The Trachiniae (or "The Women of Trachis") is a play by Sophocles, notable mainly for the unsympathetic portrayal of Heracles. As in the play Ajax, Sophocles has cast a well known hero in a negative light.
Chorus Trachinian Maidens
The story begins with Deianeira, the wife of Heracles, distraught over her husband's neglect of his family. Heracles is often involved in some adventure and rarely visits them. She sends their son Hyllus to find him, as she is concerned over prophecies about Heracles and the land he is currently in. After Hyllus sets off a messenger arrives with word that Heracles was victorious in his recent battle and coming home soon.
Lichas, a herald of Heracles, brings in slave girls captured from a recent siege. He gives Deineira a false story of why Heracles had laid siege to the city. He claimed Eurytus was responsible for Heracles being enslaved, and therefore vowed revenge against him and his people. Among the girls is Iole, daughter of Eurytus. Deineira soon learns that in truth Heracles laid siege to the city just to obtain the girl.
Unable to cope with the thought of her husband falling for this younger woman, she decides to use a love charm on him. When she was younger, she had been carried across a river by the centaur Nessus. Half way through he made a grab at her, and so Heracles quickly shot him with an arrow. As he died, he told her his blood would keep Heracles from loving any other woman more than her and explained what she should do with it. She creates a robe with the blood and has Lichas send it to him with strict instructions no one else is to wear it, and it is to be kept in the dark until he puts it on.
After the gift is sent, she begins to have a bad feeling about it. She throws some of the left over material into sunlight and it reacts like boiling acid. Nessus had lied about the love charm. Hyllus soon arrives to inform her that Heracles lies dying due to her gift. Heracles was in such pain and fury that he killed Lichas, the deliverer of the gift: "he made the white brain to ooze from the hair, as the skull was dashed to splinters, and blood scattered therewith" (as translated by Sir Richard C. Jebb).
Deianeira is so hurt over her son laying such a harsh blame on her that she goes inside and kills herself. Hyllus discovers soon after that it wasn't actually her intention to kill her husband. The dying Heracles is carried to his home in horrible pain and furious over what he believes was a murder attempt by his wife. Hyluss explains the truth, and Heracles realizes that the prophesies about his death have come to pass. He was to be killed by someone who was already dead, and it turned out to be Nessus.
In the end he is in so much pain that he is begging for someone to finish him off. In this weakened state, he says he is like a woman. He makes a final wish in which Hyluss promises to obey (under protest), that Hyllus is to marry Iole. The play concludes with Heracles being carried off to be burned alive, as an ending to his suffering.
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