Heracles as a Paradox in Women of Trachis
Using the portrayal of Hercules in Sophocles' tragedy Women of Trachis, a puzzling image of the Greek hero emerges. Most of the myths of Heracles portray him as a fierce warrior, tamer of beasts and a master of everything he attempts. This myth however, shows honorable traits juxtaposed with very negative aspects of the same man. Heracles is a paradox because even though he is a very great man and ideal hero, in some ways he is savage, highly emotional and even vulnerable.
Sophocles' version of Heracles' life, or at least part of it, made Heracles look less like a Greek hero and more like an ordinary Greek warrior. There are a few exceptions though. For one, Zeus was his father. Not many of the children of gods were thought of as ordinary. All of them had some terrific power or ability like Hercules. Secondly, his ability to fulfill his assigned tasks in the way in which he does shows in no uncertain terms, he is more than a common man is. Lastly, Hercules is granted immortality as a reward for impressing the gods on Mount Olympus. This final item is of special importance because it itself is a paradox. Was Hercules a Greek hero or was he a God? These things all lead me to see Hercules the man clearly but his relationships to things outside his heroic motif are a puzzle.
Let us start by identifying the purpose of identifying Hercules as a hero. There are eight identifiable traits that must be present in order to declare somebody a Greek hero. The first point is divine birth. Hercules being a son of Zeus meets this requirement. He is threatened almost immediately by a jealous Hera but saved by his own strength and fearless valor. His up bringing was by an outsider, actually he had a few teachers and each of them led him to traits five, six and seven which required him to go on a journey, complete tasks and end up in exile. The eighth step is the establishment of a cult of followers, which Hercules had or else his story would not have been passed on for so many years.
During the completion of his tasks, Hercules proves himself to be a worthy opponent in battle. He fought Achelous who also wanted to be the husbands of Deianira. This battle was a positive one for her because he was a welcomed relief from her anxiety over marriage. By defeating Achelous, Hercules gained the love of Deianira and so she supported him and gave him his children. She and her son Hyllus knew him as, " the best of all men," (Sophocles, Women, l 177).
As Hercules rid the world of some beasts he becomes a brutish and violent being himself. In his quest to obtain the impenetrable hide of the Nemean lion, Hercules used his raw strength to strangle the beast and used it's own claws to skin it. The lion was used by Heracles as a tool in it's own demise. He then wore its hide as a trophy. Then, after defeating the Learnean hydra, Hera sent a crab after Heracles and he dipped his arrows in its poisonous blood to...