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The Homeric poems contain only incidental allusions
Heracles in the Homeric poems.
to Heracles, who is associated with the generation before the Trojan war. We hear that he was born at Thebes, being the son of Zeus and Alcmena. His life-long foe, the goddess Hera, defrauded him of his inheritance, the lordship of Argos, by ensnaring Zeus into a promise that this dominion should be held by Eurystheus1. Heracles performed labours (“ἄεθλοι”) for Eurystheus, whose commands were brought by the herald Copreus: but only one of these tasks is specified,—viz., the descent in quest of ‘the dog of Hades2.’ Apart from the ‘labours’ proper, some other exploits of the hero are mentioned. He delivered Laomedon, the father of Priam, from the seamonster (“κῆτος”) sent by the angry gods; and, when the false king withheld the due reward, he sacked Troy. Returning thence, he was driven by storms to Cos3. Further, he made war on Pylos, killing the Neleidae, Nestor's brethren, and wounding the immortals, Hera and Hades, who opposed him4. Under his own roof he slew his guest Iphitus; but no motive is assigned by the Homeric poet. The victim's father, Eurytus, king of Oechalia (in Thessaly), is not attacked or killed by Heracles; he is more quietly despatched by Apollo, who is jealous of his skill in archery5. The Homeric weapon of Heracles is the bow; there is no mention of the club. His Homeric wife is Megara, daughter of Creon. Finally he dies, ‘subdued by fate and by the wrath of Hera6.’ There is no hint of his apotheosis, except in one passage, which clearly bewrays interpolation7.

The parts of the Homeric epics in which these allusions occur are of various ages; and the allusions themselves are derived from various regions,—Argos, the western Peloponnesus, Boeotia, Thessaly, the Dorian colonies in Asia Minor. Several of the passages have a more or less intrusive air; one8, at least, has manifestly been adapted to the Iliad from some epic<*> which Heracles was a principal figure. Speaking generally, we may say that in the Iliad and the Odyssey the Dorian hero is a foreign person.

But this negative result is not the only one which the Homeric notices suggest. They make us feel how difficult it would have been for epic poetry, working in the Homeric spirit, to treat the story of Heracles as a whole. His acts are too incoherent to derive a properly epic unity from his person,— such an unity as the Odyssey, for example, derives from the person of Odysseus. The original Dorian legend of Heracles had, indeed, the unity of a moral idea; but that is not enough for an epic.

The Heracleia of Peisander.

1 Iliad 19. 95—136.

2 Labours for Eurystheus, Il. 8. 363, Od. 11. 622: Copreus, Il. 15. 639: ‘the dog of Hades’ (first called Cerberus in Hes. Th. 311), Il.8. 368.

3 The “κῆτος”, Il.20. 144—148: sack of Troy Il., 5. 638—642: Cos Il., 15. 28.

4 War against Pylos, Il.11. 690—693: wounding of Hera and Hades Il., 5. 392—397.

5 Iphitus, Od.21. 22—30: Eurytus Od., 8. 223—228.

6 The bow, Il.5. 393, Od.8. 225 Od., 11. 607: Megara, Od.11. 269: Death of Heracles, Il. 18. 117—119.


τὸν δὲ μετ̓ εἰσενόησα βίην Ἡρακληείην,
εἴδωλον, αὐτὸς δὲ μετ̓ ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι
τέρπεται ἐν θαλίῃς καὶ ἔχει καλλίσφυρον Ἥβην,
[ παῖδα Διὸς μεγάλοιο καὶ Ἥρης χρυσοπεδίλου.]
ἀμφὶ δέ μιν κλαγγὴ νεκύων ἦν οἰωνῶν ὥς

, κ.τ.λ. The second and third of these verses (602, 603) were rejected by Aristarchus (schol. on Od. 11. 385, with Dindorf's note, ed. 1855). The fourth verse (604) seems not to have been read by Aristarchus, nor by the schol. on v. 385. It is identical with Theog. 952. Onomacritus, the diaskeuast in the time of Peisistratus, was credited with the interpolation of vv. 602, 603, acc. to schol. Vindob. 56 (quoted by Merry ad loc.). Such a tradition at least suggests that the interpolation was preAlexandrian and presumably It Attic. is probably by a mere confusion that schol. H on 604 (ap. Dindorf) speaks as if verse 604, and it alone, had been inserted by Onomacritus.

8 I refer to Il.19. 95—136, where see Leaf's note. The episode occurs in a speech of Agamemnon, who, contrary to Homeric usage, quotes the very words spoken by the gods. Elsewhere it is only the inspired poet himself who reports Olympian speech.

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