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Women of Trachis

by Sophocles

Summary by Michael McClain
Based on a translation by Michael Jameson


Deianira is worried about Hercules who has been away for more than a year. She sends her son Hyllus to search for him.

A messenger arrives with the good news that Hercules is on his way home. Soon after the herald Lichas arrives with a group of captured women, including a beautiful young woman named Iole. The messenger makes Lichas tell Deianira that Iole was sent home to be Hercules' lover. When Deianira is pained by this news, the women of Trachis recall how Hercules won her. She tells the women what she will do to keep Hercules faithful. She has a drop of blood that was given to her by a centaur who was shot by Hercules when the centaur touched her improperly. As he was dying, the centaur told her that the blood was a charm that would cause Hercules never to look at another woman.

She gives a robe with the blood smeared on it to Lichas to take to Hercules, instructing him to tell Hercules not to expose the robe to light until he is ready to make a sacrifice to the gods. Not long after, she realizes that she has been tricked by the centaur when she discovers that the tuft of wool she used to rub the blood on the robe was destroyed when it was exposed to light.

Hyllus returns home accusing her of killing his father. He recounts the gruesome story of Hercules' sufferings when the robe he was wearing was exposed to the fire, including a description of how Hercules killed Lichas by knocking his brains out. Deianira's nurse comes out of the palace to say that Deianira has killed herself and that Hyllus learned from servants that she did not intend to kill his father.

Hercules is carried in, in excruciating pain and angry at Deianira for trying to kill him. When Hyllus tells him about the centaur's blood, Hercules realizes that Deianira was tricked by the centaur. His death will fulfill a prophesy that he would be killed by no living being. He asks his son to put an end to his misery and instructs him to marry Iole.

Image: Guido Reni, Abduction of Deianira, 1620-21, Louvre Museum. Painted in Guido's studio in Bologna, one of a set of four decorations painted for Ferdinand Gonzaga's villa "La Favorita" near Mantua.
Texts on line:

Diotima Anthology copyrighted translation by Robert M. Torrance, 1966

The Trachiniae translationby R. C. Jebb

Greek text