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In our last post we learned about Hercules’ murder of Megara and their children.
There’s something you need to know about Hercules. He wasn’t always the hero that you would expect him to be. For instance, here’s a statue of him drunkenly peeing in a garden.
We get it: humans get drunk and pee on stuff, even when those humans have divine fathers. However, Hercules’ drinking habits get him in situations that are more worrisome. In Sophocles’ Women of Trachis (Trachiniae), Hercules finds himself at Eurytus’ house and the host makes two big mistakes. First, he claims that his son is a better archer than our hero.
So when Hercules gets drunk, he pees everywhere and he may or may not kill one of your kids.
But we’re not here to just judge a drunk demigod. Let’s talk about how Hercules finds himself unlucky in a deadly game of love and betrayal for the second time after he slaughters his girlfriend from the Disney movie.
In Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, Hercules is married for the second time. However, his heart has strayed. His wife, Deianeira, is rightfully worried about his wandering eyes, and her fears are confirmed when she finds out that her husband has sacked a city specifically to gain the hand of the maiden, Iole.
Distraught, Deianeira takes an interesting course of action. Unlike the dreaded Medea, she does not seek revenge against the one who is overlooking her or the woman who has caught his attention. Instead she attempts to win Hercules back through a love charm.
Previously, Hercules’ wife, had to depend upon the centaur, Nessus, to carry her across a river. Nessus, being a centaur, made a grab for her and Hercules shot him down with an arrow dipped in the poisonous blood of the Hydra.
As Nessus lay dying, he did seek vengeance. He lies to Deianeira, promising her that the combination of his blood, clotted around his ghastly wound, and the burning poison from the arrow tip will act as a charm so that Hercules’ heart never strays from her.
Now that Iole has captivated the hero, Deianeira acts. She douses a cloak in the love charm and orders that it be kept out of the sunlight and taken to her husband so that he may put it on and, hopefully, fall back in love with her primarily.
What do you think happens?
That cloak ends up being a big faux-pas both in fashion and in DEATH.
When Hercules puts it on and steps into the sunlight, the love charm bursts into flames and the hero is engulfed in pain and torment.
He ends his life in a terrifying way. The great hero of Greece has been laid low by a woman.
This ending is reminiscent of the awful ending of the earlier tragedy, Heracles by Euripides. By the denouement, Hercules alludes to being a child, an old man, and a woman. He is no longer a great hero who is in the highest ranks of society and culture. Now he is the lowest of the low. He hasn’t just killed his wife and kids, he’s killed himself.
And for classicists, this kind of turmoil in a hero of the people is hard to take.
But we can deal.
Or we can suppress our rage and go to Camp Arawak for a summer of life, love, and enlightenment.