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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Amphitryon, who together with Megara and the sons of Herakles had sought sanctuary at the altar of Zeus, lamented the fact that while Herakles was in Hades performing one of his twelve labors Lycus had murdered Creon and seized the throne of Thebes. The murderer was bent upon consolidating his position by killing Megara and her children, whose only hope lay in the protection of Zeus until Herakles returned. Lycus came to taunt them with the charge that Herakles was a coward who used a bow and killed only animals and that, in any case, he was dead in Hades and would never return.

Amphitryon, retorting that Lycus was the coward in seeking to kill an old man, a woman, and innocent children, begged that they at least be allowed to go into exile. Enraged, Lycus sent his servants fetch oak logs in order to burn the relatives of Herakles alive in their sanctuary. The chorus of old men vowed that the would fight with their staves against such a horrible sacrilege.

Megara, however, counseled that it was folly to attempt to escape destiny; Herakles could not emerge from Hades to save them and since they must die they ought to do so without being burnt alive. Amphitryon then begged that he and Megara be killed first so that they would not have to witness the massacre of innocent children, and Megara pleaded for the privilege of dressing the children in the proper funeral robes. Lycus haughtily granted both wishes. As the group left the sanctuary for the palace, Amphitryon cursed Zeus for being a senseless and unjust god. In their absence the chorus chanted an ode on the glories of Herakles and the sadness of old age.

Returning with the children, Megara woefully recounted the marvelous plans she had made for her sons. Meanwhile, Amphitryon fervently prayed to Zeus for deliverance. Suddenly they were startled by the spectacle of Herakles approaching. The great joy of their meeting was darkened by the fearful tale Megara had to tell her husband. Furious with rage, Herakles swore that he would behead Lycus and throw his carcass to the dogs; but Amphitryon cautioned him to curb his reckless haste, for Lycus had many allies in his treachery. Though deeply moved by the fear that made his children cling to his robes, Herakles agreed to plan his revenge carefully and led his family into the palace. The chorus of ancients once again lamented their old age and praised Zeus for sending deliverance in the person of Herakles, his son.

Lycus, upon encountering Amphitryon emerging from the palace, commanded that he bring Megara with him, but Amphitryon refused on the ground that such a deed would make him an accomplice in her murder. Intent on dispatching Megara, Lycus angrily stormed into the palace. Amphitryon followed to watch Herakles’ revenge. As the chorus hailed the death cries of Lycus, the specters of Madness and Iris appeared from above. Iris, the female messenger of the gods, pronounced that although destiny had preserved Herakles until he had finished his twelve labors, Hera had decreed that he must now suffer lest the...

(The entire section is 798 words.)