The Children of Herakles Characters


Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Iolaus (i-oh-LAY-uhs), an aged warrior, the former companion and friend of Herakles and the guardian of Herakles’ children in their attempt to escape the efforts of Eurystheus, the king of Argos, to destroy them. At the opening of the play, after long wandering, Iolaus has sought refuge with the children before the altar of the temple of Zeus at Marathon. He pleads successfully for their sanctuary before Demophon, the king of Athens, against the arguments of Copreus, the messenger of Eurystheus. the protection offered by the Athenians means inevitable attack from Eurystheus, and the oracles tell Demophon that for him to be victorious, a maiden of a noble house must be sacrificed to Persephone. Because Demophon will not offer up his own child and cannot expect any other citizen to do so, Iolaus offers to give himself up to Eurystheus if the children can be saved. Although made in vain, the suggestion is sincere. the question is resolved by the sacrifice of Macaria, a daughter of Herakles. When a messenger appears with news of the preparation for battle with the Argive host, Iolaus, whose feebleness has been emphasized repeatedly, suddenly insists that he go with him, and he is led off, stumbling in his weakness. In the course of the battle, however, he is rejuvenated temporarily by special gift of the gods and, with the help of Hyllus, a son of Herakles, he captures Eurystheus. Iolaus’ character is strangely uneven, and he does not develop into the great and tragic figure he might easily have been.


Demophon (

(The entire section is 671 words.)

The Children of Herakles Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Dumezil, Georges. The Stakes of the Warrior. Translated by David Weeks. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Explains how the Herakles figure embodies attributes of both the monster-slayer and the monster itself. Provides a useful background against which to consider Euripides’ tragedy.

Euripides. The Children of Herakles. Translated by Henry Taylor and Robert A. Brooks. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. A clear translation in modern English. The introduction discusses the main themes of the play.

Euripides. Heraclidae. Introduction and commentary by John Wilkins. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1993. Suitable for more detailed study of the play.

Foley, Helene P. Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985. An enlightening treatment of the issue of sacrifice in Euripides’ plays. Provides a clearer understanding of the sacrificial elements in The Children of Herakles.

Zuntz, Gunther. The Political Plays of Euripides. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1955. A good account of the political elements found in many of Euripides’ plays, which need to be taken into consideration by modern readers. Deals in detail with The Children of Herakles.