Ancient Athenian Drama

Sophocles: The Women of Trachis

5th century BC, Ancient Greek.

again and againEx(change) of identity

Heracles shot a poisoned arrow at the Centaur Nessus, and now it is Heracles who is being eaten to death by its poison.

It seems very contrived to me, that Deianira should collect the blood of her husband's sudden foe as he lies dying in the river, pierced by one of Heracles' arrows. It seems unlikely that she should be naive enough to believe that the blood of this dying Centaur will serve as a magic love potion, however much the Centaur protests that it will. Does she not sense the possibility of treachery from a creature seeking to avenge its own death? Does she not know that her husband's arrow was tipped with poison, the very poison that is killing this Centaur now? Is she carrying an empty bottle around with her, just on the off chance that she might need it?

And now, many years later. How has she kept this blood liquid for so many years, in such a state that she can use it to impregnate a shirt?

She has daubed a shirt with this blood in the hope that contact with it will reignite Heracles' love for her. Has he not noticed that the shirt is not clean? For me, this is straining credulity beyond its limits.

But the poison is certainly working. His flesh is falling from his bones. He is in agony. Deianira has killed herself in grief at her mistake. Heracles shot a poisoned arrow at the Centaur Nessus, and it is he who is being eaten to death by its poison.


Story fragments retold from: David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, 2013 (Third edition). Sophocles II: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes, Trackers. University of Chicago Press. (Translation of The Women of Trachis by Michael Jameson, copyright University of Chicago Press, 1957, 2013). The Women of Trachis, pp 75–132.

See for yourself

Sophocles – Wikipedia

Women of Trachis – Wikipedia

Sophocles: Trachinae – English translation, Internet Classics Archive (download plain text version)

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