Despite the discussions of a hundred years, the unity of Euripides' Herakles remains a problem. Most scholars have distinguished in the play three parts whose limits are marked by the apparition of Lussa with Iris (814) and by Herakles' recovery from madness (1088): but over the relationship of these three parts to each other and to the whole there has been little agreement. It is this relationship which I propose to consider.
The problem is baldly stated by Müller who contented himself with complaining of the lack of unity involved in the ‘combination in one piece of two actions so totally different as the deliverance of the children of Herakles from the persecutions of the blood-thirsty Lykos, and their murder by the hands of their frantic father’. Wilamowitz, followed with elaborations by Verrall, sought to diminish the shock by looking for some continuity between these two events and suggested that the madness developed naturally and gradually, and is already discernible in the earlier utterances and actions of Herakles. This view—Herakles the Megalomaniac—finds its way into Murray's Oxford Text and is accepted apparently by Dodds and certainly by Grube. But this shock of inconsequence is essential to the drama, and later scholars—Parmentier, Kitto, Ehrenberg—have quite rightly repudiated the megalomania theory. Müller was wrong in the first place to consider the relationship of two parts of a drama without the third. This sort of procedure leads to conclusions like that of Murray who in his discussion begins with part iii, alludes briefly to part ii and not at all to part i: he pronounces the play ‘broken-backed’. Kitto on the other hand looks for ‘one unifying idea’. But though he suggests one, he does not satisfactorily solve the difficulties he himself finds in part i (‘Dramatic feebleness like this … the scenes are flat … dramatising a negative’, etc., 240–2), and of Stasimon ii he concludes that it is ‘neither itself a unity nor has it any connexion with the action or the thought’ (265 cf. 244); and it is understandable that Norwood is unconvinced and reverts to the verdict of Murray.