October 25 , 2011
Definiton of Hero:
From the Greek "ἥρως" (heros), "hero”, “warrior”, also “protector”.
– Aname given to men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods
– At a later time regarded as intermediate between gods and men, or demigods.
– Aman distinguished by extraordinary valour and martial achievements; one who does brave things.
– The ancient Greek concept of hero emphasizes individuality, individual prowess and achievement
– Arete is the most characteristic ideal of the hero. It can be translated as “virtue”, “excellence”, even
– Heroes are “aristoi” (“aristocrats”) who perform deeds called “aristeia”, or outstanding exploits.
– Competition versus cooperation. Balance between existence and annihilation was precarious in Greek
society. So competitive spirit encouraged.
When does theAge of Heroes Happen?
Gold Age (Cronus rules)
Silver Age (Zeus rules and destroys)
BronzeAge (Zeus rules destroys)
Age of Heroes (includes events of Iliad and Odyssey)
IronAge (Current ‘Historical’Time. This is when Homer writes his epics)
Chronology of Heroic Legends
The legends of Heracles, Perseus, Theseus and the Argonauts take place before the events recounted in Homer’s
Iliad and Odyssey (Trojan war and Odysseus’return to Ithaca).
Perseus was Heracle’s great grandfather.
________ and _______ were also members of Jason’sArgonauts.
These heroes were all ‘dead’by the time the events in the Iliad begin.
The Hero Quest
• Hero quests are challenges that span into the supernatural world and therefore invite symbolic
• The hero demonstrates his extraordinary courage through prodigious feats against man-eating
monsters, wily magicians, evil sorceresses and magical objects.
• The reward can be a hand in marriage, a returned kingdom, immortality, or lasting recognition
in verse and myth. PERSEUS HERCULES JASON THESEUS
Parentage Zeus + Danae Zeus +Alcmena Aeson +Alcimede Poseidon+Aethra
Conception Zeus showers Zeus ---------- Aethra wades into the sea on
golden rain onto impersonates wedding night and is impregnated
the imprisoned Amphitryon and by Poseidon
Danae sleeps with
Antagonist Acrisius Eurystheus Pelias Minos
Achieveme Kills Medusa Twelve Labours Golden Fleece Kills Minotaur
Supporting Athena + Athena + Hermes Hera Poseidon
Opposing --------------- Hera Zeus Aphrodite
Manner of -------------- Dons shirt with Prow of Argo Pushed or falls off cliff.
Death Nessus’blood. collapses onto him.
Hero Legends … The Formula
One of the hero’s parents may be divine.
The hero’s birth is miraculous or unusual, and little is known of his childhood.
The hero has great strength.
The hero’s truest companion is another male.
The hero falls under an enemy’s power and is compelled to perform impossible labours.
The hero breaks a taboo and a terrible price is demanded.
The hero resists the temptations of an enticing but dangerous woman.
Hero Legends … The Formula
The hero is responsible for the death of a companion.
The hero goes on a quest, even to the underworld.
He may have the help from gods, spirits, or magical objects.
The hero returns home, atones for his crimes and accepts his limitations.
The hero is rewarded with something of great value.
At his death, the hero receives a magnificent funeral and may become a god.
Perseus: Story Outline
Perseus’father, Acrisius of Argos, imprisons his daughter Danae to prevent her from having children.
Zeus impregnates Danae through a shower of gold.Acrisius discovers the child and has Danae and Perseus cast
into the sea where they are found by Dictys who saves them. Dictys’evil brother, Polydectes, covets Danae and
attempts to rid himself of Perseus by challenging him to find a rare gift. Perseus promises that he will return with
the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Perseus finds the Gorgon’s rock cut off the Medusa’s head. He places it in a
pouch to use against adversaries later on. Perseus encounters the beautiful Andromeda, chained to a rock on a
shoreline. He uses the Medusa head to kill the sea monster and free her. They marry. Perseus returns to the court
of Polydectes and turns its members to stone. He leaves with his wife and mother Danae and returns toArgos.
At an athletic competition inArgos, Perseus throws a disc and accidentally kills his grandfather, fulfilling the oracle that originally promptedAcrisius to imprison his daughter.
Heracles: Story Outline
Zeus appears to Heracle’s mother,Alcmena, in the form of her husbandAmphytrion and conceives Heracles.
Amphytrion also conceives a child withAlcmena around the same time. Heracles and Iphicles (twins) are born.
Hera is an ongoing antagonist to Heracles during his life. She prevents him from becoming king of Argos and
also causes him to go mad. (But notice the origin of Heracles’name.) In his fit of madness, Heracles murders his
wife, Megara, and three children. Heracles embarks on the 12 labours in order to purify himself from the crime.
The oracle at Delphi tells him he will be rewarded with immortality when done.
The Twelve Labours
Kill the Nemean lion and bring back its skin
Destroy the Lernean hydra
Capture alive the Erymanthian boar
Capture alive the Ceryneian stag
Kill the Stymphalian birds
Clean theAugean stables
Bring the Cretan bull alive into Peloponnesus
Obtain the horses of Diomedes
Steal the girdle of Hippolyta
Herd the cattle of Geryon
Obtain the apples of Hesperides.
After Megara’s death Heracles married Deinara (“man killer”). The Centaur Nessus offered to ferry Deinara
across the river Evenus but assaulted her. Heracles saw what was happening and shot the Centaur with a
poisoned arrow. The poison contained the bile from the dead Hydra. Nessus told Deinara that she could use his
blood as a love potion as he died. Deinara placed the potion on a shirt later to control Hercules’infidelities
without realising its power to kill. Hercules dies and becomes an immortal.
Jason and the Golden Fleece
Pelias deposesAeson, king of Iolcos, who sends his son Jason for protection to the wise Centaur, Cheiron.
Jason matures and encounters an old woman who he helps cross the riverAnauros. She reveals herself as Hera
and becomes his protectress. Jason confronts his uncle Pelias and takes up the challenge of the Golden Fleece.
The Golden fleece is a legacy of Phrixus who left it in a sacred grove, guarded by a dragon, after making a
sacrifice to Zeus. Jason summons other heroes to join the expedition, including Heracles, Theseus, Peleus (father
ofAchilles), Mopsus, Orpheus and Zetes and Calais. Argo departs without Heracles from Cius.
Jason encounters Harpies and Symplegades. Jason arrives in Colchis andAeetes challenges him to conquer the
fire breathing bulls of Hephaestus and the armed men sowed from dragon’s teeth. With Medea’s (and
Hecate’s)help, Jason vanquishes the bronze bulls and armed men. Jason leaves with Medea and encounters Circe
and then Scylla and Charybdis. Jason and Medea vanquish Talos. Jason betrays Medea.
Medea flees from Jason (after killing his new love) and she ends up in athens and she ends up marrying King
Aegus. His son Theseus reveals himself to him (from his relationship with princess Aethrea from before).Aegus
tells Theseus of his brother and sons plans to overthrow him. Theseus leads the battle against those trying to
overthrow his father. Mino's daughter falls in love with Theseus and offers to help him kill her brother the
Minotaur by giving him a ball of twine to bring with him into the Labryinth so he deosn't ge tlost. In return he
must marry her. He agrees and kills the Minotaur. They leave toAthens together, and while sleeping on Naxos,
Theseus leaves Ariadne sleeping on the island. Upon leavingAegus gave his son a black flag and a white flag to
indicate if he was successful or not.Arriving home Theseus forgets to put up the white flag indicating he won,
and his father Aegus commits suicide and jumps into the sea. Theseus later defeats Amazons and marries the
queen Hippolyta, who gives birth to Hippolytus.After she dies he marries Phaedra (another daughter of Minos). Aphrodite gets upset b/c Hippolytus does not lust forArtemis, so she makes Phaedra fall in love with him (her
stepson). Phaedra kills herself and lies saying that it was Hippolytus who lusted after her, and Theseus believs
this. Enraged, he banishes his son, who is killed by Posiden's waves. Later,Artemis tells him what really
happens. After Phaedra dies and he meets kind Peirithous, they decide to steal Helen and battle to make her their
wife. The loser will get another wife. Theseus wins and they decide to steal Persephone from the underworld.
While there, they become trapped on the chair of forgetfulness (Theseus is later saved by Heracles). While there,
Helen is rescued by her two brothers, and they take Theseus' mother to be her slave. When he returns, everything
is out of order, and he flees from the city, only to be pushed off a cliff by the friend of a rival.
October 27 , 2011
Objective of Lecture
To examine the Theatre of Dionysus in ancientAthens where the plays of Euripides and
Aristophanes were performed each March.
To explore dramatic renderings of Heracles as a tragic hero in Euripides’Heracles, and as a
comic hero in Aristophanes’Birds.
The Theatre of Dionysus
• The Theatre of Dionysus inAthens could hold up to 15,000 audience members.
• Central to the performance of Greek drama was a large dancing area (orchestra) measuring
about 70 feet in diameter. This area was primarily for the chorus, whose members would dance
there while singing their parts.
• Located at the back of the orchestra was a building called the skene, perhaps 35-40 feet long,
and 12 feet high, with a central double door, where actors could enter and exit.
Significance of Chorus
• The word chorus in Greek means “dance,” and the chorus’main function was to sing and dance
lyric odes in between dramatic episodes.
• These odes comment on the action of the current or preceding episode.
• The chorus can also express feelings or ideas unacceptable for characters in the play to
• The chorus can echo the audience’s reactions as they watch the performance. Euripides
• Euripides, the youngest of the three greatAthenian tragic poets, was born around 480 B.C.
• He wrote some ninety plays, of which eighteen have come down to us
• It is doubtful that anyone could make a living as a tragic poet, and Euripides’ability to devote
so much time to his art suggests that he had independent means: he seems to have produced a
tragic tetralogy — three tragedies together with a fourth play, usually a satyr play — roughly
every other year.
• The plays of Euripides (and Aeschylus and Sophocles) do not actually include stage directions.
These directions have been added by later editors.
Heracles: Highlights of the Play
Euripides’play combines two contrasting depictions of Heracles.
• Heracles is away finishing his last labour. But inArgos, his father,Amphitryon, his wife,
Megara, and three children are about to be murdered by the usurper Lycus.
• The condemned are initially at the altar of Zeus but then resign themselves to death and ask
Lycus for permission to dress themselves for burial.
• Heracles returns unexpectedly from his last labour, and rescues his family, killing Lycus and
• The divinities Iris and Madness (Lyssa) suddenly descend onto Heracles’house, sent there by
• In a fit of madness, Heracles murders his wife and three children, sparing his father only with
• Heracles is brought onto stage tied to a pillar and unconscious, the bodies of his family
members near him.
• Heracles now remembers descending into madness, sees the corpses around him and is
gradually made aware of what he did when the fit was on him. Because of the horror of his
deed, he announces he will commit suicide.
• Theseus, recently saved by Heracles, persuades him to renounce his intention to kill himself and
to accept a new home inAthens far from the scene of the murder.
What aspect of the Heracles myth has Euripides inverted in his telling of the legend?:
Eurpides inverts the order of the murders and the labours in his play. In the traditional myth, Hera
provokes Heracles to murder Megara and their children. To purify himself, Heracles embarks on the
Twelve Labours. In Euripides’version of the myth, Heracles is returning from the Twelve Labours and
is then provoked by Hera to murder Megara and their children.
Why is Heracles a “tragedy”?
Aristotle’s Theory of Tragedy
Aristotle’s Interpretation of Tragedy in the Poetics
ForAristotle, tragedy is a device for arousing pity and fear in the audience.
The basic ingredients in a proper tragic plot are what he calls reversal (peripeteia), discovery or recognition (anagnorisis), and calamity and suffering (pathos), all of which, in his judgment should be
bound together tightly.
The discovery should bring the reversal that leads to the calamity.
What is a Tragedy?
The big metaphysical distinction that informs Greek myth is that between the divine and the human.
The gods live a life of untroubled ease, being free from both death and old age.
By contrast, the human lot is subject not only to death and old age but also to the limitations imposed
by ignorance of the future and often of the past and present as well.
Greek tragedy illustrates the mutability of human fortunes. Tragedy exemplifies how mortals are at the
mercy of gods who, sometimes punish the wicked, but who also show personal hatred against
individuals or families.
Heracles as Tragic Hero
• Heracles suffers several reversals of fortunes in the play.
• He recognizes what he has done but his recognition happens too late to prevent the events from
• He suffers abjectly for his actions and wants to kill himself.
• He experiences existential disorientation, questioning the role of the Gods in human misfortune.
• His human rather than superhuman qualities are emphasized. Even having succeeded at the
labours, he can suffer extreme calamity.
November 1 2011 st
Heracles: Modern Interpretations and Readings
Objective of Lecture
To explore how three modern poets incorporate the figure of Hercules into th