Today Elaion wil host a PAT ritual for the sacrifice to the Herakleidai. As a part of the ritual outline we made, we give honour to some who are not sons of Herakles and I would like to share why today. This is based upon Euripides' play 'Heracleidae', or 'The Sons of Herakles'. This tragedy was first produced around 430 or 429 BC and follows the children of Herakles (collectively known as the Herakleidai) and their protectors as they seek the aid of Demophon and the city of Athens against the vengeance of Eurystheus of Argos, although it is widely regarded as a political and patriotic piece written by Euripides during the difficult times Athens was experiencing.

The play follows years after the mythological Labours of Herakles. To recap that tale: due to Hera's jealousy, Herakles was stricken mad and killed the five sons he had by his wife Megara. When he was released from his madness by a hellebore potion--provided by Antikyreus--and realized what he had done, he cried out in anguish, and went on a long journey to cleanse himself of the miasma caused by these killings. First, he visited the oracle at Delphi, who, unbeknownst to him, was whispered to by Hera. The Oracle told Herakles to serve the king of Tiryns, Eurystheus, for ten years and do everything Eurystheus told him to do. Eurystheus gladly provided Herakles with these labours--ten of them, one for each year--and eventually ended up adding two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Herakles.

Herakels was ordered to: slay the Nemean Lion, slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, capture the Golden Hind of Artemis, capture the Erymanthian Boar, clean the Augean stables in a single day, slay the Stymphalian Birds, capture the Kretan Bull, steal the Mares of Diomedes, obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon, steal the apples of the Hesperides and capture and bring back Kerberos. He undertook many of these labours with his trusted friend and nephew Iolaus.

The play takes off when Iolaus is an old man. He is in hiding with Herakles’ fatherless children at the altar of the temple of Zeus at Marathon, near Athens. They have been moving from city to city, as Iolaus tries to protect them from the vengeful King Eurystheus, who has vowed to kill them. Demophon, son of Theseus and king of Athens, hears the story and chooses the side of the Herakleidai. This puts Athens at war with Eurystheus and Argos. Demophon insists that Athens has always been a friend to the friendless and is confident that the Herakleidai will always be grateful.

Eurystheus and the Argive army arrive and begin to press the Athenian defence. The battle goes badly for the Athenians until an oracle foretells that Athens will succeed only if a maid of noble blood is sacrificed, and Demophon is unwilling to call on his own people to provide such a sacrifice. However, Makaria, the eldest daughter of Herakles, overhears the conversation and willingly offers herself as the sacrifice. She is praised for her noble death and with her sacrifice, Herakles’ son Hyllos is able to secure reinforcements. The combined forces are soon victorious.

Eurystheus is captured by Iolaus during the battle, and is brought in to face the wrath of Herakles’ mother, Alkmene. In his defence, Eurystheus claims that he did not seek the persecution of Herakles and his family for his own gratification, but was held to it by the Goddess Hera. Alkmene insists on taking her revenge on Eurystheus by taking his life, even if that is against Athenian laws. Eurystheus then tells of a prophecy that his spirit will protect the city from the descendants of the Herakleidai if they slay and bury him, and the Athenians bow to this higher law and Eurystheus is put to death.

'Heracleidae' is usually considered to be essentially a patriotic piece by Euripides, written to the greater glory of Athens, during a period of great instability and uncertainty, as it came under repeated attacks from Sparta in the early stages of the Peloponnesian War. The main themes of the play--piety to the Gods, patronage of the downtrodden and pride in noble blood, all considered as national characteristics by Athenians--were guaranteed to bring out patriotic feelings in the Athenian audience. The choice of Marathon (a location dear to the heart of Athenians, where Athens had once before turned the tide of “barbarism”) as the scene of the play was also deliberately designed to elicit patriotic feelings in the audience.