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Iolaus, Heracles’ nephew and his companion during his Twelve Labours but now an old man, is in hiding with Heracles’ 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 of Argos, who has vowed to kill them. A herald from Eurystheus appears calling on them once more to return to Argos to face the consequences, and Iolaus begs the Chorus of aged Athenians to take pity and help them.
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Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2015
Copyright © 2015 Sovereign Classic
IOLAUS, friend of HeraclesCOPREUS, herald of EURYSTHEUSDEMOPHON, King of AthensMACARIA, daughter of HeraclesSERVANT, of Hyllus, son of HeraclesALCMENA, mother of HeraclesMESSENGEREURYSTHEUS; King of ArgosCHORUS OF AGED ATHENIANSAcamas, the brother of DEMOPHON, younger sons of Heracles,
Before the altar and temple of Zeus at Marathon. IOLAUS, an old man, and the children of Heracles are seen on the steps of the altar.
I hold this true, and long have held: Nature hath made one man upright for his neighbours’ good, while another hath a dispositionwholly given over to gain, useless alike to the state and difficult to have dealings with, but for himself the best of men; and this I know, not from mere hearsay. For I, from pure regard and reverence for my kith and kin, though might have lived at peace in Argos, alone of all my race shared with Heracles his labours, while he was yet with us, and now that he dwells in heaven, I keep these his children safe beneath my wing, though myself need protection. For when their father passed from earth away, Eurystheuswould first of all have slain us, but we escaped. And though our home is lost, our life was saved. But in exile we wander from city to city, ever forced to roam. For, added to our former wrongs, Eurystheus thought it fit to put this further outrage upon us: wheresoe›er he heard that we were settling, thither would he send heralds demanding our surrender and drivingus from thence, holding out this threat, that Argos is no meal city to make a friend or foe, and furthermore pointing to his own prosperity. So they, seeing how weak my means, and these little ones left without a father, bow to his superior might and drive us from their land. And I share the exile of these children, and help them bear their evil lot by my sympathy, loth to betray them, lest someone say, «Look you! now that the children›s sire is dead, Iolaus no more protects them, kinsman though he is.» Not one corner left us in the whole of Hellas, we are come to Marathon and its neighbouring land, and here we sit as suppliants at the altars of the gods, and pray their aid; for ‹tis said two sons of Theseus dwell upon these plains, the lot of their inheritance, scions of Pandion›s stock, related to these children; this the reason we have come on this our way to the borders of glorious Athens. To lead the flight two aged guides are we; my care is centred on these boys, while she, I mean Alcmena, clasps her son›s daughter in her arms, and bears her for safety within this shrine, for we shrink from letting tender maidens come anigh the crowd or stand as suppliants at the altar. Now Hvllus and the elder of his brethren are seeking some place for us to find a refuge, if we are driven by force from this land. O children, children, come hither! hold unto my robe; for lo! I see a herald coming towards us from Eurystheus, by whom we are persecuted, wanderers excluded from every land. A curse on the and him that sent thee, hateful wretch! for that same tongue of thine hath oft announced its master›s evil hests to these children›s noble sire as well.
COPREUS, the herald of EURYSTHEUS, enters.
Doubtless thy folly lets thee think this is a good position to have taken up, and that thou art come to a city that will help thee. No! there is none that will prefer thy feeble arm to the might of Eurystheus. Begone! why take this trouble? Thou must arise and go to Argos, where awaits thee death by stoning.
Not so, for the god’s altar will protect me, and this land of freedom, wherein we have set foot.
Wilt give me the trouble of laying hands on thee?
By force at least shalt thou never drag these children hence.
That shalt thou soon learn; it seems thou wert a poor prophet, after all, in this.
COPREUS seizes the children.
This shall never happen while I live.
Begone! for I will take them hence, for all thy refusals, for I hold that they belong to Eurystheus, as they do indeed.
He throws IOLAUS to the ground.
Help, ye who long have had your home in Athens! we suppliants at Zeus’ altar in your market-place are being haled by force away, our sacred wreaths defiled, shame to your city, to the gods dishonour.
The CHORUS OF AGED ATHENIANS enters.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Hark, hark! What cry is this that rises near the altar? At once explain the nature of the trouble.
See this aged frame hurled in its feebleness upon the ground! Woe is me!
Who threw thee down thus pitiably?
Behold the man who flouts your gods, kind sirs, and tries by force to drag me from my seat before the altar of Zeus.
From what land, old stranger, art thou come to this confederate state of four cities? or have ye left Euboea’s cliffs, and, with the oar that sweeps the sea, put in here from across the firth?
Sirs, no island life I lead, but from Mycenae to thy land I come.
What do they call thee, aged sir, those folk in Mycenae?
Maybe ye have heard of Iolaus, the comrade of Heracles, for he was not unknown to fame.
Yea, I have heard of him in bygone days; but tell me, whose are the tender
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