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Heracles | Study Guide

Euripides

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Heracles | Stasimon 3 | Summary

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Summary

The chorus sings a song calling on the city to rejoice that Lycus is dead. Lycus, they say, is paying the "penalty of [his] own deeds." They call him a "weak son of man" who blasphemed—or showed contempt toward the gods—by "maintaining that [the gods] are weaklings." They blame humanity's wrongdoings on the gods, who are unpredictable. "No man," they sing, "ever had the courage to reflect what reverses time might bring." The chorus goes on to praise Heracles, rejoicing in Zeus's "marriage" with Heracles's mother.

They are interrupted and begin to panic when Madness and Iris appear above the palace.

Analysis

The chorus's song in Stasimon 3 contains many statements that feed into the pervasive dramatic irony in Heracles. The old men of the chorus intend one meaning, but the audience's knowledge of future events provides a very different meaning. For instance, the chorus sings, "Who was he, weak son of man, that aimed his silly saying at the blessed gods of heaven with impious blasphemy, maintaining that they are weaklings?" Lycus is not the only character who has questioned the power of the gods. Amphitryon has done so as well because Zeus did not help the family when begged to do so. Heracles, too, has drawn the anger of the goddess Hera, even if it was through no fault of his own. The chorus later sings, "No man ever had the courage to reflect what reverses time might bring." They believe they are still talking about Lycus, but the audience will be aware that the statement applies equally to Heracles and his family as well as the chorus themselves. In moments their fate will be reversed. They will no longer be rejoicing over a tyrant's death but mourning the slaughter of a mother and her three children. Near the end of the choral ode, the chorus glorifies the union between Zeus and Alcmena, which produced Heracles. Their mention also feeds into the dramatic irony. After all, it was this union that earned Hera's fury and led her to seek revenge on Heracles. Thus, the chorus's rejoicing is perverted by a sense of impending doom.

This doom arrives as the stasimon finishes and Iris and Madness appear in the air above the palace. Entrances such as this were achieved with the use of a flying machine. This machine was a crane-like contraption that lifted the actor or actors into the air for entrances and exits. Usually the characters who entered a scene were gods, but in some plays they were mortal. For example, in Euripides's Medea, after committing several murders, the titular character escapes at the end by flying off in a winged chariot. Flying characters always appeared above the skene because the flying machine was stored there.

While in many Greek tragedies, the deus ex machina (sudden appearance of a god to resolve the conflict) was used to rescue the characters, Euripides differs from his fellow tragedians in using the device to complicate the plot. Frequently, the gods (or mortals) who enter in this way in Euripides's works create some further disaster or uphold an injustice.

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