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Megara › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 24 July 2014
Megara (Z thomas)

Megara was the first wife of the Greek hero Herakles (better known as Hercules ). She was the daughter of King Creon of Thebes who gave her in marriage to Hercules in gratitude for his help in winning back Creon's kingdom from the Minyans.Megara's story is best known through the work of the Greek playwright Euripides (480-406 BCE) and the later Romanplaywright Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) both of whom wrote plays concerning Hercules and Megara. Her story was known long before Euripides wrote his play, though, and different versions of her brief life with Hercules differ on detail and chronology but relate the same basic story.
Nothing is known of Megara before her marriage to Hercules. He was the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and a mortal woman named Alcmene. Zeus was married to the goddess Hera but was well-known for his affairs with mortal women. He transformed himself to appear as Alcmene's husband, slept with her, and so conceived Hercules. Hera, who was always enraged by the dalliances of her husband, dedicated herself to making Hercules' life as miserable as she possibly could. Her vendetta was made difficult, since Hercules was a demi-god and possessed super-human strength and endurance but, still, she certainly did her utmost to try to destroy him at every opportunity.

MEGARA'S STORY SET THE PARADIGM OF HERA INTERVENING IN HERCULES' LIFE WHEN THINGS WERE GOING BEST FOR HIM AND DESTROYING HIS HAPPINESS.

Hercules grew up in the court of his supposed-father Amphitryon, where he was tutored in all the arts and disciplines a young nobleman was required to master, such as fencing, wrestling, music, and martial skills. When he heard that the neighboring kingdom of Thebes had been taken over by Minyans and the army defeated, he led a band of Theban warriors to drive the Minyans out and restore King Creon to the throne. Creon, in gratitude, gave him Megara as wife.
Megara and Hercules had three sons (though some sources claim eight children): Therimachus, Deicoon, and Creontiades.The couple were happy with their family until Hercules was called away on some adventure and the kingdom was left defenseless. Where, exactly, Hercules goes depends upon the version of the story one reads. In Euripides' play Heracles(written c. 420-415 BCE), he is performing the last of his famous Twelve Labors and is in the underworld attempting to subdue the three-headed dog Cerberus. This same story is told in Seneca's Hercules Furens (The Madness of Hercules, written between 49-65 CE). In the older version of the myth, however, Hercules does not begin his labors until after the death of Megara and their children. In the works of Euripides and Seneca, a usurper named Lycus has taken the throne of Thebes in Hercules' absence, killed King Creon, and is now forcing marriage on Megara. The tension of the plays comes from the characters hoping Hercules will arrive in time to save them from Lycus and his schemes. When Hercules finally comes home, he defeats and kills Lycus and then gives thanks to the gods for his timely arrival and the safety of his family. As he is praying, however, he is struck by Hera with a madness in which he believes his sons are those of Lycus and that Megara is his adversary Hera, and he kills them all. The plays both end with Hercules in suicidal remorse at his deeds and his cousin Theseus helping him deal with his grief.
Hercules Furens Mosaic

Hercules Furens Mosaic

In the older versions of the myth, there is no coup in Thebes and no character of Lycus. Megara and Hercules and their sons are living happily in Thebes when Hera strikes Hercules with the madness which causes him to kill his children. In some versions he also kills Megara while in others her fate is not mentioned (though it seems she is killed or, in some way, dies soon after since she is never mentioned in his stories again). As in the plays, Hercules is suicidal with grief but is talked out of killing himself by his cousin Theseus who tells him he must atone for his sins instead of taking the coward's way out through death.Hercules goes to the Oracle at Delphi to ask what he must do and is sent to his cousin, the King Eurystheus, who sets him to the task of his Twelve Labors to expiate his sins.
Megara's story was always a very popular tragedy and set the paradigm (in the myths concerning Hercules) of Hera intervening in Hercules' life at those times when things were going best for him and destroying his happiness. The plays of Euripides and Seneca only made her story more popular, and she and her children came to be seen as a sort of archetype of the innocent caught between greater conflicting forces. Hercules' second wife, Deianira, would play a similar role in his story, but she, at least, had a hand in her own death. Megara is always portrayed in the myths as the guiltless innocent who, with her children, suffers a meaningless and brutal death. Later portrayals of her, such as the animated Disney film Hercules (1997), depict her as a con artist who is redeemed from her difficult past through her relationship with the hero. No ancient depictions of Megara present her in this light at all. Her role in the 2014 film Hercules, while not exact, is much closer to her traditional portrayal.

Narcissus › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 20 February 2017
Narcissus (Caravaggio)

Narcissus is a figure from Greek mythology who was so impossibly handsome that he fall in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. Even the lovely nymph Echo could not manage to tempt him from his self-absorption. Narcissus' name lives on as the flower into which he was transformed and as a synonym for those obsessed with their own appearance.

NARCISSUS & HIS REFLECTION

Narcissus was born in Thespiae in Boeotia, the son of Cephissus (the personification of the Boeotian river of the same name) and the nymph Liriope. His mother was warned one day by the seer Teiresias that her son would live a long life as long as 'he never knows himself.' As he reached his teenage years, the handsome youth never found anyone that could pull his heartstrings, indeed, he left in his wake a long trail of distressed and broken-hearted maidens, and one or two young men fell by the wayside too. Then, one day, he chanced to see his own reflection in a pool of water and, thus, discovered the ultimate in unrequited love and fell in love with himself. Naturally, this one-way relationship went nowhere, and Narcissus, unable to draw himself away from the pool, pined away in despair until he finally died of thirst and starvation. Immortality, at least of a kind, was assured, though, when his corpse (or in some versions the blood from his self-inflicted stab wound) turned into the flowers which, thereafter, bore his name.

IMMORTALITY, AT LEAST OF A KIND, WAS ASSURED, THOUGH, WHEN NARCISSUS' CORPSE OR BLOOD TURNED INTO THE FLOWERS WHICH, THEREAFTER, BORE HIS NAME.

NARCISSUS & ECHO

Another version of the myth appears in the work of the Roman writer Ovid. In this telling, Narcissus is as handsome as ever but cruelly refuses the advances of Echo. The lovely nymph, heartbroken, wastes away and dies with only her voice remaining to echo her plight. As a punishment for his neglect, Narcissus is then killed. Another version has Echo punished by Herabecause she kept the goddess distracted with stories while the lovers of her husband Zeus, the mountain nymphs, escaped Mt. Olympus without notice. This explains why Echo could only repeat what others said to her. It is Echo in this form that Narcissus comes across one day while hunting deer in the forest. After a useless exchange of repeated words and statements, Echo tries to embrace the youth, but he rejects her and dashes off back home. Echo then pines away in the forest so that her body eventually perishes and only her voice remains.
Narcissus Flowers

Narcissus Flowers

AMEINIUS & ARTEMIS

Other stories which diverge from the original myth have Narcissus, like with the Echo story, play the role of a mean rejector of suitors. One of the youth's most ardent admirers was Ameinius, but Narcissus merely sent him a sword to do away with himself, which he did. On dying, Ameinius cursed the object of his unbound affections and asked the gods to punish him.Artemis responds to the request - perhaps showing a dislike for rival hunters – and compels Narcissus to tragically fall in love with his reflection.

NARCISSUS IN ART & CULTURE

Unlike for Greek artists, the Roman version of Narcissus and Echo was a very popular subject in Roman art and is seen in almost 50 wall paintings at Pompeii alone. Renaissance art also took a shine to Narcissus; the story involving light and reflection proved irresistible to Caravaggio, who captured the myth in his celebrated 16th-century CE oil painting. Finally, his name lives on today in psychoanalysis where narcissism refers to the personality disorder of excessive self-admiration and preoccupation with one's appearance.

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Article based on information obtained from these sources:
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