Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eurystheus: Context for Heracles

This entry from Parada about Eurystheus helps place the tale of Heracles in context -- we are reminded that before Hebe answered Heracles' prayer to rejuvenate Iolaus in Metamorphoses 9, Hera had worked to retard the birth of Heracles while speeding up that of Eurystheus. Parada also notes that prior to Heracles and Eurystheus, their fathers were at loggerheads, opening strife between the Perseids (descendants of Io) and the Pelopides (descendants of Atlas) as to who would rule Mycenae:

Through Hera's agency, the goddess Ilithyia retarded Alcmena's delivery, and Eurystheus, who also was a Perseid, was born a seven-month child before Heracles 1
Agreement of Zeus and Hera 
Now, the words of gods differ from those of mortals in that neither intention nor deed are divorced from them, a circumstance or quality that some call integrity: thought, word and deed constituting what is integrated in harmonious oneness. That is why Zeus did not go against his own word, although he did seize Ate by her hair, and having whirled her round his head, cast her out from Heaven and down to earth, where she may still be found among men. Instead Zeus, wishing to take care of both word and son, persuaded Hera to agree that while Eurystheus should be king (for being the first born Perseid, as he had proclaimed), Heracles 1 would be allowed to serve him and perform twelve LABOURS, to be prescribed by Eurystheus himself. But that after he had performed them, Heracles 1 should be given immortality. 
Previous differences on earth 
This was the nature of the relationship that Heaven established between Eurystheus and Heracles 1. Before them, however, differences had aroused between Heracles 1's stepfather Amphitryon, and Eurystheus' father Sthenelus 3. The background of it all may be said to be the infiltration of the Pelopides, who succeeded, through Sthenelus 3 and Eurystheus, in replacing the dynasty of the Perseids on the throne of Mycenae. For although Eurystheus was a Perseid on his father's side, he opened the way for the dominance of the Pelopides, his mother being daughter of Pelops 1. The conflict expressed by Eurystheus and Heracles 1 continued after their departure from this world, and only ended when the Perseids, renamed HERACLIDES, returned to the Peloponnesus, and took possession of what they regarded as their legitimate inheritance.

Parada's scheme of the three key ancestors -- Deucalion, Atlas, and Io -- is summarized here. Euripides made the Heraclides the basis of his play about the children of Heracles.

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