The Children of Herakles

by Euripides

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

I have long held the opinion that an honest man / Lives for his neighbors; while the man whose purpose drives / Loose-reined for his own profit, is unprofitable / To his city harsh in dealings, and a valued friend / Chiefly to himself. This is not theory; I know it.

Iolaus makes this statement early in the play to the audience as he sits with Heracles’s sons. This establishes some of the themes of the play: to whom are we loyal? Whose needs are most important? Who is our neighbor?

They are suppliants and strangers / Who look to our city for help. / To reject them is to defy the gods.

The question of whose interests are to be served comes up as Athens must decide whether or not to risk war to offer sanctuary to the wandering children of Herakcles. The Chorus insists that helping the strangers is the right thing to do. It is wrong to turn away refugees.

I am myself / Ready to die, and give my blood for sacrifice. / What could we say, when Athens is prepared to face / Great peril for our sake, if we ourselves, who laid / This burden on their shoulders, having it in our power / To bring them victory, draw back and shrink from death? Never!

Macaria, in a stirring speech, steps forward as the required female human sacrifice, saying it is not fair to shrink back from this duty, when they, the children of Herakcles, have asked so much from Athens.

You might aim a blow, but you might fall down before it lands.

The servant says this to the aged Iolaus, who nevertheless insists on putting on armor and joining the Athenians in battle. The servant is wrong to doubt: Iolaus becomes miraculously youthful as he enters the fray.

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