The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Women of Trachis opens with a lament by Daianeira, wife of the greatest of Greek mythic heroes, Herakles. She is lamenting her woman’s helplessness during his year’s absence in pursuit of heroic labors or exploits; she is a loving and loyal wife who misses her husband and is in some anxiety about his safety—indeed, his fate, which she knows affects her own. No sooner has she sent off her and Herakles’ grown son Hyllus on a search than a local messenger arrives with a report that Lykhas, Herakles’ herald, has landed in Trachis with news that Herakles has won a military victory over King Eurytus on the nearby island of Euboea, and, after celebrating rites thanking the gods for his triumph, he will shortly return home. With Lykhas have arrived captive women from Eurytus’ kingdom, among whom is a particularly lovely and forlorn young girl named Iole, who remains silent in her slave’s sorrow and immediately wins the genuinely pitying regard of Daianeira, who knows too what it is to be forlorn and can remember her own helpless girlish youth, when Herakles won her by overcoming the monstrous river spirit Akheloos.

Immediately, however, there appear two complications. First, Herakles has sent an ambiguous and puzzling prophecy saying that when he returns it will be to a condition without further heroic trials (one wonders if this is a life of well-earned rest, or death). Second, the local messenger has challenged Lykhas’ account of Herakles’ return: Lykhas told a different story in the public marketplace of Trachis before...

(The entire section is 637 words.)