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The Iris-Lyssa Scene in Euripides’ Heracles*

  • K.H. Lee (a1)


However much we may disagree about the meaning and function of the Iris-Lyssa scene in Euripides’ Heracles (815-73), we can be certain of one thing: it was meant to be startling. We can find, it is true, a handful of examples of the appearance of a deity in mid-action in tragedy, and no single feature of the scene to be discussed is without parallel, but viewed as a whole it is unique among the extant plays and the plays for which we have fragmentary evidence. For example, the appearance of Athena in Rhesus 595 ff. and the probable appearance of Artemis and Apollo during the course of Sophocles’ Niobe (cf. frs. 441a, 442, 445 Radt), must have been striking, but in each case the supernatural visitation advances the plot along not unexpected lines. In our scene the intervention of Iris and Lyssa drives the second part of the play in a completely surprising direction. Again, it is remarkable that two speaking characters appear and then not to agree but to quarrel heatedly about Lyssa’s assignment. The only even remote parallel is the discussion between Kratos and Hephaistos in Prometheus where the deities speak and act on ground-level and are found not at a crucial turning-point in the middle of the play, but at its beginning, when the disagreement of the speakers is a curtain-raiser to the more significant discord which pervades the drama.



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1 For discussion of the Niobe fragments see Barrett, in Carden, R., The Papyrus Fragments of Sophocles (Berlin 1974), 171 ff. For other instances of deities appearing in mid-action see Barrett, , op. cit. 184 f.; Ritchie, W., Authenticity of the Rhesus of Euripides (Cambridge 1964), 120 ff.; and Bond, G.W., Euripides: Heracles (Oxford 1981), 279. To the examples given we should add the possible appearance of Athena in the course of Soph. Aias Lokros (P. Oxy. 3151.2 = frag. 10c Radt).

2 The use of the mechane is regarded as certain by Arnott, P.D., Greek Scenic Conventions (Oxford 1962), 73, while Pickard-Cambridge, , Theatre of Dionysus in Athens (Oxford 1946), 55, has the deities appear on the theologeion. For references and an account of the assumptions involved in suggesting either device for a fifth-century performance see Barrett on Hipp. 1283; for mechanical details see Dearden, , The Stage of Aristophanes (London 1976), 75 ff. and his drawing, p. 35.

3 See Kannicht,Helena 2.428. Incidentally, Arnott is wrong to say that ‘the appearance of Iris and Lyssa is preceded by a seven-line introduction’; they appear no later than 817.

4 We can presume that she used some contrivance behind the skene, like the ladder used for the appearance of the Paidagogos and Antigone in Phoen. 88 ff. (cf. 99 f.).

5 Production and Imagination in Euripides (Athens 1965), 162.

6 Note that Thanatos who enters the palace of Admetus in Alc. 74 makes his appearance normally at one of the parodoi (cf. A.M. Dale, ed. [Oxford 1954], on 24–6). The only certain example of a deity appearing at two levels is an exception which proves the rule: Dionysus in Bacchae is seen first, in human guise, at ground level and then on high, manifestly a god, at the end of the play.

7 Cf. the passages discussed by Mattes, J., Der Wahnsinn im griech. Mythos und in d. Dichtung bis zum Drama d. 5. Jahrhunderts (Heidelberg 1970), 111.

8 For a discussion of her entrance in Birds see Dearden (above, n. 2) 79 ff. It is probable that she was also seen in Sophocles’ satyr-play Inachus; see fr. 272 Radt, and Sutton, D.F., Sophocles’ Inachus (Meisenheim am Glan 1979), 63 and 71 f. That she played a part in Eur. Phaethon is mere speculation.

9 For Iris’ costume cf. Rogers on Birds 1199 and Austin, NFE 83,5 ff.; for her connexion with the rainbow see West on Theogony 266 and Roscher 2.333. While it is likely that the audience felt a contrast between Iris’ attitude and appearance, it should be noted that for a Greek the rainbow did not have the positive associations it has acquired in our culture from the Old Testament: ‘Es war und blieb ihm ein τέρας, eine Unruhe erweckende Monstrosität’ (Roscher 2.321).

10 For the progeny of Night, among whom Lyssa is named here for the first time, see West’s Theogony 35 f.

11 For a similar use of στέφανος and related words in incongruous surroundings cf. Eur. El. 854 ff. and W.G. Arnott in G&R 28 (1981), 187 f.

12 Cf. fr. 169N2 and Loeb, ed. of Aeschylus (Cambridge, Mass. 1957), 2.435 ff. For a discussion of the treatment of Lyssa in tragedy see Duchemin, J., ‘Le Personnage de Lyssa dans l’Hér. Fur. d’Eur.’, REG 80 (1967), 130 ff.

13 Bond seems to support Diggle’s printing of Camper’s βουλεϋσαι for βούλεσθαι in 854. But the change is gratuitous. We are concerned here not with the deliberations, but, more fundamentally, with the intentions and desires of Hera and Iris. Cf. 1305 έπραξε yàp βοόλησιν ην 'εβούλετο sc. Ήρα. For the use of βούλομαι in this context cf., beside the loci adduced by Bond, Hipp. 476 θεός εβουλήθη τάδε anà Antiope XLVIII. 103 Kambitsis σπεόδειν θεού πέμψαντος ola βούλεται. That ‘the word commonly used with a n. pl. adjective for devising plans is βουλευω’ is neither surprising nor relevant.

l4 Essays on Euripidean Drama (London 1954), 103.

15 Cf. Winnington-Ingram in Arethusa 2 (1969), 129 and Wilamowitz,Herakles 2.124.

16 On this point cf. Kroeker, E., Der Herakles des Eur. (diss. Leipzig 1938), 65.

17 Norwood’s description (loc. cit.) of Euripides’ view of his supernatural characters.

18 For a photograph of the vase (Boston 00.346) and an interpretation of the scene depicted see Trendall, & Webster, , Illustrations of Greek Drama (London 1971), 62.

19 On the other hand, the arguments in favour of Jackson’s transposition of 860 to follow 870 are persuasive.

20 Essays on Four Plays of Euripides (Cambridge 1905), 165 ff.

21 The Male Characters of Euripides (Wellington 1952), 126.

22 For refs. see Lesky, , Tragische Dichtung der Hellenen3 (Göttingen 1972), 379.

23 Apart from a passing reference in the prologos (20 f.), the statements regarding Hera’s hostility all occur in the latter part of the play (cf. Bond, xxiv). By then it will be statements made in the Iris-Lyssa scene, not the traditional data, which condition the audience’s view of Hera’s motives and attitude.

24 Like Bond (p. 285), I see no reason for introducing here the concept of ϋ βρις which would describe Heracles’ condition too simply in terms presupposing guilt recognizable by mortals. There is no support for this either in the descriptions we hear of Heracles’ behaviour or in what we see of him ourselves.

* A revised version of the paper read at the Drama Conference of Australasian classicists held in Sydney in August 1982. I am grateful to participants for their comments and suggestions.

The Iris-Lyssa Scene in Euripides’ Heracles*

  • K.H. Lee (a1)


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