Provide a characterization of Deianeira and Heracles in Sophocles's Women of Trachis.

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Women of Trachis, also known as The Trachiniae and The Trachinian Maidens, is one of the lesser-known of the seven plays written by Sophocles that have survived in their entirety.

Women of Trachis is notable because it's named for the Trachinian women who form the Chorus for the play. This is a departure from the traditional Chorus of men found in most ancient Greek tragic plays. Keep in mind that all of the women characters in ancient Greek plays, including the Chorus in Women of Trachis, were acted by men who wore masks representing the female characters they were portraying.

Deianeira is the wife of the Greek hero Heracles (known as the Roman demigod Hercules), son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene. Deianeira is portrayed in Women of Trachis as a fearful, unhappy, insecure woman. Nevertheless, she loves Heracles unconditionally and chooses not to blame him for the many military quests that take him away from his home, and she forgives him for his many lovers.

Heracles was said to possess extraordinary strength, as well as remarkable courage and sexual prowess. He's portrayed in the play as angry, boastful, and recklessly violent. He has no remorse for killing his herald, Lichas, or for the murder of his lover Iole’s brother, Iphitus.

Deianeira is a sympathetic character, even with all of her faults. Heracles appears as a heroic but wholly unsympathetic character.

At the opening of Women of Trachis, Heracles has concluded a successful siege of Oechalia, and he sends a number of captured women back to Trachis. Among them is Iole, whom Heracles sends to live at his own home with Deianeira, who is unaware at the time that Iole is Heracles's concubine.

Deianeira discovers Iole's identity and that Heracles is in love with her, and in order to win back her husband's love, Deianeira sends him a robe dyed with what she believes is a magic love potion made from the blood of the centaur Nessus.

The love potion turns out to be deadly poison that causes Heracles excruciating pain when he first wears the robe. In his pain, he threatens to kills Deianeira and is taken back to Trachis.

When Deianeira learns what has happened to Heracles, even though it was through no fault of her own, she kills herself in shame.

At the end of the play, Heracles is no longer able to bear the pain. He begs to be killed and is taken away to be burned alive to relieve him of his suffering.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 11, 2019
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