EURIPIDES

HERAKLES
[HERCULES FURENS](1)

Translated by Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, British Columbia
Canada
2022

This translation, first published on the internet in 2022 and revised in minor ways since, is in the public domain (released January 2024) and thus may be downloaded and distributed, in whole or in part, without permission and without charge. It may also be freely edited and adapted to suit the particular needs of the person using it.

This document is available in RTF and PDF formats at the following sites: Herakles (RTF) and Herakles (PDF)

Introductory Note

In numbering the lines in the following English text, the translator has normally included a short indented line with the short line immediately above it, so that two or three partial lines count as a single line in the reckoning. The line numbers in square brackets refer to the Greek text; line numbers without brackets refer to the English text.

Herakles was first performed in Athens c. 416 BC.

 

Dramatis Personae

AMPHITRYON: mortal father of Herakles, an old man.
MEGARA: wife of Herakles.
CHORUS: citizens of Thebes.(2)
LYCUS: new ruler of Thebes.
HERAKLES: son of Zeus.
IRIS: divine messenger of the gods.
LYSSA: goddess of madness.
MESSENGER: servant in Herakles's home.
THESEUS: ruler of Athens.
SONS OF HERAKLES AND MEGARA: three young boys.
ATTENDANTS, SOLDIERS.

[Outside the home of Herakles in Thebes. Amphitryon, Megara, and the three young sons of Herakles sit beside an altar to Zeus, where they have sought protection against Lycus, the new tyrant-ruler of Thebes. Behind the altar is the front door of Herakles's house or palace.]

AMPHITRYON
    What mortal does not know about the man
    who shared his wife with Zeus? People call him
    Amphitryon from Argos. He was born
    some time ago to Alcaeus, the son
    of Perseus.(3) Amphitryon was father
    to Herakles, who lived right here in Thebes,
    where from the dragon’s teeth that Cadmus sowed
    arose a harvest crop of earth-born giants.
    War god Ares spared a few of them,
    and their children’s children now live in Thebes,               10
    city of Cadmus.(4) From them sprang Creon,
    son of Menoeceus and king of Thebes.
    He fathered Megara. Some years ago
    all the citizens of Cadmus’ city                                                  [10]                                           
    escorted her, singing wedding songs,
    while flute music played, as splendid Herakles
    led her to my home. Later Herakles
    moved away from Thebes, where I was settled,
    leaving Megara and her relations.
    He was eager to live in Argolis,                                            20
    a walled city built by the Cyclopes.(5)
    I had run away from there, an exile,

    because I had murdered Electryon.(6)
    So Herakles, to ease my punishment

    and keen to have a home in his own land,
    offered Eurystheus a rich reward,
    if he would permit me to return:
    he said that he would civilize the land                                       [20]
    by getting rid of all the savage monsters.
    Hera may have goaded him to do this,                                30
    or perhaps his fate had turned against him.(7)
    The work he had to do was onerous,
    but he has finished all his tasks but one.
    To complete the final labour, he went through
    the mouth of Taenarus down to Hades,
    to drag that triple-bodied hound back up
    into the light.(8) He has not yet returned.
    Now, the Cadmeans tell an ancient tale
    about a man called Lycus, the husband
    of Dirce. He was master of this city                                     40
    with its seven towers, before Zethus
    and Amphion, both sons of Zeus, who rode
    on milk-white horses, became kings of Thebes.                        [30]
    His son, who has the same name as his father,
    was not from Thebes—he was a foreigner
    from Euboea. He murdered Creon,
    and after the killing ruled the country,
    for he had attacked the city at a time
    when it was suffering from civil strife.
    So our family relationship to Creon                                    50
    will probably be very bad for us.
    For now my son is in some dark corner
    of the world below, the new king, Lycus,
    wishes to destroy Herakles’s children,
    his wife, and me (as if my feeble age
    would still make me a man), so one blood feud                         [40]
    can be extinguished by another one,
    and these young boys will not grow into men
    who could seek vengeance for the slaughter
    of their mother’s family. So my son                                     60
    left me in this house to rear his children
    and look after things, while he makes his way
    into the pitch-black darkness of the earth.
    I am sitting here at the altar of Zeus
    the Saviour with my son’s wife, Megara,
    to help prevent the sons of Herakles
    from being murdered. My heroic son
    had this altar built to commemorate
    his splendid triumph over the Minyae.                                      [50]
    We guard our seats here very carefully,                              70
    for we are in need of everything—food,
    drink, and clothing—and we lie down to sleep
    on the bare cold earth. Our home is sealed shut,
    so we stay here in order to be safe.
    As for our friends, some of them, I notice,
    are uncertain, and others who are loyal
    find it impossible to offer us
    any further help. This is what men mean
    by being unfortunate. I hope that no one
    who feels even the least good will to me                            80
    ever has to test this unerring proof
    of friendship.

MEGARA
    Old friend, who once led the army                                               [60]
    of the Thebans to splendid victory
    by destroying the city of the Taphians,
    the ways gods deal with men are never certain.
    Look at me. Good fortune never ignored
    my father, and he was once considered
    an important man, because he was so rich
    and ruled the city. But most people crave
    wealth and power and like to throw long spears                90
    at those who are successful. My father
    had children, too. He gave me to your son,
    uniting me in a splendid marriage
    with Herakles. And now all that has gone—
    it has flown away—and you and I, old man,                              [70]
    are going to die, and these children, too,
    the sons of Herakles, whom I keep safe
    underneath my wings, like a bird holding
    her chicks close to her. The boys question me,
    one after the other, “Mother, tell us,                                   100
    where has our father gone? What is he doing?
    When will he be back?” They keep on asking
    about their father—they are bewildered
    as children often are. I change the subject
    or make up stories. But I am astonished
    whenever the doors creak, how they jump up,
    all eager to embrace their father’s knees.
    So now, old friend, what hope do we still have?
    What route to safety are you preparing?                                    [80]
    For that I look to you. We cannot move                              110
    in secret beyond the borders of this land,
    there are too many people watching us
    at the exit points, and we no longer
    have any hope of safety in our friends.
    Whatever you are planning, let me know,
    in case they are preparing for our deaths.

AMPHITRYON
    My daughter, it is not a trivial
    or simple matter to provide advice
    on things like this, not without hard work.
    Since we lack power to do anything,                                   120
    we should just delay.

MEGARA
                                      Do you want more grief?                            [90]
    Or are you still that much in love with life?

AMPHITRYON
    I rejoice in life, and I cherish hope.

MEGARA
    So do I, old friend. But you should not hope
    for something we have no right to expect.

AMPHITRYON
    The remedy for what is troubling us
    lies in delays.

MEGARA
                        But I find the time they take
    is painful—like a lingering bite.
   
AMPHITRYON
    My daughter, there may be a useful way
    for you and me to escape the hardships                              130
    we are facing now. My son, your husband,
    may still come back. So keep calm. Wipe the tears
    flowing from your children’s eyes. Soothe their spirits
    with words—make up stories to divert them,
    even though such deceit is to be pitied.                                    [100]
    For even human sufferings grow weary,
    and storm winds do not retain their force
    forever, nor are successful people
    always prosperous to the very end.
    All things change from one thing to another.                     140
    The finest men are those who always keep
    their hopes alive, and giving up all hope
    signifies the man who is a coward.
   
[Enter the Chorus.]

CHORUS
    I have come here, to this high-roofed house
    and old man’s resting place, propped up this way
    by my staff, chanting a mournful song,                                      [110]
    like some old grey bird. I am just a voice,
    a dream vision of the night, a phantom,
    trembling with old age, but prepared to help.
    Ah, lads, you boys without a father,                                   150
    and you, old man and you, you poor mother,
    grieving for your man down in Hades’ halls.

    Do not let your heavy feet, arms, and legs
    give up, like a young horse under the yoke                                [120]
    who slackens on a stony hill dragging
    a heavy burden in a four-wheeled wagon.
    Whoever feels his footsteps growing weak
    should hold someone else’s hand or clothing.
    Let each old man help out another one,
    like when we were young and under arms,                         160
    battle comrades toiling with new spears,
    so many years ago—we were no disgrace
    to our glorious native land!

                                            Look at these boys!
    See how their father’s spirit is flashing                                      [130]
    in their eyes. His unhappy fortunes
    have not left these children unaffected,
    but they retain his graceful manliness.
    O Hellas, if you lose citizens like these
    think of the kind of allies you will miss.
   
CHORUS
    But I see Lycus, king of Thebes, approaching—                 170
    he is coming past the house.

[Enter Lycus with attendants.]

LYCUS
    I would like to ask a question, if I may,                                      [140]
    to Herakles’s father and his wife.
    Indeed, as your lord and master, I have
    a right to ask you what I wish to know.
    How much do you desire to prolong your lives?
    What hope or what assistance can you see
    that will rescue you from death? Do you believe
    the father of these children, who now lies
    in Hades, will return? You exaggerate                                 180
    your grief at having to die in a manner
    that is unworthy of you, a man who
    spread vain boasts throughout all Hellas that Zeus
    shared your marriage bed and was your partner
    in producing children, and you who say
    you are wife to the very best of men.
    But has your husband ever accomplished
    something notable? What if he did kill
    the hydra in a marsh or that monstrous lion
    of Nemea? He caught it in a snare,                                      190
    although he claims he seized it with his arms
    and strangled it. Are these stories the weapons
    your are going to use to fight against me?
    Is this the reason Herakles’s children
    ought not to die? He has a reputation
    as a courageous man in his struggles
    with wild beasts, but these mean very little—
    for all other things he has no heart at all.
    He never strapped a shield on his left arm
    or approached a band of hostile spearmen.                         200   [160]
    No. He fights with a bow, a coward’s weapon,
    always ready to run away. The bow
    is no proof of manliness or courage—
    not like the man who stands and holds his ground
    and dares to face the flying spears, whose wounds
    can lacerate his flesh. What I am doing,
    old man, is not insolence but caution.
    For I am quite aware that I killed Creon,
    this woman’s father, and occupy his throne.
    So I have no desire to see these boys                                   210
    grow into men and then take their revenge
    on me for the crimes I have committed.

AMPHITRYON
    Let Zeus defend his interest in his son.                                      [170]
    For my part, Herakles, it’s up to me
    to show in what I say this man’s ignorance
    about you. For I will not allow myself
    to listen to any man defaming you.
    First then, to call Herakles a coward
    is, in my view, a shameful use of words,
    an expression he never should have uttered.                        220
    With the gods as witnesses, I must refute
    that allegation for you. I appeal
    to Zeus’s thunder and the chariot
    Herakles was in when his winged arrows
    struck those earth-born Giants in the ribs,
    and with the gods he could then celebrate                                [180]
    a splendid victory.(9) Or go to Pholoe,
    you despicable king, and ask that race
    of insolent four-legged Centaurs
    who they would judge the bravest man of all.                     230
    They will say my son, the man you claim
    is just a charlatan.(10) And if you asked
    Dirphys in Euboea, your native land,
    it would not sing your praises. Why should it?
    Your have never done a single noble deed
    to which your country could bear witness.
    Then you denigrate that clever instrument,
    the archer’s bow and arrows. But come now,
    listen to me and and learn something useful.
    A hoplite heavily armed becomes enslaved                         240  [190]
    to his own weapons, and if those in the ranks
    are not brave enough, he himself is killed,
    thanks to the cowardice of his companions.(11)
    If he breaks his spear, he cannot protect
    his body from a lethal wound, for he has
    only one way he can defend himself.
    A man who holds a bow whose aim is true
    only has one weapon, but it is the best.
    By shooting countless arrows at other men
    he protects his body and does not die.                                250
    He keeps his distance and holds the enemy
    in check. They stay on watch, but his arrows
    are invisible and inflict harsh wounds.
    He remains hidden from his enemies                                         [200]
    but constantly on guard—and this tactic
    is by far the wisest course in battle,
    to hurt the enemy and protect yourself,
    without relying on chance. These arguments
    of mine are the opposite of your own
    concerning the matter we were discussing.                        260
    Now, why do you wish to kill these children?
    What have they done to you? I will concede
    that in one way you are acting prudently—
    being yourself a coward, you are afraid
    of a noble man’s descendants. That fear
    is hard on us, if your craven nature                                            [210]
    means we have to die. We are your betters
    and would have made you suffer, if Zeus
    had been more righteous in his heart to us.
    But if you wish to hold onto the sceptre                             270
    of this land, then let us leave as exiles,
    and do not act with violence, or else
    you yourself will have to suffer violence,
    when gods change the winds of your good fortune.
    Now, land of Cadmus, I turn to you, as well,
    with words of condemnation and abuse.
    Is this the way you defend Herakles
    and his children, the man who all alone
    moved to fight those Minyans in battle                                 [220]
    and gave a glimpse of freedom to the Thebans ?(12)                280
    I will not praise Hellas, nor will I ever
    remain silent about her wretched conduct
    towards my son. She should have marched to Thebes
    to help these young boys out, bringing with them
    fire and spearmen and warrior armour,
    to pay him back for all his weary labours
    in ridding the land and sea of monsters.
    But, my child, neither the Theban city
    nor Hellas is now offering any help.
    You look to me, but I’m a feeble friend,                              290
    nothing now but a chattering tongue.
    The muscle I once used to have is gone,                                   [230]
    my limbs tremble with old age, and my strength
    has disappeared. If I were young again
    and my body still retained its power,
    I would have grabbed my spear and sprinkled blood
    on Lycus’s blond locks. I could watch him flee
    beyond the realm of Atlas, in terror
    of my spear.

CHORUS
                                    Though often slow to start,
    the best men have good reasons to speak out.                   300

LYCUS
    Use whatever lofty language you desire
    when you talk about me. I will respond
    to your fine words with unwelcome actions.

[Turning to his attendants]

    You there, go to Helicon, and you others                                   [240]
    to the forest on Parnassus. Once there,
    tell the woodsmen to cut down logs of oak.
    Then bring the timber back into the city.
    Pile it around this altar, front and back,
    set it alight, and burn them all alive,
    so they can understand this fact—the dead                        310
    no longer rule this land. I am now its king.

[Turning his attention to the Chorus.]

    And you old men, who oppose my judgment,
    you will be moaning not only for these sons
    of Herakles but also for new troubles
    in your home. And then you will remember                               [250]
    that I am king and you are merely slaves.

CHORUS [spoken by different individuals]
    You offspring of the earth, once sowed by Ares,
    after he had hacked out all the teeth
    in the dragon’s ravenous jaws, why not
    raise the staff you have in your right hand                          320
    and hit this heathen fellow on the head
    and make him bleed? He is not from Thebes—
    and that’s a great disgrace, a foreigner
    ruling younger men. But you will never get
    much joy from being my lord and master.

    Nor will you ever take what my hands earned
    after much hard work. You should go back                                [260]
    to where you came from. Maltreat people there.
    As long as I’m alive, you will never kill
    the sons of Herakles. And he is not hiding                         330
    so far beneath the earth that he’s abandoned
    his own sons.

    Since you now possess this land
    which you have ruined, Herakles, our helper,
    has not received the recognition he deserves.
   
    Should I work hard to assist my friends
    once they die, when friends are needed most?

    O right hand, how you yearn to grip a spear,
    but your lack of strength saps my desire,
    or else I would have stopped you calling me a slave                  [270]
    and would have made a splendid governor                         340
    of Thebes, a post you now enjoy. A city
    sick with civil strife and evil counsel
    does not think properly. If it did,
    it would never take you as its master.

MEGARA
    Old friends, I commend you, for it is right
    that friends should feel a justified resentment
    on behalf of those they love, but do not
    provoke the tyrant by arguing our cause
    in case he makes you suffer. Now, Amphitryon,
    listen to what I think—you may find something                 350
    in what I have to say. I love my children.
    How can I not love the ones I bore                                             [280]
    and for whose sake I have worked so hard?
    I consider death a horrifying thing,
    but men who fight against necessity
    are, in my view, foolish. Since we must die,
    let us not be eaten away by fire,
    while our enemies laugh at us—to me
    that is a dishonour far worse than death.
    In many things, we must act with honour—                      360
    that is a debt we owe our families.
    You are a splendid warrior—you have
    your reputation—so for you to die
    a coward’s death is just not feasible.
    My famous husband needs no witnesses                                   [290]
    to prove that he would never wish to save
    these children if it meant that they would then
    be labeled cowards. For the nobly born
    suffer from the shaming of their children.
    And I must not refuse to emulate                                       370
    my husband’s actions. Now think about this—
    I have considered what you are hoping for.
    Do you think your son will come home to Thebes
    from the world below? Who has ever returned
    from the dead and made it back from Hades?
    Or could you mollify this man Lycus
    with soothing words? Surely not. One should run
    from stupid enemies and yield to those
    who are well bred and wise, for with such men,                        [300]
    if you behave with proper modesty,                                    380
    you can easily draw up a friendly truce.
    I have already pondered the idea
    that if we were prepared to plead our case,
    he might send the children into exile.
    But what a wretched life—save them from death
    and then leave them in abject poverty.
    There is a saying that the face of hosts
    looks with pleasure at their exiled friends
    for just one single day. So have the grace
    to die with us, since whatever happens,                              390
    death is waiting for you. I challenge you,
    old man, by your nobility of birth,
    for whoever struggles against a fate
    set by the gods is a passionate man,                                           [310]
    but his passion is insane, for no one
    can ever interfere with what must be.
   
CHORUS
    If my arms had any strength and a man
    insulted you, I would have no trouble
    stopping him. But now I have no power.
    And so from now on you, Amphitryon,                               400
    must look for ways to evade misfortune.

AMPHITRYON
    It is not cowardice or love of life
    that hinders me from dying. I prefer
    to save the children of my son. It seems
    I am in love with the impossible.
   
[Turning his attention to Lycus.]

    Look! Here is my neck ready for your sword—
    stab me, kill me, or hurl me from the rocks.                               [320]
    I’m begging you, my lord, to grant both of us
    one favour—kill me and this poor mother
    before you slay the children, so that we                              410
    are spared that horrific sight, as the boys
    gasp out their final breath, while calling for
    their mother and their father’s father.
    As for all the rest, do whatever you wish.
    We have no way to save ourselves from death.
   
MEGARA
    I am also begging you to grant us
    one more favour, so that you will make
    the two of us doubly indebted to you.
    Allow me to change my children’s clothing
    and dress them appropriately for death,                            420
    by opening the house—at the moment                                      [330]
    we are locked out—so that the three of them
    at least get something from their father’s home.
   
LYCUS
    That I will allow. I’ll tell my servants
    to unbolt the doors. Go inside and dress.
    I will not begrudge you your fine garments,
    but as soon as you have decked your bodies,
    I will be back to ship you off to Hades.
   
[Exit Lycus with his attendants.]

MEGARA
    Children, follow the unhappy footsteps
    of your mother into your father’s house.                        430
    Other people now own his possessions,
    but we still have his name.

[Megara and the children enter the front doors of the house.]

AMPHITRYON
                                                                        O Zeus,
    sharing my marriage bed with you now seems
    quite futile, and futile, too, was calling you                               [340]
    a partner in the fathering of my son.
    For you are less a friend than you appeared.
    You are a powerful god, and yet I,
    a mortal, am more virtuous than you—
    for I did not forsake the sons of Herakles.
    You were able to sneak into my bed                               440
    and have sex with the wife of someone else,
    without the man’s consent, yet you cannot
    come to the aid of friends and family.
    Either you are a truly stupid god,
    or else you are by nature quite unjust.
   
[Amphitryon exits into the house.]

CHORUS
    After a song of joyous prosperity,
    Phoebus is singing his own lament
    for beautiful Linus, who is dead,                                                 [350]
    strumming the strings of his lyre
    with a golden plectron. But I wish                                  450
    to chant my praise for the man
    who has gone down to darkness
    beneath the earth—a child of Zeus,
    I call him, or of Amphitryon—
    a crowning celebration of his labours,
    for the excellence of his noble toil
    is a glorious tribute to the dead.

    First, in Zeus’s sacred grove
    he killed the lion and wore                                                          [360]
    the tawny skin along his back                                              460
    with his fair head thrust in the gap
    of the fearful gaping jaws.(13)
    Once his lethal flying arrows killed
    the ferocious race of mountain centaurs.
    The lovely eddies of Peneus’s stream
    know him well and those far fields
    that lie unharvested, the farms
    on Pelion and the near-by caves                                                 [370]
    of Homole, the place from where
    the centaurs rode, with torches                                            470
    in their hands, to conquer Thessaly.

    Then he killed the dappled deer
    whose horns were made of gold,
    the dreadful scourge of rustic farmers,
    and tribute to the goddess Artemis.(14)

    He rode out in a four-horse chariot,                                           [380]
    and with an iron bit he tamed
    Diomedes’ horses, who ate
    in their stables stained with blood,
    their gory jaws devouring with joy                                      480
    the flesh of human beings, to sate
    voracious man-eating appetites.(15)
    Then he moved across the banks
    of the silvery Hebrus stream,
    still working for the tyrant of Mycenae.(16)

    And on a headland near mount Pelion,   
    close to Anaurus’ flowing stream,                                              [390]
    he slaughtered Cycnus with his arrows,
    a savage man dwelling in Amphanae,
    who murdered all his guests.                                               490

    He came to the singing maidens
    and their orchard in the distant west,
    and once he had killed the dragon there,
    whose giant crimson coils twisted
    around the tree and guarded it,
    then from the leaves of gold
    and apple-bearing boughs
    he plucked the golden fruit.(17)
    He moved to the Adriatic sea                                                      [400]
    and calmed the waves for mortal men                                 500
    who row their ships across the waves.

    He came to the domain of Atlas
    and, stretching up his arms,
    held up the central part of heaven,
    and on his manly shoulders bore
    the starry palaces of the gods.(18)
    Then he sailed through stormy waters
    of the Euxine sea against the mounted force
    of Amazons living around Maeotis,
    a lake which many rivers feed.                                             510     [410]
    He had gathered a group of friends
    from Hellas to steal from the warlike queen,
    Hippolyta, her gold-flecked warrior belt.
    Hellas completed the dangerous task,
    capturing the glorious garment
    of the barbarian queen and now
    in the city of Mycenae it is secure.(19)

    Then he burned to ashes the hydra,

    a murderous many-headed watchdog,                                        [420]
    in Lyrna, and smeared its poison                                         520
    on the arrows with which he killed
    the triple-bodied shepherd Geryon
    a monster who lived in Erytheia.(20)

    And in many other glorious tests
    you were successful. Now you have sailed
    to tearful Hades, your final labour,
    where you are finishing your life of toil
    and will not come back again. Now your house
    is bereft of friends, and Charon’s boat
    awaits your sons on that godless, unjust path                    530
    out of this life, with no hope of return.(21)
    Your house is looking to you for help,
    although you are not here in Thebes.

    If I were young again with all my strength,
    and brandishing my spear in battle,
    with my young Theban comrades by my side,
    I would have stood with courage by your sons.
    But now my blessed youth lies in the past.                                [440]

[Amphitryon, Megara, and the children enter from the front door of the palace.]

CHORUS LEADER
    But I see the children of Herakles,
    who was in earlier days so powerful,                                   540
    all dressed up in clothing of the dead,
    with his loving wife is leading her sons
    as if tied up together. There’s the old father
    of Herakles. This is too much for me—
    I cannot stop the tears from welling up
    in both my ancient eyes.                                                             [450]

MEGARA
                                                            Here we are.
    What priest or butcher will now put to death
    these unhappy children and end my life?
    The sacrificial victims are prepared
    to be escorted down to Hades’ home.                                 550
    O my children, what an strange group we are
    being led away to die—old man, young boys,
    and mother, all together. What a sad fate
    for me and for my sons. This is the last time
    my eyes will see them. I gave birth to you
    and raised you so that our enemies
    could mock, humiliate, and murder you.
    Alas! How much all the things I hoped for                                [460]
    have disappeared, the expectations raised
    from what your father promised.

[Megara now speaks to each of her sons in turn]

                                                Your dead father                      560
    wanted you to have command of Argos
    and live in the home of Eurystheus,
    with power over rich fruit-bearing lands
    in Thessaly. He would have liked to throw
    that lion’s skin over your head, the one
    he used himself to protect his body.

[Turning to the second son]

    And you were to be king of Thebes, a city
    famous for its chariots, and to receive
    as your inheritance your mother’s land—
    you begged your father to do that for you.                         570
    And as a joke he put in your right hand                                     [470]
    that cunningly carved club he used to use
    as his defence.

[Turning to the third son.]

                            And to you he promised
    to give Oechalia, which he ravaged
    with his arrows years ago.

[Speaking to all the children]

                                                Your father   
    wanted to ennoble his three children
    with three lands to rule—he was planning
    great things for when you reached maturity.
    Meanwhile, I was choosing brides for you,
    striving to forge family connections                                   580
    with Athens, Thebes, and Sparta, so that you
    might have a prosperous life with your ship
    securely anchored by cables at the stern.
    All that has disappeared. Your fortunes                                     [480]
    have changed and are giving you as brides      
    the goddesses of death instead. My tears
    will be your wedding bath. When I think of that
    I feel so miserable. Your grandfather
    considers Hades father of the brides
    and is taking on the duties of a father—                            590
    he will celebrate the marriage feast.
    Alas, which one of you will be the first
    I hold against my breast? Which one the last?
    Which one shall I kiss or hold close to me?
    I wish that, like the bees with humming wings,
    I could collect all my sighs together,
    blend them into one, and shed them in a tear.
    O my dearest Herakles, if the voice                                            [490]
    of any mortal being can be heard
    in Hades, I am calling out to you—                                     600
    your father and your sons are going to die,
    and I, too, will perish. Once, thanks to you,
    people thought me very fortunate.
    Come and help us. Show yourself to me,
    even if you are a shade or just a dream.
    That will be enough, for these murderers
    of your children are all craven fools.

AMPHITRYON
    Lady, prepare the rites for the world below.
    O Zeus, I hold up my arms to heaven
    and call on you—if you are intending                                 610
    to help these children, then protect them now,
    for soon all help from you will be in vain.                                  [500]
    And yet we have prayed to you so often.
    The work I do is useless. It seems
    that nothing can prevent their deaths.
   
[Amphitryon turns his attention to the Chorus.]

                                                        Old friends,
    the business of this life does not last long,
    so you should pass through it as pleasantly
    as possible, with no suffering or grief
    from morning until night. Time does not care
    about keeping hopes alive. He stays busy                          620
    with his own concerns, then flies away.
    Look at me—someone who was admired
    by all men for notable achievements—
    yet fortune has taken that away
    in a single day, just like a feather                                                                              [510]
    that floats off in the breeze. I do not know
    any man whose great wealth and reputation
    are secure. Farewell, comrades. You have seen
    your dear companion for the final time.

[Megara sees Herakles approaching.]

MEGARA
    Ah! Old friend, am I really looking at                                  630
    my husband? What can I say?
   
AMPHITRYON
                                        I do not know,
    my daughter. I am lost for words.

MEGARA
    This is the man who we were told
    was underneath the earth, unless it is
    a dream we are witnessing in daylight.
    What am I saying? I feel so anxious.
    What kind of vision am I looking at?
    Old man, this is none other than your son!
    Come here, children, cling to your father’s robe.                       [520]
    Go quickly—and don’t let go—for this man                       640
    will protect you just as well as Zeus.

[Enter Herakles. The children run over to him and clutch his clothing.]

HERAKLES
    Greetings to my home, to my gates and hearth!
    How glad I am to see you once again,
    now that I have come up into the light.
    Just a moment! What is going on here?
    I see my sons standing outside the doors
    dressed in robes of death, with garlands wrapped
    around their heads, and in that crowd of men,
    my wife and father weeping. What is wrong?
    I’ll move up closer to them and find out.

[Herakles moves over to Megara and Amphitryon.]

                                                                        Lady,                 650 
    what new disaster has fallen on our house?                               [530]

MEGARA
    O you dearest of all men . . .

AMPHITRYON
                                                    O ray of light
    shining for your father . . .!

MEGARA
                                            You have come back
    safe and sound, in time to save your family.

HERAKLES
    What are you talking about? Father,
    What difficulties have I come home to?

MEGARA
    We are going to be killed. Forgive me,
    old friend, if I preempt your right
    to be the first to tell him about this.
    Females are perhaps more sensitive than men,                  660
    and he was about to slay my children.
    and I, too, was about to face my deathl.
   
HERAKLES
    By Apollo, what an introduction
    to your story!

MEGARA
                                            My brothers are dead
    and my old father.

HERAKLES
                                                How did that happen?                     [540]
    Who did it? Whose spear struck him down?

MEGARA
    It was Lycus, the new king of Thebes,
    who killed him.

HERAKLES
                                Was everybody fighting?
    Was Thebes infected with sedition?

MEGARA
    Yes, with civil war. Now he holds power                             670
    in seven-gated Thebes.

HERAKLES
                                     Why are you
    and my old father so terrified?

MEGARA
    Lycus was going to kill your father
    and the children and me, as well.

HERAKLES
                                     What are you saying?
    Why was he afraid of my orphan boys?

MEGARA
    He worried they might one day seek revenge
    for Creon’s death.

HERAKLES
                                Why are the children wearing
    these clothes, as if they are preparing
    for the world below?

MEGARA
                                    We have put on these robes
    to dress for our own deaths.

HERAKLES
                                            Were you being forced                680
    to dress for your own deaths? That’s horrible!                           [550]

MEGARA
    Our friends have disappeared, and we were told
    that you had died.

HERAKLES
                                            Where did the idea
    that I was dead come from?

MEGARA
                                            There were heralds
    from Eurystheus--they announced it.

HERAKLES
    Why did you abandon my hearth and home?

MEGARA
    We were forced to. Your father was dragged
    out of his bed.

HERAKLES
                                    Did Lycus not feel shame
    dishonouring an old man like that?

MEGARA
    Lycus and goddess Shame live far apart.                            690

HERAKLES
    Did I have no friends, when I was far away?

MEGARA
    What man in misfortune has any friends?
   
HERAKLES
    Have they forgotten how much I went through
    in those battles with the Minyans?                                             [560]

MEGARA
    To repeat what I just told you, misfortune
    has no friends.

HERAKLES
                       These reminders of the world below,              700
    take them off your heads. Look up at the daylight.
    Instead of the darkness of the underworld,
    let your eyes linger on the friendly sky.
    But now my hands have work to do in Thebes.
    First, I will go and totally demolish
    this new tyrant’s home. Then I will hack off
    the ungodly villain’s head and hurl him
    to the dogs to rip apart. If I find
    any Theban who has acted badly
    after all the good things I did for him,
    I will smash him with my all-conquering club.                          [570]
    With my feathered arrows I will destroy them
    and fill Ismenus full of bloody corpses,
    and Dirce’s crystal streams will run blood red.                  710
    Who should I protect more than my wife,
    my children, and my father? Farewell then
    to all my labours! That toil was futile.
    I should have been protecting my own sons
    and been prepared to die to keep them safe,
    since they were all about to suffer death
    because of their own father. Will we say
    it is a noble act to fight the hydra
    and that lion for king Eurystheus,                                              [580]
    if I do not fight hard to save my sons                                  720
    from being killed? I will no longer have
    that splendid name I had in earlier days—
    “Herakles the Glorious Conqueror.”

CHORUS
    It is right for parents to help their children,
    their aged fathers, and their marriage partners.

AMPHITRYON
    My son, it is in your nature to love
    your family and hate your enemies.
    But do not act too rashly.

HERAKLES
                                                                    Father,
    how am I being more hasty than I should?

AMPHITRYON
    King Lycus has many allies—poor men                              730
    who talk about the riches they possess.
    They created discord in the city                                                 [590]
    and destroyed the state, because they wished
    to rob their neighbours, for the wealth they had
    in their own homes had disappeared, squandered
    by their idleness. Someone must have seen you
    entering the city. If anybody did,
    you must take care you do not unite them
    and get murdered when you least expect it.

HERAKLES
    I do not care if the whole city saw me.                               740
    But I glimpsed a bird in an inauspicious place
    and knew my family was in trouble.(22)
    So I stole into the city secretly.

AMPHITRYON
    Good. Now go inside and greet the goddess
    of the hearth and home. Let your father’s house                       [600]
    observe your face. The king will soon arrive
    in person to haul away your children
    and your wife. Then he will have them murdered.
    He will also slaughter me. If you stay here
    things will turn out well—and you will be safe.                 750
    That should work to your advantage, too.
    But do not stir up trouble in the city,
    my son, until you have things well in hand.

HERAKLES
    I will do that. What you advise is good.
    I will go in the house. After coming back
    from the sunless depths of the world below
    and queen Persephone, I will not fail
    to speak first to the gods beneath my roof.(23)

AMPHITRYON
    My son, did you really go down to Hades?                                 [610]

HERAKLES
    Yes. And I carried that three-headed monster                   760
    Cerberus back up into the daylight.

AMPHITRYON
    Did you beat him in a fight, or get him
    from the goddess?

HERAKLES
                                                    It was in a fight.
    I had a chance to see the secret rites
    of the initiated.(24)

AMPHITRYON
                                            And is that beast
    in Eurystheus’s home?

HERAKLES
                                            It is being held
    in the grove of Demeter in Hermione.


AMPHITRYON
    Does Eurystheus know you have returned
    to the upper world?

HERAKLES
                                                No. I came here first
    to find out what was going on.

AMPHITRYON
                                                             How is it                      770
    you remained so long in the world below?

HERAKLES
    I spent some time trying to get Theseus
    out of Hades.(25)

AMPHITRYON
                     Where is he? Has he gone home,                            [620]
    back to his own land?

HERAKLES
                                    He has gone to Athens,
    happy to have escaped the underworld.
    But come, my boys, accompany your father
    into the house. I suppose you are happier
    going in than you were when you came out.
    You must have courage, and stop those tears
    streaming from your eyes. You too, my lady,                      780
    pull yourself together, stop your trembling.
    Let go of my clothes. I do not have wings,
    and I am not about to run away
    from those I love. Ah, they will not let go
    but hang on to my clothing even more.
    Were you all walking on a razor’s edge?                                     [630]
    I will take them by the hand and lead them,
    pulling them behind me, like a big ship
    towing little boats. I will not neglect
    the care of my own children. All people                             790
    are in this respect the same—they love
    their children, whether they are better off
    or paupers. Money creates differences
    among them—some have it, some do not.
    But every human being loves his children.
   
[Herakles, Amphitryon, Megara, and the children exit into the house, leaving the Chorus alone on stage]

CHORUS
    I always loved the years when I was young,
    but old age now hangs heavy on my head,
    a burden weightier than Aetna’s peak.                                       [640]
    Its darkness on my eyes conceals the light.
    I would never never trade my youthful years                     800
    for all the wealth of Asia’s kings or houses
    stuffed with gold. For rich and poor alike,
    the most glorious years are when we’re young.
    I hate old age, a mournful, deadly time.
    I wish it would sink down beneath the waves                            [650]
    and never move into the homes and cities
    of mortal men or else be carried off,
    drifting away in the wind on wings.

    If gods were intelligent and wise
    in how they dealt with human beings,                               810
    they would have given men a second youth,
    a visible mark for those who have displayed                              [660]
    their human excellence. After they were dead,
    they would once more come back into the light
    and run a second course. The meanly born
    would only have one life. If this were done,
    we could all distinguish the good people
    from the bad, just as sailors recognize
    the number of the stars among the clouds.
    But now there is no useful boundary                                  820
    set by the gods between the good and bad,                              [670]
    and as the years roll by, the only thing
    that grows in power is human wealth.

    I will not stop from blending into one
    that sweetest of all combinations—
    the Graces and the Muses.(26) I hope      
    I never have to live without the Muses
    and will always be with those who wear
    garlands of honour and of great success.
    The ancient singer still celebrates                                      830
    his memories, and so I will still sing
    of gloriously triumphant Herakles,                                             [680]
    as long as Bromius, giver of wine,
    is close to me, while seven-stringed lutes
    and Libyan flutes are still playing on.
    I will not stop singing the Muses’ praise,   
    for they are the ones who get me dancing.
   
    The women of Delos sing their joyful song,
    as they circle around the temple gates,
    in honour of Leto’s glorious son,                                         840
    the beautiful dancer.(27) So my old lips                                      [690]
    will cry out at your palace doors
    my songs of joy, like a dying swan,
    for my subject is worthy of my praise—
    a son of Zeus whose noble birth
    is far surpassed by his glorious deeds.
    His labours have given mortal men
    a tranquil life, for he has removed
    so many monstrous and ferocious beasts.                                 [700] 

[Enter Amphitryon from the house and Lycus and some attendants from the street.]

LYCUS
    It is time you finally left your house,                                   850
    Amphitryon. You have already taken
    far too long dressing yourself in robes
    and ornaments of the dead. But come now,
    tell Herakles’s wife and children to come here,
    outside the house, and die in the manner
    you yourselves, of your own free will, proposed.

AMPHITRYON
    My lord, you harass me in my misfortune
    and pile insults on me over my dead son.
    Though you rule in Thebes, you should moderate
    your eagerness to have us killed. But still,                          860
    since you state my death is a necessity,                                    [710]
    I must comply. We all must carry out
    whatever you think best.

LYCUS
                                                    Where is Megara?
    Where are the children of Alcmene’s son?(28)

AMPHITRYON [peering inside the doors of the house]
    It seems to me, as far as I can see,
    looking through this doorway, that she . . .

LYCUS [interrupting]
    What do you think? Do you know for sure?

AMPHITRYON
    . . . is sitting as a suppliant on the steps
    of Hestia’s altar . . .

LYCUS [interrupting]
    Imploring them in vain to save her life!                              870

AMPHITRYON
    And making futile cries to her dead husband.

LYCUS
    He is not here, and he will never come.

AMPHITRYON
                                                                             No.
    Not unless some god wakes him from the dead.

LYCUS
    Go to her, and bring her to the palace.                                      [720]

AMPHITRYON
    If I do that, I would be helping you
    commit her murder.

LYCUS
                                        If you have misgivings,
    I am not afraid to bring the mother out,
    together with her sons. Servants, follow me,
    so that we may happily bring this matter
    to its conclusion and then rest.

[Lycus and his retinue go into the house.]

AMPHITRYON
                                                    Go then.                                880
    Go and meet your fate. Someone else
    will probably take care of all the rest.
    Since you acted badly, you can expect
    to meet with bad things in return.

[Amphitryon addresses the Chorus]

                                                  
Old friends,
    it is good that he is going inside.
    He will get entangled in the meshes
    of a net of swords, while he is planning
    the slaughter of his neighbours, the monster!                              [730]
    I will go in to watch him collapse and die,
    for the killing of one’s enemy brings joy,                            890
    when he is paying the price for his misdeeds.

[Amphitryon goes in the house.]

CHORUS
    Evil has reversed its course—the man
    who was once a mighty leader has turned
    his life away from Hades. Ah, justice
    and the recurring river of the gods!

    Finally you have reached a place where death                           [740]
    will pay the penalty for the insolence
    you have shown towards your betters.
   
    My joy has made me weep. He has come back!
    My heart never expected this to happen—                         900
    the lord and master of this land!

CHORUS LEADER
    Come, old friends, we should look inside the house,
    to see if Herakles has fulfilled our hopes.

LYCUS [from within]
    Help me! Help!                                                                            [750]

CHORUS LEADER
                                    How I love to hear the start
    of that singing inside the house—his death
    is not far off. Our lord and master cries
    the prelude to his death.

LYCUS [from within]
                                    O land of Thebes
    I am being killed! Treason!

CHORUS [speaking individually]
    You are a killer and must pay the price.
    Be brave and face your retribution now—                          910
    punishment for the evil you have done.

    Who was it that, although he was a mortal,
    foolishly abused the sacred heavenly gods
    by stupidly proclaiming they had no power?

    Old friends, that godless man is now no more.                         [760]

    The house is silent. We should turn to dancing.

    My friends have been successful, as I hoped.

    Dancing, dances, and more festivities
    will now take over Thebes, our sacred city.
    A change from tears, a change in fortune                          920
    gives birth to brand new songs. Our recent king
    has gone, our earlier king now rules.
    He left safe harbour down in Acheron,                                      [770]
    and now our hopes have been fulfilled
    beyond our wildest dreams.

    The gods, the gods take care of the unjust
    and lend their ears to those who honour them.
    Good luck and gold can seduce men’s hearts
    and bring on after them an unjust power.
    For no man ever has sufficient courage                              930
    to think how time can change his fortune.
    And so, neglecting laws for lawlessness,
    he shatters the black chariot of success.                                   [780]
   
    O Ismenus, bedeck yourself with garlands!
    You cobbled streets, begin the choral dance
    in seven-gated Thebes. Come Dirce,
    loveliest of waters, you, too, you nymphs
    of Asopus, come from your father’s stream,
    and lend your voices to our song in praise
    of the splendid victory of Herakles!                                   940

      O tree-covered Pythian rock and home                                     [790]
    of the Helicon Muses, you will come
    to my city of Thebes with shouts of joy,
    to my walls, where that race of men
    sown with the dragon’s teeth sprang up,
    a warrior band with shields of brass,
    passing our land to children’s children,
    a shining sacred light to Thebes.

    O that marriage bed that two men shared,
    one mortal, the other Zeus himself,                                    950
    who came to have sex with the married bride,                          [800]
    Alcmene, grand-daughter of great Perseus.
    O Zeus, the story of your marriage then
    has in the past convinced me it is true,
    beyond all doubt, and time has shown
    the brilliant powers of Herakles,
    who left the halls of Pluto underground
    and returned through caverns in the earth below.
    For me you are a more righteous king
    than that low-born lord, who will now reveal,                   960
    in this struggle of sword-bearing warriors,
    whether justice is still pleasing to the gods.

[Lyssa, goddess of madness, and Iris, the messenger of the gods, appear on the roof of the palace.]

CHORUS
    My friends, look! Has a sense of fear and panic
    overcome us all? What kind of spirits
    am I looking at up there—above the house?

    Run! Run! Hurry up! Get out of here!

    O lord Apollo, protect us from all harm!                                   [820]

IRIS
    Take heart, old men! This person you see here
    is Lyssa, daughter of Night. I am Iris,
    handmaid of the gods. We have not come                         970
    to harm your city. No. We come to fight
    the house of just one man, the one they call
    a son of Zeus delivered by Alcmene.
    Until he had completed all the tasks
    set by Eurystheus, his destiny
    protected him, and his father Zeus
    would not permit either Hera or myself
    to injure him. But now that he has finished                              [830]
    all those onerous tasks, Hera wishes him
    to stain his hands once again with blood                           980
    by killing his own children. And I agree.
    Come then, unmarried daughter of black Night,

    harden your implacable heart. Drive madness
    into this man, disturb his mind, until
    he murders his own children, make his feet
    move uncontrollably, and goad him on.
    Unfurl the sails of slaughter so that he,
    after leading them across the Acheron,
    that beautiful group of children round him
    slain by his own hand, may understand                             990
    just how much Hera is enraged at him,                                     [840]
    andl earn my anger, too. If Herakles
    escapes this punishment, the gods will count
    for nothing, and mortals will be strong.

LYSSA
    I was born into a noble family,
    mother Night and the blood of Ouranos.(29)
    I do not use the powers I possess

    if I am angry or annoyed with friends,
    nor am I fond of visiting the homes
    of those I like. So before I witness                                      1000
    goddess Hera making a mistake—
    and you, too, if you will pay attention
    to what I have to say—I wish to offer
    some advice. This man Herakles, the one
    whose home you are asking me to enter,
    is not unknown in heaven and on earth,                                    [850]
    After taming the pathless wilderness
    and the raging sea, using his own strength
    he restored the honours of the gods,
    when they were being attacked by godless men.(30)          1010
    So I would advise you not to wish on him
    such a huge disaster.

IRIS
                                            There is no need
    for your advice on what Hera and I
    may well be scheming.

LYSSA
                                I am guiding your steps
    towards a more desirable pathway
    than the evil one you seek.

IRIS
                                                    The wife of Zeus
    did not send you here to act with prudence.

LYSSA
    I call on sun god Helios to witness
    that I am doing this against my will.
    But if I truly am being forced to help                                 1020
    you and Hera—and with all speed, like a pack                         [860]
    of noisy hounds following the hunter—
    then I will go. Neither the angry sea
    with its howling waves nor an earthquake
    nor an agonizing blast of lightning
    will be like the frantic assault I launch
    into Herakles’s chest. I will smash
    his roof apart and then move through the house.
    First, I kill the sons. The man who slays them
    will not know that he is slaughtering                                 1030
    children he begot, not until I lift
    my fit of madness. Just look at him!
    This is how it starts—with his head tossing,
    the fierce distorted pupils in his eyes
    rolling back and forth, in complete silence.
    He is breathing faster, like a fierce bull
    about to charge. He bellows, calling out                                   [870]
    to the goddesses of death in Tartarus.(31)
    Soon I will have you dancing—I will play

    music of terror on my flute. So Iris,                                    1040
    you can be on your noble way, soaring
    up to Olympus, while I, in secret,
    will slither into Herakles’s palace.
   
CHORUS
    Alas, alas! We must all lament
    the son of Zeus, the flower of our city.
    Unhappy Hellas, you will thrust him out,
    the one who did you so much good,
    and demolish him as he is dancing
    to the flutes in Lyssa’s frantic madness.

    The Gorgon child of Night is climbing                               1050   [880]
    up into her chariot, queen of grief,
    with a hundred heads of serpents hissing
    in her hair, madness gleaming in her eyes,
    and, as if outraged, is goading her team on.
   
    She quickly changes his good fortune—
    soon his children will breathe no more,
    all slaughtered by their father’s hand.
   
AMPHITRYON [from within the palace]
                                             Alas! It’s horrible!

CHORUS
    O Zeus, mad and unjust Vengeance,
    who eats raw meat, will soon overwhelm                            1060
    with misery your childless child.                                                [890]

AMPHITRYON [from within]
    Alas for this house!

CHORUS
    The dance begins without a kettledrum,
    no joyful waving of the Bacchic wand.(32)

AMPHITRYON [from within]
    Alas for this home!

CHORUS
    Libations now will be of blood
    and not with Dionysian wine.

AMPHITRYON [from within]
    You children, run! Hurry!

CHORUS
    That is death--death music of the flute.
    Now the hunter is chasing the children.                             1070
    Lyssa will never leave her frenzied dance
    inside this house until her wishes are fulfilled.

AMPHITRYON [from within]
    Alas, the monstrous evil . . .                                                       [900]

CHORUS
    Alas, I mourn for the ancient father
    and the mother, too, who bore his sons,
    and all in vain. Look! Look! A storm wind
    shakes the house! The roof is falling in!

HERAKLES [from within]
    O Pallas, child of Zeus, what are you doing
    to this home? You are sending the havoc
    of Tartarus against my house, as you did                            1080
    with Enceladus years ago.(33)

[A messenger enters from inside Herakles's palace.]

MESSENGER
    You there, you white-haired old men!

CHORUS LEADER
                                                Why that loud shout?
    Are you addressing me?                                                                 [910]

MESSENGER
                                            Inside the house there . . .
    it’s horrific!

CHORUS
                                        I don’t need another prophet
    to tell me that.

MESSENGER
                                    The children are dead.

CHORUS
    Alas!

MESSENGER
                You must weep. What has happened here
    calls for a lament.

CHORUS
                                    A dreadful slaughter!
    Their parent’s savage hands!

MESSENGER
                             What we have suffered
    is beyond what any man can tell.

CHORUS
    How did it happen—this disaster                                       1090
    with the children, the disaster
    brought about by their own father.
    Tell me how this catastrophe sent
    from the gods attacked this home and brought                        [920]
    such ruinous fate upon the children.

MESSENGER
    After Herakles had slaughtered Lycus,
    master of this land, and thrown the body
    out of the house, sacrificial offerings
    were placed before the altar of great Zeus,
    to purify the home. His lovely boys                                     1100
    stood in a cluster with Amphitryon,
    his father, and Megara. The basket
    was by now being passed around the altar,
    and we were all observing holy silence.
    Herakles was about to bring the torch
    in his right hand and dip it in the basin.
    He stood there in silence. As he waited,                                    [930]
    the three children looked up at their father.
    He was not himself. He was in distress—
    eyes rolling, eyeballs bloodshot, and spit                           1110
    oozing down his bearded chin. Then he spoke
    with a maniacal laugh: “Why, father,
    should I offer purifying fire now,
    before I have murdered Eurystheus?
    This way I will have to cleanse the palace
    twice over, when my hands can do the work
    a single time--and do it properly.
    Once I bring the head of Eurystheus here,
    I will cleanse my hands for these dead bodies,                          [940]
    the ones already killed. Pour out the water.                       1120
    Drop the baskets. Who will fetch my bow?
    And a weapon for my hand? I will march
    to Mycenae! I need to carry crowbars,
    and iron picks, so I can shatter once again
    those foundations built by the Cyclopes
    with mason’s tools and Phoenician plumb-lines.”
    Then he went out. There was no chariot there,
    though he claimed there was. He tried to climb up,
    with his fist clenched, as if he held a whip,
    but in reality there was nothing there.                               1130
    His servants were of two minds—they found him                    [950]
    ridiculous, but were afraid, as well.
    One of them, looking at another, asked,
    ”Is our master just having fun with us,
    or has he gone insane?” But Herakles
    was pacing up and down inside the house.
    Rushing to the middle of the men’s apartments,
    he said that he had reached the town of Nisus,
    although he was still walking in his home.
    Then he lay down on the floor, just as he was,                   1140
    prepared to have a feast. After a while,
    he said he was travelling to the flat lands
    in the wooded valleys of the Isthmus.(34)
    Then he stripped the clothing from his body
    and, quite naked, began to wrestle someone
    who was not there, and just like a herald,                                               [960]
    he proclaimed himself the glorious victor,
    but he had no audience. Next he thought
    he was in Mycenae, roaring dire threats
    at Eurystheus. His father grabbed hold                               1150
    of Herakles’s powerful arm and said,
    ”My son, what is the matter with you?
    Why these strange goings on? Surely the blood
    of those whom you just killed has not made you
    lose you mind?” But Herakles, assuming
    it was the father of Eurystheus
    attempting in a craven supplication
    to touch his hand, pushed Amphitryon away
    and got his bow and arrows ready, prepared
    to shoot his children—he brlirvrf they were                        1160  [970]
    the sons of Eurystheus. The young boys,
    panic stricken, ran in terror here and there—
    one to his poor mother’s robes, another
    to the shadow of a pillar, and the third
    crouched down beneath the altar, like a bird.
    Their mother screamed, “You are their father—
    what are you doing? Killing your own sons?”
    The old man and the servants kept on shouting.
    Herakles was moving round the pillar,
    in murderous circles, chasing his son.                                1170
    When they came face to face, he killed the boy
    with an arrow through his heart. The lad fell
    on his back, spraying the stone pillars
    with his blood, as he choked his life away.                                [980]
    Herakles cried out in triumph and boasted,
    “One of Eurystheus’s chicks lies dead,
    here at my feet, payment for the hatred
    his father showed.” Then he turned his bow
    against another son, who had crouched down
    by the altar’s foundation stone, thinking                           1180
    he might not be observed. Before he shot,
    his poor son sprang up and threw himself
    at his father’s knees and, raising his hand
    towards his father’s beard and neck, cried out,
    “Listen, dear father, and do not kill me!
    I am your child, your son! You are not slaying
    a son of Eurystheus!” But Herakles,
    rolled his savage Gorgon eyes, and, since the boy                     [990]
    was standing too close for him to let loose
    a lethal arrow, he hit him on the head.                               1190
    Just as a blacksmith pounds the red-hot iron,
    so Herakles used his wooden club to strike
    his fair-haired son and pulverize his skull.
    Having killed his second son, he moved on
    to add a third corpse to the other two.
    Before he could, the desperate mother
    picked up the child, ran inside the house,
    and barred the door. So Herakles, as if
    he was at walls built by the Cyclopes,
    dug out the doors with levers, knocked down                   1200
    the doorposts, and with a single arrow                                      [1000]
    killed his wife and son. Then he races off
    to murder his old father, Amphitryon.
    But a phantom came—to those who watched
    it looked like Pallas in a plumed helmet,
    waving a spear. She threw a rock at him
    and hit Herakles in the chest. That blow
    halted his frenzied blood-lust and put him
    into a deep sleep. He fell to the ground,
    hitting his back on a pillar which had fallen                      1210
    and broken in two when the roof collapsed.
    At that point we stopped trying to flee,                                    [1010]
    and, with the old man’s help, we tied him up,
    lashing him to the pillar with cords and knots,
    so that when he wakes up, he will commit
    no more atrocities. The poor man is asleep.
    After the slaughter of his wife and children,
    that sleep of his will not be truly blessed.
    I know no man more miserable than he.
   
[Exit the Messenger.]

CHORUS
    The murders committed by the daughters                         1220
    of Danaus on the rock of Argolis
    was once the most famous and amazing
    in all of Hellas, but this business here
    with Herakles, the unhappy son of Zeus,
    has overtaken and surpassed those killings                               [1020]
    from many years ago.(35)

                                                      I will mention
    that murder carried out by Procne,
    a mother who had a single child.
    She sacrificed him to the Muses.(36)
    But you were father of three boys,                                     
1230
    you wretched man, and in your madness
    you assisted fate and killed them all.
   
    Alas! What groans, tears, songs for the dead,
    or dance of death do I now use to grieve?
   
    Look! The locked gates of the high-roofed palace                    [1030]
    are being pulled open.

[The front doors of the palace open slowly, revealing the corpses of Megara and the three children. Herakles is still sleeping and tied with ropes to the pillar.]

                                            Alas! Look at that.
    Those poor children just lying there
    in front of their unhappy father,
    who, after slaughtering them, has fallen
    into a fearful sleep.

                                                  The ropes                               1240
    and all those knots around his body
    are supporting Herakles and keeping him
    lashed to the stone pillar from his home.
   
CHORUS
    His old father, like a bird lamenting
    the birth pains from her featherless brood,
    is rushing here with shuffling, painful steps.                             [1040]
    Here he comes.

[Enter Amphitryon from the palace.]

AMPHITRYON
                                            Quietly, quietly,
    you old citizens of Thebes. Can you not
    let him continue sleeping, unaware
    of the dreadful killings he has done?                            1250

CHORUS LEADER
    I mourn for you with my tears, old friend,
    and for the children and that splendid man.

AMPHITRYON
    Move further off, and do not make a noise.
    Do not shout or wake him from his peaceful sleep.                  [1050]

 CHORUS
    Alas! All this blood . . .
 
AMPHITRYON
                                                  Be quiet!
    You’ll be the death of me!


CHORUS
                               . . . that he has shed
    is rising up . . .

AMPHITRYON
    Old friends, can you not whisper
    your lament? If not, he may wake up,
    throw off his restraints, destroy the city
    and his father, and tear apart his home.                             1260
   
CHORUS
    I cannot do that—it is not possible!
   
AMPHITRYON
    Be quiet! I will check his breathing.
    Come, let me listen!                                                                     [1060]

CHORUS
                                            Is he sleeping?

AMPHITRYON
    Yes, he is having a dreadful sleepless sleep,
    after using his quivering bowstring
    and arrows to kill his wife and sons.

CHORUS
    Now is the time to mourn.

AMPHITRYON
                                            I am mourning!

CHORUS
    The death of those children . . .

AMPHITRYON
                                                    Alas!

CHORUS
    I lament for your son, too.

AMPHITRYON
                                                        Aaaiiiii.

CHORUS
    My old friend . . .

AMPHITRYON
                                                Hush! Silence!                          1270
    He is turning over. . . . He is stirring . . .
    and waking up. I should conceal myself                                    [1070]
    somewhere in the ruins of this roof.

CHORUS
    Do not worry. Darkness is still holding down
    the eyelids of your son.

AMPHITRYON
                                     Look, given my misery
    I have no fear of departing from the light,
    but if he were to kill me, his own father,
    he would be heaping evil onto evil,
    adding parent’s blood to the Furies’ curse.(37)

CHORUS
    It would be better for you if you had died                         1280
    when you set off seeking your revenge
    for the murdered brothers of your wife
    and sacked the island city of the Taphians.                               [1080]

AMPHITRYON
    You must leave, old friends. Get away from here—
    from the front part of the palace. Herakles
    is waking up—you must escape his fury,
    or he will quickly pile one more killing
    on the others, or he might set off
    on a frenzied rampage through the city.

CHORUS
    O Zeus, why do you detest your son so much?                  1290
    Why hurl him into this sea of evil?
    Why so much savage brutality?

HERAKLES [waking up]
    Ah, I am breathing, and my eyes can see
    what they should be seeing—the sky, the earth,                       [1090]
    the rays of sunlight . . . but my mind is reeling,
    plunged into terrible confusion. My breath
    is feverish and quick and issues from my lungs
    in spasms.

[Herakles looks around him.]

                           What is this? What am I doing
    lying here with my youthful chest and arms
    tied down with rope, like a ship at anchor,                        1300
    beside a broken pillar, with corpses
    next to where I sit? My bow and arrows,
    lie scattered on the floor, trusty weapons
    I carried into battle on my arm.
    They took care of me, I took care of them.                               [1100]
    Surely I have not come back again to Hades—
    a second trip for Eurystheus? To Hades?
    From where? But I do not see Sisyphus
    or his rock, or Pluto, or the sceptre
    of Demeter’s daughter, Persephone.(38)                             1310
    I am totally confused. Where am I?
    Why am I so helpless? Hey, you there,
    are any of my friends around—close by
    or far away—who can cure my ignorance?
    For I lack any clear idea of things
    that used to be familiar.

AMPHITRYON
                                                    Old friends,
    should I get closer and risk being killed?

CHORUS
    All right. I’ll go with you. I will not leave,                                   [1110]
    if you get into trouble.

HERAKLES
                                                 Why weep, father?
    Why hide your eyes, and keep your distance                      1320
    from your beloved son?
   
AMPHITRYON
                                                    O my child!
    You are still my son, in spite of the evil
    you have done.

HERAKLES
                                What have I done that is so bad
    it has made you weep?

AMPHITRYON
                                                What you have done
    would make any of the gods weep with sorrow,
    if he learned about it.

HERAKLES
                                                You have made
    a grand statement, without mentioning
    what happened.

AMPHITRYON
                                You can see it for yourself,
    if by now you have regained your senses.
   
HERAKLES
    If in my life I am being accused                                           1330
    of something new, then tell me.

AMPHITRYON
    I will tell you, if you no longer are
    a frenzied maniac from hell.
   
HERAKLES
                                                                    Ah ha!
    Your dark words are arousing my suspicions.                            [1120]

AMPHITRYON
    And I still wish to see whether your mind
    is steady and working as it should.

HERAKLES
    I have no memory of being mad.

AMPHITRYON
    Friends, do you think I should untie my son?
    What should I do?

HERAKLES
                                                 You should untie me.
    And tell me who bound me up. I feel ashamed.                 1340

AMPHITRYON
    You know enough concerning your misfortune.
    Let the rest all go.

HERAKLES
                                                 No. If I stay silent,
    is that enough to find out what I wish to know?

AMPHITRYON
    O Zeus, are you witnessing these things
    that have their origin at Hera’s throne?

HERAKLES
    Has Hera’s hostility caused my suffering?

AMPHITRYON
    Let the goddess go! You need to confront
    your own misfortunes.

HERAKLES
                                                 I am done for.
    You are going to talk of some calamity.                                     [1130]

AMPHITRYON
    Look. These are the bodies of your children.                      1350

HERAKLES
    This is horrific . . . what am I looking at?
    Aaaiii! An appalling sight!

AMPHITRYON
                                                My son, you launched
    a one-sided war against your children.

HERAKLES
    What are you talking about? What war?
    Who killed these boys?

AMPHITRYON
                                                                  You did—
    you, your bow, and some god are responsible.

HERAKLES
    What are you telling me? What did I do?
    You are a bringer of disastrous news!

AMPHITRYON   
    You were in a mad fit. Now you want me
    to tell you something horrible.                                             1360

HERAKLES
    And did I also slaughter my own wife?

AMPHITRYON
    All this killing was done by your own hand.
    You had no help.

HERAKLES
                                Alas! I am now caged in                                  [1140]
    by a cloud of grief.

AMPHITRYON
                                            That is the reason
    I lament your fate.

HERAKLES
                                    In my mad frenzy,
    did I destroy my home?

AMPHITRYON
                                    All I know is this—
    you are completely ruined.

HERAKLES
                                        This madness—
    where was I when it came over me?
    Where did it demolish me?

AMPHITRYON
                                                   At the altar—
    you were purifying your hands with fire.                            1370

HERAKLES
    Alas! Why do I not just end my life,
    when I am the killer of my own dear sons?
    Should I not go and leap from some tall cliff,
    or plunge my sword into my heart and avenge
    my children’s blood, or else throw my body,                             [1150]
    which was driven insane, into the fire,
    and thus avoid living with the infamy
    which now awaits me?

[Herakles sees Theseus and his attendants approaching.]

                                                            But now,
    to interrupt these thoughts of death, I see
    king Theseus approaching—my kinsman                           1380
    and my friend. I shall be seen for what I am.
    My dearest friend will see I am unclean,
    polluted by the murder of my sons.
    This is dreadful. What am I going to do?
    Where can I find freedom from this evil?
    Shall I grow wings or plunge into the earth?
    Come, I will conceal my head in darkness.
    What I have done makes me so ashamed.                                  [1160]
    For these blood killings I am now defiled,
    and I do not wish to harm the innocent.                            1390

[Enter Theseus and his armed attendants.]

THESEUS
    I have come, old friend, and others with me,
    young fighting lads from the land of Athens,
    now waiting by the river Asopus,
    bringing allied spears to assist your son.
    For in the city of the Erechtheidae
    a rumour spread that Lycus had usurped
    the royal sceptre in the land of Thebes
    and was now fighting or waging war
    against you.(39) So I came here, to pay back
    Herakles for the way he rescued me                                   1400
    from the underworld—that is, old man,
    if you need help from my allies and me.                                    [1170]

[Theseus notices the dead bodies of the children and Megara.]

    What’s this? Why is there a pile of corpses
    on the floor? Surely I did not leave home
    and arrive too late to stop a new disaster?
    Who killed these children? Whose wife is this?
    Young boys do not fight battles with their spears.
    No, I have stumbled on some fresh atrocity.

AMPHITRYON
    O king living on that hill where olives grow!

THESEUS
    Why greet me with such a melancholy tone?                     1410
   
AMPHITRYON
    The gods have made us suffer a catastrophe.                            [1180]

THESEUS
    You are weeping for these murdered children.
    Whose are they?

AMPHITRYON
                      They are my own son’s children,
    the poor man. He was their father
    and he butchered them--after steeling his heart
    to carry out the bloody slaughter.

THESEUS
    You should speak of this more gently.

AMPHITRYON
    I wish I could do what you are asking.

THESEUS
    You have spoken of appalling things.

AMPHITRYON
    We are done for, ruined.

THESEUS
                                            What do you mean?                     1420
    What has Herakles done?

AMPHITRYON
    He was caught up in a fit of madness
    and used arrows dipped in lethal venom
    from the hundred=headed hydra.                                              [1190]

THESEUS
                                                            Hera
    had her hand in this. But who is that,
    old friend, sitting among the corpses?

AMPHITRYON
    That is my son, my much-enduring son,
    who marched with the gods to Phlegra plain,
    a warrior, whose weapons did battle with
    and killed the giants.

THESEUS
    Ah, yes. What man was ever born                                       1430
    with such an ill-starred fate?

AMPHITRYON
                                                        You will not find
    another mortal man who has suffered more
    and wandered further.

THESEUS
                                        Why is the poor man
    using his clothes to hide his head?

AMPHITRYON
                                                        From shame.
    He does not want your eyes to look at him
    covered with blood from his slaughtered sons,                      [1200]
    especially you, a friend and relative.

THESEUS
    But I have come to sympathize with him.
    Uncover his head.

AMPHITRYON
                                     My son, uncover your eyes.
    Push your clothes aside. Let sun see your face.                  1440
    As someone who is wrestling with grief
    and trying to stem my tears, I beg you,
    as a suppliant, reaching for your beard,
    your knee, and arm, and prostrate before you,
    shedding an old man’s tear—O my child,                                  [1210]
    curb that wild lion’s spirit in your chest,
    which leads you down a bloody, godless path,
    eager to stack one evil on another.

THESEUS [moving closer to Herakles]
    All right. I am talking to you in there,
    hunched up in misery. Show us your face.                         1450
    We are friends, and there is no darkness
    black enough to conceal your wretched mood.
    Why are you waving your hand at me?
    Are you telling me that this is murder
    and that I should not talk at all to you
    in case I get polluted? I do not care                                            [122o]
    if I fall into misfortune with you—
    with you I once enjoyed good fortune,
    and I must mention that. It was the time
    you rescued me from the land of the dead                         1460
    and brought me back into the light of day.
    I detest a friend whose gratitude grows old—
    someone eager to enjoy his friend’s success,
    but unwilling to share the same ship with him
    when his friend’s fortune changes for the worse.
    So stand up. Uncover your wretched head.
    And look at me. Among human beings,
    the nobly born accept calamities
    sent by the gods and do not disown them.

[Herakles uncovers his head and stands up.]

HERAKLES
    Theseus, did you see how my sons struggled?                   1470

THESEUS
    I heard about that, and now I can see                                        [1230]
    the atrocity you mean.

HERAKLES
                                                     Why then
    have you exposed my head to sunlight?

THESEUS
    Why not? You are a mortal human being—
    you cannot contaminate what is divine.

HERAKLES
    You should run away, you poor man, from me
    and the stain of my pollution.

THESEUS
    There is no avenging spirit which goes
    from one friend to another.

HERAKLES
                                                Yes, that is true.
    And I am not ashamed I helped you out.                            1480

THESEUS
    Because you were so kind to me back then,
    I feel compassion for you now.

HERAKLES
                                                A pitiful wretch,
    that is what I am—the killer of my sons.

THESEUS
    I weep for you and for your change in fortune.

HERAKLES
    Have you ever found any other man
    bearing greater hardships?

THESEUS
                                      Your misfortunes                                       [1240]`
    reach from earth right up to heaven.

HERAKLES
                                                      That is why
    I am making preparations for my death.

THESEUS
    Do you think divine beings really care
    about the threatening words you utter?                               1490

HERAKLES
    The gods have been remorseless to me,
    so I will be the same with them.

THESEUS
                                                        Hold you tongue—
    in case they make your suffering more painful
    for speaking out with such presumption.

HERAKLES
    I am so full of troubles there is room
    for nothing more.

THESEUS
                                            So what will you do?
    Where are your emotions taking you?

HERAKLES
    To die and go beneath the earth, the place
    where I just came from.

THESEUS
                                            Now you are talking
    like any common ordinary man.                                          1500

HERAKLES
    You offer me advice, but you are one
    who is not suffering misfortune.

THESEUS
    Is this the much-enduring Herakles                                           [1250]
    speaking to me?

HERAKLES
                                                  But not this much!
    There must be limits to what one has to bear.

THESEUS
    Is this the benefactor and great friend to man?

HERAKLES
    Mortals are no help to me. Hera has won.

THESEUS
    Greece would not let you die so stupidly.

HERAKLES
    You should listen now to what I have to say
    in contesting your advice. I will show you                          1510
    how my life, now and in the past, has been
    intolerable for me. First, my father,
    before he married my mother, Alcmene,
    murdered her old father—and thus acquired
    the stain of blood pollution, and any race                                  [1260]
    with a poorly laid foundation must produce
    descendants who are cursed by the same stain.(40)
    Now Zeus, whoever Zeus may be, fathered me
    as an enemy to Hera.

[Turning to address Amphitryon.]

                                               Old friend,
    do not be upset, for I consider you,                                    1520
    not Zeus, my father.

[Herakles turns back to Theseus.]

                                   While I was still an infant
    being suckled, Zeus’s wife tried to kill me
    by dropping some dreadful venomous snakes
    inside my cradle. Once I had matured
    into my prime of youth, I had to bear                                        [1270]
    all sorts of hardships. But what is the point
    of mentioning them now—all those lions,
    and triple=bodied Typhons, or Giants,
    or that war against four-legged Centaurs?
    Did I not prevail against them all? I killed                          1530
    the hydra, that monster with many heads,
    each one of which could grow in place again,
    and then completed countless other tasks.
    Carrying out what Eurystheus ordered,
    I reached the land of the dead to bring back
    into the sunlight the three-headed hound
    that guards the gates of Hades. And lastly,
    to my sorrow, I undertook this labour—
    to complete the misery in my home                                           [1280]
    by murdering my sons. Necessity                                        1540
    has brought me to this point. I cannot live
    in my beloved Thebes. For piety
    makes that impossible. If I did stay,
    to what temple or gathering of friends
    could I still go? The curse I bear makes me
    a pariah. Should I go to Argos?
    How can I do that, when I am exiled
    from my native land? So come on, tell me,
    is there some other place that I can run to?
    Once people know that I am Herakles,                               1550
    they will scowl at me and keep me constrained
    with bitter piercing tongues, “Is not this man
    the son of Zeus who once killed all his children
    and his wife? Should he not be forced to leave                          [1290]
    our city?” To someone who was once called blessed,
    such changes are distressing. To a person
    who has always had bad luck, these issues
    cause no pain, for he was born to suffer.
    I think that one day I will reach a point
    where the earth will call out, forbidding me                       1560
    to touch her, and the seas and river springs
    will not let me across. I shall end up
    just like another Ixion, in chains
    on a revolving wheel.(41) It would be best
    if I was never seen by any Greeks,
    with whom in better days I have been happy.                           [1300]
    Why then should I live? What profit is there
    in having a useless and unholy life?
    So let that celebrated wife of Zeus dance,
    her shoes striking the floor of Zeus’s palace.                      1570
    She has achieved her goal, to overturn
    the finest man in Greece and leave him stripped
    to his foundations. Who would offer prayers
    to such a goddess? Zeus loved a woman,
    and, because of that, Hera’s jealousy
    has crushed a man who was quite innocent,                             [1310]
    and who has benefited Greece.

CHORUS
                                 This whole matter
    is not the work of any other god
    but Hera, Zeus’s wife. You were correct
    in that assumption.

THESEUS
                               [To give advice to others                             1580
    is easier than suffering misfortune.](42)
    No mortal man remains completely free

    of misfortune’s stain—nor does any god,
    if what poets sing is not mere fiction.
    Have they not made love with one another
    in ways no laws permit? Have they not
    bound their fathers up in chains to gain control?(43)
    And yet they still inhabit mount Olympus
    and exalt what they did wrong. As for you,
    a mortal human being, what will you say                                            1590   [1320]
    if you find your fate too difficult to bear
    while the gods do not? Get away from Thebes,
    as the law requires, and then follow me
    to Athens, Athena’s city. Once there,
    I will cleanse your hands of all pollution,
    and give you homes, a share in what I own,
    and all the gifts I got from citizens
    for saving fourteen children, when I killed
    that bull in Knossos.(44) Throughout my country
    I have lands officially assigned to me.                                 1600
    From now on, these will be named after you,                            [1330]
    for as long as you still live. When you die
    and move to Hades’ home, all of Athens,
    the entire city, will celebrate your worth
    with sacrifices and a monument
    made of stone. All of Hellas will award
    my citizens the magnificent crown
    of a noble reputation, for they helped
    a good and noble man. I am doing this
    as a favour to you, to pay you back                                     1610
    for saving me. For now you need a friend.
    When a god holds a man in honour
    he has no need of friends—the god’s help,
    when he decides to act, is quite enough.

HERAKLES
    Well, all such matters dealing with the gods                             [1340]
    do not have much bearing on my ordeals.
    As far as I’m concerned, I do not believe
    the gods make love in ways that are not right,
    and I have never thought that chaining up
    the hands of other gods was plausible,                               1620
    so you will not persuade me of that now.
    Nor do I believe that one god is born
    lord and master of another. A god,
    if he is, in fact, truly a deity,
    stands in need of nothing. Such stories
    are wretched tales made up by our poets.
    However, though I am plagued with troubles,
    I have considered whether quitting life
    would label me a coward. For any man
    who cannot hold out against ill fortune                              1630
    will not be capable of standing up                                             [1350]
    against an enemy’s arrow. So I
    will persevere with living. I will go
    to your city, with grateful thanks to you
    for your countless gifts. I have had a taste
    of a thousand different tasks. Not once
    have I refused or ever had my eyes
    shed a single tear. And I did not think
    I would ever come to this—tears flowing
    from my eyes. But if nowadays it seems                              1640
    I must be slave to fortune, so be it.

[Herakles turns his attention to Amphitryon.]

    Old friend, you see me leaving here an exile,
    and you see in me the one who murdered
    my own sons. Give them a proper burial.
    Lay out their bodies. Honour them with tears—                [1360]
    the law does not allow me to perform that rite.
    Lean them on their mother’s breast and place them
    in her folded arms, a melancholy group,
    which I, alas, destroyed against my will.
    When you have hidden the bodies in the earth,                1650
    stay in the city, though that may be hard.
    Steel your heart to help me bear my suffering.
    O my sons, the man who gave you your lives,
    your father, has destroyed you. No benefits
    will come to you from what I have achieved
    with my own strength, the brutal toil to win
    a glorious name for you, a splendid gift                                     [1370]
    a father leaves his sons. And you, as well,
    my sad wife, whom I killed, a poor reward
    for your steadfast loyalty in honouring                               1660
    our marriage bed and your long, tiring care
    inside our home. Alas, for my wife and sons,
    alas for me, how dreadful were those acts
    that left me without my wife and children!
   
[Herakles kisses the bodies of Megara and the children.]

    O those kisses you enjoyed, so bitter now!
    How bitter, too, to still have these weapons.
    I am not sure whether I should keep them
    or just let them go. If they are hanging
    at my side, they will say, “With us you killed                             [1380]
    your children and your wife. When you hold us,               1670
    you are clasping your children’s murderers.”
    If I am still carrying them on my arm,
    what answer do I give? But should I remove
    these weapons with which I have achieved
    such splendid things in Greece, leaving myself
    at the mercy of my enemies, and die
    a shameful death? No. I will not let them go.
    I will keep them, although that makes me sad.
    But Theseus, I need your help with something—
    that wretched hell hound Cerberus. Come with me      1680
    to Argos, help me to collect the payment
    for bringing that beast back. If I go alone,
    I may come to grief thinking of my sons.
    O land of Cadmus, and all you citizens
    of Thebes, cut off your hair, grieve together.
    Go to my children’s burial site and sing
    a lament for the departed and for me.
    All of us have been utterly demolished
    by one vicious, murderous blow from Hera.

THESEUS
    Get up, you poor man. You have wept enough.                  1690

HERAKLES
    I cannot stand up. My knees are aching.

THESEUS
    Misfortune weakens even the powerful.

HERAKLES
    How I wish I could turn into a stone,
    with no memory of evil.

THESEUS
                                                                    Stop that.
    Give your hand to a friend who wants to help.
   
HERAKLES
    I do not wish to stain your clothes with blood.

THESEUS
    Do not worry. Let it stain my clothes.                                        [1400]
    I am not ashamed.

HERAKLES
                                     I have lost my sons,
    but in you I have found a son.

THESEUS
                                                Lift your arm
    around my neck. I’ll show you the way.                              1700

HERAKLES
    A pair of friends, one of them unlucky.

[To Amphitryon]

    Ah, old friend, this is the kind of man
    one ought to make a friend.

AMPHITRYON
                                                             May the land
    that gave him birth be blessed with children!

HERAKLES
                                                               Theseus,
    turn me around again, so I can see my sons.

THESEUS
    Why? Is this some kind of soothing potion?

HERAKLES
    I wish it were. I want to hug my father.

AMPHITRYON
    Here I am, my son. I would like that, too.

THESEUS
    Do you no longer have any memories                                         [1410]
    of all your labours?

HERAKLES
                                    All those hardships I endured            1710
    brought me less grief than this.

THESEUS
                                                    If people see you
    acting like a woman, they will not be pleased.

HERAKLES
    Do you think that I, by choosing to live,
    have now become an ordinary man?
    That was not the case before, it seems.

THESEUS
    Yes, very much so. You have a sickness
    and are not the glorious Herakles.

HERAKLES
    What kind of man were you down there
    when you were in trouble?

THESEUS
                                            I had less courage
    than any other man.

HERAKLES
                                How then can you claim                          1720
    that my misfortunes have demeaned me.

THESEUS
    Let us set off.

HERAKLES [to Amphitryon]
                                Farewell, old friend.

AMPHITRYON
                                                Farewell to you, my son.

HERAKLES
    Bury my children as I have described.

AMPHITRYON
    But who will bury me, my son?

HERAKLES
                                                            I will.                                    [1420]

AMPHITRYON
    When will you come?

HERAKLES
                                    Once you have buried my sons.

AMPHITRYON
    How?

HERAKLES
    I will have you brought from Thebes to Athens.
    But carry the children inside the house—

    they are a grievous burden on the earth.
    After shattering my home with shameful acts,
    I, now ruined, will follow Theseus                                       1730
    like some useless, burdensome appendage.
    Whoever wishes to have power and wealth
    rather than good friends, is not thinking right.

[Exit Theseus, Herakles, and attendants.]

CHORUS
    With pity and many tears, we go away,
    lamenting the loss of our greatest friend.

[Exit the Chorus.]

ENDNOTES

(1) Euripides’ Herakles is also sometimes called Hercules Furens. If you use the latter title, be careful, because it is also the name of a play by the Roman Seneca. [Back to Text]

(2)  Speeches assigned to the Chorus may be spoken or chanted by the entire Chorus or by individual members or partial groups of the Chorus or by a Chorus Leader, as a director of a production of the play will determine. [Back to Text]

(3) Perseus, son of Zeus and the mortal woman Danaë, was an important traditional hero of Greek mythology, famous for slaying monsters (e.g., Medusa). [Back to Text]

(4) Cadmus, from Asia Minor, founded Thebes in Greece. To create the city he had to kill a dragon and sow its teeth like seeds. When he did that, armed warrior arose out of the earth where the seeds had been. The earth-born warriors fought and killed each other, until the gods stopped the fighting. The warriors thus became, along with Cadmus, the first citizens of Thebes. [Back to Text]

(5) The Cyclopes were one-eyed monsters who worked for Zeus, making his thunderbolts. [Back to Text]

(6) Amphitryon, Electryon’s nephew, accidentally killed him when he threw his club at some cattle but missed and hit Electryon. Sthenelus, Electryon’s brother then seized the throne of Mycenae, charged Amphitryon with murder, and sent him into exile. [Back to Text]

(7) Eurystheus was the son of Sthenelus, king of Mycenae. He set the twelve tasks that Herakles had to perform. Euripides departs from tradition here in stating that Herakles’s motivation was to help our his human father Amphitryon. In the traditional stories of Herakles, Hera, Zeus's wife, was a constant enemy of Herakles, because he was a bastard son of Zeus. [Back to Text]

(8) Taenarus in the southern Peloponnese was a traditional entrance to the underworld. The triple-bodied dog was Cerberus who guarded the entrance to Hades. [Back to Text]

(9) The Giants were immense monsters created by Ouranos and Gaia (Sky and Earth). They sought to wrest divine control from Zeus. Herakles was brought up to mount Olympus to assist the Olympian gods, and he did so, by killing a number of Giants with his arrows. [Back to Text]

(10) On mount Pholoe, Herakles was attacked by a group of Centaurs driven mad by the smell of wine. He killed many of them with his arrows. A centaur was a creature with the head, arms, and torso of a human being and the body and legs of a horse. [Back to Text]

(11) A hoplite was a well=armed infantryman, who usually fought alongside other hoplites. His weapons were typically a spear and a shield, (and sometimes a sword). Richer hoplites were sometimes equipped with body armour and a helmet. [Back to Text]

(12) Hercules had assisted Creon, king of Thebes, by defeating the Minyans, who had been collecting tribute from Thebes. Creon then offered Herakles his daughter Megara in marriage. The Minyans were a race of proto-Greek-speakers who settled in parts of Greece. [Back to Text]

(13) For his first labour, Herakles had to kill a lion whose skin was invulnerable. Herakles tried using his arrows, but they could not pierce the animal’s skin. So Herakles strangled the lion with his bare hands. [Back to Text]

(14) For the third labour, Eurystheus ordered Herakles to bring him the sacred deer of Ceryneia, a creature with golden horns. Herakles wounded the animal and carried it back alive to Eurystheus’s palace, a distance of about fifty miles. [Back to Text]

(15) For his eighth labour, Herakles had to capture the man-eating horses of Diomedes. Herakles killed Diomedes and brought the horses back to Eurystheus, who let them go. [Back to Text]

(16) tyrant of Mycenae was Eurystheus, who set the labours Herakles was to perform.  [Back to Text]

(17) For his eleventh labour, Herakles had to bring back to Eurystheus some golden apples of the Hesperides (nymphs of the west, daughters of Atlas), which were in an orchard guarded by a large dragon. [Back to Text]

(18) When Herakles was on his quest to find the golden apples of the Hesperides, he met Atlas, who tricked Herakles into holding up the heavens to separate them from earth. Herakles then tricked Atlas in turn in order to transfer the burden of holding up the sky back to Atlas. [Back to Text]

(19) In his ninth labour for Eurystheus, Herakles had to bring back the girdle or warrior belt of Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons (a society of female warriors, whose fighting skills matched those of men). The Euxine sea is now called the Black sea. [Back to Text]

(20) Killing the Lernaean hyrda was Herakles’s second labour. The hydra was a many-headed monster. If someone chopped off one of the heads, two new heads grew in its place. Herakles solved that problem by chopping off a head and burning the place where the new heads were supposed to grow. For his tenth labour Herakles had to bring the cattle of Geryon (a triple-bodied monster) back to Eurystheus. Herakles killed Geryon with arrows poisoned with the blood of the hydra and, after going through a number of great difficulties led the cattle back. [Back to Text]

(21) Charon was the boatman who rowed dead people across the river Styx into Hades. [Back to Text]

(22) In Greek literature, the flight and position of birds are often good or bad omens. [Back to Text]

(23) Persephone is the wife of Hades (a brother of Zeus and Poseidon), king of the underworld. [Back to Text]

(24) Before entering Hades, Herakles (as a precaution) took part in a sacred religious rite known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, based on the myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Those initiated in these mysteries were believed to find happiness in the underworld. [Back to Text]

(25) Theseus, a legendary Athenian hero, went down to Hades with his comrade Pirithous to kidnap Persephone, the wife of Hades. Hades knew they were coming and trapped both of them. Theseus was rescued by Herakles. [Back to Text]

(26) The Graces were goddesses of grace, charm, and beauty. There were three of them; Charis, Aglaea, and Thalia. The Muses were the goddesses of artistic and scientific achievement. There were nine of them: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (music), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsichore (dance), Erato (lyric poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Urania (astronomy), They were all daughters of Mnemosyne (goddess of memory). [Back to Text]

(27) Leto's son is the god Apollo. [Back to Text]

(28) Alcmene was the mother of Herakles. [Back to Text]

(29) Ouranos (meaning Sky) was one of the primal gods, along with Gaia (Earth). Night (Nyx) the personification of Night, was also a primordial god, born from Chaos. [Back to Text]

(30) There appears to be a small gap in the manuscript here. [Back to Text]

(31) Tartarus is the lowest part of Hades. [Back to Text]

(32) The Bacchic wand is called the thyrsus. It is the stalk of a plant, used in the frantic dances of the worshippers of Bacchus, where it can sometimes acquire magical powers. [Back to Text]

(33) Pallas is another name for Athena. Enceladus was one of the Giants who attacked the Olympian gods in an effort to take over mount Olympus. He was particularly hostile to Athena. [Back to Text]

(34) The Isthmus is the narrow piece of land joining mainland Greece with the Peloponnese. [Back to Text]

(35) The Daughters of Danaus were a group of fifty women who were compelled to marry their first cousins. On the wedding night all the daughters but one, acting on the order of their father, murdered their husbands. For this murder the daughters were punished in Hades. [Back to Text]

(36) Procne killed her son Itys, cooked him, and fed him to his father, Tereus, for dinner. She did this in revenge for Tereus raping and imprisoning her sister Philomena. [Back to Text]

(37) The Furies were the goddesses of blood revenge, especially with the family. [Back to Text]

(38) Sisyphus was a man eternally punished in Hades by having to roll a large rock up a hill. Every time he got the rock close to the top, it would roll down to the bottom, and Sisyphus would have to start again. Demeter was a goddess whose daughter Persephone married Hades, king of the underworld. [Back to Text]

(39) The city of the Erechtheidae (literally “the sons of Erechtheus”) is Athens. [Back to Text]

(40) Alcmene's father was Electryon, who was killed accidentally by Amphitryon. See line 22 and the accompanying footnote. [Back to Text]

(41) Ixion was eternally punished by Zeus (for trying to rape Zeus’s wife, Hera) by being bound to a fiery rotating wheel in Hades. [Back to Text]

(42) The Greek for this sentence is unclear (some of it is evidently missing). I have borrowed the suggested translation for these lines from R. Potter’s translation (adapted by Mary Ebbott and Casey Dué). https://www.uh.edu/~cldue/texts/herakles.html [Back to Text]

(43) Zeus fought his father Cronos and chained him up deep in Tartarus in order to gain control of heaven. [Back to Text]

(44) King Minos of Crete demanded a tribute from Athens every nine years of seven young men and seven young women. These children he fed to the Minotaur, a creature that was part man and part bull, which Minos kept in a labyrinth. Theseus was chosen as one of these tribute Athenians. With the help of Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, he entered the labyrinth, killed the Minotaur, and left Knossos, taking Ariadne with him. [Back to Text]