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The Reception and Performance of Euripides' HeraklesReasoning Madness$
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Kathleen Riley

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199534487

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199534487.001.0001

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A peculiar compound: Hercules as Renaissance man

A peculiar compound: Hercules as Renaissance man

(p.92) 3 A peculiar compound: Hercules as Renaissance man
The Reception and Performance of Euripides' Herakles

Kathleen Riley

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the peculiar compound that is Renaissance Hercules, around whom two main traditions evolved, one focusing on his heroic virtue, the other on his madness. It demonstrates that, in each case, Hercules was a distinguishable type. His most popular and pervasive incarnation was as ‘Hercules at the Crossroads’, the triumphant hero of a Manichean struggle between Virtue and Vice. As such he was appropriated into civil humanism and Christian metaphysics alike. The Renaissance conception of mad Hercules was very different from this paragon of virtus, reason, and restraint, but an equally composite and adaptable creation. What is known as the ‘Hercules furens tradition’ is neither exclusively Senecan nor essentially tragic. It is a wholesale description applied to a group of overlapping traditions – philosophical, medical, literary, and histrionic – whose ancient sources include Hippocrates, Aristotle, Macrobius, Ovid, and, of course, Seneca. In the 16th and 17th centuries translations of Seneca's Hercules Furens appeared in England and on the Continent, helping to establish the Herculean hero as a defining presence in Renaissance drama.

Keywords:   compound, Renaissance, Hercules, traditions, Crossroads, Christian, furens, Seneca, translations, drama

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