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Enveloping death and mourning: Some critical observations on Euripides’ Heraklēs and its deathly κόσμος and πέπλοι



This paper explores the notion of enveloping death through the use of metaphorical as well as literal “wrappings” in Euripides’ Heraklēs. The hero’s filicide and subsequent mourning are foreshadowed and expressed at first through exchanges of light and darkness whose gradual “materialising” in the drama culminates in his veiling with the peplos. This famous veiling of Heracles at the end of the play constitutes a turning point, as it embodies not only his shame and grief but also marks his urge to commit suicide. For their part, Heracles’ sons are consecrated to death, as soon as they are dressed in the funerary shrouds in which they will be buried, visually turned into on-stage ghost-figures. The covering garments link the different bodies and alter their identity, clearly indicating the transition that the figures are about to undergo, namely, the passage from life to death and vice versa. The play closes with Heracles’ transformation into a civic hero of Panhellenic importance, firmly placed and established within an Athenian context after overcoming the threat of death.


Euripides’ Heraklēs has enjoyed renewed scholarly interest in the last decades, with several philologists making new hypotheses on or enriching old arguments about the date of the play’s production, its structural unity and interpretation.1 One aspect that seems to enjoy scholarly consensus, however, is Euripides’ innovative placement of Heracles’ madness and child slaughter at the end of his labours rather than using the filicide as the fons et origo of his athloi.2 This substantially important alteration of the myth facilitates and intensifies the interplay between life and death, as well as adding dramatic irony to the tragic descent from triumph to destruction.3 In his first scene on stage, the hero emerges from the underworld, after having fetched Cerberus, the last task ordered by King Eurystheus (19; 23).4 However, his final “labour” (λοίσθιος πόνος, 1279),5 remains undone and, ironically enough, it is exactly this sinister “accomplishment”, the annihilation of his own oikos, that will reset the boundaries and unequivocally reposition him from the edges of savagery into humans – unsurprisingly, Athenian – society.

The play is based upon and revolves around a series of reversals,6 particularly with regards to Heracles’ fate and that of his three sons, marked by the constant interchange between light and darkness, symbolising the transition from life to death– and vice versa.7 The dramatist exploits both the literal and metaphorical use of the hero’s garments and accessories to mark this symbolic transition and externalise Heracles’ interiority and turmoil. Revealing the emotional world of the children through their garments emerges as a more difficult task, as their description lacks the emotional depth and psychological development we see in Heracles’ figure. Still, their garments anticipate the action as the figures move away from the material world and towards their death. In both cases, the tragic costumes, and props, as well as the positioning of the actors on stage, act as “harbingers of the action” and encourage the audience to see through the emotional state of the tragic figures and to situate them on the verge of these transitions. In this paper, I will attempt to illustrate the ways in which clothing metaphors play a crucial role in the drama through the prisms of new-materialism and affect theory.8 Rethinking the affective power of objects and their use in the expression of human emotions interacts with a new-materialists’ interest in redefining the human subject in terms of dynamic relations between persons and things. Cairns, in his recent article on affect in Heraklēs,9 has pointed out that the hero’s veil at the end of play is the physical manifestation of the hero’s aidōs after his filicide, intrinsically connected to the ritual of weeping and mourning on a cultural level. With the current paper, I wish to complement the work done so far and argue that the cover of darkness as well as the literal body coverings not only constitute a turning point in the later stages of the drama but are elements that help to drive the plot or at least anticipate a series of turning points from early on. The literal cover of darkness of the underworld that engulfs Heracles gradually transforms in the course of the tragedy into a metaphor, the enveloping cloud of sorrow, that ultimately materialises to an actual veil that expresses two powerful emotions: grief and shame. The garments of the dead worn by his sons, on the other hand, bind the children to their father and the fate of the oikos on a symbolic level tying them to death.

Euripides was of course not the first tragedian to realise the power that props and garments hold in matters of scenic display. In her referential article on Aeschylus, Zeitlin noted a technique whereby images of central ideas move from the metaphoric to their concrete embodiments, which would then ‘serve as tangible symbols for the idea and the image’.10 Following this thread of thought, I will attempt to illustrate how Euripides reuses this technique albeit with a twist in his Heraklēs.11 The tragedian places the emphasis on the psychological effects expressed through this motif rather than simply relying on its visual impact, and, in this manner, he reproduces a nexus of murder, vulnerability, and despair through the covering of darkness that later materialises into garments. In other words, the clothes are employed as costumes as well as metaphorical tools in conceptualising death or the abstract emotional world of the characters – the clothes as “the soul’s garments”. To this end, we will follow Euripides’ tragic narrative and zoom in and out of specific passages of interest: from Heracles’ ascent from the shadowy underworld, to his sons’ ominous clothing in the “trappings of Death”, and finally to Heracles’ own nakedness and veiling at the end of the play.

Establishing the chiaroscuro leitmotif

Before Heracles finally enters the stage, the Chorus sings the praise of the hero’s well-celebrated labours in the first stasimon (348-450),12 anticipating his miraculous return. He has been ‘hidden (κρύπτεται) beneath the earth (γῆς ἔνερθ᾽)’ in his descent into the darkness (262-263).13 The cover of darkness is indicated by the term ὄρφναν (353; cf. μέλαιναν ὄρφνην, 46),14 from which Heracles will soon emerge altered, as the embodiment of a καλλίνικος Panhellenic hero (180; 582).15 This chiaroscuro effect was commonplace in Greek poetry as multiple comparative examples can illustrate. In Heraklēs, however, it seems to grant an exceptional impetus to the dramatic plot and to be closely paralleled with the use of garments later in the play, where the hero ends up ‘victorious over no one’ (καλλίνικος οὐδενός, 961).16 The darkness that covers and uncovers his figure miraculously alters his status,17 symbolising his triumph over death and perhaps hinting towards his ultimate apotheōsis known from the previous mythological tradition.18 It is this type of transgression of natural laws that prompts his downfall in Euripides’ play,19 to which some scholars have wrongly, in my opinion, attached a hybris-dimension.20 In strong contrast to the example of the Sophoclean hero, Euripides does not seem to ascribe any hubristic characteristics to his Heracles that would justify his punishment. His unnatural travel to the underworld is externally imposed, primarily due to Hera’s vaguely motivated wrath and machinations, and his punishment is insufficiently explained (824-832; 1263-1265) and rigorously criticised (845-854; 1253-1254, 1308-1309). Heracles’ ascension from the darkness of the netherworld, which sets in motion the chain of events, seems to function primarily as a dramatic effect adding tragic pathos to the play and thematically rather than in terms of causation linking the two “labours”: the fetching of Cerberus and his filicide.

As the plot unravels, the light/darkness motif will re-emerge assuming stronger material extensions, with the action culminating in the image of the hero “shrouded” in a dark cloud while covering his face with a πέπλος.21 Heracles’ veil, used to conceal his shame after committing filicide (1159), matches the darkness that engulfs him at this point in the play, a darkness that will threaten to send him back into the netherworld. By that time, the entire oikos has been overshadowed by the black figure of Lyssa, who before ‘sinking into (δυσόμεσθ’)’ the Heraclean δώματα (874), symbolically stands upon the roof of the oikos.22 The house has been ominously ‘surmounted by (a coping stone of) dark evils’ (δῶμα θριγκῶσαι κακοῖς, 1280), an oikos covered by or filled with sufferings.23

Up until the second episode, Heracles is putatively dead for the internal audience, an element that appears emphatically in the scene leading to his apparition on stage (523). His entering comes gradually with Megara first imploring her missing husband to appear to their aid:

Μεγ.                 ἄρηξον, ἐλθέ· καὶ σκιὰ φάνηθί μοι

                         ἅλις γὰρ ἐλθὼν κἂν ὄναρ γένοιο σύ (494-495)

Meg.                Come rescue us! Appear to me even as a shadow;

                         Even if you came only as a dream vision it would suffice!

The hero is first evoked as a dark shadow (σκιά)24 and then as a fading, still immaterial, dream figure (ὄναρ).25 In the following verses, he will be perceived as a brighter daydream (ὄνειρον ἐν φάει, 517) that will appear before Megara, marking his passage from the world of the dead to that one of the living. She will then prompt the children to cling onto Heracles’ robes (δεῦρ᾽, ὦ τέκν᾽, ἐκκρίμνασθε πατρῴων πέπλων, 520) and never let go (μὴ μεθῆτ᾽, 521), as if his body somehow needed “anchoring”26 in the mortal world through touch in order not to immaterialise and fade away.27 In contrast to other literary instances of “phantom embraces”,28 Megara and the children are able to touch him and persistently clutch onto Heracles’ robes throughout the rest of the episode. Even when the hero asks them to let go (627), they do not break the physical connection as the hero notes: ‘Ah me, these children do not let me go but make fast on my garments all the harder!’ (ἆ, | οἵδ᾽ οὐκ ἀφιᾶσ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἀνάπτονται πέπλων | τοσῷδε μᾶλλον, 629-631).29 The terrified children will only let go of the πέπλοι – that act here as bodily extensions of Heracles – when he accepts this anchoring and, in turn, takes hold of their hands (χεροῖν, 631) ‘dragging them (after him) like tow boats dragged by a ship’ (ἐφολκίδας… | ναῦς δ᾽ ὣς ἐφέλξω, 631-632) inside the oikos.30

The binding drapes of death and Heracles’ sons

After this short homecoming, Heracles is informed of his family’s impending doom ordered by King Lycus. Their imminent death is mirrored in the theatrical costumes worn by Megara, Amphitryon and the children. Megara calls these ‘a patrimony from their father’s house’ (ἀπολάχωσ᾽ οἴκων πατρός, 331) to denote not only the inheritance (actual familial robes) but perhaps also the tragic lot of fate they share with their father presumed, at that point, dead.31 The children are symbolically “tied” to their father through the use of the garments that will remain focal points for the rest of the episode. The Chorus has already redirected the attention of the audience through the compound verb ἐσορῶ (behold, 442) towards the sight of the hero’s loved ones who arrived onstage wrapped in ‘the finery of the dead’ (φθιμένων | ἔνδυτ᾽ ἔχοντας, 442-443).32 The first verses Heracles utters further direct the audience to pay attention to the cloaks. To his puzzled reaction upon seeing them, Megara will stress that ‘Death’s wrappings (περιβόλαια) – we have already bound them on (ἐνήμμεθα)’ (549).33 Heracles emphatically gives stage directions to his children with repetitive questions and direct references to the ‘robes and adornments of the dead’ (στολμοῖσι νεκρῶν κρᾶτας ἐξεστεμμένα, 526):34

Ἡρ.                   οὐ ῥίψεθ᾽ Ἅιδου τάσδε περιβολὰς κόμης

                         καὶ φῶς ἀναβλέψεσθε, τοῦ κάτω σκότου

                         φίλας ἀμοιβὰς ὄμμασιν δεδορκότες; (562-564)

Her.                  Why don’t you tear these trappings of Hades from your hair now

                         and look at the light once more,

                         gazing on this sweet exchange for the darkness below!

If these περιβολαί κόμης included a veil – apart from the chaplet – then this turn of phrase would assume both a literal and metaphorical sense, as the use of garments would not only allude to their upcoming death but would also signal the actual funerary head and face coverings.35 Bond notes this double-entendre – that is, the fact that the wreaths are both of and for Hades,36 bringing to mind the motif of the “enveloping death” already employed in previous Euripidean plays.37 Heracles’ reappearance should signal for both internal (Chorus) and external theatrical audience the saving of the sons, clearly alluded to in the Chorus’ turn of phrase ‘Heracles’ brightness of strength’ (λαμπρὰν… | τὰν Ἡρακλέος ἀλκάν, 805-806),38 uttered in the very moment he slays Lycus. However, not only will he not “lead them to the light”, but he will be the one to send them there, a reversal of his earlier escapade fetching Cerberus from Hades (καὶ θῆρά γ᾽ ἐς φῶς τὸν τρίκρανον ἤγαγον, 611; cf. 24-25; 1277).39 The contrasting action, in combination with the ‘three heads’ of both Cerberus and his children, only accentuates the interconnection of the two “labours”.40 This is also echoed in Heracles’ reaction at the end of his filicidal frenzy, when upon seeing his weapons and the corpses of his family next to him he wonders if he is back in Hades (1101-1102). The audience, aware of the mythological tradition surrounding Heracles and his filicide,41 might notice the inverse movement that is about to take place: the hero-mediator par excellence stands at the intersection between the two worlds, bringing the infernal Cerberus up to the world and sending his own children to the underworld. This realisation or at least suspicion in combination with the clear emphasis on the ominous garments would alert the spectators to anticipate their slaughter and place the children in a liminal space as ghost-like presences in the play.

The children’s doom is made hauntingly ever-present, through the deictic language employed already from the moment they were sentenced to death by Lycus at the beginning of the play. Assaël, building on the work of Burnett, considered the children ‘consecrated to death, as already part of the underworld’, and that Heracles’ (initial at least) salvation of his family constituted a transgression of this “ritual dedication”.42 The morbid image of the children clothed in burial robes seems to have been enhanced through the dramatic positioning on stage, as the episode includes a plethora of stage directions to guide, drag, handle, embrace, and pass the possibly darkly shrouded children from one adult to the other,43 especially in the exchanges between Megara and Heracles in this second episode (485ff.). I would agree then with Assaël that they are treated as prematurely dead, shadow figures of themselves, a sense that will be intensified with Megara’s extensive lamentation scene at the start of the second episode (451-496), in which she embraces their (still living) bodies in front of the eyes of the audience. The spectators can well imagine the ‘phantom brides’ (νύμφας Κῆρας, 481) and the figure of Hades as ‘their father-in-law’ (Ἅιδην πενθερόν, 484),44 awaiting the children who are symbolically completing a rite of passage.45 In the culmination of her lament, Megara’s weeping tears substitute her sons’ nuptial bathing with the funerary washing of their bodies in the expression ‘tears for marriage baths’ (δάκρυα λουτρά, 482) that stresses the manner in which the marriage ritual becomes perverted in the play.46

As noted above, Heracles urged his sons to take off the ‘deathly crowns’ from their heads (562), but there is no explicit demand to take off the ‘binding (ἐνήμμεθα, 549)  clothes’. It is logical to assume that, while the children follow his orders and drop the crowns (and possibly also the veil), their bodies still remained shrouded with the binding πέπλοι even as they enter the supposedly safe Heraclean oikos, alive for the last time on stage. Their next appearance will be at the end of the play, where they lie onstage as a ‘pile of wretched bodies’ (ἄθλια κείμενα, 1033; cf. νεκρῶν πληθύει πέδον, 1172), objectified as ‘unbearable burdens’ (δυσκόμιστα ἄχη, 1422)47 in front of their father.48 This morbid representation is exactly what Worman calls “shadow selves” that ‘disrupt firm distinctions between presence and absence, living and dead, and human and creature’.49 After their quasi-religious slaughter, they will form a pathetic familial grouping, an assemblage alongside their mother, literally attached to her as in the beginning of the play. Their dead bodies will ultimately be ‘folded’ (περίστειλον νεκρούς, 1360),50 ‘wrapped’ in Megara’s embrace (πρὸς στέρν᾽ ἐρείσας μητρὶ δούς τ᾽ ἐς ἀγκάλας, 1362), a ‘miserable companionship’ (κοινωνίαν δύστηνον, 1363) that the earth will soon cover.51 As was announced by the Chorus in the first stasimon, Heracles’ ‘crown of toils’ (στεφάνωμα μόχθων, 355-356) would ultimately be the slaying of ‘the crown of his fair children’ (καλλίπαιδα στέφανον, 838). His famous last labour which was otherwise described as a glorious ‘memorial of toils to the dead’ (πόνων | τοῖς θανοῦσιν ἄγαλμα, 357-358)52 would ironically become the violation of his offspring’s bodies adorned with the ‘ornaments of the dead’ (ἀγάλματα νεκρῶν, 702).53

The aftermath of the filicide: Heracles vulnerable and tied to the destroyed oikos

After he has slain his sons, Heracles reappears chained to a column of the oikos (1035-1037) with fetters and cords tied all around his body, bound to the stone pillars almost as a part of the construction, while he likens his body to an ‘anchored boat’ (ναῦς ὅπως ὡρμισμένος, 1094).54 The image that should inspire a sense of security – a ship that has safely reached its destination – is here perverted, as Heracles is not the victim in need of security, but the perpetrator of violence; he is being restrained for the safety of the polis.55 His mind is still metaphorically bound by frenzy, an element that is also physically manifested in this scene by the bodily bonds (δεσμά, 1035, 1055, 1123).56 A few moments later, Heracles will liken himself to a statue,57 by exclaiming that his ‘limbs are frozen’ and he is unable to move (ἄρθρα γὰρ πέπηγέ μου, 1395),58 while he expresses the wish to become a stone-part of the oikos (αὐτοῦ γενοίμην πέτρος, 1397), implicitly reminding the audience of the parallel lamenting of Niobe who was actually turned to stone.59 These body references mirror his mental and psychological state, with his mind turning numb after being ‘struck’ (πέπληγμαι) with terror and being ‘distraught’ (ἀμηχανῶ, 1105), while his body also has “turned” numb from the pain of loss after the realisation.60 The revelation of the horrendous crime he has committed is achieved by noticing the two groupings situated beside him; the corpses of his children and wife, ‘neighbours of the dead’ (νεκροῖσι γείτονας, 1097) as well as his ‘winged’ weapons (πτερωτά ἔγχη, 1098). In this dynamic relation between human and object,61 while the human bodies become more and more objectified,62 the weapons gain in agency and power, to the point where they will be explicitly defined as independent agents in the filicide: σὺ καὶ σὰ τόξα καὶ θεῶν ὃς αἴτιος (1135).63

It is crucial at this point to note that in the moment of his madness, the hero stripped his body naked of his mantle (γυμνὸν σῶμα θείς, 959)64 to wrestle with an imaginative opponent during his delirium. As Heracles lies semi-naked and tied to the pillar, Amphitryon urges him to ‘clothe himself in his evils’ (τὰ σὰ περιστέλλου κακά, 1129), while the hero himself cries out that he is now being ‘draped (περιβάλλει) in a cloud (νέφος) of lamentations’ (1140).65 As was the case with the funerary kosmos of the children, the characters again emphatically employ the verb periballō and cognates to denote the metaphorical cloud that is “dressing” Heracles,66 representing his inner desperation and lament, as many scholars have already pointed out. I would argue, that the dark cloud becomes a metonymy not only for these emotions but for death itself, the annihilation of the senses. It is at these moments that the hero starts contemplating suicide,67 only to be stopped by Theseus who arrives on stage.68 Apart from the metaphorical shadow that is veiling Heracles, the hero asks for an actual covering for his face (repetition of περιβάλλω):

Ἡρ.                   φέρ᾽, ἀμφὶ κρατὶ περιβάλω σκότον <πέπλων>69

                         αἰσχύνομαι γὰρ τοῖς δεδραμένοις κακοῖς. (1159-1160)

Her.                  Come, let me cast about my head the darkness <of my garments>!

                         For I feel shame at the harm I have done.

It seems that the actor playing Heracles receives an actual, most probably dark,70 mourning veil that hides his figure in darkness (σκότον).71 The veil-prop matches the external cloud of sorrows that has shrouded him. The combination of the metaphorical and literal coverings will have reminded the audience of the imagery of enveloping darkness that often foreshadows death72 and that was consistently evoked to denote the hero’s escape from Hades’ shadows, as illustrated above.73 Besides, the image of “enveloping death” seems to derive from actual ritual practice, that is, the covering or veiling of the dead body, so as to identify with the deceased during the lamentation stage.74 The mourning πέπλος, ‘being a form of self-segregation and self-protection’, becomes the container of Heracles’ aidōs,75 as well as a protective shield in order to spare Theseus from the polluting miasma of the bloodshed.76 The use of the πέπλοι here would not have surprised the audience, as covering one’s face functions both as an instinctive emotional reaction to excessive shame and/or grief,77 as well as being in keeping with ancient Greek socioreligious attitudes towards ritualised mourning and polluting miasma.78 The biological seems interwoven with the culture-specific, that is the universal effect of shame linked with the wish for temporary invisibility is expressed through the culturally distinct Greek πέπλος that hides the face. Grief, as a dominant emotion,79 is described as an external and uncontrollable force that comes and covers (see the νέφος-πέπλος parallel) and paralyses the individual. In the Euripidean corpus, we find two instances – prior to Heraklēs – that imply that the emotion of grief was “seated” on the head, something that would further explain Heracles’ reaction.80 The use of the Heraclean veil will constitute the main point of interest for the next few verses, perhaps reminiscent of the Aeschylean ‘veil spun by the Erinyes’, that engulfs the perpetrator of intrafamilial violence.81

The (new?) materiality of Heracles’ miasma

The sight of the tormented and veiled hero prompts Theseus to inquire why he is veiled, thus drawing attention to Heracles’ face:

Θησ.                τί γὰρ πέπλοισιν ἄθλιον κρύπτει κάρα; (1198)82

Thes.               and why is he hiding his wretched face in these veils?

Amphitryon’s response to Theseus renders both reasons (aidōs and miasma) clear and establishes Heracles as a deeply reverent and respectful hero:83

Ἀμφ.                αἰδόμενος τὸ σὸν ὄμμα

                         καὶ φιλίαν ὁμόφυλον

                         αἷμά τε παιδοφόνον. (1199-1201)

Amph.             for he is ashamed to meet your eyes,

                         of your kind familial affection

                         and the child-murdering blood.

It is exactly this ‘child-murdering blood’ in combination with Heracles’ πέπλοι that completes Hera’s punishment, a vengeance that seems expressed in material terms. Iris had announced Hera’s plan in the second prologue of the play (822-842), by employing the image of a bloodstained Heracles:

Λύσ.                 Ἥρα προσάψαι κοινὸν αἷμ᾽ αὐτῷ θέλει84

                         παῖδας κατακτείναντι, συνθέλω δ᾽ ἐγώ. (831-832)

Lys.                  Hera wishes to stain him with the blood of his relatives

                         By slaying his own children, and so do I.

Instead of simply revealing the plan of filicide, Iris uses the verb προσάπτω which has a literal and a haptic dimension: blood attached to his hands and garment (veil).85 ‘The scene is staged with Heracles’ bloodied hands chained to the stone pillar, a pillar that was previously ‘drenched’ (ἔδευσεν, 980) in his child’s blood,86 whereas the Chorus has already established that ‘pools of spilt blood’ were oozing from the murder, an effect that could easily be reproduced on stage (φόνος ὅσος ὅδʼ…κεχυμένος,1052-1054). The covering garment seems to have been stained with blood from his hands – especially after Amphitryon unchains him (1123) – which he then hesitates to offer Theseus due to the danger of miasma. Heracles yells at him ‘but let me not wipe blood off upon your robes’ (ἀλλ᾽ αἷμα μὴ σοῖς ἐξομόρξωμαι πέπλοις, 1399), drawing attention to his own blood-stained garments.87 The last sign of the children’s (former) vitality, their blood, is mingled with the material of the πέπλος that now covers Heracles’ face, almost animating it. The bloodied veil seems to gain on agency and to have the power to consign this time Heracles to death. It seems as if Amphitryon and Theseus, like Heracles upon looking at his covered children, realise the power that these clothes hold over the body and figures.88 To Heracles’ veiling and resolve to commit suicide,89 Theseus replies emphatically ‘for there is no darkness (σκότος) with a cloud black (μέλαν νέφος) enough that could hide (κρύψειεν ἄν) the misfortune (συμφοράν) of your evils’ (1216-1217), further implying the agency (note the active κρύπτω) of the νέφος-πέπλος parallel. The hero’s συμφορά consists of ‘collecting evils’ or ‘placing one crime on top of the other’ (πρὸς δὲ κακοῖς κακά, 1075-1076, φόνον…ἐπὶ φόνῳ βαλών, 1085)90 and entails a strongly haptic aspect (συνάψαι, 1213, ἅπτῃ, 1240) that recalls the blood and miasma literally attached to the protagonist. The hero has also revealed to Theseus that he wishes to burn his own skin and body (1151), the ‘cloak of flesh’ (σαρκὸς περιβόλαι᾽, 1269), which he wore like armour – or a costume to his audience – to complete his labours.91 This comes as the culmination of his suicidal thoughts (the other two being throwing himself off a rock or piercing his heart with a sword) and shows once more that the miasma is so firmly attached to him that simply removing the bloodied garments is not enough to cleanse himself. Heracles must burn his own flesh (σάρκα τὴν ἔμηνεν ἐμπρήσας πυρί, 1151), so as to avert or melt away the infamy and miasma of his crime, a scene that echoes Sophocles’ Trachiniae (765-766; cf. 1054).

The actor playing Theseus then takes off Heracles’ veil and reveals his miserable figure, as the hero exclaims ‘why then did you unveil (ἀνεκάλυψας) my head to the sun? (ἡλίῳ)’, while insisting for the last time on taking his own life (1231-1241).92 With the hero’s head unveiled and the promise of a sanctuary, Heracles decides to renounce death and endure his hardships,93 demonstrating both his aretē and the value of Theseus’ philia.94 ‘I will persist in living’ (ἐγκαρτερήσω βίοτον, 1351),95 he exclaims, and starts lamenting and weeping for his lost family once more.96 Heracles has lost his identity as a καλλίνικος or, as Theseus announces, ‘the illustrious Heracles’ (ὁ κλεινὸς Ἡρακλῆς, 1414) and follows the Athenian hero of the stage, with the Chorus uttering the last anapestic lament over losing the greatest benefactor of Hellas.


Coming full circle in our investigation then, it seems that Euripides’ dramaturgy is indeed following “in the footprints of Aeschylus”,97 while also significantly building upon it. Heraklēs constitutes an interesting twist of what Zeitlin perceived as Aeschylus’ “embodied metaphor” technique, with the metaphorical and the material succeeding and overlapping with one another. But instead of insisting more subtly on its ornamental aspect of the drama, Euripides ascribed to it a core secondary function: the expression of emotions. The imagery of dark shadows engulfing and then revealing the figure of Heracles is first established through the literal darkness of being in the ‘entrails (μύχια) of the earth’ and then transforms in turn from a figurative cloud of grief and abstract concept of death (averted suicide) to an actual piece of clothing, the mourning πέπλος. Grief and death are metaphorically or metonymically described as clouds or darkness that “shroud” the figures, while the literal garments are the material and visual symbols of these states. We can note that what both parts have in common is the conceptual relationship of acting as wrappings, the grieving and suicidal Heracles being “draped” in a cloud of sorrows and death being consistently described as an enveloping darkness throughout the play. Broadly speaking, the scenic representation of the embodied shame and grief of Heracles through the πέπλοι exemplify that the mental and emotional processes are bound up with the workings of the body, correspondingly including the interactions of the body with the physical environment surrounding it. The tragic props come to supplement and facilitate the interpretation of these mental images by “bridging the gap” created by the tension between literal and non-literal. The robes and veil turn into symbols for the affective concepts and into focal points for conceptualising death, gaining additional significance from their use in Greek ritual during Euripides’ own time, both as mourning accessories as well as shrouds for the dead bodies.98

As Holmes has noted ‘Heracles… wavers between life and death… [He] must be resurrected in order to be annexed to Athens’.99 This symbolic resurrection is marked by the interplay between light and darkness from the beginning of the play, where we learn of the black realm of the underworld he has entered into and it is evoked several times thereafter, until his return and uncovering to the light. He will emerge only to find his sons dressed in the drapes of Death, these “binding” trappings of death, that morbidly connect the children to Heracles who will attempt in vain to lead them from darkness to light, a trajectory that he himself just completed and will repeat later on. The κόσμος and the ἀγάλματα of the children wrap their bodies, figuratively pushing them towards the darkness of the netherworld and even literally obscuring the light of the sun, as Heracles notes. The same semantics will be employed by Amphitryon and Theseus who try to avert Heracles’ suicide by imploring him to take off his mourning veil and gaze upon the sun. Serving as counterpoint scenes, the former sets up the power of light-darkness, as symbols of life and death, and the agency of garments before their reemployment in the latter.

The matching garments in combination with the bodily bonds function as assemblages that demarcate the relationships and ties within the Heraclean oikos,100 ultimately “disentangling” the hero from his family and attaching him to Theseus and Athens, what Holmes names ‘a visual tableau of philia’.101 The recurring covering and uncovering of the hero’s body problematizes his social identity and reveals his vulnerability, which Theseus comes to restore at the end of the play. Heracles, perhaps the hero who best expressed liminality (between the realms of animals, humans, and gods) in ancient Greek mythology, is violently repositioned and redefined throughout the play. He leaves his heroic exploits in the wilderness behind by fetching Cerberus, the last mythical monster to be ‘tamed’. He then utterly destroys his Theban family and choses Amphitryon rather than Zeus as his father (1265; 1289), before he can become a civic hero and an Athenian tragic protagonist.


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  1. Griffiths 2006; Riley 2008; Rozokoki 2012; Provenza 2013; Mikellidou 2015; Stafford 2017 (mythological figure of Heracles more broadly); Encinas & Reguero 2020. See also Marshall 2017 (textual transmission). Bond 1981; Diggle 1981; Kovacs 1998; Waterfield 2003 propose ca. 416 BCE, contra Rozokoki 2012 in favour of 419 BCE; 420-416 BCE, in: Cropp & Fick 1985.
  2. Most clearly argued in Bond 1981. The canonisation of Heracles’ labours seems to derive from the classical or early Hellenistic period (Eur., Her., 359ff.; Theoc. 24.80ff.; Ap. Rhod. 1.1317-1318; Call., Aet., fr. 23.19-20 Pfeiffer; Diod., 4.26.4); cf. Hom., Il., 8.362-363; Od., 11.601-626 (Heracles’ bringing of Cerberus); Hes., Th., 289-332; EGF, fr. 1-11 PEG Bernabé (Peisandros’ Herakleia); Pind. fr. 169a43 S-M; Soph., Trach., 1098-1100). Burkert 1987 argued in favour of Peisander’s Herakleia (7th c. BCE) as the epic oeuvre defining the canon. For the representations of Heracles see LIMC, s.u. Herakles.
  3. See Galinsky 1972 on Heracles’ gradual moralisation in the mythological tradition (Hom., Od., 8.223-225; 21.11-21: brutal hero violating the sacred bonds of xenia) towards the more ethical and civic hero from late archaic lyric poetry to Euripides’ version. See also Papadopoulou 2009. For the slaying of Iphitus in later versions as a result of madness see Schol. ad Pind., Isth., 4.104g Tessier on the account by Herodorus (FGrH 32 Müller); cf. Soph., Trach., 270-274; Apollod., Bibl., 2.6.2 (repeating the motif of the maddened Heracles).
  4. Perhaps another Euripidean creative readjustment of the mythological tradition, by setting his travel to the underworld as his last labour for reasons that will be explored in this paper (cf. Hes., Th., 311-312, 517-531), although a passage from Homer (Hom., Od., 11.624-625) might indicate that fetching Cerberus from Hades as Heracles’ last labour was already implicit in the Homeric epics.
  5. Heracles repeats the term πόνοι in his frenzy referring to the murder of the children (διπλοῦς πόνους, 937) of what he thought to be Eurystheus’ sons rather than his own; cf. Eur., Alc., 481; Herc., 22, 575. All translations come from Kovacs’s edition, slightly adapted whenever necessary for my argument.
  6. For the vocabulary employed to denote these reversals see Worman 1999.
  7. Assaël 1994, following this dichotomy, argued in favour of the unity of the Heraklēs. My investigation retakes several key-passages discussed by the scholar, but focuses more clearly on body coverings and dress metaphors to express emotional states.
  8. On theory of emotions in classical drama see Chaniotis 2017; for an overview of the theory of new-materialism and classical scholarship more broadly see Canevaro 2019. For a wider discussion on the contact points between theory of affect and theory of new-materialisms in ancient Greek thought see Lather 2021.
  9. Cairns 2016b.
  10. Zeitlin 1965, 488.
  11. On the transformation and symbolic use of the garments in the Oresteia see Noel 2013; Mueller 2015, 42-69; Worman 2020, 93-130. For the use of the Heraclean chiton in Sophocles’ Trachiniae see Ormand 2012; Noel 2020; for the flesh as a body covering see Worman 2020.
  12. Note the circular structure of the stasimon, starting as a dirge (αἴλινον) but changing its tone in 355ff., turning into a hymn or a laudatory song for Heracles’ accomplishments, an ἄγαλμα (358) to immortalise his fame, a term repeated in 425. From verse 426 the song changes back to a lamentation (θρῆνος) for the grim fate of the children.
  13. Cf. 607-608: ἐξ ἀνηλίων μυχῶν… | ἔνερθεν (‘from the sunless innards down below’).
  14. See also the Heracleidae (430 BCE) vv. 855-857; for an extensive discussion on the thematic and structural ties between the two plays see Burian 1977.
  15. Heracles as kallinikos in archaic lyric poetry: Archil. fr. 329.1 West; Pind., Isth., 1.12; Nem., 3.18; Ol., 9.1-4.
  16. Note the same pattern (Lichas’ speech contrasted to the sack of Oechalia) in Sophocles’ Trachiniae.
  17. For more examples see Assaël 1994, 318-321.
  18. Cf. Hom., Od., 11.601-603; Hes., Th., 950-953.
  19. See Assaël 1994 (scarred by the underworld as a “hostage of Hades”, 326); cf. Torrance 2017 (Heracles as an ancient model of PTSD victim).
  20. Arrowsmith 1954; Seaford 2018, 10-12.
  21. See Llewellyn-Jones 2003; Lee 2004, 258: the vocabulary of veiling is markedly similar to expressions contrasting light and darkness. Note also the connection of the peplos with the Panathenaea in Attic comedy (above all in Lysistrata).
  22. Note that the verb δύω was also frequently used to denote the setting of the sun, perhaps further darkening the image, as well as for putting on clothes (mainly in Homer), see LSJ s.u. Lyssa as the ‘virgin daughter of black Night’ (Νυκτὸς κελαινῆς…παρθένε, 834).
  23. For the use of θριγκόω see Hom., Od., 14.10; cf. Aesch., Ag., 1283 and the placing of atē on the coping (cf. Cho. 52). See Heracles as ‘full of woes’ (γέμω κακῶν, 1245). his body functioning as a container to be ‘loaded’ (γέμω usually used for ships, see LSJ s.u.). Cf. Eur., Tro., 489: τὸ λοίσθιον δέ; 489: θριγκὸς ἀθλίων κακῶν.
  24. Kovacs ad loc. translates “ghost” of the netherworld.
  25. Cf. Hom., Od., 11.602: εἴδωλον (phantom as the “real” Heracles is on Olympus); 606; Apollo as ‘the dark night’ in Hom., Il., 1.47. On tragic mimesis and ghosts or phantoms in Attic plays see Bassi 2017.
  26. Cf. the gnomic truth in Soph. fr. 685 Radt (Phaedra): ἀλλ’ εἰσὶ μητρὶ παῖδες ἄγκυραι βίου (‘but children are the anchors of life to a mother’).
  27. Burnett 1971 notes ad loc. that Megara and the children clung onto Heracles’ robes just like they did on the altar and his statue at the beginning of the play. Also note the similar effect of the chorus clinging to the πέπλοι of one another in 127ff.
  28. “Phantom embraces” in Hom., Od., 11.207: σκιῇ…ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ. For the ghost-like (φάσμα) and veiled figure of Alcestis in Eur., Alc., 1050 see Conacher 2004; Foley 1985, 302-332; contra Beltrametti 2016. Note the haptic vocabulary employed in 1020, 1025, 1097, 1111-1117.
  29. Note the adjective ‘winged’ (πτερωτός, 628); cf. 571, 1098 (weapons).
  30. Worman 1999 has aptly noted the symbolic extensions of this nautical tableau in terms of bonds of philia: see also ἕλκουσαν in 446 (Megara) ἐφολκίδες and ἐφέλκω repeated in 1424 (Theseus), the recurring references to ‘Charon’s boat’ in 427-428, 432.
  31. For the metaphorical meaning of ἀπολαγχάνω see LSJ s.u.; see esp. Bacchyl. 4.20; Eur., Ion,609; cf. Her., 133.
  32. I agree with Burnett 1971, 162 that this reappearance constitutes a pivotal moment in the play, as Megara and the children abandon their “robes of faith”, as the scholar calls them, for the “robes of the grave”, although I do not share her general view of the play and the emphasis she places on Megara’s “perverted supplication” as the main element that drives the plot.
  33. Note the emendation to πέπλων (L) instead of πρέπων in: κόσμος δὲ παίδων τίς ὅδε νερτέροις πέπλων, 548. The unusual term περιβόλαιον (see LSJ s.u.) will be reused by Heracles to denote his ‘youthful cloak of flesh’ (σαρκός περιβόλαι’, 1269).
  34. In a very similar manner as Lycus had before him (κόσμον περιβάλησθε σώμασιν, 334). Papadopoulou 2004, 262-263 (referencing Porter D., Only Connect’ Three Studies in Greek Tragedy, New York 1987 (non vidi); cf. also Arnott 2002, 165) hypothesizes that Heracles and Lycus were played by the same actor. If that is true, then we can expect that some spectators might have picked up on this subtle substitution and be more alert to the murder that is to come.
  35. The funerary κόσμος entailed both robes (πέπλοις | κοσμεῖσθε σῶμα, 703-704), and perhaps also a peplos to go with the crowns or chaplets (κρᾶτας ἐξεστεμμένα, 526) marked by the repetition of περιβαλ – cognates.
  36. Bond 1989, 207; cf. Eur., Med., 980-981: τὸν Ἅιδα | κόσμον.
  37. Cf. Eur., Hipp., 250-251: τὸ δ᾽ ἐμὸν πότε δὴ θάνατος | σῶμα καλύψει; (‘but when will death cover my own body?’). Note also the signs of light/sun symbols of life in the Homeric image of Eileithyia connected to childbirth (Hom., Il., 19.104; cf. 16.188), which might render the passage even more sinister. For an exhaustive study on the vocabulary and imagery of light/darkness and the connection with life and death see Bremer 1976; Christopoulos, Karakantza & Levaniouk 2010. Note also Heracles’ bringing Theseus to the light is similarly phrased (1170; 1222).
  38. Λαμπρός as ‘radiant’ as well as ‘glorious’ (LSJ s.u.). Amphitryon equates Heracles to the light:
    ὦ φάος μολὼν πατρί… (‘oh light that advances towards your father’, 532); cf. 150. Fraenkel 1950 on Aesch., Ag., 1180 notes that aside from “clear” the adjective means also “uncovered” – reminiscent of the bride unveiled – but here could also be linked to Heracles’ later dark-veiling.
  39. Death of the children phrased as ‘leaving the light’ or ‘being sent to the darkness below’ in 335 (by Lycus), 453 (Megara), 838-839 (Iris). Interesting for our discussion is the etymology ascribed to Hades by Plato as ‘the unseen’ (Plat., Gorg., 493b), illustrating the connection between light/darkness, visibility/invisibility, and life/death.
  40. See also the ambivalence of the term ἐκπονήσω in 581 (both ‘exert myself over’ and ‘complete the labour’) as discussed in Papadopoulou 2005, 79; cf. 1229: δέδορκας τόνδ᾽ ἀγῶν᾽ ἐμῶν τέκνων; (‘did you see clearly the struggle (contest) with my children?’).
  41. On the dramatist’s dependence on the prior knowledge of structures and myths on the part of the audience see CAF fr. 191 Kock (Antiphanes); cf. Arist., Poet., 1451b25-26. On Heracles’ filicide in specific see PMG F 230 Campbell (Stesichorus); FGrH 3F14 Pherec. (fire).
  42. Assaël 1994, 315. The scholar places this in the wider context of Heracles journeys and salvations from the underworld, as are the cases in Alcestis and Perithoos, which lead the hero to his demise.
  43. The case of the Euripidean Ino and the antithesis between white and black garments to denote life and death also deserves mention here. See Finglass 2014 with Hyg. Fab. 4 as a backdrop.
  44. Parmentier 1923, 39 called this a ‘Euripidean novelty’ established from the usual motif of a virgin marrying Hades. The Κῆρες will reappear in the text in 870, but this time it is the frenzied Heracles who will invoke them so as to accompany his children to Hades. Heracles himself will have proven a loyal ‘frantic follower of Hades’ (Ἅιδου βάκχος, 1119).
  45. See Padilla 1999, 148-181 (use of Soph., Ant., 891-915).
  46. Marriage gifts as tokens of inheritance for each son, but also as the insignia of Heracles’ labours (lion skin, club, bow) by which the sons will perish (463-475).
  47. The verb κομίζω apart from ‘providing’ or ‘attending to (someone)’ has also the quite literal signification of moving or carrying something (see LSJ, s.u.), while ἄχος literally means ‘pain’. In Eur., Alc., 1028-1029, 1063-1064, 1110; IA, 145-149, 428-439, 905-908 it is used to denote either the entrance of the bride in the oikos (Alcestis) or the sacrificial victim – “bride” (Iphigenia) and could be used here both for Heracles’ wife as well as for his sons and their marriage-to-death transition (cf. Eur., Hec., 222, 432).
  48. Cf Eur., Alc., 302: χειρὸς ἄθλιον βάρος, who throughout that play had been ‘dedicated to Death’ and was evoked as partly dead, partly alive (141), before appearing like a ghost on stage.
  49. Worman 2020, 245.
  50. For the warrior-tomb of Heracles’ sons in Thebes see Pind., Isth., 4.62-64.
  51. Bond 1989 refers to all three stages of family life in this (single) image: procreation, participation in family life and death.
  52. His labours/achievements equated to ἀγάλματ᾽ | εὐτυχῆ also in 425-426.
  53. Cf. Aesch., Ag., 207-208 (τέκνον…δόμων ἄγαλμα); Eur., Alc., 613. On the double meaning of ἄγαλμα both as ‘memorial/statue’ (with material extensions) as well as ‘ornament’ see Eur., Hel., 262, 705; Hec., 558; Hipp., 631; Supp., 371; Tro., 192.
  54. Note the tragic inversion from v. 203; Aristoph., Thes., 1106, parodies the Euripidean expression (θεαῖς ὁμοίαν ναῦν ὅπως ὡρμισμένην;).
  55. Cf. Wohl 1993 on women standing in front of pillars in the Odyssey symbolising their contribution to and maintenance of the oikos, while Heracles constitutes its demise. Amphitryon even fears that he will wake up and destroy the rest of the oikos (μέλαθρά τε καταράξει, 1056) and the city of Thebes (1084-1085), which is also included in his ‘affective world’ (Bernardini 1997, 227). I would like to express my gratitude to Dr Canevaro for bringing Wohl’s article to my attention in connection with this passage.
  56. Cf. the δέσμιος φρενῶν Orestes (Aesch., Eum., 328). For the possible Aeschylean influence (Erinyes) in the Euripidean Lyssa see Aélion 1983, 203-205; on the Ποιναί (Her. 889) as the Erinyes see Provenza 2013, 72 (and ibid 81-82).
  57. Cf. v. 49: the family clinging onto his ἄγαλμα καλλινίκου δορός as a substitute for the hero.
  58. Levine 2015 explores the theme of feet and power in the Oresteia, illustrating how the imagery of debilitated, trapped or naked feet signals loss of power and vulnerability.
  59. See also 1355-1356; cf. TrGF fr. 125.2 Kannicht (Andromeda) (Perseus seeing a girl ‘chiseled in stone’); Eur., Tro., 508-509 (body distorted from weeping). See also Theseus’ rebuke of his girl-like wail at the end of the play in v. 1412.
  60. Seaford 2018, 249 (citing Hertz R. [1960], Death and the Right Hand, Routledge: 86 [non vidi]) speaks of death as ‘a social phenomenon consisting in a dual and painful process of mental disintegration and synthesis’ in favour of the ultimate survival of the polis, a remark that seems pertinent for Heraklēs as a play and this scene in particular.
  61. What Bennett 2010 calls in her introduction ‘vibrant matter’ (affective liveliness of objects); see also Canevaro 2019; Lather 2021.
  62. Bassi 2018: 37 speaks of the ‘shared finitude of humans and things exemplified in the inanimate human corpse’ as the bodies of the children function as objects of visible, verbal, and affective attention.
  63. The weapons that used to actively ‘fight beside’ (παρασπίζονται, 1099) and ‘safeguard’ (ἔσῳζε, 1100) the hero’s body “speak”: ‘with us you destroyed your own children and wife; you have us as your children’s slayers.’ (Ἡμῖν τέκν᾽ εἷλες καὶ δάμαρθ᾽· ἡμᾶς ἔχεις | παιδοκτόνους σούς, 1380-1381). For the poetics of Heracles’ weapons and their personification see Telò & Mueller 2018, 71-77; Encinas-Reguero 2020.
  64. Of his weapons too (γυμνωθεὶς ὅπλων, 1381).
  65. Mark the repetition of περιβαλ – and cognates for the clothing of the children (περιβολαί’), repeated here. Cf. 1216 cloud as a black shadow (σκότος…μέλαν νέφος); for the same metaphor of the dark/black sorrow or grief see Hom., Il., 11.250, 17.591, 18.22.
  66. Cf. 334, 499, 549, 562 and 1269 (for the flesh).
  67. ‘Why then do I spare my own life?’ (τί δῆτα φείδομαι ψυχῆς ἐμῆς, 1146; cf. 1152).
  68. Cf. Soph., OC, 1701.
  69. Supplemented by Pflugk; for a discussion see Burzacchini 2021.
  70. For the use of dark veil for mourning see Aesch., Cho., 11; Eur., Alc., 216-217, 923; Hel., 1186; IA, 1438, 1448; Or., 457; Phoen., 322-324, 371: note esp. that in the cases of Alcestis, Helen, and the Phoenissae there is a change from white to dark for mourning; cf. Thetis’ black veil of mourning in Hom., Il., 24.92-93 and the κυανόπεπλος Demeter mourning Persephone in Hom. Hymn., 2. 181, 319, 360, 374, 442; for a connection between Heracles’ silenced, veiled, and seated figure and the initiation rituals at Eleusis, see Parker 1983, 373-376.
  71. Cf. Plat., Phaedo, 118a16 and the use of the veil as an indicator of the wish to commit suicide.
  72. The “veil of darkness” as a metonymy for death in Hom., Il., 4.461, 16.350, 20.417-418. Cf. Eur., Her., 640-641: βλεφάρων | σκοτεινὸν φάος ἐπικαλύψαν (‘veil of darkness shrouded my eyes’). Burnett 1971, 180 describes this as Heracles’ (metaphorical) personal hell citing vv. 870, 1101, 1119, 1336, 1415. Cf. Ajax’s emotive apostrophe to darkness before his suicide in Soph., Aj., 394-396; for a close reading of the scenes in Soph., Aj., and Eur., Her., see Barlow 1981; Worman 1999.
  73. Heracles himself brought this to the attention of the audience a few lines above, when, as soon as he woke up and before regaining his awareness, he wondered if he had been sent back to the underworld (1100).
  74. See Hom., Il., 18.352-353, 24.587-588; for the literary and archaeological evidence see Garland 1985. On the identification between dead and mourner see the case of Achilles in Hom., Il., 18.22-27 and discussion in Seaford 2018, 313-316.
  75. Cairns 2009, 46; ibid 1993, 2: ‘The verb aideomai convey[s] a recognition that one’s self-image is vulnerable in some way, a reaction in which one focuses on the conspicuousness of the self”. Cf. Eur., Hipp., 241-249.
  76. In the lines that follow (1218ff.), Heracles refuses even to speak so as to not pollute Theseus with his words, implying that the miasma could be transmitted by three senses: touch, sight and hearing; cf. Soph., Trach., 1078.
  77. For an extensive examination of such cases in tragedy see Cairns 2009 (esp. on Hom., Od., 8.83ff. and again 521ff.; cf. 10.48-55). The instinctive physical manifestations of emotion were also discussed later in Arist., Nic. Eth., 1128b10ff. (shame specifically).
  78. The fear of polluting the polis with the miasma of murder was so substantial that homicide trials were usually held in open areas (Antiph. 5.11; Aeschin. 2.148; Dem. 21.114), up to which point the accused had to abstain from public spaces such as the agora or sanctuaries ([Ath. Pol.] 57.2; Dem. 20.158; Antiph. 5.82-83, 6.36). Heracles echoes this mentality as well when refuses to enter the public space of Thebes – the assembly and the temples, see vv. 1282-1283, 1294-1305.
  79. See Chaniotis ed. 2012, 433-468.
  80. See κεφαλή, in: Eur., Med., 144; Hipp., 1351. For the embodiment of emotions more generally see Stanford 1983, 21-48. For the veiling as a ‘demonstrative gesture that conceals and displays emotion and vulnerability, thus, eliciting stronger sympathy or reparation’ see Cairns 2009; cf. Llewellyn-Jones 2003. Stanford 1983, 23 – when discussing grief as a core emotion in ancient Greek tragedy – emphasises its oral manifestation above the visual one.
  81. Aesch., Ag., 1580; cf. Eum., 1028ff.
  82. Cf. Her., 1111-1112.
  83. Cf. 1233: ἀνόσιον μίασμ᾽ (‘unholy miasma’) and 1302; 1315ff.
  84. κοινόν Wakefiled stressing the philia ties; cf. καινόν L: ‘a new kind of bloodshed’ which would mark a rupture between the kallinikos Heracles that completed the labours and this ‘new’ Heracles turning against his family.
  85. Cf. συνάπτω in 1213: κακὰ θέλων κακοῖς συνάψαι (‘wishing to attach evil with evil’) and the haptic effect of an assemblage of evils on top of evils. Cf. Eur., El., 1321; Supp., 361; Ba., 857-859.
  86. Cf. Eur., El., 318-319.
  87. Note the leitmotif of the ‘tainted pepla’ at Eur., El., 1140 (pepla tainted by the fumes of the sacrifice), 1206 and 1227 (covering Clytemnestra’s corpse).
  88. Amphitryon and Theseus basically repeat Heracles’ vocabulary on clothing and the light-darkness contrast, when he was trying to save his sons. Note the parallel in 1204-1227 and 562-564. Cf. Eur., Or., 294; Supp., 111.
  89. For Wyles 2013, 183 the veil constitutes the ‘semiotic death’ of Heracles; cf. Aristoph., Ran., 45-47 (Dionysus wearing Heracles’ costume). Note Heracles’ request to the Chorus to bewail him and both his dead children (πενθήσετε, 1391) usually denoting the grief for the dead (LSJ s.u.).
  90. Cf. Soph., OT, 44.
  91. For the flesh as a dressing metaphor for the body in tragedy see Worman 2020, 93-130. For Heracles’ flesh and madness (read against a medical backdrop) see Holmes 2008; cf. 499: θανάτου…περιβόλαια.
  92. Cf. Eur., Alc., 782. The ‘child-murdering miasma’ (τεκνοκτόνον μύσος, 1155) appears as inevitable, inherited even, like a curse through Amphitryon’s ‘unpurified’ (προστρόπαιον, 1259) slaying of his father-in-law (1258-1260; cf. 17-18 (Electryon’s murder)). See also Foley 1985, 198 (referring the reader to Pind., Pyth., 2.13-23). Ixion as Amphitryon’s blood relative in Diod. 4.69.4.
  93. See also Burnett 1971, 173; Yoshitake 1999; Papadopoulou 2005, 184-185.
  94. Note the repetition of the boat-metaphor (ἐφολκίδες, 1424). Note how Theseus is now called his son (παῖδ᾽…ἐμόν, 1401) and philos (1403).
  95. Cf. Hom., Od., 10.49-53.
  96. Note his hesitation to leave the ‘companionship’ of his weapons (κοινωνίαι, 1377) and his final decision to keep them. Wyles 2013, 184 comments ad loc. that Heracles ‘takes up his pieces of costume and “becomes” himself, inviting the audience to reflect on the theatrical process of constructing stage characters through costume’ (LIMC Herakles no. 265).
  97. Torrance 2011.
  98. See Foley 2002; Llewellyn-Jones 2003; Cairns 2009.
  99. Holmes 2008, 264 (use of Italics my own). For the use of the veil in initiation rituals and its symbolism also see Fögen 2009, 53.
  100. See the symbolism in the recurring boat metaphor and the house-chained Heracles. For the term “assemblage” in new-materialism see Chiesi & Spiegel 2020. Megara is also described as physically ‘attached’ to the children throughout the tragedy, see esp. 486 (προσαρμόσω), 71-72, 336 (ὁμαρτεῖτε; cf. 622), 446 (ἕλκουσαν), 454 (ζεῦγος); cf. wedding attachment in 477 (συνάψουσα).
  101. Holmes 2008, 270. Assael 1994, 324 points out that Theseus is the only one that has shared Heracles’ fate (in the underworld) throughout the play, the two being thus interconnected through bonds of what she calls “brotherhood”; cf. Worman 1999, 101-102.
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Posté le 03/06/2024
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Comment citer

Panou, Georgia, “Enveloping death and mourning: Some critical observations on Euripides’ Heraclēs and its deathly κόσμος and πέπλοι”, in : Delalande, Juliette, Enfrein, Barthélémy, Jabin, Misel, Mézière, Dimitri, Sanfilippo, Floriane, Rates, Pauline, éd., Himation. Métaphores du vêtement dans l’Antiquité classique et tardive, Pessac, Ausonius éditions, collection PrimaLun@ 30, 2024, 91-108 [en ligne] https://una-editions.fr/enveloping-death-and-mourning/ [consulté le 03/06/2024].
Illustration de couverture • Achille assis, enveloppé dans un himation, représenté sur une kylix datant d'environ 500 ans avant J.-C.
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