The hero and his mothers in Seneca’s Hercules Furens

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Wydawnictwo Poznańskiego Towarzystwa Przyjaciół Nauk

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The article deals with an image of the heroic self in Seneca’s Hercules as well as with maternal images (Alcmena, Juno and Megara), using psychoanalytic methodology involving identification of complementary self-object relationships. Hercules’ self seems to be construed mainly in an omnipotent, narcissistic fashion, whereas the three images of mothers reflect show the interaction between love and aggression in the play.


The critics who wrote about Hercules Furens are either convinced that the main character is a persecuted, tragic hero, or a self-centered narcissist. The approach taken in this paper corroborates the latter interpretation, but does not focus entirely on Hercules, but also takes into consideration relationships between his heroic self image and other figures, namely, maternal characters of Alcmena, Juno and Megara. Hercules’ grandiosity is revealed not only in his hubristic self-glorification, but also in his fantasies about revenge and suicide, which have particular self-centered character. He is also presented by Seneca as emotionally shallow and unable to reciprocate love. Alcmena functions in the play as an ‘absent mother’, whose meaning is denied or repressed, which can be understood in relationship to Hercules’ omnipotent self that is not dependent on anyone. Juno, on the other hand, is very much present, but she is similar to ‘wicked stepmothers’of folktales. Her bond with Hercules is based on aggression, fear and devaluation, which tend to be denied on Hercules’ part. Megara is the most complex, realistic maternal figure, pictured by Seneca as the one who is able to love and protect her children, even to the point of self-sacrifice. Thus she is one of the representatives of hope that stems from human bonds (the other is Amphitryon).



Seneca, psychoanalysis, mother, Hercules


Symbolae Philologorum Posnaniensium, 2013, nr XXIII/1, s. 103-128.



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Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Biblioteka Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza w Poznaniu
Ministerstwo Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego