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Iolaus is Herakles's close friend and nephew. When Herakles performed the Twelve Labors, Iolaus was by his side. When Herakles dies, Iolaus agrees to watch over his children; they desperately need this protection because of their enemy, the King of Argos. Iolaus is old but brave and is the one who gets the King of Athens to agree to protect the children.

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Alcmene is the mother of Herakles. She wants King Eurystheus to be put to death once he's captured.

Macaria is one of the children of Herakles. When King Demophon refuses to sacrifice or demand the sacrifice of a girl from Athens, she agrees to be sacrificed to guarantee Athen's success in the battle.

Hyllus is the son of Herakles who challenges King Eurystheus to combat. The king refuses.

King Eurystheus of Argos wants the children of Herakles dead; he pitted himself against Herakles and fears the children of the man he wronged will eventually come after him.

King Demophon is the king of Athens. He agrees to help protect the children on the condition that they bind themselves to him and become his kin.

Copreus is the herald of Argos who says that Iolaus needs to take the children to Argos. Once there, they'll be stoned to death.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 671


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 (DEE-muh-fon), the king of Athens and son of Theseus. A personification of the spirit of Athens, he exhibits all the qualities attributed to the city: He is noble, brave, dignified, and kind. He offers sanctuary to the children not only because he is a kinsman to Herakles but also because his city is free. He is democratic as a ruler: He will not compel the sacrifice of any citizen and is careful to accept that of Macaria only after she has indignantly rejected any substitution.


Alcmene (alk-MEE-nee), the mother of Herakles. She appears late in the play when she mistakes a messenger, bringing news of the arrival of Hyllus, for an Argive and repels him furiously. She earnestly begs Iolaus not to go into battle; however, when Eurystheus is brought captive before her, the violence of her character is given full play. Although the chorus forbids the murder of a prisoner, she thirsts for the death of her enemy and offers to take the blood-guilt upon herself. She has her way after agreeing to surrender the body to his friends after death. the scene is abrupt and horrible because the reader has not been made to feel the suffering that would lead Alcmene to such violence.


Eurystheus (ew-REHS-thews), the king of Argos and Mycenae. Although spoken of throughout the play, he appears only at the end and then is not villain enough to fit the impression that has been built. He has been spoken of as proud, a bully, and a coward, but he is calm, dignified, and brave before Alcmene and the threat of death. Refusing to plead for his life, he assures the Athenians that because they tried to save him, his spirit will help them against the descendants of the children of Herakles who will later invade Attica.


Macaria (mah-KAYR-ee-uh), the daughter of Herakles who gives her life as a sacrifice for the safety of her brothers and sisters. She has pride of blood but is nevertheless restrained and modest. She is the ideal type of the young virgin.


Copreus (KOP-ree-uhs), the herald of Eurystheus. He attempts to drag the children from the temple of Zeus and attacks Iolaus. Because he is a messenger of Eurystheus, his action accounts largely for the impression of insolent pride that the chorus has of the king.

Children of Herakles

Children of Herakles, who, though silent, are on the stage from the beginning of the play to the end.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 177

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.

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