The Children of Herakles

by Euripides

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

An important theme of The Children of Herakles is one relevant to our times: the fate of refugees. Like the refugees who, in recent years, have arrived in European countries and the United States seeking political asylum, the children of Herakles are a group without a homeland. As in the case of refugees today, host countries (or city-states) must make important political choices and sacrifices to take in these wandering people. Athens faces this squarely: receiving these children might mean war, but according to the Chorus, it is nevertheless the correct move to make, for it is in alignment with what the gods expect. As the Chorus says,

To reject them is to defy the gods.

In a parallel theme, the refugees—the children of Herakles themselves—are asked to make sacrifices, and Macaria offers up herself, noting that sacrifice is a two-way street: they cannot ask of their host city without giving fully in return.

Another theme is the importance of being ruled by faith in the gods rather than by self-interest. Self-interest is not the most important rationale for making decisions, in this play. Faith in the gods should not be abandoned simply because following their lead is difficult and requires sacrifice. The aged Iolaus, who insists on putting on armor and joining the fight, miraculously becomes strong and virile as a result of his faith, and Athens, which acted in accordance with the gods in aiding the refugees, wins victory in battle.

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Critical Essays