Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 726
Alcmena (alk-MEE-nuh), the wife of Amphitryon, known for both her beauty and her fidelity. Although she is flattered by the fact that Jupiter wishes to mate with her, she is determined to remain faithful to her husband. She is not interested in adventure or passion, and she uses all of her wiles and wit to remain constant rather than to deceive her husband. When she begins to suspect that Jupiter already has come to her bed disguised as Amphitryon, she demands the truth but quickly accepts his false assurances rather than disrupt the peace of her life with her husband. In her verbal skirmishes with Jupiter, she is always victorious, refusing to allow him to reveal himself as a god who is only posing as her husband. Eventually, she forces him to choose her friendship rather than her love. She is adamant in her preference for the frailties of humanity over the powers and the abilities of the gods, refusing Jupiter’s offer of immortality or an opportunity to look into the future.
Jupiter, the supreme god in Roman mythology. His Greek counterpart is Zeus. He is lecherous, and when the mood seizes him, he seduces various mortal women who attract him. As chief god, he believes that this is his right. When he desires Alcmena, he uses his supreme power to create a war so that Amphitryon will be called away to battle. Jupiter then tricks Alcmena into taking him to her bed by disguising himself as her husband. Once in human form, he is amazed at how much more masterful he feels than when he was a god. Jupiter, hoping to return to Alcmena for a second night, has heavenly voices announce that he is going to become Alcmena’s lover in the night to come, but she eventually convinces him to accept her friendship instead. He allows himself to be satisfied with this, knowing that she already is impregnated with his child, Hercules. His final gift to the couple enables them to forget the events of the play.
Mercury, the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology. His Greek name is Hermes. Clever, cynical, and eloquent, he acts as Jupiter’s agent in the seductions. It is he who enables Jupiter to shed his godly characteristics and imitate the mortal Amphitryon so perfectly that he is able to deceive the perceptive Alcmena. His role is as a stage manager in the affair, advising and directing. He provides an ironic commentary on the behavior of both the gods and humankind.
Amphitryon (ahm-FEE-tree-ohn), the prince of Thebes, a warrior who is devoted to his wife. He tells Jupiter that he would die before willingly giving Alcmena to the god. He retains his innocence, unaware that Alcmena and Jupiter have had intercourse and that he has slept with Leda. He believes that the child soon to be born is his; he is convinced that naming the baby Hercules and allowing the crowd to believe that Jupiter and Alcmena have been lovers is simply a way for the god to save face.
Leda (LEE-duh), who is visited by Jupiter in the form of a swan. As soon as she hears that Jupiter is to visit Alcmena, she comes to rejoice with her. Unlike Alcmena, Leda was delighted by a godly visitation. She agrees to disguise herself as Alcmena when Jupiter comes, so that she can again experience that joy. Unfortunately, it is Amphitryon who appears rather than Jupiter.
Ecclissa, Alcmena’s nurse. She reflects the views of the citizens of Thebes, who are thrilled that Jupiter has honored their town by choosing to seduce the wife of their prince. She is proud that Alcmena will be remembered for all time as Jupiter’s love. Ecclissa is excited by her connection to this fame and by the fact that she will have the privilege of helping to raise a demigod. She is unable to understand Alcmena’s reluctance to accept her destiny.
Sosios (SOH-sih-uhs), a slave. Like Mercury, he provides ironic commentary on the actions of the gods and humans. He warns that if Alcmena is successful in resisting Jupiter, chaos will descend on Thebes and Amphitryon will be stoned by his own subjects. He accuses her, like other tedious and faithful women, of putting honor before her husband’s welfare.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 160
Lemaître, Georges. Jean Giraudoux: The Writer and His Work. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1971. Usefully incisive analysis of many of the plays; particularly sound on Amphitryon 38.
LeSage, Laurent. Jean Giraudoux: His Life and Works. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1959. Another of the basic studies. Good on the relationship of technique and style to content.
Raymond, Agnes. Jean Giraudoux: The Theatre of Victory and Defeat. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1966. Political analysis of the plays, including their relationship to war.
Reilly, John H. Jean Giraudoux. Boston: Twayne, 1978. One of the better studies in the Twayne series, this book examines each work, whether dramatic or literary, in chronological order, and offers an engaging discussion of the role that predestination plays in Amphitryon 38, and also of the harmful effects of the ideal upon humans, and the possibly beneficent effects of deceit. Notes the influence of the German playwright Heinrich von Kleist’s play, Amphitryon (1807), in turn based on Molière’s Amphitryon (1668).
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