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Madness and Bestialization in Euripides’ Heracles. Οὔποτ' ἄκραντα δόμοισι Λύσσα βακχεύσει.


Against a background of anxious evocation of Dionysiac rites, Euripides’ Heracles stages the extreme degradation of the tragic hero, who as a consequence of the hatred of a divinity loses his heroic traits and above all his human ones in the exercise of brutal violence. By means of comparing Heracles to a furious bull assailing its prey, the tragedian clearly shows the inexorability of the divine will and its arbitrariness, and emphasizes madness itself through images traditionally associated with the bull. However, the reference to monstrosity and animals does not involve only Heracles, but also concerns the representation of Lyssa, the demon of madness sent by Hera to induce Heracles to slaughter his own family. This representation includes the monstrous and disturbing Gorgon and the dog, set alongside the metaphor of hunting, that highlights the link between the demon and the Erinyes, those other bringers of madness. Madness itself – represented as harmful subversion of Dionysiac enthousiasmos by Lyssa – seems to constitute in Euripides' Heracles the discriminating element between the exercise of “just” violence, functional at all events in re-establishing an order in things, and “unjust” violence, in which the prevailing of the strongest is translated into the predominance of subversive bestiality in the human order.