The Women of Trachis Characters (Sophocles)



(Drama for Students)

Achelous is the river god who desires to marry Deianira. He appears as a bull, as a snake, and as a bull-faced man trying to court his would-be bride until Heracles conquers him in a violent fight.

The play’s Chorus consists of a group of women from the town of Trachis. These women are the commentators and advisors to whom the title of the play refers. According to the conventions of ancient Greek tragedy, they speak directly to the audience and help to explain the context of the plot, although they also become emotionally involved in the action and do not speak with complete objectivity. They are close to Deianira and attempt to advise her, and Deianira confides in them as friends even though she chides them for being young and “innocent,” uninitiated into the tragedy of life. They criticize Deianira for losing hope in her husband and in the future, but they stress that she acted in good faith in preparing the supposed love charm.

The women continually praise Heracles and lament his suffering without blaming him for his bigamy or his violent behavior. They justify his actions as the results of the power of Aphrodite and stress their admiration for the famous Greek hero. Their failure to see anything wrong with Heracles’s behavior may be an indication that they are not wise or discriminating. As Deianira points out, they come to see others suffer and are thus like a group of unreliable gossipers. Nevertheless, they display profound pity for the suffering family.

Heracles’s wife and debatably the tragic hero of the play, Deianira is a fearful woman with a trying life. She is the daughter of the Calydonian king Oenus, and when she was a beautiful young woman she was courted by the river god Achelous until Heracles came to destroy Achelous and take her as his bride. She loves Heracles and is devoted to him, but she has suffered as a consequence of his desertion of her in order to engage in various quests and pursue other lovers. Although he is the source of her fear and distress, Deianira never blames her husband for her problems.

Sophocles gives a subtle and compassionate portrayal of Deianira, and she is the central character for the majority of the play. Her fears seem excessive at first, but they are justified by the tragic course of her family’s life and are not necessarily signs of a cowardly person. Deianira does not know where to direct her fear and unhappiness, but she proves the generosity of her character by indulging Heracles regarding his treatment of her and showing kindness to Iole. Even when she discovers that Heracles is in love with Iole, Deianira does not contemplate hurting or sabotaging the younger woman. She blames herself for inviting trouble under her roof, worrying that her womanly charms are “waning.” Her failure to bring others (such as her husband) to account for her troubles might also be construed as a character weakness, and her failure to spot the centaur’s trick soon enough might indicate a lack of intelligence or shrewdness. Because Deianira shares her doubts and insecurities in such an open and compelling manner, however, the audience is likely to forgive her frailties and sympathize with her plight.

Iole’s father and Heracles’s enemy, Eurytus is the king of Oechalia. Lichas and the Messenger relate conflicting stories about why he angers Heracles, but Lichas admits that Heracles destroys Eurytus and his city in order to capture Iole.

Deianira’s husband Heracles is a powerful and violent warrior who is half god and half man. The son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene, Heracles possesses divine strength and is one of the most famous heroes of the classical world....

(The entire section is 1570 words.)