Herakles as a Husband

Although Herakles had numerous lovers throughout his life, he was only married twice.  His first wife was Megara and his second was Deinira.  According to two important primary sources, Sophocles’ Women of Trachis and Euripidies’ Madness of Herakles our hero proves himself to have been an unfaithful, neglectful husband to both wives.  Despite being a lousy husband, Herakles does seem to be a loving father, and definitely cares more for his children than for either wife.

Women of Trachis
Scenes from Women of Trachis show that he was not a loving husband to Deinira.  Even though he was married to Deianira, Herakles went to violent extremes to get his lover Iole. 

Messenger: Herakles could not make her (Iole’s) father give his daughter to him for his concubine…and killed the king her father. (359-365)

Lichas:  A dreadful craving for the girl (Iole) came over Herakles…he destroyed her father’s city. (476-478)

When Lichas (the herald)  breaks the news to Deianira that Herakles is returning home with Iole as his concubine, she tries to be strong and ignore her hurt.

Deinira:  Has not Herakles taken more brides than any other man? (459-460)

Dienira:  For now he will have two of us to clasp under one blanket.  (539-540) 

But Deianira is actually feeling bad, and the chorus recognizes her grief.

Chorus:  She (Dienira) only saw grief was coming upon her from Herakles’ new marriage (to Iole).  (842-843) 

To win Herakles back, Deianira sends him a cloak that is soaked in the blood of the centaur Nessus.  Heracles had saved Deianira from Nessus years before, shooting him with an arrow dipped in the hydra’s blood.  As the centaur was dying, he told her that his blood could be used as a love potion, but in fact it is deadly poison. 

When Herakles puts on the cloak, it begins to burn and kill him slowly.  Herakles didn’t know that Deianira accidentally killed him, and he rushed to the conclusion that she intended to murder him.  He did not love her enough to forgive her.

Herakles:  I only pray that she (Deianira) perish soon in the very way she has caused my ruin. (1034-1035) 

Herakles never mentions love when he refers to Deinira, only when he is talking about his lover, Iole.  He wants to make sure that Iole is taken care of after he dies and makes his son promise this:

Herakles:  No other man but you (Hyllas) must ever marry this woman (Iole) who has lain with me in love. (1225) 

Herakles also shows his disregard for women in general:

Herakles:  A woman-weak, not masculine by nature-alone has vanquished me.  (1062) 

Perseus discussion of Deianira (with artwork)
Text of Sophocles’
Women of Trachis


Madness of Herakles

Scenes from Madness of Herakles show Herakles was not a very good husband to Megara as well.

In the beginning of the play, when Herakles finds out that Lychas was planning to kill his family.  Notice that he has no concerns about Megara, only for his father and sons.

Herakles: I’m reeling! Someone wants to kill my children! Mine?  (319) 

Herakles:  Who treats old men like that?  (325) 

Later, Herakles refers to Megara in a possessive tone, while Megara calls to Herakles with affection and pride:

Herakles: My wife! My woman!

 Megara: My darling! Greatest of men! (298-299)

Herakles returns and saves his family from Lychas.  But ironically, he is driven mad and kills his wife and children.  Here we see how Herakles grieves for his children, far more than for his wife. 

Herakles: Why can’t I die when I took life from my own children? (971)

Herakles: Theseus, did you see my glorious contest with my children? (1052)

Herakles: A man who kills his children is pitiful. (1060)

Herakles: Children, children your father gave you life and took it back again. (1226)

While Herakles goes into an enormous frenzy of grief for his children, he only mentions Megara once:

Herakles: and you poor wife, I killed you in return for your fidelity, for your safe keeping of my house and bed. (1230-1231)

This line is a little ironic because in Madness of Herakles the hero actually kills his children first and Megara last, but again mourns only for his sons:

Herakles: The worst labor was the last, the murder of my sons. (1123-1124)

Perseus discussion of Megara (with illustrations)
Text of Euripidies’ Madness of Herakles