to enter their own home but must huddle, starving, on the ground while awaiting execution.


Misfortune ... has no friends.

Megara, Episode 2

Megara is trying to explain the family's predicament to Heracles. The family has lost its wealth and status because Lycus views the children as a potential future threat. For this reason, their former friends have deserted them. Only by doing so can these fair-weather friends prosper under the new regime. Megara's observation speaks to the nature of friendship.


Here all mankind are equal; all love their children, both those of high estate and those; who are naught.

Heracles, Episode 2

Heracles has never been one to discriminate based on status or wealth. His heroic deeds have often benefitted the poor. For instance, he has killed beasts that threatened entire regions of the country. Here he recognizes an important similarity among people of all classes: love for their children. His speech highlights the importance of family.


High above his noble birth tower his deeds of prowess, for his toil secured this life of calm for man, having destroyed all fearsome beasts.

Chorus, Stasimon 2

The chorus sings these words in praise of Heracles. What makes him a great hero, they say, are his heroic deeds. By killing the beasts and monsters that plagued Greece, he has made the country peaceful. However, soon it will be Heracles himself who becomes monstrous and kills his own family.


If [Heracles] escape[s] punishment, the gods will become as naught, while man's power will grow.

Iris, Episode 4

With these words the goddess Iris finishes explaining to the chorus why Heracles must be made to kill his children. She believes that Heracles needs to learn that the gods have power over him. The Greeks are, rightly, grateful and indebted to him for ridding the world of many terrible threats. Because he is such a highly praised hero and seems to be able to do anything, he represents a threat to the gods' status among humankind. If the gods can bring Heracles down, then everyone else will fall into line.


Nay, [I] for my part know not any son of man more miserable than he.

Messenger, Stasimon 4

The messenger is speaking of Heracles, who has just murdered his wife and sons while in a demon-induced frenzy. Heracles is the son of Zeus and a human woman, Alcmene. What is interesting about the messenger's statement is that he calls Heracles a "son of man." This designation indicates that the Greeks generally consider Heracles a fellow human, not a demigod. This inclusive attitude is very different from the gods' petty desire to put the foremost Greek hero in his place.


Zeus, whoever this Zeus may be, begot me as a butt for Hera's hate; yet ... thee rather than Zeus do I regard as my father.

Heracles, Exodos

Heracles addresses the importance of family when he tells Amphitryon that he considers the older man his true father. Zeus may be his birth father, but the god has allowed his wife, Hera, to plague Heracles since infancy. Heracles's human stepfather, Amphitryon, in contrast, has cared for and supported the younger man all his life. Love, not indifference, is the hallmark of a real father.


Whoso prefers wealth or might to the possession of good friends, thinketh amiss.

Heracles, Exodos

In the final lines of the play, Heracles addresses one of its most important themes: the nature of friendship. His family's false friends in Thebes did not come to the family's aid when they were under threat of execution. However, the Athenian king, Theseus, doesn't hesitate to amass a small army and rush to help Heracles retake Thebes. Moreover, when he discovers Heracles has murdered his children, Theseus immediately realizes it was Hera's doing. His faith in Heracles's goodness and honor is steadfast, and he offers Heracles half of all he has. Such true friendship, Heracles says, has a far greater value than money or power.

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