- Paul Cauthen
Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its source is Greek history, in particular Euripides’ lost tragedy Cresphontes.
The story is set in the kingdom of Messenia in the Greek Peloponnese, ruled by Cresphontes, a descendant of Hercules, and his queen, Merope, princess of Messenian nobles Cresphontes is deposed by Polyphontes and executed along with two of his three sons. Merope sends the youngest son, Aepytus, into hiding in Arcadia. When he reaches manhood he returns to avenge his father’s murder; arriving in disguise, he announces that he has killed the long-missing third son of Cresphontes. Merope, whom Polyphontes has forced to become his wife, learns that Aepytus is no longer in Arcadia and orders the stranger put to death. Aepytus’s true identity is revealed before the execution; mother and son are reunited. Aepytus kills Polyphontes and assumes his rightful place on the throne.
There are two major variants of the story. In its earliest version, by Zeno also adds a love interest for Epitide [Aepytus] in the Arcadian princess Argia, taken hostage by Polyphontes. Polyphontes forces Anassandro [Anasander], the executioner of Cresofonte [Cresphontes] and his sons, to accuse Merope in public of having commissioned the act. Merope learns Aepytus’s true identity only near the end of the opera, having believed him executed at her request. Later ...