Euripides

March 9, 2008

euripides.jpg
ca. 480 BC–406 BC

Heracles (416 BC)

 The introduction states:

“Heracles has no visible hamartia; if he falls, he falls for no flaw of his own nature or failure of judgment, but as the innocent victim of divine brutality.”

Euripides reversese the story of Heracles; the myth states that Heracles first kills his family and then decends to repay for the debt of his killing
Themes of paternal care: celebration of Zeus as divine father, but in moments of madness Zeus is scorned for lack of paternal care and Heracles calls Amphitrion his real father; Amphitrion is elevated to the level of Zeus through his noble paternalism; Megara’s father and lack of Heracles presence with his own sons; Emphasis on paternal duties over heroic obligation; Images of Heracles heroism in the context of the paternal/domestic

Godliness and humanity: To Euripides, any true divinity would not conduct themselves the way that the Greek gods do, it is only through the lies of poets that Hera is made a goddess (Euripides speaks to an Athenian audience); inscrutability of divine will makes it hard to decipher between goodness and evil; Loyalty of friendship creates nobility/ divinity in humanity- Heracles rescues Theseus from Hades and Theseus in turn is there to support Heracles, Heracles’ family is exposed because friends don’t defefnd against the tyrant Lycus

Milton is concerned with Euripides for his investment in political tyranny and resistance: external tyranny is a restult of internal insanity.

Heracles as a revengeful character, kills Thebes to secure a reign, celebration of bloodshed, Heracles imagines he is murdering his enemies sons in which he is commiting the same act as Lycus

Aristatelian unities: Action (a tragic plot must have a beginning, middle and end united by causal relationship), Time (24 hours), Characters (consistent traits)- Heracles flaunts Aristotilian unity of action, nothing about Lycus’ plot leads to Heracles’ madness

Quotations:

“Amphitryon: And of our friends, some prove no friends at all,/ while those still true are powerless to help./ This is what misfortune means among mankind;/ upon no man wo wished me well at all,/ could I wish this acid test of friends might fall.” 

“Lycus: What was so prodigious in your husband’s deeds? / Because he killed a hydra in a marsh:/ Or the Nemean lion? They were trapped in nets,/ not strangled, as he claims, with his bare hands./ Are these your arguments? Because of this,/ you say, the sons of Heracles should live-/ a man who, coward in everything else,/ made his reputation fighting beasts,/ who never buckled shield upon his arm,/ never came near a spear, but held a bow,/ the coward’s weapon, handy to run away?/ The bow is no proof of manly courage;/ no, your real man stands firm in the ranks/ and dares to face the gash the spear may make./ My policy, old man, is not mere cruelty;/ call it caution.”
“Amphitryon: But the man whose hands know how to aim the bow,/ holds the one best weapon: a thousand arrows shot,/ he still has more to guard himself from death.”

“Chorus: Never shall you boast that I am your slave,/ never will you reap the harvest of my work,/ all I labored for. Go back whence you came;/ rage there. So long as there is life in me,/ you shall not kill the sons of Heracles.”

“Chorus: But corrupt with evil schemes/ and civil strife, this city lost its mind;/ for were it sane, it would not live your slave.”

“Megara: I am in terror/ of their death. And yet how base a thing it is/ when a man will struggle with necessity!/ We have to die. Then do we have to die/ consumed alive, mocked by those we hate?-/ for me a worse disaster than to die./ Our house and birth demand a better death./ Upon your helm the victor’s glory sits,/ forbidding that you die a coward’s death;/ while my husband needs to witness to swear/ he would not want these sons of his to live/ by living cowards.”

“Amphitryon: For nothing, then, O Zeus, you shared my wife!/ In vain we called you partner in my won!/ Your love is even less than you pretended;/ and I, mere man, am nobler than you, great god./ I did not betray the sons of Heracles.”

“Heracles: All those men of Thebes who took my goodness and returned me ill-/ this bow with which I won the victor’s crown/ shall slaughter them with rain of winged shafts/ till all Ismenus chokes upon the corpses/ and Dirce’s silver waters run with blood./ What should I defend if not my wife and sons/ and my old father? Farewell, my labors!/ for wrongly I preferred you more than these./ They would have died for me, and I should die/ in their defense. Or is this bravery,/ to do Eurystheus’ orders and contend/ with lions and hydras, and not to struggle/ for my children’s lives? From this time forth,/ call me no more ‘Heracles the victor.’
Chorus: This is right, that a man defend his sons,/ his aged father, and his wedded wife.”

“Heracles: Here all mankind is equal:/ rich and poor alike, they love their children.”

“Strophe I: But old age I loathe: ugly,/ murderous. Let the waves take it/ so it comes no more to the homes/ and cities of men! Let the wind/ whirl it away forever!”

“But evil men should live their oap,/ one single life, and run no more./ By such a sign all men would know/ the wicked from the good,/ as when the clouds are broken/ and the sailor sees the stars./ But now the gods have put/ between the noble and the base/ no clear distinction down.”

“Amphitryon: I’ll go in and watch/ his boedy fall. This is sweet: to see your foe/ perish and pay to justice all he owes.”

“Strophe I, Chorus: Disaster is reversed!/ The tyrant’s life turns back to Hades!/ Justice flows back! O fate of the gods,/ returning!”

“Antistrophe 3: O marriage-bed two bridegrooms shared!/ One was man; the other, Zeus,/ who entered in the bridal bed/ and with Alcmene lay.”

“Madness: O Sun, be my witness: I act against my will./ But since I must perform the service you and Hera ask,/ in full cry, like the hound that bays the huntsman,/ go I will: to the heart of Heracles I run”

“Amphitryon: Take care, take care. My grief is such,/ I have no fear to leave the light and die./ But if he murders me who begot him,/ he shall add a greater grief to these,/ and have on him the curse of father’s blood.”

“Heracles: Why then am I so sparing of this life,/ born the killer of my dearest sons?/ Let me avenge my children’s murder:/ let me hurl myself down from some sheer rock,/ or drive the whetted sword against my side/ or expunge with fire this body’s madness/ and burn away this guilt which sticks to my life!”

“Theseus: Are you afraid mere words would pollute me?/ What do I care if your misfortunes fall/ on me? You were my good fortune once:/ you saved me from the dead, brought me back to light./ I loathe a friend whose gratitude grows old,/ a friend who takes his friend’s prosperity/ but will not voyage with im in his grief./ Rise up; uncover that afflicted head/ and look on us. This is courage in a man:/ to bear unflinchingly what heaven sends.”

“Theseus: No mortal man can stain what is divine.”

“Theseus: Your wretchedness towers up and touches heaven.”

“Heracles: Listen: let me tell you what makes a mock/ at your advice. Let me show you my life;/ a life not worth living now, or ever./ Take my father first, a man who killed/ my mother’s father and having such a curse,/ married Alcmene who gave birth to me./ When a house is built on poor foundations,/ then its descendants are the heirs of grief./ Then Zeus- whoever Zeus may be – begot me/ for Hera’s hatred. Take no offense, old man,/ for I count you my father now, not Zeus.”

“Theseus: Fate exempts non man; all men are flawed,/ and so the gods, unless the poets lie./ Do not the gods commit adultery?/ Have they not cast their fathers into chains,/ in pursuit of power? Yet all the same,/ despite their crimes, they live upon Olympos./ How dare you then, mortal that you are,/ to protest your fate, when the gods do not?”

“Heracles: I do not believe the gods commit/ adultery, or bind each other in chains./ I never did believe it; I never shall;/ nor that one god is tyrant over the rest./ If god is truly god, he is perfect,/ lacking nothing. These are poets’ wretched lies.”

“Heracles: O my weapons, bitter partners of my life!/ What shall I do? Let you go, or keep you,/ knocking against my ribs and always saying,/ ‘With us you murdered wife and sons. Wearing us,/ you wear your children’s killers.’ Can that be worn?/ What could I reply? Yet, naked of these arms,/ with which I did the greatest deeds in Hellas,/ must I die in shame at my enemies’ hands?/ No, they must be borne; but in pain I bear them.”

“Take my children out, take them to their graves,/ while I, whose whole house has gone down in grief,/ am towed in Theseus’ wake like some little boat./ The man who would prefer great wealth or strength/ more than love, more than friends, is diseased of soul.”

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One Response to “Euripides”

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