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Herakles (HEHR-uh-kleez), the Greek hero who passes, through suffering, from the courage of outward physical strength to internal courage raised against intolerable necessity and based on true friendship. During the first third of the play, he does not appear, but Amphitryon, his father; his wife, Megara; his small sons; and the Chorus attest his heroism and express the increasing fear that he is dead. He has gone to Hades to capture Cerberus, the last of his labors to be performed. He appears suddenly, just before Lycus, usurper of the throne of Thebes, returns to kill Herakles’ father, children, and wife. He determines, sure of his physical strength, to march against Lycus and his forces, but Amphitryon persuades him to enter his house and wait for Lycus. He does so. Lycus returns, enters the house to drag out Megara and the children, and is killed by Herakles. Suddenly, Iris and Madness appear to carry out the will of Hera, the queen of the gods and persecutor of Herakles, to make him murder his children in a fit of insanity. The murders, described by a messenger, are terrible. Herakles believes his own children to be those of Eurystheus, and he kills them and Megara. When he turns on his father, however, the goddess Athena appears and knocks him unconscious with a rock. As he awakens, Theseus, the king of Athens, rescued from Hades by Herakles, appears. He has come to aid Herakles against Lycus. Herakles speaks of suicide, but Theseus’ taunt that it is a “boorish folly” worthy only of cowards causes him to renounce self-death and to accept Theseus’ offer of refuge and honor in Athens. Herakles’ last words are that it is a sad error to seek “wealth or strength” rather than fine friends.


Amphitryon (am-FIHT-ree-ehn), the father of Herakles. His opening monologue provides the background and states the plight of Herakles’ kin. His defense of his son before Lycus is vigorous and overshadows his plea for exile rather than death. He curses the gods because the plea is not granted, but he then prays to them for deliverance. He tempers Herakles’ desire for wholesale vengeance against Lycus and his followers. At the end of the play, he is left to bury Megara and her children.


Megara (MEHG-ah-rah), the wife of Herakles. Driven to hasty refuge by Lycus, she still has hope that her husband is alive and accepts Amphitryon’s plea for a delay of death. When Lycus threatens to burn the suppliants, she reveals her true dignity as Herakles’ wife: They must willingly accept death, now inevitable, and not beg from Lycus. She requests that she be allowed to enter the house of Herakles and clothe herself and her children for death. When Herakles appears, Megara reveals the circumstances and enters the house with him. She is killed by Herakles in his madness.


Theseus (THEE -see-uhs), the king of Athens. He appears at the close of the play...

(The entire section contains 774 words.)

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Critical Essays