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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Heracles (and Euripides)

Youthful Heracles at the Met. As Opposed to the older,
more bearded Heracles opposite him in the gallery.
As you may or may not realize by now, I like the demigods. They're tragic and sometimes incredibly jerky and unlikeable, but part of me thinks that's what makes them so fascinating, particularly when trying to reconcile them against the modern world, and what we consider to be heroic. And one of our most plentiful sources on myths and legends and the characters of these fine (or not so fine) heroes? Euripides!

He wrote plays in Classical Athens, and we have a LOT of them, in bits and bobs and fragments, but also whole, and from these plays, we can tease out some of the cultural ideas of the time. For myself (and Heracles, who I am committed to getting a strong a handle on as I have Theseus, because he's a pretty complex dude for whom I am discovering new appreciation), I'm less interested in the politics and rhetoric than I am the mythology, and what Euripides' accounts are in regard to the various heroes and their stories. Sometimes he contradicts himself -- like with Helen of Troy: did she go to Troy or not? He has it both ways in two different plays. -- but that's okay, because those contradictions are places where I can start drawing my own conclusions and maybe twist the mythology in the direction I want it to go.

So far, I've picked up two important pieces of information on Heracles:
1) He had auburn hair, according to this play.
2) He had three sons by Megara.

The other fascinating thing about this particular play, is the fact that it begins while Heracles is in the Underworld, fetching Cerberus and rescuing Theseus from Hades -- the last of his 12 labors -- and Megara and his family are under threat of death at the hands of a usurper-king, waiting for his return. Now, my understanding of Heracles and Megara, was always that Heracles murdered Megara and their children in a fit of madness (set on him by Hera) and it was AFTER this, and to be cleansed of the blood on his hands, that he went about his Twelve Labors. This does not bode well for sorting out his timeline -- or maybe it just gives me the permission I need to sort things out into a chronology that will make for the best story.

When it comes to Mythology, you can only count on one thing: nothing is EVER conveniently linear!

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