The Children of Herakles

by Euripides

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

The Children of Herakles (a.k.a. Herakleidae, Herakles’ Children) is a tragedy written by ancient Greek playwright Euripides, presumably around 429 b.c.e. It depicts the story of Herakles’s children as they try to escape the evil and murderous Eurystheus, ruler of Argos, and seek refuge in the city of Athens. Eurystheus is one of the most prominent villains in Herakles’s adventures, and as such, Eurystheus wants to kill his children in order to save himself from their wrath and vindictiveness.

Since it was written during the Peloponnesian war, when Athens was under constant attacks from Sparta and because of its frequent themes of pride, patriotism and glorification of the Athenian culture, The Children of Herakles is also classified as a political play.

While it is often praised as one of the most prominent tragedies written by Euripides, the play is also criticized about its lack of structure in the plot. Some historians and dramatists argue that Euripides wrote the play without paying attention to the elements of the plot, especially the climax.

The climax in this case is the heroic death of Herakles’ oldest daughter, Macaria, who overhears a prophet saying that Athens can only be free if a woman of noble blood is sacrificed. Thus, she decides to sacrifice her self so that Athens can prosper. After that, Herakles’ mother, Alcmene, wants to kill Eurystheus for everything he has done to the family. Eurystheus says that he was only following Hera’s will and then vows to protect the city from all current and future Herakleidae with his spirit. He is then executed, and this signifies the end of the play. Thus, many critics and readers have said that the play loses its appeal once the climax is reached.

Nevertheless, The Children of Herakles remains an important part of ancient literature and history. Because it explores societal problems such as the weakness and powerlessness of the common folk, the often unethical and unscrupulous leadership, and the treatment of refugees, the play is considered to be relevant in today’s modern and contemporary society.

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