Amphitryon: Who does not know the man who shared Zeus’ bed, Amphitryon of Argos, whom Alkaios fathered? This very man before you, who is the father of Herakles. I settled in Thebes, where the earthborn sown-men sprung up whose offspring Ares saved but a few, to fill Kadmos’ city with their ancestors. From these offspring, Kreon was born, the son of Menoikeos and the ruler of this land. And Kreon is the father of this Megara here, whom all the Kadmeans once hymned to, and they greeted her with the Lotos aulos when renowned Herakles led her into my halls. But, leaving behind Thebes, where I settled, my son left Megara as well as his relatives, and he yearned to dwell within the Cyclopean city with the Argive walls, which I fled after I killed Elektryon. And Herakles, after he eased my misfortunes and desired to dwell in his fatherland, he paid a great price to Eurystheus for our return: namely that he tame the lands, whether forced by Hera’s goads or by fate. And he also achieved his other labors, but for his last labor: he walked through Taenarus’ mouth into Hades to bring up the three-bodied dog into the light. Since then he has not returned. There is an old tale from the Thebans that there was once some Lykos, the spouse of Dirke, and he ruled this seven-towered city of Thebes before the rule of the men with white-horses: Amphion and Zethus, the children of Zeus. His son, who was called by the same name, was not a native Theban but was from Euboia, and he has killed Kreon and now rules the land, after he fell upon our strife-torn city. And so, our bond to Kreon has become the greatest evil, as it seems. While my son is in the depths of the earth, this new ruler of the land, Lykos, he wishes to dispose of Herakles’ wife and sons, quenching murder with murder, and to kill me as well, if I even count among men as a useless old man; he wishes to prevent the boys, once they have become men, from exacting blood-vengeance for their mother’s kin. And I—since my son has left me in this house as a domestic nurse for his sons when he went into the darkness of the earth—I left his children with their mother, so they might not die, at this altar of Zeus the Savior, which Herakles established as a dedication of his glorious spear, after he conquered the Minyans. We, lacking everything—food, water, clothing—keep these seats, and on the rugged ground we rest our sides. Barred from our homes, we sit in need of safety. Megara: Old man, who once sacked the Taphian city and famously led an army of Thebans, how nothing of divine affairs is clear to mortals! For I did not stray from fortune regarding my father, who was once renowned for his wealth. But now his glory has perished and flown away, and both you and I are about to die, old man, as well as Herakles’ children, whom beneath my wings I sheltered just like a bird placing her chicks under her. Each of them in turn begins to question me: “Mother, tell me, where has father gone? What is he doing, when will he return?” Deceived by their youth, they seek their father, and I can only put them off with stories. They all marvel, when the gates resound, and they rise up hoping to fall upon their father’s knees. Now then, what hope or ground of safety do you prepare, old man? I look to you for help. Amphitryon: He may still return: my child, your husband. Be calm and from your children’s eyes wipe away their streams of tears. Soothe them with words. Beguile them with tales though tales may be deceitful. Human misfortunes grow weary, just like how the wind’s blasts are not always strong, and those people who are now fortunate are not so fortunate by the end of their lives. Theban Elders: I have set out for the high-roofed halls and the old bed, leaning heavily upon my staff, as an aged minstrel of dirges just like a gray bird, and I am merely words and a nocturnal vision of dreams that is fearful but eager. Oh children, fatherless children, oh old man, and you, wretched mother, who lament for your husband who is in the house of Hades. Don’t struggle with your feet and heavy limbs like a foal dragging its heavy cart up a steep, rocky cliff. Grab hold of the hands and garments of anyone who has left behind the obscure track. Old man, escort another old man; in youth, our young spears were once united in battles of our time; we were not a source of disgrace for our most glorious fatherland. See how the gleam of their eyes resembles the fierce Gorgon-like glances of their father. His misfortune has not left his children, but neither has his grace faded from them. Oh Greece, what allies, what allies will you be robbed of when you will lose these children! But now I see Lykos, the ruler of this land, coming near the house. Lykos: How long do you seek to prolong your lives? What hope, what defense against death do you see? Do you believe that the father of these boys, who lies in Hades, will return? How excessively you grieve over your death! You hurl empty boasts throughout Greece; you boast that Zeus shared your bed and the siring of your son, and you, woman, boast that you are called the best hero’s wife! What fine deed did your husband accomplish in slaying a marsh snake or the Nemean beast? He caught it with traps and claimed that he strangled it with his bare hands! Do you make your case with claims like these? On these grounds do you say his children deserve to live? The worthless Herakles got his reputation fighting beasts, but the man is not brave at all in reality! He never strapped a shield on his left-arm! He never faced a spear! He wields a bow, which is the basest weapon! He was always ready to retreat. What I am doing entails no shamelessness, old man. Call it foresight, shall we? I know that I hold the throne because I killed this woman’s father, Kreon. I don’t want to raise these boys and leave behind avengers to punish me for my actions. Amphitryon: Gods be my witnesses! I must dispel this dishonor. I call upon Zeus’ thunderbolt and the chariot! Where Herakles stood when he shot winged arrows into the flanks of the earthborn Giants and where he celebrated his glorious victory with the gods! Go to Pholoë, to the four-legged creatures, the race of Centaurs, you most cowardly king, and ask whom they would consider the bravest. Will it not be my son, whose bravery you discredit?
You also condemn the cleverest invention, the bow. Listen to me now and learn some wisdom! The foot-soldier is a slave to his weapons. But whoever can aim the bow with his hands, he holds the one best weapon, since he can shoot many arrows, and he still has others to protect his body from death! Alas! Oh land of Kadmos, yes, I shall come to you too, spewing my words of reproach! Is this how you defend Herakles and his sons? I have no praise for Greece, and I will not keep silent about it, since I now find her so disloyal to my son! All Greece should have come with fire, spears, and arms to help these children, in recompense for cleansing the land and sea, which my Herakles toiled over! Oh children, neither Thebes nor Greece defends you from these evils! You look to me, a weak ally, who is nothing but a noisy tongue. The vigor that I once had is gone and my limbs tremble with age; my strength is faint. If I were young and had power over my body, my spear would have bloodied Lykos’ tawny locks, and even beyond the bounds of Atlas, he would flee my attack in his cowardice! Lykos: You, pile up your tower of words. I will answer your abuse with actions rather than mere words. Come, some of you go to Helicon, others to Parnassus, and order the woodsmen to cut logs of oak. When these have been carried into the city, pile the wood close about the altar. Set them on fire, and burn their bodies. Let them know that it is not the dead man, Herakles, but I, who rules this land! As for you, elders, who oppose my decisions, be forewarned that you will weep not only for Herakles’ children but also for the misfortunes of your own house, as it suffers, and remember that you are slaves under my rule! Theban Elder: You will never be satisfied by lording over me! You will not take from me what I have labored so hard for! Return to where you came from! Spread your villainy there! As long as I draw breath, you will never kill Herakles’ children! Oh right hand, how you yearn to hoist the spear, but your weakness crushes that desire! Otherwise, I would have stopped you from calling me a slave; I would have a good reputation in Thebes for my use of power in which you now exult. This city has lost its senses! It is rife with civil strife and cowardly schemes. Thebes never would have chosen you as its master! Megara: Old men, I thank you. On behalf of friends, friends ought to hold a just display of anger. But don’t suffer on our account and don’t be angry with your master. Listen to me, Amphitryon. See if what I say has any merit in your opinion. I love my children. How could I not love the ones I bore and labored over? Of course I think death is a terrible thing. But he who resists the course of fate I take to be a fool. But as for us, since we must die, we must not die by fire, which would give our enemies a source of mockery: I would regard this a greater evil than death. We owe so many benefits to this house. You held great fame as a warrior, so you must not die in a cowardly manner. My husband, whose glory needs no witness, would not wish to save his children if it meant they would be cowards. Noble parents are afflicted by a child’s disgrace. And I must not reject my husband’s example. Consider how I view this hope of yours.
Do you really think your son will return from below? Which of the dead has ever returned from Hades? And do you think we can soften Lykos with words? Already I have thought to ask for exile for these children. But this is also a wretched fate: committing their salvation to pitiable poverty. They say that when a host sees exiled friends, they look kindly for but a single day.
Dare death with us! It awaits you nonetheless! I appeal to your nobility, old man. Whoever struggles against the will of the gods, he exhibits fervor, but a senseless fervor. For no one can ever alter fate. Theban Elder: If someone insulted you while my arms still had their strength, I would have easily stopped him! Amphitryon: Neither cowardice nor a yearning for life keeps me from dying. Only the wish to save my son’s children. But it seems that I desire the impossible. Look, my neck is ready for your sword. Pierce me, slay me, hurl me from a cliff! But grant us one favor, lord, we beg: kill me and this wretched woman before the children, so that we may not see the unholy sight of these children when they gasp out their lives and cry for their mother and grandfather. As for the rest, do whatever you desire. For we can’t defend ourselves. Megara: And I beg you to add a second favor to the first, so that you, being one person, may do double service. Let me put funeral adornments on my children. Open the house, since now we are shut out. Let them have this inheritance from their father’s household. Lykos: I will grant this. Servants, open the doors. Go inside, dress yourselves. I don’t begrudge you the clothes! But once you have adorned your bodies, I shall return to deliver you to the world below. Megara: Oh children, follow your wretched mother’s steps into your father’s halls. Others now control the household; It is ours in name only. Amphitryon: O Zeus, in vain did I gain you as one who shared my bed and in vain did I call you my partner in siring my son. You are, after all, less of a friend than you seemed to be. In goodness this mortal here surpasses you, a mighty god: for I did not abandon Herakles’ children!
While you know well how to sneak into beds and how to take others’ wives without permission, you don’t know how to save your own. You are either a fool of a god, or there is no justice in your nature! “Lament!” Phoebus Apollo sings after a song of victory, as the god strums his melodious lyre with a golden pick. In a similar manner, that man who went into the darkness, the realm of the dead, whether I should call him the child of Zeus or the son of Amphitryon, I wish to celebrate him with a eulogy: a crown of song fashioned from his deeds. For heroic deeds of noble toils are a glorious memorial for the dead. First, Herakles slaughtered the lion from Zeus’ grove and covered his blond hair with the lion’s tawny skin. And he set the jaws of the dreadful beast on his very back. He once annihilated the mountain-dwelling tribe of the savage Centaurs with his lethal bow and his winged shafts. The River Peneus with its fair eddies witnessed this feat as well as the expansive lands of its plains made barren. So did the settlements of Mount Pelion and the haunts of Mount Homole, where the Centaurs filled their hands with pine, and where they would conquer the Thessalian lands with their prowess in horsemanship. Herakles also slew the golden-headed deer with a dappled back that plundered the crops of farmers. In doing so, he delighted the beast-slaying goddess, Oinoë. He mounted the four-horse chariot, and with bridles he tamed Diomedes’ horses, who chewed their bloodstained food with unbridled zeal in their bloody troughs, these foul-feasting mares, who rejoice in human flesh. Herakles also passed by the silver-flowing banks of the River Hebrus, when he labored for the Mycenaen ruler. On the shore by Mount Pelion, and along the streams of the Anauros River, Herakles with his arrows slew Kyknos—the slayer of guests—and the inhospitable inhabitant of Amphanaia. Herakles came to the western home of the singing maidens so he could pluck the golden fruit from its branches. He also killed the tawny-backed serpent that guarded the fruit with its unapproachable coils. Then he dove into the depths of the sea, and he made it calm for the oars of mortals. Beneath the center of heaven’s seat Herakles thrust his hands as he went to the home of Atlas. Herakles held up the starry homes of the gods with his manly vigor. In order to defeat the mounted band of the Amazons, who lived around Maitois with its many rivers, Herakles traversed through inhospitable waves and assembled friends and allies from all of Greece. He ventured to seize the golden-trimmed mantle from the girdle of the warrior queen’s robes—a deadly quest. Greece received these glorious spoils from the barbarian woman, and now preserves them in Mycenae. Herakles burned up the deadly, many-headed hound of Lerna, and tipped his arrows with its venom. With those arrows he slew Geryon, the triple-bodied herdsman of Erytheia. Herakles endured the successful glories of his other races, and he sailed into the land of many tears—Hades. This was the last of his labors, but there the wretched man has reached the end of his life and has not returned. His house is bereft of friends, and Charon’s oar awaits his children on their life’s journey: an irreversible, godless, and unjust path. To your hands, Herakles, the house gazes, but your hands are not here. If I were young and strong and were able to brandish my spear in battle with my Theban companions, I would have stood beside the children in their defense. But now I have departed from my blessed youth. Chorus Leader: Look, I see the children wearing the adornments of the dead! The children of the once mighty Herakles! I see his dear wife, who drags her children as they cling to her feet. I also see the old father of Herakles! Megara: Well, who is the priest? Who, the slayer of the damned? Who is the murderer of my own miserable life? These victims here are ready to go to Hades. Oh children, we are led as a shameful company of corpses, old men, children, and mothers together! Oh miserable fate! Mine and my children’s! These children whom I look upon for the last time. I gave birth to you, but I raised you as fodder for our enemies so they could abuse you, taunt you, and destroy you. I was even choosing your brides and made alliances with Athens, Sparta, and Thebes for this purpose, so that you might live a happy life with your cables fastened well to the stern of the ship. But now all is gone. Fortune has changed, and she has matched you with the Death Spirits as your brides! To miserable me she has given tears for the bridal bath I should have brought. Your grandfather is the host for your wedding-feast. He accepts Hades as the father-in-law in a most bitter marriage bond. Alas, which of you first, which of you last shall I press against my chest? Whom shall I kiss? Whom shall I embrace? How I wish that like a tawny-winged bee, I could gather all your tears and return them in one, great, melded tear! Oh my beloved Herakles, if any sound from mortals can be heard in Hades, I cry out to you: your father and children are dying! I am too. I, who was once called blessed because of you. Come! Help us! Appear to me even as a phantom! It would be enough for you to come only as a dream. For these men who are murdering your sons are cowards. Amphitryon: You, dear woman, keep trying to reach the realm below. But I will raise my hands towards heaven and address you, Zeus, if you intend to help and defend these children! For your help will soon be futile! And yet, you have been summoned many times before: I toil in vain. Our deaths, it seems, are fated. M: Oh! Old man, do I see my beloved? Or what can I say? A: I don’t know, daughter… I am also speechless. M: This is the man we heard was in the Underworld unless we are seeing a daydream in the sunlight! M: What can I say? What delirious dreams do I see? M: This man is none other than your son, old man! Come, children, cling to your father’s robes! M: Hurry! Don’t let go of him, since he is no less your rescuer than Zeus the Savior himself. Herakles: Oh hail my halls and gateways of my hearth! How gladly do I looked upon you as I return to the light! H: Ah! What is this? Am I seeing my children in front of the house and covered in the clothing of the dead? H: Do I see my wife amidst a crowd of men, and my father weeping? At what woes? Megara: Oh my dearest husband! Amphitryon: Oh light, shining on your father! M: Have you really come? Alive just in time to help your family? H: What are you saying? What trouble lies here, father? M: We are to be killed! H: By Apollo! What a prelude to this story! M: My brothers and old father are dead. H: What? What did he do, what fate did he meet? M: Lykos killed him, the new lord of this land. H: Why has terror seized you and my old father? M: He intended to murder your father, me, and your sons. H: Why was he afraid of my orphaned sons? M: He was afraid that they would someday avenge Kreon’s death. H: Why are they dressed in clothes that befit the dead? M: We have already put on the garments of death. H: Won’t you tear these trappings of death from your hair! Look at the light and feast your eyes upon this sweet exchange from the darkness below! Now my hand has much to accomplish: First, I shall go and raze the house of this upstart new ruler to the ground and chop off his profane head! I’ll toss his head to the dogs to drag around! And as for any Thebans I’ve treated kindly who turn out to be traitors, I’ll destroy them with this victorious club, and the rest I’ll split with my fletched arrows! I shall fill the entire Ismenus with their blood, and Dirke’s clear spring will be stained with their gore! Whom should I defend if not my wife, my children, my old father? Farewell, my labors! In vain did I prefer these labors over my family. Now, I ought to die defending my sons who were dying in my place. Is it really a fine deed to have fought against a hydra and a lion for Eurystheus if I can’t prevent my children’s death? If that were so, never again should I be called “Herakles the victor” as I was called before! Amphitryon: It is in your nature, my son, to love your friends and to hate your enemies; but don’t be rash! H: What am I doing that is so rash, father? A: You were just seen entering the city. Since you were seen, take care that you don’t unite your enemies against your own ruin. H: I don’t care if the entire city saw me! In fact, I saw a bird sitting in an inauspicious place. H: So I knew that some trouble was at hand. With foresight, I entered the land in secret. A: Well done. Go inside and greet Hestia! Show your face to the ancestral gods. A: The ruler Lykos will soon come for your wife and sons in order to drag them off along with me to be killed. A: Everything will go well if you remain here, including your safety. But don’t stir up the city until these things are set straight, son. H: I shall do this since what you say makes sense. Since I have come up from the sunless depths of Hades and Persephone, I will not refuse to first greet the household gods. A: Did you really go into Hades’ house, my son? H: Yes, and I led the three-headed beast into the light. A: Why were you in the Underworld for so long? H: I lingered there so I could rescue Theseus from Hades, father. A: And where is Theseus? Has he returned to his fatherland? H: He has gone back to Athens glad to have escaped the Underworld! H: Come, boys, follow your father into the house. After all, your entrance into the house now will be better than your exit was before. Take courage! Don’t let streams flow from your eyes! You too, my wife, collect your spirit! Stop trembling, and let go of my clothes. I don’t have wings, and I don’t desire to fly away! Ah, my children will not let go but cling tighter to my robe. Were you really on the edge of death? I will lead my children, these little boats, with my hands and drag them along. I will not refuse to care for my children. All humans are together in this: Both rich and poor love their children; people may differ in wealth: some have it while others don’t. But everyone loves their children. Youth is dear to me, but old age is a burden that is heavier than Aetna’s peaks and always lies upon my head. It constantly shrouds my eyes with a dark veil. I would not possess the wealth of a foreign king, nor would I attain houses full of gold, in exchange for youth, which is fair in both prosperity and poverty. But I detest baneful and deadly old age: let it vanish beneath the waves! I wish it had never come into our houses and cities but instead had been carried away on wings over the aether. If the gods had the sense and wisdom of mortals, humans would obtain a double youth. It would be a visible mark of excellence for those who attained it. When such people have died, they would run a second course of life back into the sun’s light. Those who are low-born, however, would only have a single course of life. By this distinction it would be possible to tell the bad from the good, just like how sailors are able to spot stars among the clouds. But as things are, the gods have set no marker to distinguish good from bad. Rather, life’s course only increases wealth as it whirls along. I will not stop mixing the Graces with the Muses, which is the sweetest union for me. May I never live an unrefined life. Rather, may I always be decked in garlands. As an old bard, I still sing of Memory and of Herakles’ triumphant victory. I sing alongside Dionysus, giver of wine, and with the song of the seven-toned lyre and the Libyan aulos. I will never restrain the Muses who have set me dancing! The Delian maidens sing a hymn of praise in honor of Leto’s fair son as they dance majestically around their temple gates. So I too, an aged bard, will sing hymns around your halls from my grey throat, just like a swan. For the power of goodness lies in my singing. Herakles is the son of Zeus, but his virtue surpasses even his nobility! Through his toils he has secured a tranquil life for mortals, since he has slain fearsome beasts. Lykos: It’s about time for you to leave the house, Amphitryon! You have spent too long adorning your bodies with the robes and the trappings of the dead. Come now! Bid Herakles’ sons and wife to come outside the house to die just as promised. Amphitryon: Well, since you have forced us to die, we must comply: we must carry out what you wish. L: Where is Megara? Where are Herakles’ children? A: As far as I can guess standing here outside, I think that she is sitting as a suppliant upon Hestia’s holy steps, as she calls upon her dead husband in vain. L: That man is not here, and he will never come. A: No he will not, unless some god should resurrect him. L: Go to Megara and bring her out of the house! A: Doing so would make me an accomplice in her murder. L: Well, if you have such scruples, I’ll bring Megara and her children out, since I don’t have such worries. Servants, come! Follow me so that we can take joy ending our troubles. A: Then go along to your fate! Perhaps another will see to the rest. Expect misfortune because of the misfortunes you have caused! Old men, how fairly does he march! Soon he will be entangled by sharp traps: the villain thinks that he is going to kill his neighbors. I will go in to watch Lykos’ corpse as it falls. There is a pleasure in watching your enemy die as he pays the price for his misdeeds. Evil has switched sides! He who was formerly a great lord now returns alive from Hades! Hail, justice! Hail, tide-turning fate of the gods! Chorus Leader: At last, you have come to the place where you will die, and you will pay the penalty for wronging your betters. Joy brings tears to my eyes! He has really returned! I never thought that it would happen: the lord of our land is back! Chorus Leader: Old friends, let us look inside the house to see whether a certain someone has met the fate that I hoped he would. Lykos: Oh me! Oh me! The song that begins in the house is sweet to listen to. His death is not far now! The lord Lykos cries out the prelude of his murder. Lykos: Oh land of Thebes, I am destroyed by treachery! Chorus Leader: You were destroying others yourself. Endure this punishment and pay for the misdeeds you have committed! What mortal defiled the gods with lawlessness and made a senseless account of the blessed gods? Who said that the gods have no power? Chorus Leader: Old friends, the unholy man lives no more! The halls are silent. Let us turn to dances! Oh! Oh! Run away! Run away!
Lord Paean Apollo, avert these calamities from me! Iris: Take courage, old men, even though you’re looking at
Night’s daughter, Lyssa, and at me, the god’s servant: Iris! We have not come to harm the city, but instead
we are marching against the house of one man. He is, they say, the son of Zeus and Alkmene.
Before he finished his bitter labors, fate guarded him, and his father Zeus never allowed me or Hera to do any harm to him. But now that he has completed Eurystheus’ labors,
Hera wishes to stain him with the blood of his kin. She wants him to kill his own children, and I desire this too. Come! Gather your unyielding heart, unwedded maiden of dark Night! Send madness upon this man, and a child-killing
disturbance into his mind! Make him leap around on his feet! Set him in motion! Hoist the sails of death! That way, once he has sent his children on their journey across Acheron, his lovely children, the glories of his life—once he has murdered them— he’ll come to know Hera’s wrath, how fiercely it
burns against him, and he’ll understand my wrath. If he pays no penalty, the gods will not matter and mortals will be great. Lyssa: I was born from a noble father and mother: from Night and the blood of the Sky. I hold these offices from them, and I don’t delight in allies nor do I take pleasure in visiting mortals I hold dear. Before I watch you make a mistake, I want to advise you and Hera, if you will hear my words. This man, whose house you send me against, is renowned upon the earth and among the gods. He tamed the untrodden land and savage sea, and he alone restored the gods’ honors, after they were cast aside by unholy men. For this reason, I advise you not to plot great evils. I: Don’t advise me and Hera in our schemes! L: I want to set you both on a better path. I: Zeus’ wife did not send you here to show your good sense! L: I call upon Helios as witness that I am acting against my will. But if I must assist you and Hera, and if I must follow you swiftly just like dogs following their hunter. Then I will go! Neither the furiously groaning sea, nor the earthquake, nor the thunderbolt’s sting are like the blows that I will drive against Herakles. I shall shatter his house and bring it down, after killing his sons. The murderer will not know that he kills his own children, until he is free from my frenzies. Look! Even now he is shaking his head at the outset and he rolls his Gorgon-like eyes in silence. His breath is unsteady just like a bull about to charge. He roars fearfully, summoning death-spirits from Tartarus. Soon I will make you dance even more and instill fear with the aulos. Oh! Cry out! The flower of your city is cut down—the offspring of Zeus! Miserable Greece, you are losing your benefactor! He is set dancing in a frenzy to the aulos! Mournful Lyssa has already mounted her chariots and has whipped her steeds as though she were outraged: this Gorgon of the Night, shining-eyed Lyssa, who has a hundred hissing snakes upon her head! Swiftly did the god change this household’s fortune, and swiftly will the sons die by their father’s hand. Amphitryon: O miserable me! Theban Elders: O Zeus, your offspring will soon be childless! The maddening, flesh-eating, unjust furies will undo him with miseries! A: O halls! Theban Elders: A dance begins without the drums, a dance that does not please Dionysus’ thyrsus! A: O house! Theban Elders: A dance for bloodshed, not for libations of Dionysus’ grapes by the god’s streams! A: Flee, children! Get away! Theban Elders: This tune played on the aulos is a murderous, murderous tune! Herakles hunts his children down! Lyssa never kindles madness in vain! A: O misery! Theban Elders: Ah! How I grieve for the old father and the mother who bore her children in vain! Look, look!
A tempest shakes the house, and the roof falls along with it! Messenger: O aged, hoary men! Theban Elders: Why are you shouting and calling out to us? M: The house is filled with horror—the children are dead. Theban Elders: Alas! M: Groan, since it is a cause for groaning! Theban Elders: How did Herakles inflict such a grievous ruin upon his children? Tell us, how did these misfortunes furiously descend together with the children’s fates from the heavens to our halls? The victims stood in front of Zeus’ altar helping to purify the house after Herakles had driven out Lykos and killed him. The beautiful chorus of his sons stood there together with his father and Megara; the basket already went around the altar, and we were keeping a solemn silence. When the son of Alkmene was about to pick his torch up and dip it in the holy water, he stopped and stood in silence. Herakles’ children turned towards their father, who stood hesitating: Herakles was no longer himself! He looked lost and ruined within his eyes, which rolled around and spouted blood-stained veins. Foam began to drip from his handsome beard. Then, he spoke with a deranged laughter: “Father, why am I lighting the fire for purification before I have slain Eurystheus, and giving myself twice the labor? I can settle everything with one hand. As soon as I have brought Eurystheus’ head here, I will cleanse my hands for those who have been slain. Pour the water! Drop the basket from your hands! Who will give me my bow? Who will give the club? I am going to Mycenae! I must seize crowbars and pickaxes. I will shatter once again with iron levers the foundations of the Cyclopes, which were built with rods and hammers.” Then, he set out and falsely claimed he had a chariot. Next, he stepped on the edge of his chariot-board. Afterwards, he lashed his hand around as though he had a whip. The laughter of his servants was mixed with fear, and one servant looked at another and said: “Is our master joking, or has he gone completely mad?” Then, Herakles went back and forth through the house. He rushed into the men’s chambers and claimed that he reached Nisus’ city. Once inside, he sprawled out on the ground. He prepared himself for a feast. After a short time, he said that he was approaching Isthmus’ wooded plain. Then, he stripped his clothes off and proclaimed himself victorious even though he wrestled against nobody. Once he uttered terrible remarks against Eurystheus, he claimed that he was in Mycenae. But his father grabbed him by his mighty hand and said: “Son, what has become of you? What have you turned into? Has the blood of your late victims driven you insane?” Herakles thought that Amphitryon was Eurystheus’ father, who had come in fear to clasp his hand as a suppliant. And so, Herakles shoved Amphitryon away and drew arrows from his quiver. He prepared to kill his own children thinking that they were Eurystheus’. His children stood terrified. They ran in all directions: one beneath his wretched mother’s robes; another under the shadow of a column; his third son crouched under the altar like a bird. Their mother cried: “What are you doing, father? Will you kill your sons?” Amphitryon and the servants shouted as well. But he still chased his boy around the pillar. When he stopped in front of his son, he shot an arrow into his heart. His child then fell on his back and bloodied the pillar. Afterwards, Herakles shouted and boasted: “The first child of Eurystheus has died, paying the price for his father’s hatred!” Then Herakles took aim with his bow at another child, who crouched around the altar hoping to sit unseen. The poor boy anticipated his father’ bloodthirst, so he fell before Herakles’ knees and grasped his chin and face. The boy said: “Dearest father, don’t kill me! I am your own son! You are not killing Eurystheus’ child!” But Herakles turned his fierce, Gorgon-like gaze, and since the boy was too close to shoot with his arrow, he raised his club over the boy and struck the child over his blond hair just as though he were hammering iron. He smashed the boy’s skull! After killing his second son, he went to slay a third victim in addition to the other two. Their wretched mother, since she feared this outcome, carried her son into the chamber and locked the door. But Herakles, as though he were assaulting the Cyclopean walls, pried open the doors and tore away the door-posts. Herakles then killed his wife and son with one arrow, and shortly after he raced off to murder his father. But an image of Pallas Athena seemed to come forth wearing a plumed helmet, and she brandished her spear. She then hurled a boulder at Herakles’ chest, which knocked him out and ended his bloodlust. Herakles fell to the ground, and knocked down a pillar in the process; the pillar broke into two and lay on the ground. After we escaped, Amphitryon helped us bind Herakles to a column with ropes. We did this so Herakles would not be able to commit any more murders when he woke up. Now the wretched hero sleeps miserably as the murderer of his children and wife. And as far as I know, no one is more miserable than he. There was once a murder on Argos’ rock that was the most famous and unbelievable in Greece, wrought by Danaus’ daughters. But these current wrongs done by Zeus’ wretched son surpass and outstrip the old! I could sing of Procne, who murdered only one child, thus appeasing the Muses. But you, you wretch, you had three children! You murdered all three in your frenzy!
Oh! What groan, what wail, what song, what chorus of Hades shall I sound? Alas, alas!
Fetters and twisted ropes surround Herakles’ body and fasten him to the stone pillars in the house! Amphitryon: Elders of Thebes, won’t you allow this sleeping man to forget his sorrows in silence? Theban Elders: I weep for you, old man, and for the children and the hero with his glorious victories. A: Go further away! Don’t make a sound! Don’t shout! Don’t awaken the man who rests in a deep slumber. Theban Elders: Ah me! What pools of blood lie here. A: Ah, no! You will destroy me! Theban Elders: The blood which he has shed now rises up. A: Can you not gently lament, old friends? Otherwise, he will wake up, free himself from his chains, demolish his city and father, and break down his halls! Theban Elders: I can’t, I can’t! A: Run away, run away, old friends! Go far away from the house! Run from the mad man! He’s waking up! Or else he will soon pile slaughter upon slaughter and once again rage throughout the city of Thebes! Chorus Leader: O Zeus, why have you detested your son so bitterly and led him into a sea of sorrows? Herakles: Ah. I am breathing. I see what I would expect: the aether, the earth, the light of day. But it’s like I have fallen into a wave, a terrible confusion of the senses. My hot breath comes out quickly, sporadically. Look! Why are my vigorous chest and arms bound with fetters, just like a ship that is anchored? Why am I sitting against this partly shattered stone… with corpses lying around me! I have not gone back down to Hades, have I? I have just come from there for Eurystheus’ labors! I don’t see Sisyphus’ rock, nor Pluto, nor the scepters of Demeter’s daughter. I am at a loss. Where could I be that am I so perplexed? Hey! Which of my friends can cure me of my ignorance? I can’t recognize anything familiar here. Amphitryon: Elders, should I approach my disaster? Chorus Leader: Yes. We will accompany you and not desert you in your misery. H: My father, why do you weep and cover your eyes? Why do you stand so far from your beloved son? A: O son! You are still mine even amidst disasters. H: What deplorable deed have I done that makes you weep? A: Things that even gods would weep over if they learned of them. H: You have made a bold assertion, but you haven’t explained it yet. A: You can see it for yourself if now you’ve come to your senses. H: Tell me if you are hinting at something new in my life. A: If you are no longer a madman from Hades, I’ll tell you. H: Ah! Again you speak in riddles about something suspicious! A: Even now I am looking to see whether you are sane. H: I don’t recall that my mind was deranged. A: Elders, shall I loosen his bonds? What shall I do? H: Yes, and tell me who did this! I feel ashamed! A: Know only this much of your misfortunes; let the rest be. H: Is silence enough to learn what I wish to know? A: Look! Look at your children’s corpses. H: Oh no! What am I looking at? Miserable me! A: My son, you waged an unnatural war against your sons. H: What “war” do you speak of? Who killed them? A: You… and your bow… and whatever god is responsible. H: What are you saying? How? Father, you are a messenger of evils! A: You were insane, and the answers to all your questions are horrible! H: Am I also the murderer of my wife? A: All this is the work of your single hand. H: Ah! A cloud of anguish surrounds me! A: This is why I am mourning for your fate! H: Did I shatter my house in my madness? A: I know nothing except this: your whole life is miserable. H: Where did madness seize me? Where did it destroy me? A: When you were cleansing your hands by the altar. H: Alas! Shouldn’t I go and leap off a bare cliff or thrust a
sword through my heart to avenge my children’s blood? Shouldn’t I burn my flesh with fire in order to
avert the infamy that my life will bring upon me? But look! My kinsman and friend Theseus comes to stand in the way of my plan to kill myself! Oh! What will I do? Where can I find an escape
from my sorrows? Or wings to fly across the earth! I am so ashamed of these terrible things that I have done! Covering up like this will conceal my gory pollution: I don’t want to taint the innocent. Theseus: I have come with other men, who are waiting beside Asopus’ streams—armed young men from Athens. I am bringing an army of allies for your son, old man, since a rumor came to the city of the Erechtheids. The rumor was that Lykos usurped the scepter of this land and is set in battle against you. So I am here to repay Herakles for saving me from the Underworld if you have any need, old man, of me and my allies. Woah! Why is the ground littered with corpses? Amphitryon: O lord of the olive-bearing hill. T: Why do you call on me with a pitiable prelude? A: We have suffered miserable woes from the gods. T: Whose children are these whom you weep for? A: My miserable son begat them, and he killed them although he fathered them, and now he suffers the taint of their blood. A stroke of madness struck him, and he killed them with arrows dipped in the hundred-headed hydra’s venom. T: This is the work of Hera. Who is the man by the corpses, old man? A: He is my much-suffering son, who battled with the gods against the giants and marched as a warrior into Phlegra’s plain. T: Why does he cover his wretched head with his robes? A: He is ashamed of looking into your eyes since you are his friend and kinsman and ashamed of shedding his children’s blood. T: But what if I have come to sympathize with him? Uncover him! A: O son! Cast the garment away from your eyes! Throw it off and show your face to the sun! My body’s weight contends with its tears. I beg you and fall before your knees and hands as I shed grey tears. O my son, check that wild lion’s spirit in you, which drives you upon a bloody and impious path! With such a stubbornness do you add new griefs to the old, my child. T: Well then. I bid you who sit upon your seat of misery to show your face to your friends. No darkness has a cloud that is dark enough to hide your misfortunes. Why do you wave your hand at me and show fear? Are you afraid that your pollution could taint me through your words? I don’t mind suffering with you! You aided me when you rescued me from the dead and brought me into the light. Stand up! Uncover your wretched head and look at me! A noble man bears the calamities the gods deal and never refuses them. H: Get away from my pollution, o miserable friend! T: No vengeful spirit besets friends because of their friends. H: I thank you: I don’t deny that I once helped you. T: And I who once received kindness from you, now pity you. H: Am I pitiable for killing my own children? T: I weep since your kindness has yielded an unworthy fortune. H: Have you ever seen another person amid greater sorrows? T: Your misfortunes stretch from under the earth up to heaven. H: For this reason, I have resolved to die. T: Do you think the gods care about your threats? H: The gods show no remorse; so I will show none towards them. T: What will you do? Where is your fury carrying you? H: I will die and go under the earth where I have just come from. T: You speak words that befit a peasant. H: Are you really lecturing me while you are free from misery? T: Are these really the words of Herakles who has endured so much? H: I have certainly not endured this much: suffering must have a limit. T: Is this the great benefactor and friend of mortals? H: Mortals can’t help me; Hera alone holds power over me. T: Greece will not allow you to die in stupidity. H: Listen to me now, so I can argue against what you advise. I’ll tell you why my life is and always was intolerable. First, I was born from a man who killed my mother’s father and was thus guilty of murder when he married my mother Alkmene. Whenever a family’s foundation is not well established, its descendants must suffer. Zeus, whoever Zeus is, fathered me as a bane for Hera! Don’t take offense, old man: I consider you my father instead of Zeus. When I was still an infant, Zeus’ wife sent gorgon-eyed serpents into my cradle to kill me. My suffering persisted even after I matured and took on this cloak of flesh. Why should I name all the hardships I suffered? What sort of lions or triple-bodied Typhons or Giants and four-legged centaurs have I not dispatched? I have now endured my final labor:
crowning the house with the slaughter of my own children! I have come to this point of misery: I can no longer dwell in Thebes. Even if I stayed, what temple or community could I approach? I now bear such pollution that makes me utterly unapproachable. It is best if none of the Greeks ever sees me again! I was once considered fortunate and happy in this community. But now, why even go on living? What benefit is there in such a worthless and defiled existence? So let Zeus’ illustrious wife dance over me and stomp her feet upon the floors of Olympian Zeus! She fulfilled the schemes she desired: she has overturned Greece’s best man and the foundations of his house. Who would even pray to such a goddess? She was jealous of Zeus’ union with another woman and so destroyed Greece’s blameless benefactor. T: I would advise you to do something besides suffering so severely. No mortal is untouched by misfortunes. Nor is any god, if the stories of the poets are true. Do the gods not lie with one another unlawfully? Have they not thrown fathers into chains to gain power? Despite their crimes, they inhabit Olympus and exalt themselves. Yet what will you say, if you, a mere mortal, agonize so much over your fate when the gods don’t? So leave Thebes and follow the law.
Come with me to Pallas Athena’s city! There, after I have cleansed your hands from pollution, I shall give you a home and a share of my wealth. H: Alas! These things you speak of are trifling to my woes. But the fact that the gods enjoy unlawful love affairs and bind one another’s hands with chains: I don’t believe it. I have never believed this, and I will never be convinced that one god is naturally master over another god. For a god, if he is truly a god, wants and lacks nothing. These lies are merely the wretched tales of poets. Although buried in sorrows, I have considered whether I would be guilty of cowardice if I give up my life. A man who can’t endure his own misfortunes wouldn’t be able to withstand a mortal’s weapon. I will persevere in life. I will go to your city,
and I thank you for your countless gifts. Well, old man, now you witness my departure into exile. Now you look upon me as the murderer of my own children. Give these children a burial and adorn their corpses; honor them with your tears since custom forbids me that. Lay them at their mother’s breast and fold them into her arms—a sad fellowship that I unwillingly destroyed! After you’ve buried their corpses, go on living in this city, even though it will be miserable. Alas for my wife and children! Alas for me! I am cut off from my loved ones and left to suffer so miserably! O bittersweet kisses! Oh my cruel partnership with my weapons! I don’t know whether to keep my weapons or let them go. They will knock against my ribs and say these words: “In holding us, you hold your child-killers! You slew your sons and wife with us!” Do I still carry them? What could I say in response! Yet, should I strip myself of the weapons that I used in the greatest deeds of Greece and die shamefully at the hands of my enemies? These weapons must not be left behind but kept in misery. O land of Kadmos and all you Thebans: cut your hair, mourn with me, attend my children’s funeral! Lament for these corpses and for me with a single dirge! We have all been destroyed with a single blow from Hera. T: Rise, oh unhappy man! Enough of yours tears now. H: Ah! I wish I could become a stone and be oblivious of my misery. T: Stop! Give your hand to your helping friend. H: But I don’t want to stain your clothes with blood! T: Stain them. Spare nothing. I won’t refuse you! Put your arm around my neck, and I will lead you. H: Theseus, turn me around so I can see my children. T: What for? Will this soothe you? H: I want to see them, and I also wish to embrace my father. A: Look here, my son. Your wish is also dear to me. T: Anyone seeing you acting so cowardly won’t approve of you. H: Does my life seem so low to you now? You did not think so before. How miserable were you when I found you in the Underworld? T: As far as courage goes, I was worse than anyone. H: Then how can you say I have been humbled by my sorrows? T: Walk forward! H: Farewell, father. A: And to you, my son! We go now in grief and with many tears, bereft of our greatest friend.