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Women of Trachis


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A: Sophocles Pf:c.425 bc, Athens? Tr: 1729 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the house of Heracles at Trachis, in the mythical past C: 5m, 2f, extras, chorus (f)Deianira, wife of Heracles, is anxiously awaiting the return of her husband, who has been away for months, completing the labours that he is obliged to fulfil. She is particularly distressed, because she has received an oracle that Heracles will now either die or that he will at last be able to rest from his labours. She is just sending out her son to look for Heracles, when news arrives that he is alive and well and is following the band of captives, who now arrive in Trachis. One of those captured is a beautiful young princess, and Deianira, anxious that she has lost Heracles' affections, steeps his shirt in what she believes is a love potion. This potion was given to her by the dying Nessus, a centaur whom Heracles had shot with his arrow, and is in fact a deadly poison. Deianira's son returns and reveals that Heracles is dying a terrible death, because of the poisoned shirt she sent him. Overcome by guilt, Deianira takes her own life. Heracles is brought in, is persuaded of Deianira's innocence, and prepares to mount his own funeral pyre.

A: Sophocles Pf:c.425 bc, Athens? Tr: 1729 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the house of Heracles at Trachis, in the mythical past C: 5m, 2f, extras, chorus (f)

Sophocles returns here to the terrible recognition that tragedy can be brought about by carelessness rather than wickedness. The paradox is that Deianira's love drives her to bring about the very act that destroys the object of her love; she is innocent, but she also should have known better than to have believed the wounded Nessus, who was hardly likely to wish Heracles well. We also note again the ambiguity of oracles, for here Heracles' death is not an alternative to rest from his labours but the very means by which he will indeed find rest. Despite the interest of the perennial theme of jealousy, the play has inspired only a few adaptations, including a rather uninspired version by Ezra Pound in 1954.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Sophocles (496—406 bc)


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