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Myth In Ancient Greece- Texts And Theories

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Heracles, a Villain or Hero?

In the play Euripides’ Heracles, the son of a celestial father Zeus, and mortal mother Alcmene Heracles, was generally referred to as one of the culminating heroes in Greek mythology. Heracles was primarily thought of as an individual with exceptional fortitude and was also notorious for his completion of the twelve labours. There are two methods in characterizing Heracles: a violent murderer who killed Lichas and his own family, or a loving hero who rescues his family. When Heracles killed his wife and children, he was not aware of it at the time and gradually came to the realization that this horrifying act was true. Also the death of Lichas was simply a misunderstanding that was ultimately caused by Hera. Lastly, Heracles decided to complete the twelve labours to get rid of his sins because of the great guilt he was feeling after the massacre of his beloved family. It was evident that Heracles should be interpreted as an affectionate and family oriented father who was a victim of tragedy caused by Hera trying to eradicate Heracles.

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As seen in Euripides’ Heracles, the readers learn that Heracles did not intentionally kill his cherished wife and kids; it was basically a set up plan that lead to Heracles killing his family.

“Hera wishes to attach to him kindred blood

By his killing of the children, and I wish the same. …

So that… he may recognize what sort is Hera’s anger against him”

(Eur. Her. 840 – 842). As depicted in this quote, it is clear that Heracles did not deliberately try and kill his family; it was brought upon him by Iris, who was Hera’s messenger, and madness, which ultimately caused him to be filled with insanity and as a result, ended up killing his wife and kids. Heracles was under the impression that he was killing Eurytheus’ kids however; he eventually realized that he had unfortunately killed his own family including his wife Megara. Readers may be aware that Hera never was fond of Heracles, simply because Zeus had an affair with Aclmene, a mortal woman, and Heracles was born. If Hera was not targeting Heracles; he would have not harmed anyone; which validates that the death of his wife and children were out of his own control. The possession of a brutal exasperation issue was what Heracles was well known for. Hera took full advantage of that by ordering her messenger to consciously create lunacy within Heracles; knowing that he will slaughter his family as a result of madness overpowering his body. Powerful heroes like Heracles should not have to be psychologically warped by normal human standards because they posses many valuable powers that can benefit others, although it is their job to control their powers and remain conscious of what they are doing.

The jealous Hera, goddess of marriage and fertility was one person who greatly disliked Heracles; Eurystheus was a cousin of Heracles who also had great jealousy for him; Eurystheus was the individual who assigned the twelve labours to Heracles. The murder of Lichas was tragic and was a complete misunderstanding on Heracles’ part. Lichas was Heracles’ servant and Heracles’ wife Deianira gave the clock to Lichas so that he could deliver it to Heracles.

“Was it you, Lichas, brought this fatal gift?”

Shall you be called the author of my death?”

Lichas, in terror, groveled at his feet and begged for mercy–“Only let me live!”

But seizing on him, the crazed Hero whirled him thrice and once again about his head and hurled him, shot as by a catapult, into the waves of the Euboic Sea.

Lichas was innocent but due to a big misunderstanding Hercules threw in him the sea.”

(Eur. Her. 1294 – 1339). When Heracles was given the clock soaked in what was believed to be a ‘love potion’, he dismally burned to death. As his skin began to burn, he thought that Lichas was the one who tried to kill him; and his first instinct was to kill him; so he was thrown into the sea. Deianira was given the love potion and was told it would make Heracles devoted to only her; and she was insecure at the time and decided to use it. The excerpt clearly illustrates how Lichas was a victim of Heracles’ temper. However, one thing that should be clear was that if multiple people were not attempting to kill Heracles; murders like this would have never occurred.

Knowing what had occurred as a result of Hera and her harsh intention to kill Heracles, he was very disturbed by the fact that he had killed people. And to make up for that guilt, he wanted to clear his sins. So Heracles chose to speak to Apollo and he advised to do the twelve labours assigned by Eurystheus. In the play Euripides Heracles, the twelve labours are a huge factor to the play and express how Heracles felt great guilt after each murder because he was not intentionally trying to murder them; it was just a result of his anger that was sparked by others. Another fact that the twelves labours proved is that Heracles had good intentions because he wanted he wanted to get rid of sins and guilt by completing these labours. Although Hera instructed Eurystheus to assign difficult and life threatening tasks, Heracles still accomplished them without hesitation.

This has been his life, that only brings him home to send him out again, to serve some man or other. (35)

Now he wins through to the end of all his labors, and now I find I am more than ever afraid.

(Soph. Trach. 34 – 37). This extract from the reading shows Heracles’ great determination to finish these tasks. This ultimately proves how devoted Heracles was to eliminate his sins and the guilt psychologically.

Ultimately, we can arrive at the consensus that the great Greek hero Heracles was an infatuated and concerned individual who was a victim of psychological harassment by Hera which sparked the anger within him; thus creating chaos to many around him. As discussed previously, it is evident that Heracles does not need to be mentally surrounded by normal human standards because of his great power; he must learn to govern his temper and learn to control the actions he does because it could affect many people negatively. Heracles had the power to create a lot of positivity in the world; however, he must put his powers to use wisely. Many readers and viewers of the play must come to the realization that Heracles is indeed a caring father because he did not intentionally choose to kill his wife and children, the death of Lichas was a misunderstanding caused by another individual, and whenever something unfortunate occurred, Heracles would try to complete a adventurous and dangerous task to get rid of his sins and guilt. Heracles was absolutely a type of figure who loved his family; an ultimate message to take away is that you must look beyond the appearance of a person to find their true personality.

Works Cited

Euripides. The Bacchae. Trans. William Arrowsmith. Ed. David Grene & Richard Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959. Print.

Sophocles. Hugh Lloyd Jones. Harvard University Press. 1994.


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