Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 694
Basking on a cloud and spying on Alkmena, Jupiter and Mercury make plans for the seduction of Alkmena as if preparing for a tasty banquet. In order to remove Amphitryon from his bedchamber, Mercury suggests that Jupiter have the Athenians declare war on Thebes. Amphitryon, a stalwart general of the Theban army, will hurry to engage the enemy. Mercury can then take the place of Sosie, a servant, and tell Alkmena that Amphitryon will momentarily desert the battle and return to her bed that night. Jupiter can impersonate Amphitryon and partake of the delectable Alkmena. They begin to carry out their plan.
Jupiter arrives before the palace of Alkmena amid a great clanging noise, for he forgot the laws of gravity in his descent. With the help of Mercury and with some difficulty, Jupiter transforms himself from his state as a god to that of a mortal.
Mercury already prepared the faithful wife for the return of Amphitryon, to whom she promised fidelity or suicide if she knowingly deceives him. Jupiter whets his appetite for love by demanding admission to her bed as a lover, not as a husband. It is not enough to love within the union of marriage—the added fillip is to be the tantalizingly illegal husband-seducer. With guileless logic, Alkmena swears fidelity to her vows and refuses to open her gates and admit the false husband to her chambers as a lover. As her husband, however, he gains easy entry through the gates, which have been unlocked all the while.
Mercury thoughtfully holds back the dawn until Jupiter consummates the union, and he takes the precaution of informing the universe that Jupiter made another mortal conquest so that the proper celestial eruptions will signify the seduction. He also practices a caprice of his own and has the real Amphitryon leave the battle and return to Alkmena the next day. This is only fair, since Jupiter, as is his practice, will reveal his true identity to Alkmena with the coming of dawn and take leave of her in a burst of ego-satisfying, celestial glory.
Mercury and Jupiter, however, have underestimated the power of Alkmena. Alkmena, because she is a woman, is more than a match for Jupiter. When dawn finally arrives, she is on her patio placidly eating breakfast fruit, while Jupiter, the traditional ravisher of innocent womanhood, lolls in the drowsy sensuality of her bed. When he joins her, he tries to reveal his true identity, but he is thwarted at every turn by Alkmena’s charming and unclouded humanistic approach to divinity. She possesses a clarity and lack of religious fervency that perhaps resembles naïveté, although in truth her attitude is more indicative of admirable simplicity and faithfulness in the gods.
Jupiter, having satisfied his desires, and knowing that if his true identity is revealed Alkmena will kill herself and his unborn child, wishes to stroke his holy ego by paying a formal celestial visit to Alkmena, thereby legalizing their secret union. Mercury makes the official proclamation of the impending visit, and Leda, Queen of Sparta, who has some previous knowledge of heavenly unions, pays a call on Alkmena. Leda describes her encounter with the heavenly swan.
Alkmena, having discovered that Leda longs for another encounter with Jupiter, persuades the queen to take her place in the bedchamber. Jupiter will visit her in the form of Amphitryon, for he has a habit of appearing in the form most desired by his earthly mates. Leda agrees, and the real Amphitryon arrives. He is mistaken for Jupiter and is sent into the palace. Only when Jupiter himself appears to Alkmena does she realize her mistake.
The resolution of the provocative situation is brought about by the resourceful Alkmena. She asks if perhaps Jupiter would forgo the celestial visit for which she is so evidently unprepared and remain only friends with her. Jupiter quickly agrees to this strange relationship and assures the suspicious Alkmena that he never visited her before—as her lover. Jupiter then gives his blessing to Alkmena and Amphitryon and bids them name their unborn child Hercules. As an afterthought, he offers to be “godfather” to the child.
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