Full-text resources of CEJSH and other databases are now available in the new Library of Science.
Visit https://bibliotekanauki.pl


2011 | 21 | 2 | 109-143

Article title

Zjawiska psychotyczne w 'Heraklesie' Eurypidesa

Title variants

Psychotic phenomena in Euripides’ 'Heracles'

Languages of publication



Euripides’ Heracles has drawn the attention of numerous scholars, since Willamowitz’s excellent commentary on the play. The play has been seen as lacking unity, full of contradictions, incoherent, bizzarre even. Later critics tried to show structural unity, especially by analyzing recurrent motifs and ideas. The madness was being explained by Willamowitz, Verrall, Pohlenz, Grube and others with reference to Heracles’ inner process, of a “megalomaniac” character. Such psychological interpretations of madness were widely questioned in the second half of the 20th century, and Heracles himself provoked extreme reactions and opinions of scholars. In the article Heracles’ madness is considered a central theme of the play, expressed both in the fragmented and split structure of it and in the contradictions and bizzarre elements within the tragedy. I used Melanie Klein’s (especially, the concepts of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions as well as of primitive defense mechanisms) and her followers’ (especially, Segal’s notes on symbol formation and Bion’s theory of psychotic thinking) theory to show the essentially psychotic character of the play. The dramatis personae, in their behavior and words manifest such psychotic mechanisms as splitting, denial, idealization, projective identification, omnipotent control as well as primitive envy. The gods can be seen as projections of Heracles and other characters, as well as of the common unconscious space of the play (“the analytical third” of the tragedy, to use Thomas Ogden’s concept). The climactic Heracles’ madness is understood as a breakdown of psychotic defense mechanisms, cause by intense, yet split off, envy and by a powerful threat to dependent parts of the self, symbolized in Heracles’ children and wife. The whole tragedy is a way from the world of fantasy, gods, underworld towards more realist world of human beings and their relationships, which in Kleinianism can be conceptualized as a movement from the paranoid-schizoid position to the depressive one.








Physical description




  • Instytut Filologii Klasycznej Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza ul. Fredry 10, 61-701 Poznań Polska – Poland


Document Type

Publication order reference


YADDA identifier

JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.