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Heracles | Study Guide


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Heracles | Symbols


In Heracles Euripides uses two significant symbols tied to the traditional myth of Heracles: the hero's bow and the lion skin he always wears. The former is his weapon of choice; the latter protects him from blades, arrows, and spears.

Heracles's Bow

The symbolism of Heracles's bow changes depending on the speaker. For Lycus, the bow symbolizes cowardice. It is a "coward's weapon" because it allows the bowman to fight from a distance behind cover. The bow makes it easier for him to run from battle. For Amphitryon, the bow symbolizes independence. It makes the bowman self-reliant. He compares this to fighting in a line of spearmen. Each spearman is dependent on those around him. If they are not good fighters, he is likely to die. In contrast the bowman can take down more enemies and live longer to do so. The bow is the intelligent choice. Heracles himself mentions his bow in the Exodos when he first wakes up. He sees his "bow and arrows ... scattered" and refers to them as "trusty squires." This personification—giving human qualities to inanimate objects—indicates that Heracles may think of his weapons more as comrades than as mere things.

Lion's Skin

The skin of the Nemean lion symbolizes Heracles's identity as a hero. He acquired it in completing his first Labor. The lion's skin could not be pierced, so Heracles wore it to protect himself from all weapons that stab or cut. The incident is referred to by the chorus in Stasimon 1. Shortly afterward, in Episode 2, Megara tells her first son that Heracles had intended to leave the lion's skin to him: "O'er thy head would he throw that lion's skin wherewith himself was girt." In this way Heracles would pass down the legacy of heroism to his eldest son.

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