Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
The Women of Trachis is, like the Book of Job in the Bible, a drama about the odicy, or the mystery of divine justice: How can there be evil or terror or horror in a world under divine direction if the gods are sources of justice and the good? Yet, undeniably, there are such evils in the human experience of this world. Herakles is the greatest human hero of Greek mythology, a man born of a human mother, Alcmene, and of a divine father, Zeus, the most powerful of the Olympian gods. Herakles is a physical giant, shrewd, powerful, and endowed with an enormous appetite for life. His labors and exploits have been not merely for self-aggrandizement but for taming the world of beasts (for example, his trials with the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra, and even the three-headed dog guarding the Underworld, Cerberus), so making the world safe for civilized human life. Yet this latest sack of Eurytus’ kingdom is clearly on his own account, springing from his lust for the young princess Iole. Thus, he is both hero and subject to all-too-human hubris. Though Sophocles’ answer to the question “Why do the innocent suffer?” is the same as the Bible’s account of Job—divine ways are mysterious and beyond human understanding—a significant difference is that Job’s innocence is clear, making his faith in divine providence spectacular. Both Daianeira and Herakles have clear flaws of irrational desire, and neither is redeemed from the consequences of these desires....
(The entire section is 518 words.)
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Fidelity to the Family
A chief concern throughout Women of Trachis is in terms of loyalty and responsibility to one’s family. Each of the main characters grapples with issues of duty and obedience, and none of them performs perfectly. Heracles displays what is perhaps the most extreme lack of family responsibility in the play, since he neglects his wife and abducts another lover, in a sense instigating the tragic plot. Heracles has duties to the gods as well; his father Zeus seems responsible for his enslavement, while gods such as Aphrodite (and, implicitly, Hera) are perhaps to blame for his fall in fortune. Nevertheless, Heracles’s own lack of respect for his wife is a prominent point of stress in the play, as is his demand that his son obey orders which may be impious or unjust.
Deianira’s faith in her husband is under trial from the beginning, and the Chorus stresses that she must maintain hope for Heracles’s safety and her family’s well-being. This is no easy task, however, since Heracles is very rarely home to show her any affection, and Heracles’s love for Iole and his plans to live with two wives deeply shakes Deianira’s confidence. Deianira’s plan to win back her husband’s affections, although it is understandable and has no ill motives, may be interpreted as a failure to be entirely obedient to her husband.
Hyllus’s character serves as another important example of the struggle that...
(The entire section is 825 words.)