The goddess Juno, sister and jealous wife of Jupiter, has long persecuted her bastard stepson Hercules, whom Jupiter fathered on Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon. She has imposed on him a series of daunting labors, the most recent of which was to fetch the hound Cerberus from the world of the dead. Hercules’ home, which he rarely sees, is in Thebes, where he has married Megara, daughter of King Creon. During Hercules’ absence in the underworld, an upstart named Lycus has killed Creon and usurped the throne; Hercules’ wife, his three sons, and his foster father, Amphitryon, are all in imminent danger.SUMMARY Act One
Appearing alone and at night, Juno expresses anger over the presence in heaven of so many of her husband’s bastard children. Now her most hated stepson, Hercules, has triumphantly succeeded in the last task she set him; the next step will be his deification, as promised by Jupiter. Since Hercules has proved superior to every external foe,
she realizes that the only hope of destroying him is to turn him against himself in madness.
Ode 1. As dawn breaks, the chorus describes the human and animal activities that it initiates in the world of nature, contrasting these with the frenetic, anxiety-ridden human activities of the city. In view of life’s brevity, we should calmly appreciate each passing day, not rush toward death as Hercules has done literally by descending to the underworld.Act Two
Amphitryon and Megara speak of Hercules’ former heroic achievements and the possibility that he will return to save them. A marriage offer from Lycus, intended to legitimize his own position, is scornfully rejected by Megara. After sardonically questioning Hercules’ heroic qualities, Lycus departs, ordering his attendants to annihilate the whole family. At the very end of the act, sounds heralding Hercules’ return are heard.
Ode 2. The chorus deplores Hercules’ life of toil and danger, which took him to Scythia’s frozen seas and now to the equally lifeless waters of the underworld. It hopes for his successful return, on the basis of his earlier defeat of Dis, and of Orpheus’ partial success in recovering Eurydice.Act Three
Hercules enters with Theseus, whom he has rescued from imprisonment in the underworld. After challenging Juno