(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Iolaus, the aged warrior friend of the dead Herakles, together with Alcmene and the Herakleidae, the children of Herakles, have for years been wandering over Greece seeking a refuge from Eurystheus, king of Argos. No city dares to take them in against the command of the powerful Argive ruler. At last the wanderers arrive in Athens. There, while resting at the temple of Zeus, they are immediately confronted by Copreus, the herald of Eurystheus, who demands that they proceed at once to Argos and submit to death by stoning. Iolaus staunchly refuses, and when Copreus seizes the children a violent conflict ensues and Iolaus is thrown to the ground.

The chorus of aged Athenians immediately summons their king, Demophon, who is warned by Copreus that his refusal to surrender the Herakleidae to the Argives will surely result in war. In response to Iolaus’s plea, Demophon offers his protection on the grounds that the children of Herakles are gathered around the altar of Zeus, that they are bound to him by ties of kinship, and that the honor and freedom of Athens are at stake. Copreus sullenly departs, after warning that he will return with an army and punish Athens for its insolence. The grateful Iolaus praises the Athenians for their willingness to aid the helpless in an honest cause, but he refuses to leave the temple until the issue with Argos is settled.

The Argive host appears, led by Eurystheus himself. Demophon, who consults a variety of public...

(The entire section is 595 words.)