(Women of Trachis)

Translated by Ian Johnston
Vancouver Island University
Nanaimo, British Columbia

For an RTF or PDF text of the following translation, please click here: Women of Trachis [RTF] or Women of Trachis [PDF]



The following translation may be downloaded and distributed in print or electronic form without permission and without charge by students, teachers, artists, and members of the general public. Those who wish to edit or adapt the translation for their own purposes may do so. However, no commercial publication of this text is allowed without the permission of the translator, Ian Johnston.

In the following text, the line number without brackets refer to the English translation; those in square brackets refer to the Greek text. In the English text, short indented lines have been included with short lines above them in computing the appropriate line number. The stage directions and endnotes have been provided by the translator.


In this translation, possessives of words ending in -s are usually indicated in the common way (that is, by adding -’s (e.g. Zeus and Zeus’s). This convention adds a syllable to the spoken word (the sound -iz). Sometimes, for metrical reasons, this English text indicates such possession in an alternate manner, with a simple apostrophe. This form of the possessive does not add an extra syllable to the spoken name (e.g., Hercules and Hercules’ are both three-syllable words; whereas, Hercules’s has four syllables).

The translator would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Richard Jebb’s commentary and translation (available online at Perseus).




Like almost all Greek legends, the Herakles story has many versions (especially since Herakles was a very popular figure in Greek drama and poetry). The following brief account summarizes some details of the traditional story (for a full discussion of the various traditional stories about Herakles, consult Jebb’s excellent discussion in his commentary).

Herakles was a son of Zeus, born to a mortal mother, Alcmene. His mortal father was Amphitryon. Both parents were from Argos, but they had to leave Argos before the birth, and thus Herakles was born in Thebes. Goddess Hera, a constant enemy of Heracles, tried to kill him in his crib by sending two snakes, but baby Herakles strangled them both. Later, when Herakles was a young man, Hera drove him mad, and he killed his own children (from his wife Megara; in some accounts he killed Megara, as well). As a result of this crime, Herakles had to work for his cousin Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, and perform the famous twelve labours of Herakles (killing the Nemean lion, killing the Lernaean Hydra, capturing the Ceryneian hind, capturing the Erymanthian boar, cleaning the Augean stables, killing the Stymphalian birds, capturing the Cretan bull, stealing the mares of Diomedes, obtaining the belt of Hippolyta, seizing the cattle of Geryon, stealing the golden apples of the Hesperides, and capturing Cerberus, the three-headed hound guarding the gates of Hades). When Herakles had completed these tasks, Hera again struck him with a fit of madness, and he killed Iphitos, a prince of Oechalia. To atone for this murder, Herakles had to sell himself into bondage to Omphale, a queen of Lydia (in Asia Minor).

Sophocles ignores the story of Herakles’s wife Megara and the slaughtered children, in order to have Deianeira and Herakles marry well before the twelve labours for Eurystheus. During these labours, Deianeira and their children live in Tiryns. Some time after he completes those labours, Herakles visits king Eurytus in Oechalia and asks him if he can have Iole, the king’s daughter, as his concubine. The king refuses and mocks Herakles. Later in Tiryns, Herakles kills Iphitos, Eurytus’s son (Sophocles makes no mention of a fit of madness sent by Hera), and as a result Herakles and Deianeira have to leave Tiryns and move to Trachis. Herakles also has to atone for the murder of Iphitos by serving Omphale. He spends a year working for the Lydian queen, and then sets off to conquer Eurytus by attacking the city of Oechalia. Once he has killed Eurytus and sacked the city, he begins his return journey to Trachis, sending captive Iole on ahead of him. At this point the action of the play begins.

Other necessary details will be provided in the endnotes.






DEIANEIRA, wife of Herakles
HYLLUS, son of Herakles and Deianeira
LICHAS, a herald, one of Herakles’s servants
CHORUS: A group of Trachinian women.(1)

[The play takes place in Trachis in front of the home of Herakles. Deianeira enters from the house accompanied by the Nurse.](2)

      Men have a saying established long ago:
      no one can judge the life of any mortal
      as good or bad until that man is dead.
      But in my case, though I have not yet reached
      the land of Hades, I know all too well
      how miserable and difficult life is.
      When I was with Oeneus, my father,
      and still lived at home with him in Pleuron,
      I had the most painful fear of marriage,
      more than any young girl in Aetolia.                                     10
      For I had a suitor, Achelöus,
      the river god, who in three different shapes                                [10]
      kept on asking for me from my father.(3)
      Once he arrived in the body of a bull,
      then as a serpent with glittering coils,
      then as a man with an ox’s forehead
      and streams of fountain water pouring down
      his bearded face. Yes, that was my suitor.
      When I expected him, I always prayed,
      in my unhappiness, that I would die                                     20
      before I’d ever come into his bed.
      But then, later on, to my great delight,
      the celebrated son of Zeus arrived,
      Alcmene’s child. He fought Achelöus                                           [20]
      and set me free. I cannot clearly say
      what happened in that struggle. I don’t know.
      No one does. Someone who was not afraid
      to watch them could perhaps describe it.(4)
      I just sat there, overwhelmed with terror,
      afraid my beauty would, before the end,                               30
      bring me grief. But finally warrior Zeus
      made sure it ended well, if it is true
      that the result was good. For even though
      I am the chosen wife of Herakles,
      I still nourish fear after fear for him,
      and each night brings me new anxiety,
      which the next night’s worries drive away.                                  [30]
      We have children, but he only sees them
      from time to time, like a tenant farmer
      who only visits his distant grain fields                                   40
      when he sows the crop and at the harvest.
      He’d come home and then leave us once again—
      that’s what life was like while he was slaving
      for that man who kept sending him away.(5)
      Now he has completed all those labours,
      but at this point I am even more afraid.
      For since he killed the mighty Iphitos,
      we have been driven into exile here,
      in Trachis, living in a stranger’s home,                                         [40]
      and no one knows where Herakles has gone.(6)                    50
      With him not here, the only thing I know
      is bitter pain. It’s clear he must have had
      a nasty accident, for since he left
      many months have passed—fifteen already—
      and still no word. Something bad has happened.
      The written tablets he left here with me
      warned me of it. How often I have prayed
      to the gods they would not bring me sorrow!


      Mistress Deianeira—I have seen you
      shedding tears so often, in your sadness,                              60     [50]
      as you grieve the absence of great Herakles.
      But this time, if it is appropriate
      for a slave’s opinions to provide advice
      to those who are born free, then my duty
      is to state what you should do. You have sons—
      many of them—and yet you do not send
      any of them off to find your husband.
      Hyllus would be especially suitable,
      if he cares about his father and believes
      we all should know that he is doing well.                              70
      Here he comes now, hurrying to the house—
      he’s in a rush. So if what I advise
      seems reasonable, then the time is right
      to act on what I urge—use Hyllus now.                                       [60]


[Enter Hyllus, moving quickly towards the palace.]

      Ah my son, my child, judicious words may fall
      from humble servants—like this woman here.
      She is a slave, but what she says is true.

      What does she say, mother? If it’s something
       you can speak to me about, then tell me.

      She says that since your father has been gone                      80
      for such a long time, it is scandalous
      you have not gone to find out where he is.

      But I do know where he is, if a rumour
      I have heard is a story I can trust.

      My child, what have you heard? Where has he been?

      They say he has spent a long time working—
      an entire year—as a hired servant,
      in bondage to a Lydian woman.(7)                                                [70]

      Well, if it’s true he has put up with that,
      then nothing will surprise me anymore.                                90

      But now, according to what I have heard,
      he is finished with that task.

                                              Where is he then?
      From those reports is he alive or dead?

      They say he has set off to fight a war—
      or is about to—against Euboea,
      a territory ruled by Eurytus.(8)

      My son, are you aware that Herakles
      left some trustworthy oracles with me
      about that very place?

                                       No, I didn’t know.
      What kind of oracles?

                                                  They prophesy                            100
      that in this expedition his life will end,                                        [80]
      or else when it is over he will live
      all his remaining days in peace and quiet.
      My child, his fate is on the balance scale.
      Will you not help? If Herakles survives,
      then so do we—if not we die with him.

      Mother, I will go. Had I been informed
      about oracles proclaiming things like this,
      I would have left here a long time ago.
      As things stood, my father’s usual fortunes                          110
      never roused concerns or serious worry.
      But now I understand why you’re so troubled,
      I will not stop until I have discovered                                           [90]
      the truth about what’s really going on.

      Leave now, my son. The news he’s doing well—
      even if it’s late—will be a fine reward.

[Hyllus leaves. Enter the Chorus of Women of Trachis.]

      O Sun, offspring born from mother Night,
      as the glittering stars are stripped away
      from the one who lulls you once again to sleep
      in a blaze of fire, O Sun, I beg you—                                     120
      reveal to me where Herakles has gone!
      O shining god with your fiery light,
      where is Alcmene’s son? Is he at sea,                                            [100]
      or now on one of the twin continents?(9)
      O you, whose eye is mightiest of all,
      speak to me! For Deianeira here—
      a prize for whom men fought—is grieving,
      her spirit, like the mourning nightingale,
      always yearning. The sadness never ends.
      Her tearful eyes can never ease their sorrow,                        130
      as she recalls with fear her husband’s journey.
      Worn down with torments on a widow’s bed,                              [110]
      in wretched desolation she expects
      nothing but disaster. Just as one sees
      tireless winds from north or south driving
      row after row of waves that rise and fall
      across the boundless sea, so the strains of life,
      as wild as the seas of Crete, whirl him round,
      that son of Cadmus, and raise him once again.(10)
      And yet some god is always there to help                             140    [120]
      and keep him far away from Hades’ home.

[Turning towards Deianeira.]

      With all respect we must take issue with you
      and counsel you against such desperate grief.
      We say it is not right to wear away
      your finer hopes. For the son of Cronos,
      the ruler who accomplishes all things,
      does not allot a painless life to men.
      Sorrow and joy revolve for everyone,
      just like the constellation of the Bear,                                          [130]
      whose stars keep moving round in circles.                            150
      The glittering magnificence of Night
      does not remain in place for mortal beings,
      and nor do wealth and sorrow—each of these
      can in an instant disappear, and then
      great happiness or pain returns once more.
      My queen, I’m urging you to let these things
      revive your hopes, for who has ever known
      Zeus to show no care for his own children?

      What you have said shows me you understand
      that I am suffering. But at your age                                       160
      you are so innocent. Ah, how I pray
      you never learn the life-destroying pain
      I feel. Young growing life is nourished   
      in sheltered regions of its own, undisturbed

      by storms, or winds, or Sun god’s scorching heat.
      It lives with joy, free from toil and torment,
      until the virgin girl becomes a wife
      and bears her share of troubles in the night,
      fearing for her husband and her children.                                    [150]
      In such a situation, any woman                                              170
      might sense the agonies that weigh me down
      by looking at her own experience
      and understand why so many sorrows
      have made me weep. But there is one worry
      greater than before that I must speak of.
      When, on his latest journey, lord Herakles
      set out from home, he left here in the house
      an ancient tablet inscribed with symbols.
      He’d never thought of mentioning it before
      when he was setting out on some adventure,                       180
      one of his many labours. He always left
      full of confidence that he would triumph,
      not like a man about to meet his death.                                       [160]
      But this time, as if he was going to die,
      he told me what to take as my inheritance
      and what shares he had assigned the children
      of their father’s land. And he set a date
      for the division—he insisted that,
      once a year and three months had elapsed
      after his departure, he was destined                                      190
      either to perish then and there, or else,
      if he escaped the danger at that time,
      his life thereafter would be trouble free.
      He said that was the fate set by the gods
      to bring an end to Herakles’s toils.                                                  [170]
      He added he had heard the very same
      from the ancient oak tree at Dodona
      which spoke out through the two priestesses there.(11)
      And now the time has come when the truth
      the oracle foretold will be revealed                                        200
      and what it said will be fulfilled. That is why
      my fears have roused me from a gentle sleep.
      I’m terrified, my friends, I’ll be a widow,
      forced to live without the finest of all men.

      You should not speak now. Someone is coming—
      I see a man wearing a laurel crown,
      a sign he brings good news.

[Enter the MESSENGER, an old man.]

                                                 Queen Deianeira,                                [180]
      I will be the first messenger with news
      to alleviate your fears. I can report
      that Alcmene’s son lives—he has triumphed                        210
      and is now bringing home fresh spoils of war
      in honour of our native country’s gods.

      What are you telling me, old man?

                                                         Your husband,
      whom so many people hold in high esteem,
      will soon be coming back—he will be here,
      celebrating his victorious triumph.

      Who told you this? Was it a citizen
      or some foreigner?

                                               The herald Lichas
      has announced the news to many people
      in a summer pasture where cattle graze.                               220
      I heard it from him, and I rushed away,
      so I could be the very first to tell you                                           [190]
      and benefit from doing you a favour.

      If he has good news, why is he not here?

      Lady, he can hardly move. The Malians
      have him surrounded, a whole crowd of them,
      standing in a circle asking questions.
      He cannot get away. They’re all eager
      to hear him tell them what they wish to know
      and won’t let Lichas leave until he does.                               230
      So he’s being held up there against his will,
      because that’s what those Malians demand.
      But soon you will see him arrive in person.(12)

      O Zeus, ruler of the uncut meadows,                                            [200]
      lands of Oeta consecrated to you,
      you bring us joy after all these years!
      Raise your voices, you women in the house
      and those outside the hall—now we can reap
      the bliss of the bright dawn this message brings,
      a happiness beyond my fondest hopes.                                 240

      Let those who are about to be new brides
      sing out with joyous shouts for hearth and home,
      and let the cries of men arise in unison
      for archer god Apollo, our defender!
      You young girls chant a hymn of grateful praise.                         [210]
      Cry out to his sister, the deer hunter,
      Ortygian Artemis, goddess holding high
      a torch in either hand, and to the nymphs,
      our neighbours in this land. I am raised up
      and spurn no more the music of the flute.                            250
      O tyrant of my heart! And this ivy—
      see how its leaves excite me! Evoe!
      It whirls me swiftly in the Bacchic dance!
      O Paean! Paean!(13)                                                                                           [220]

[The Chorus dances in joyful celebration. They stop suddenly as the Chorus leader sees Lichas approaching.]

                                                   Look there, dear lady!
      You can witness the good news as it unfolds
      before your very eyes!

                                                      My dear companions,
      my eyes are keen enough to notice things—
      I see that group of people coming here.

[Enter Lichas and some captive girls, including Iole.]

DEIANEIRA [addressing Lichas]
      Welcome, herald—a joyful welcome home
      after your long absence—if you bring good news.                260

      We are happy to be home, my lady,
      and delighted with those words of welcome
      appropriate to news of noble deeds.                                             [230]
       For when a man is truly fortunate
      one’s greeting should be kind and generous.

      Most welcome of friends, tell me first of all
      what I most need to know. Can I expect
      to see Herakles alive?

                                                             When I left,
      he was alive and well—in excellent health,
      with no sign of any serious illness.                                         270

      Where was he? In his ancestral lands
      or some barbarian country? Tell me.

      He was in Euboea—on a headland,
      setting up altars and grounds of fruit trees
      dedicated to the god Cenaean Zeus.(14)

      Is he striving to fulfil a promise
      or did some oracle tell him to do it?

      It was a vow he made when setting out                                        [240]
      to ravage the country of these women—
      the prisoners you see in front of you.                                     280

      These women—in the name of the gods,
      who are they? And who do they belong to?
      They deserve our pity, unless their plight
      deceives me about what really happened.

      They are your husband’s captives. He chose them
      as prizes for himself and for the gods,
      once he had ransacked Eurytus’ city.

      And it was for this city he stayed away
      such an unimaginable length of time,
      all those countless days?

                                         No. Most of that time,                         290           
      so he himself asserts, he was not free,
      but was a slave sold into servitude
      in Lydia. These words must not upset you,                                  [250]
      my lady, for lord Zeus arranged it all.(15)
      He says he spent a year in bondage there
      toiling for Omphale, a barbarian.
      He was so stung by this humiliation
      he swore an oath that one day he would fight
      the person who had brought about this shame
      and force him, along with wife and children,                        300
      to live as slaves. And he kept that promise.
      Once he had been purified, he gathered
      a mercenary army and marched out
      to overwhelm the land of Eurytus.                                                [260]
      Herakles claimed that of all living men
      it was only Eurytus who had caused
      the shame and suffering he had endured.(16)
      He said he had once gone to Eurytus
      as an old comrade, visiting him at home,
      and Eurytus had verbally attacked him                                 310
      with many insults from a spiteful mind,
      alleging that in contests with the bow
      Herakles and his unerring arrows
      could never match the skill of his own sons.
      He sneered at Herakles, saying he’d sunk
      to being a free man’s slave. Then one day
      at dinner, when Herakles was full of wine,
      they threw him out. Herakles was enraged.
      Sometime later, he noticed Iphitos                                               [270]
      on the ridge at Tiryns following the trail                                320
      of some stray horses that had wandered there—
      his eyes were searching for his animals,
      but his mind was elsewhere. So Herakles
      threw Iphitos from a towering summit.(17)
      Angry at this act, Olympian Zeus,
      father of all, would not condone it.
      He sent Herakles away to be sold
      in bondage, because on this occasion
      he had used deceit to murder someone.
      If he had avenged himself quite openly,                                330
      Zeus surely would have pardoned Herakles
      and said his victory was just. Like us,
      the gods do not love reckless violence.                                         [280]
        And so those people of Oechalia,
      who took such pride in saying evil things,
      are all inhabitants of Hades now.
      Their city is enslaved. These women you see,
      who had a happy life, have found a new one
      that no one envies—and so they come to you.
      Those were your husband’s orders, and now I,                     340
      his loyal servant, have carried them out.
      As for Herakles himself, you can be sure
      he will return, as soon as he has made
      a sacred offering to his father Zeus
      for conquering the city. This last news,
      after all the good things I have told you,
      will surely be the sweetest words by far.                                      [290]

      My lady, your happiness is now complete.
      Some of it is present here before you,
      and you have been informed about the rest.                         350

      Yes, how could I not be fully justified
      in feeling such delight when I hear news
      my husband’s mission has enjoyed success.
      For my own happiness and his well being
      are inseparably linked. Nonetheless,
      for anyone with a judicious mind
      there is in these events some room for fear:
      a man who has done well may later fall.
      My friends, a strange feeling of compassion
      comes over me when I observe these girls,                           360
      poor, wretched exiles in a foreign land—                                     [300]
      homeless orphans, who at some point perhaps
      were daughters of free men and who now
      must spend their lives as slaves. O lord Zeus,
      who shifts the tides of fortune in a war,
      I pray I never see you act like this
      against a child of mine, or if you do,
      may I not be still alive to see it.
      I feel such fear when I look at these girls.

[Deianeira singles out Iole and speaks directly to her.]

      You poor unfortunate girl, who are you?                               370
      Are you unmarried? Do you have children?
      Judging by your appearance, it would seem
      you have no experience of such things.

[Deianeira turns to Lichas.]

      Lichas, this girl here—who is her father?                                     [310]
       Tell me. Looking at her, I feel pity,
      more so than I do for all the others—
      she is the only one who understands
      the dire situation she is facing.

      How should I know? Why would you ask me?
      She does not appear to be a daughter                                   380
      of the humblest folk in Oechalia.

      Could she come from the ruling family?
      Did Eurytus have any children?

      I do not know. We did investigate,
      but not in detail.

                                             What about her name?
      Did you find that out from her companions?

      No. When I was carrying out my work
      I did not talk to them.

[Deianeira turns to speak to Iole.]

                                                                      Speak to me,
      you poor girl, tell me yourself in your own words.
      I find it troubling not knowing who you are.                        390

      If she keeps acting as she has before,
      she’ll hold her tongue. She has not said a thing
      in all this time, not one word, great or small,
      so heavy is the weight of her misfortune.
      Ever since she left her windswept country,
      not once has she stopped shedding tears of grief—
      for her this situation is disastrous.
      But we must make allowances for that.

      Then leave her alone, if that’s what she wants.
      Let’s go in the palace. There is no need                                 400   [330]
      for me to add more pain to the distress
      she feels already. She’s been through enough.
      We’ll all go in, so you may quickly leave
      wherever you desire, and I can start
      to organize arrangements in the house.

[Lichas and the captive girls move towards the palace. The Messenger detains Deianeira.]

      Before you go inside, stay here a moment,
      so you may learn, without the others here,
      just who those people are you’re letting in.
      You need to hear some things you have not heard,
      facts I know about—with all the details.                               410

      What are you saying? Why detain me here?

      Stay and listen. My earlier report—                                              [340]
      you listened to that and it was useful.
      I think what I say now will be the same.

      Shall I call the others to come back here?
      Or do you wish to speak to me alone
      before these women?

                                To you and these women
      I can speak freely. Let the others go.

      Well, they have left. Say what you have to say.

      Nothing Lichas said in his report just now                            420
      was true—either what he said then was false,
      or else his earlier news was not the truth.

      What are you saying? Explain to me clearly
      everything you know. What you just told me—
      I don’t know what that means.                                                     [350]

                                              I heard Lichas state
      in front of a whole crowd of witnesses
      that it was for this girl that Herakles
      conquered the high towers of Oechalia
      and slaughtered Eurytus. The only god
      who enticed him to that fight was Eros.                               430
      It was not about Lydia at all,
      where he slaved in bondage to Omphale,
      or about killing Iphitos by hurling him
      down to his death. But Lichas now forgets
      to mention Eros and tells you something else.
      Herakles could not convince her father,
      who had conceived the girl, to offer him
      his daughter as a secret concubine,                                              [360]
      so Herakles came up with a complaint,
      a trivial pretext, and launched a war                                     440
      against her native land, where Eurytus,
      as Lycus mentioned, was the reigning king.
      He killed Eurytus, the young girl’s father,
      and sacked her city. Now, as you can see,
      on his way home he’s sent her to this house.
      He has not arranged all that, my lady,
      for no reason or to make the girl a slave.
      You should not assume that’s his intention.
      It’s not likely, not if he is burning
      with a hidden passion. I thought it right                              450
      to report all this to you, my lady,
      every detail I picked up from Lichas.                                            [370]
       Many citizens of Trachis heard him speak,
      as I did, in the public gathering place.
      They can confirm this. If what I have said
      is unwelcome news, then I am sorry,
      but nonetheless my story is the truth.

      I feel so miserable. What do I do?
      What secret grief have I let in my home?
      This is disastrous for me! Lichas swore                                 460
      that this girl has no name. But is that true?

      No. Her name and parentage are famous.
      That girl is the daughter of Eurytus,                                             [380]
      and people used to call her Iole.
      Lichas could not inform you of her birth
      because, as he said, he did not enquire.

      Let all other treacherous men be spared,
      but may death and destruction strike
      the man who forges devious secrets
      by not being what he seems.

                                                               O my friends,                 470
      what do I do? The words I have just heard
      fill me with dread.

                                     Go and question Lichas.
      If you are willing to press him on this,
      you might soon force him to reveal the truth.

      All right, I’ll go. What you advise is good.

      Shall I wait for you here? What should I do?                                [390]

[Lichas appears, leaving the palace on his way to return to Herakles.]

      Stay here. Lichas is coming from the house
      all on his own, without my summoning him.

      I’m leaving, my lady, as you can see.
      I’m off to rejoin Herakles. Tell me                                          480
      what I should say to him.

                                                 Your visit here
      came very late, and now you hurry off
      so soon, before we’ve had a chance to talk.

      If there is anything you need to know,
      I am here.

                      Will you tell me the honest truth?

      Yes, by great Zeus, I will—anything I know.

      Who is the woman you brought here with you?                           [400]

      She is from Euboea. As for her parents,
      I really cannot tell you.

                                                Look here, you!
      Do you realize who you’re talking to?                                    490

      Who are you to ask me such a question?

      If you understand what I just asked you,
      then be good enough to give us a reply.

      I am speaking to lady Deianeira,
      daughter of Oeneus, wife of Herakles,
      and, unless my eyesight is deceiving me,
      my royal mistress.

                                                          That is precisely
      what I wished to hear you say. Now, you claim
      this lady is your mistress.

                                             Yes, she is.

      All right then. In your view, what punishment                     500    [410]
      would you deserve if people now found out
      that you were being dishonest with her?

      How am I dishonest? And why on earth
      are you making up such stories?

                                                          I’m not—
      it’s you who’s fabricating subtle lies.

      I’m leaving. I was a fool to waste time
      listening to you.

                                                      No, you’re not going,
      not before you’ve answered one short question.

      Speak, if you have to. You’re hardly someone
      who’s about to hold his tongue.

                                                    That captive girl—                    510
      the one you just escorted to the house—
      you know the one I mean?

                                         Yes, I know the one.
      Why do you ask me that?

                                                            Did you not claim
      that this girl, whom you now say you don’t know,
      was Iole, daughter of Eurytas?                                                      [420]

      Who did I tell that? Who will step forward
      and testify for you he heard me say it?
      Where is he?

                                   You told a crowd of citizens
      in that place where the Trachinians gather.
      Lots of them heard you state her parentage                          520
      and her name.

                          People claim they heard me say that,
      but stating what one feels is not the same
      as offering an accurate report.

      What do you mean by “stating what one feels”?
      When you spoke there, did you not give your oath
      that you were bringing back this girl Iole
      to be Herakles’ bride?

                                                                    Me? His bride?
      Dear lady, in the name of the gods, speak to me!
      Tell me who this stranger is!                                                         [430]

                                                          I’m someone
      who was in the audience when you said                                530
      Oechalia was completely overrun
      thanks to Herakles’ passion. It was not
      Lydian Omphale who destroyed it—
      but his desire for the girl.

                                                          My lady,
      send this man away. It is not prudent
      to chatter with a person who’s deranged.

      In the name of Zeus, who hurls his lightning
      down on the ridge-top forest lands of Oeta,
      do not obscure the truth in your report!
      You are not talking to an evil woman                                    540
      or one who does not understand that men
      are not by nature born to find delight                                          [440]
      in the same place forever. So anyone
      who, like a boxer, raises her two fists
      in a fight with Eros is a thoughtless fool.
      For Eros rules the gods as he desires—
      and he rules me.(18) Why not another woman,
      someone just like me? It would be madness
      for me to blame my husband or this girl
      if this disease now has him in its grip.                                   550
      She is his partner who shares in something
      that brings no shame on them, no wrong to me.
      That’s not the point. But if you’ve learned to lie,
      if he has taught you that, then you have learned                         [450]
      an evil lesson. And if you taught yourself
      to act like this, you will appear deceitful
      when what you want is to be sympathetic.
      So do not lie. Tell me the truth—all of it.
      It is a fatal sickness for someone free
      to be called a liar. And if you hope                                        560
      you can still lie and get away with it,
      that will not happen, for many people
      listened to your speech, and they will tell me.
      If you are afraid, your fears are groundless,
      since what would hurt me more than anything
      is not to know the truth. What is so horrible
      about learning all the facts? Is it not true
      that Herakles has had all sorts of women—                                 [460]
      and more of them than any other man?
      And yet I did not criticize or shame                                       570
      a single one of them.(19) And I will not
      be any different now with Iole,
      not even if her passion makes her melt.
      When I looked at her I felt real pity,
      because her beauty has destroyed her life
      and because against her will the poor girl
      has ruined her country and enslaved it.
      But let the wind blow all these things away.     
      As for you, you can tell your lies to others,
      but to me you must always speak the truth.                         580

      You should do what she says. It’s good advice.                            [470]
       You’ll have no grounds to blame her later on,
      and you will have our thanks.

                                                Well then, dear lady,
      I see you think as mortal men should think
      and do not cloud your judgment. So I’ll speak—
      I’ll tell you the entire truth, hiding nothing.
      It is as this man says. Some time ago,
      a fearful passion for that girl pierced Herakles,
      and because of her he utterly destroyed
      her father’s native country, Oechalia,                                    590
      and put it to the sword. But to his credit—
      I must add this—he never ordered me
      to hide the fact. Nor did he deny it.                                             [480]
      It was me. I feared that telling you this news
      would pain your heart, and so I am at fault,
      if in your judgment I have been mistaken.
      But now you know the truth in every detail,
      so you should show compassion to this girl,
      both for his sake and for yours, and confirm
      those words you spoke just now. For with his hands                         600
      Herakles may overpower all other things,
      but passion for this girl has conquered him.

      But that is how I do intend to act.                                                [490]
       I do not wish to lay upon myself
      the burden of a war against the gods.
      That would be futile. Let’s go in the house,
      so you can carry back some words from me,
      and since one should acknowledge gifts received
      with one’s own gifts, you can take these as well.
      You brought such fine things with you when you came,     610
      It is not right that you return with nothing,

[Deianeira and Lichas enter the palace.]

      The glorious power of Aphrodite
      always triumphs! I will not now relate
      stories of the gods or speak about
      how she deceived lord Zeus, son of Cronos,                                 [500]
      or his brothers Hades, lord of darkness,
      and lord Poseidon, shaker of the earth.(20)
      But when Deianeira was to be a bride,
      what strong-armed men came to compete for her
      to be his wife? Who was prepared to step                             620
      into that brutal battle in the dust?

      One of them was mighty Achelöus      
      who came to her as a four-legged bull
      with arching horns. He was a river god
      from Oeniadae. The other came from Thebes,                             [510]
      home of Bacchus, carrying a curved bow
      and brandishing his spears and cudgel.
      He was a son of Zeus. The two of them
      collided, each one eager for a bride,
      while Aphrodite, god of nuptial joy,                                      630
      sat in their midst as sole impartial judge.

      Then all at once there was a thud of fists,
      the bow string quivered, the bull’s horns rattled—
      and two men locking arms in grappling holds,                            [520]
      butting each other’s heads with deadly blows,
      each man groaning from the strain. Meanwhile,
      the fair-eyed girl sat on a distant hill,
      waiting for the one she was to marry.
      The contest rages on, as I describe,
      while the bride these men are fighting for                             640
      awaits the end in anguish. Once that came,
      like a lost calf, she had to leave her mother.                                 [530]

[Deianeira enters from the palace. She is carrying a small chest]

      My friends, our visitor inside my home
      is taking his leave of those captive girls,
      so I have slipped away, out of the house,
      to tell you of a plan I have in mind
      and to share with you the pain I suffer.
      For I have taken this young maiden in
      (who is, I think, no maiden any more)
      the way a man loads cargo on his ship,                                 650
      a freight that sets a load upon my heart.
      Now, under a single blanket, each of us
      will wait to be embraced in Herakles’ arms.                                 [540]
      That will be the reward I get from him,
      whom I have called a true and faithful man,
      for keeping his home going all these years.
      I cannot be angry with him—this illness
      has infected him so often—but then,
      to live together, share the house with her,
      the marriage, too. What woman could bear that?                 660
      I see her youthful beauty ripening,
      while mine is in decline, and Herakles
      will turn his eye toward those blossoms
      he loves to pluck and turn away from me.
      That’s why I am afraid that Herakles,                                           [550]
      though he may still be called my husband,
      could well become the younger woman’s man.
      But, as I said, getting angry makes no sense
      for any woman who can think things through.
      And so, my friends, I want to tell you this—                         670
      I have a way to deal with all these fears
      and bring myself relief. Some time ago,
      an age-old monster once gave me a gift,
      which I keep in a bronze urn stashed away.
      I picked it up when I was still a girl
      from the blood of shaggy chested Nessus,
      as he was dying. He was a centaur,
      who for a fee would hold men in his arms
      and take them through the raging waters
      of the Evenus, without oars or sails                                       680     [560]
      to help him ferry them across the stream.(21)
      He carried me, as well, up on his shoulders,
      when I was first a bride and my father
      had sent me off to follow Herakles.
      When we reached the middle of the river,
      Nessus’ carnal hands began to grope me.
      I screamed, and in an instant Zeus’s son
      turned round and shot a feathered arrow
      whistling through his chest, deep into his lungs.
      As he was dying, Nessus said these words:                           690

            “Daughter of old man Oeneus, listen.                                     [570]
            If you follow what I say, then this trip
            will serve you well. You are the very last
            I will ever take across this river.
            With your own hands wipe up the clotted blood
            around my wound, where that monstrous creature,
            the Lernean Hydra, soaked the arrow
            in its black bile. With that you will possess
            a charm to win the heart of Herakles,
            so he will never look at any woman                                  700
            and love her more than he loves you.”(22)

                                                               My friends,
      I thought about this potion, which I kept,
      after Nessus died, locked away at home,
      and I have just now smeared this garment with it,                       [580]
      obeying everything that Nessus said
      while he was still alive. Now I’ve finished.
      I pray I’m never capable of acting
      in vicious ways—I hope I never learn
      such wicked things, for I hate those women
      who dare to practise such malicious crimes.                         710
      But if this love potion somehow helps me
      prevail against the girl and if its charms
      do work on Herakles, then I am ready—
      unless you think my plan is much too rash.
      If that’s the case, then I will end this.(23)

      No, no. If there’s any reason to believe
      this charm will work, as far as we’re concerned
      what you’re proposing is not wrong at all.

      I have faith in it—it should be all right.                                        [590]
      But I can’t be certain until I try.                                             720

      To find that out you have to act. If not,
      if you don’t try, you never know for sure.

      We’ll find out soon enough—I see the herald
      already at the door. It won’t be long
      before he’s on his way. But please make sure
      this robe remains a closely guarded secret.
      For if our shameful acts take place in darkness,
      we will never fall and be dishonoured.

[Enter Lichas from the house.]

      Tell me your instructions, child of Oeneus.
      I have stayed here far too long already.                                 730

      While you’ve been inside talking to the women,
      Lichas, I’ve been preparing something for you.                            [600]
      Take this long woven robe—a gift I made
      with my own hands—to my absent husband.
      Give it to him, and tell him not to let
      any other person wear it before he does
      and not to expose it to the sunlight
      or to altar fires or a blazing hearth,
      until he stands there visible to all,
      displaying the robe in public to the gods,                             740
      on a day when sacred bulls are slaughtered.
      For that is what I vowed: if I ever saw                                            [610]
      or heard that he was safe and coming home,
      it was my duty to dress him in this robe
      and show him to the gods as a new man
      in fresh clothes offering them sacrifice.
      You will take the token stamped in this seal,
      which he will recognize quite easily.(24)
      Now go. And, above all, follow the rule—
      messengers should never seek to carry out                           750
      more than they are told—and then, beyond that,
      make sure you earn my thanks as well as his,
      and win yourself a double gratitude.

      If as a messenger I have any skill                                                   [620]
      practising the art of herald Hermes,
      I will not fail to do what you have asked.
      I will take this casket and give it to him
      just as it is, and to this gift I will add
      assurances explaining why you sent it.

      You may leave now, for you have a good grasp                     760
      of how things stand with us here in this house.

      I understand. I’ll tell him all is well.

      And you also know how I received her—
      that foreign girl—because you witnessed it.
      I welcomed her as if she were a friend.

      I did, and the sight struck my heart with joy.

      What else is there to tell? For I’m afraid                                       [630]
      it is too soon to speak of my desire,
      until I know if he desires me too.

[Lichas leaves in a direction away from the house. Deianeira goes into the house.]

      O you who live beside the thermal springs                           770
      between the harbour and the rocky cliffs
      near Oeta’s mountain and all those of you
      along the Malian gulf’s most inner shores
      and headland rocks of holy Artemis,
      the archer goddess with the golden bow,
      there by the gateway of Thermopylae,
      the famous meeting place of all the Greeks,
      for you the lovely music of the flute                                              [640]
      will soon resound—not harsh or piercing notes,
      but lyric melodies and sacred sounds.(25)                             780
      For Zeus’s son—the child Alcmene bore—
      is hurrying home and bringing with him
      trophies his matchless excellence has won.
      We thought he was completely lost to us
      somewhere at sea. We waited twelve long months.
      There was no news. Meanwhile his loving wife,                           [650]
      her sad heart full of grief, always in tears,
      kept yearning for him. Now angry Ares
      has released her from her days of sorrow.(26)
      Let him come without delay. O let him come!                      790
      May the ship with many oars that carries him
      keep sailing on until he reaches us,
      leaving far behind the island altars,
      where people say he offers sacrifice.
      And from that place, I pray he reaches here                                 [660]
      filled with new desire for loving union,
      won over by the charm rubbed in his robe.

[Deianeira enters from the house.]

      My friends, all those things I was just doing—
      I’m afraid I’ve gone too far!

                                         What’s the matter,
      Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus?                                            800

      I’m not sure. But I’m desperately worried.
      Though I was hoping I would make things better,
      I may have made a terrible mistake—
      that’s how it will look.

                                    Is this about the gift,
      that robe you sent to Herakles?

      We should never urge people to act rashly
      when we are not sure of what will happen.                                  [670]

      If you can, tell us why you are afraid.

      My friends, I’ve just witnessed an amazing sight!
      You will be dumbfounded when I tell you.                           810
      A white tuft of wool from a sheep’s fleece,
      the one I used just now to smear the potion
      on the ceremonial robe, has vanished!
      Nothing in the house made it disappear—
      no, it devoured itself—it dissolved away
      and crumbled into powder on a stone!
      But for you to understand what happened,
      I will have to give you all the details.
      I was careful to carry out each step                                              [680]
      the ferocious centaur whispered to me                                 820
      as he lay dying from the arrow wound
      deep in his side—they were etched in my mind,
      like words inscribed indelibly in bronze.
      I followed his instructions to the letter.
      I was to keep the ointment stored away,
      never near a fire or the sun’s warm rays,
      until the time I wished to rub it on.
      That’s what I did. A little while ago,
      when that moment came, I smeared the ointment
      on the robe. I did that inside the house,                               830
      in secret. I used a piece of soft wool                                             [690]
      pulled from one of our own sheep. After that,
      I folded up my present and placed it
      in that empty casket, out of the sun,
      as you all saw. But when I went back in,
      I noticed something I simply can’t explain,
      a sight no human mind can comprehend.
      By chance I somehow threw that bit of wool
      I took to smear the robe into a place
      where it lay uncovered in the sunshine.                                840
      As the tuft grew hot, it shrivelled away
      and crumbled into powder on the floor.
      It looked just like those particles of wood
      a saw produces as it cuts through timber.                                    [700]
      It’s still there, where it fell. And from that spot,
      from the earth where it now lies, clotted foam
      bubbles up, like the rich blue juice of grapes
      from vines of Bacchus poured out on the ground.
      Now I’m feeling dreadful. I have no idea
      how I sort this out. All I know is this—                                 850
      what I’ve done will end in a disaster.
      What reason did that monstrous centaur have?
      Why, as he lay dying, did he show me
      so much sympathy, when I was the one
      who brought about his death? No, that’s not it.
      He was tricking me—he wanted to destroy
      the one whose weapon killed him. Now I see.                              [710]
      The knowledge comes too late. It cannot help.
      Unless I am quite wrong in what I think,
      then I alone—by some ill-fated chance—                             860
      will be the one who utterly destroys him.
      I know the arrow that brought down Nessus
      could harm even a god, as it did Cheiron,
      and slaughter any animal it touched.(27)
      That same dark poisoned juice was in the blood
      oozing from the fatal wound in Nessus.
      How will it not kill Herakles as well?
      I think it must. But if he is to die,
      I am resolved that I will die with him
      and share the moment he is swept away.                              870    [720]
      No noble woman who respects her birth
      can bear her life once she has been disgraced.

      When dreadful things occur, we all must fear,
      but before we know how these events turn out,
      we must not give up hope.

                                                                  There is no hope,
      not when one makes such poorly thought-out plans.
      We have no reason to believe this will end well.

      But men repress the anger in their hearts
      for those who make mistakes by accident.
      That’s how things stand with you.

                                                          No woman                           880
      whose actions have ended in disaster
      would say those words—a woman who could
      has never known real sorrow in her home.                                   [730]

      The best thing for you now is to keep quiet,
      unless you wish to talk to your own son.
      He left to find his father. Now he’s back.

[Enter Hyllus.]

      Mother, as far as you’re concerned, I wish
      one of the following three things was true—
      that you were dead, or, if you’re still alive,
      that you were mother to some other man,                            890
      or else that you could somehow trade that heart
      you now possess for something better.

      What is it, my son? What could I have done
      to make you hate me so?

                                                      You want to know?
      I’ll tell you. Today you killed your husband—
      my father!                                                                                       [740]

                                My son, what are you saying?

      I’m telling you the truth—what really happened.
      No one can erase what he has witnessed.

      What do you mean, Hyllus? Who told you this?
      Why do you charge me with this awful crime?                     900

      I did not hear of it from someone else.
      I saw my father’s desperate agony
      with my own eyes.

                             Where did you find your father?
      Where did you join him?

                                                             If you have to know,
      then I should tell you everything that happened.
      Once Herakles had ravaged Oechalia,                                           [750]
      Eurytus’s splendid city, he left,
      taking, as trophies of his victory,
      the choicest spoils of war. In Euboea,
      on Cape Cenaeum, a promontory                                          910
      washed on both sides by the sea, he set up
      altars and groves sacred to father Zeus.
      That’s where I first saw him. I was overjoyed.
      He was about to start a splendid sacrifice,
      when Lichas arrived, his personal herald,
      bringing with him that gift of yours from home,
      a deadly robe. My father put it on,
      as you instructed, and began the rite
      by offering up his finest plunder,
      twelve flawless bulls. Many different victims,                       920    [760]
      a hundred sacrificial beasts in all,
      were led up to that altar. At the start,
      my poor ill-fated father was relaxed,
      as he prayed with a serene heart, happy
      to be wearing that ceremonial robe.
      But once the blood-red flames began to blaze
      above the sacred offerings and sizzling wood,
      his skin began to sweat, and the garment
      stuck against his sides, as if some craftsman
      had plastered it with glue to every joint.                               930
      Spasms of biting pain attacked his bones,
      and then the poison, like lethal venom                                         [770]
      from some vile snake, started to consume him.
      At that point he called for wretched Lichas,
      who was not in any way at all to blame
      for this evil act of yours, asking him
      what treasonous plot he was engaged in
      when he brought the robe. Poor hapless Lichas,
      quite ignorant of what was happening,
      told Herakles he had delivered your gift                              940
      exactly as it was when he received it.
      When Herakles heard this, a piercing spasm
      attacked his lungs. He seized hold of Lichas
      by the ankle and threw him out to sea,                                        [780]
      onto a surf-washed rock, smashing his skull  
      to fragments, and the white stuff in his brain
      oozed out through his hair. When the gathered crowd
      saw my father in such a frantic state
      and Lichas lying dead, they howled with grief.
      No one wanted to get close to Herakles,                              950
      for he was having a convulsive fit,
      rolling on the ground, leaping in the air,
      yelling and screaming, and all around him
      the cries re-echoed from high mountain cliffs
      in Locris and the headlands in Euboea.
      When he grew weary from hurling himself
      down on the earth over and over again                                        [790]
      in agony and from his howls of pain
      he started cursing his ill-suited marriage
      to a woman like you, a worthless wife,                                  960
      a union encouraged by Oeneus,
      where, by winning you, he ruined his life.
      Then in the middle of the altar smoke
      enveloping him, he raised his maddened eyes
      and saw me in the crowd. I was weeping.
      He stared at me and then cried out:

                                                                   “My son,
            come over here. Don’t run away from me
            when I’m in trouble, even if that means
            you have to die with me. Come, lift me up.
            What matters now is to get me away                               970
            to a place no mortal man can see me.                                     [800]
            If you feel any sympathy at all,
            at least take me as quickly as you can
            to somewhere else, so I don’t die here.”

      One he had given me these instructions,
      we placed him on board ship and carried him
      to Trachis, convulsed with pain and groaning.
      It was an agonizing trip.(28) You’ll see him
      soon enough—though I have no idea
      if he is still alive or has just died.                                           980     
      And that, mother, is what makes you guilty—
      the plans you made and later carried out
      against my father. May avenging Justice
      and the Furies see that you are punished!
      I pray for that, if such a prayer is just.
      It must be, for to me you have thrown aside                                [810]
      all sense of what is right by murdering
      the finest man of all those on this earth,
      whose equal you will never see again.

[Deianeira moves silently towards the palace door.]

CHORUS [to Deianeira as she is about to enter the house]
      You are leaving without saying a word?                                 990
      Surely you know that by staying silent
      you will be pleading your accuser’s case?

[Deianeira goes into the palace.]

      Let her go. And let the fair winds blow her
      somewhere far away, where I no longer
      have to look at her. Why dignify her
      with the name of “mother”? What she has done
      reveals that she is nothing like a mother.
      Let her go. Good riddance! I hope she finds
      the happiness she has given my father.                                        [820]

[Hyllus exits away from the palace.]

      My friends, see how suddenly the words                               1000
      uttered by that oracle so long ago
      reveal themselves to us—for they foretold
      that after all the months had passed that fill
      the time it takes to have twelve harvest seasons,
      the labours of the son of Zeus would end.
      And now those words are surely being fulfilled.
      For once a man no longer sees the light,
      how can he ever toil in slavery again?                                            [830]

      And if the centaur’s murderous deceit
      infects his sides and he is now held tight                             1010
      in a venomous net that sticks to him,
      whose poison Death itself engendered
      and a glittering serpent nursed, then how,
      when the fearful hydra has him in its grip,
      will he survive to see another sunrise?
      The treacherous words of black-haired Nessus
      prepared the fatal whips tormenting him,
      leaving him confused, writhing in pain,
      and his body blistering from poison.                                            [840]

      His poor wife did not foresee such evil.                                 1020
      She only had a sense that his new marriage
      would quickly cause distress inside her home.
      And so she acted, following advice
      a stranger at that fatal meeting gave.
      Because of that she now groans in despair
      and sheds thick tears like softly falling dew.
      The coming doom brought on by that deceit                              [850]
      is heralding a catastrophic fall.

      A river of our tears has broken out,
      as the poison spreads. Alas, this sickness                             1030
      rouses our pity for splendid Herakles,
      more so than any other hardship
      his enemies have ever made him suffer.
      O you, the dark head of the battle spear
      fighting in the foremost ranks, how swiftly
      in earlier days your warlike spirit
      led your bride from Oechalia’s heights!
      But Cyprian goddess Aphrodite,
      working in silence, has clearly been                                              [860]
      the one who brought this to fruition.                                    1040

[There is a cry from within the palace.]

      Is my imagination tricking me,
      or did I just hear someone shouting out
      inside the house? What’s going on in there?

      The sound was clear enough—a cry of grief.
      Some new calamity has struck this house.

[The Nurse comes through the doors of the palace.]

      The old woman is coming out to us.
      Look at that frown on her. She seems strange.
      She has some news for us.(29)                                                        [870]

                                                               O my children,
      that gift has brought us nothing but disaster—
      the one she sent to Herakles.

                                                                    Tell us,                       1050
      old woman. What’s happened now?

                                                         She’s gone.
      Deianeira has left on her last journey,
      without a single step away from home.

      You mean to tell us she is dead?

      That’s what I said.

                               What? The lady’s dead?

      I’ve already told you twice.

                                          Poor doomed lady!
      Can you tell us how she died?

                                                        It was cruel—
      the most pathetic way to die.

                                            Tell us, woman.
      Describe what happened.

                                          She took her life.

      What passionate madness drove her to it,                            1060
      like the sharp point on a murderous spear?
      One death after another—how could she
      plan and carry this out all by herself?

      With a grim blow from an iron sword.

      You poor fool! Did you see what happened?

      Yes, I saw. I was standing close to her.

      What happened? How did she do it? Tell me.                              [890]

      She chose to kill herself by her own hand.

      What are you saying?

                                   I’m telling you the truth.

      The new bride Iole has given birth—                                     1070
      she has delivered her first-born child,
      a mighty spirit of vengeance in the house.

      That’s true. If you’d been there and witnessed
      how she did it, you’d pity her much more.

      And could a woman’s hand dare such an act?

      Indeed it could—and it was horrible.
      I’ll describe it, and then you can confirm
      if what I say is true. She was alone
      when she came in the house and saw her son                              [900]
      getting a stretcher ready in the courtyard,                            1080
      so he could go back and rejoin his father.
      She hid where no one else could see her,
      and lying down before the family altars,
      she moaned that they were being abandoned.
      When poor Deianeira touched anything
      familiar to her from habitual use,
      she wept, and, as she wandered aimlessly
      here and there throughout the house, if she glimpsed
      one of her cherished personal attendants,
      she cried aloud with sorrow at the sight,                              1090
      lamenting her own fate and the future                                         [910]
      of her children in a shattered household.(30)
      Then she stopped, and I saw her suddenly
      rush in the bedroom where her husband sleeps.
      I hid where I could secretly observe her.
      I watched the woman spreading coverlets
      on Herakles’ bed. Once she had finished,
      she climbed up on the bed and sat there,
      in the middle, burst into tears, and cried,

            “Ah, my marriage bed and bridal chamber,                     1100   [920]
            farewell—now and forever. Never again
            will you welcome me as Herakles’ wife
            beneath these covers.”

                                         After she said this, her hand
      with an urgent motion unpinned her dress
      where the brooch of beaten gold was fastened
      just above her breast. Then she uncovered
      her entire left side and arm. I ran off
      with all the strength I had and warned her son
      of what his mother was about to do.
      But by the time the two of us returned,                                1110
      we found her dead. We saw that she had forced                          [930]
      a two-edged sword into her side and heart.
      Her son screamed out when he caught sight of her,
      for the poor lad realized his anger
      had driven her to it. He’d learned too late
      from servants in the house that what she did
      in carrying out what Nessus told her
      was done in ignorance. Hyllus collapsed,
      stunned with grief. He could not stop weeping,
      moaning over her, covering her with kisses.                         1120
      He lay down right beside her, whimpering
      he was the one who’d falsely charged her                                    [940]
      with horrendous crimes. He was crying,
      because he would now become an orphan
      and have to live without her and his father.
      That’s how this has ended. So any man
      who reckons on tomorrow or on days to come
      is foolish. For there is no tomorrow,
      until today has safely come and gone.

[Nurse exits into the house.]

      Which calamity do I weep for first?                                       1130
      For which one do I feel more pity?
      I do not know, for all I feel is grief.
      The one death we have seen here in our home,                            [950]
      the other we are waiting for with dread.
      To see it and to wait feel much the same.
      O how I wish some strong and favouring wind
      might rise up in my home and carry me
      far from this place. Let me not die from fear                                [960]
      at the mere sight of Zeus’s mighty son.
      For people say that he is coming home                                 1140
      in agony for which there is no cure—
      a fearful wonder no words can describe.

[A group carrying Herakles appears, moving slowly towards the house. The group is led by an Old Man.]

      The man I was lamenting earlier,
      like a shrill nightingale, is drawing near
      in a strange looking group of foreigners.
      How are they carrying great Herakles?
      They are moving slowly and in silence,
      as if they are in mourning for a friend.
      They bear him here, and no one says a word.
      What should I think? Is he asleep or dead?                           1150   [970]

[Hyllus enters from the house and moves up to meet the group carrying Herakles.]

      Alas, father, I feel so sad for you.
      And what is to become of me?
      What should I do?

OLD MAN [pulling Hyllus aside]
                              My child, do not talk to him,
      in case you reawake the savage pain
      that makes him furious. He is alive,
      but only just. Bite your tongue in silence.

      What are you saying, old man? Is he alive?

      Do not wake him up when he is sleeping!
      My boy, you’ll just provoke his brutal illness,
      which comes and goes. Do not bring it back!                        1160   [980]

      But I find this suffering unbearable!
      My heart’s on fire!

HERAKLES [waking up]
                                       O Zeus, what land is this?
      Who are these people standing round me,
      as I lie here in never-ending pain?
      Aaaaiii, that hurts! The monster bites again!

      Did I not tell you it would be better
      to stay silent? You’ve chased his sleep away!
      His eyes and mind have woken up.                                               [990]

                                                    I cannot stand it
      when I see him tortured in this way.

      O Cenaea, where I built my altars,                                         1170
      have the offerings I made there earned
      this harsh reward? O Zeus! In what torments
      you have placed me, such agonizing pain.
      In this miserable state, how I wish
      these eyes of mine had never seen you,
      had never sensed this flowering madness
      which no spell can relieve. What magician,                                  [1000]
      what skillful healer, other than lord Zeus,
      can charm away this lethal pestilence?
      If only I could see someone like that,                                     1180
      and he could work some far-fetched miracle!

[Hyllus and the Old Man try to ease Herakles’s pain by adjusting his position on the stretcher.]

      O let me be! Leave me to my death pains!
      My final sleep! Why are you touching me?
      Where are you moving me? You’re killing me!
      Just killing me! The pain was slumbering,
      and now you’ve woken it once more! Aaaaiiii!
      It’s seizing me and creeping up again!                                          [1010]
      You men, you most unrighteous of all Greeks,
      where are you from? I spent a weary life
      in forests and at sea helping the Greeks                                1190
      by ridding them of monsters, and now,
      when I’m in agony from this disease,
      will no one help me with his sword or fire?
      Aaaaaiiii! Is no one willing to come here
      and, with a single blow, slice off the head
      from this accursed body? Alas! Alas!

OLD MAN [giving up trying to reposition Herakles]
      Son of Herakles, I cannot manage this.
      I am not strong enough. You must shift him.
      You have more strength to help him than I do.

      I’m holding him, but nothing I can do,                                 1200   [1020]
      with or without other people’s help,
      will give me what I need to free his life
      from dreadful pain. Zeus has so decreed.

      My boy, where are you? Come, grab hold of me
      and lift me up. Aaaaiii! Aaaaiii! O god!
      This savage illness is flaring up again—
      nothing anyone can do will stop it.
      It’s leaping up and ripping me to pieces!                                      [1030]
      O Pallas, Pallas—I’m being tortured!(31)
      My boy, show your father some compassion.                       1210
      Pull out that sword of yours and strike me here,
      under my collar bone. No one will blame you.
      Heal this pain, which your perfidious mother
      has used to drive me mad. I only hope
      I see her die like this—in the same way
      she’s murdered me. O gentle Hades,                                            [1040]
      brother of Zeus, let me rest and sleep.
      Let swift-winged death do away with me
      and bring my life of suffering to an end.

      My friends, it makes me shudder when I hear                      1220
      how much our lord is suffering. A man like him
      faced with such misfortune!

                                                 My hands and shoulders
      have had to cope with many dangerous tasks,
      where pain was real, not some made-up story,
      but Zeus’s wife and vicious Eurystheus
      never placed a grievous burden on me
      worse than the one now fastened to my back
      by that false-eyed girl, Oeneus’ daughter,                                    [1050]
      this clinging net woven by the Furies
      in which I’m dying. Pasted to my ribs,                                  1230
      it eats away my flesh, and settling down
      deep in my lungs it chokes my windpipe.
      It has already sucked my warm fresh blood
      and wasted my whole body, binding me
      in chains so harsh they cannot be described.
      No battle spearman, no armed companies
      of earth-born Giants, no savage creatures,
      no part of Greece or any foreign place,                                         [1060]
      nor any of those lands I came to cleanse
      could ever do a thing like this to me.(32)                                1240
      But now a woman, a feeble woman,
      whose nature is not masculine at all,
      has overpowered me all by herself.
      She did not even use a sword! My boy,
      it’s time you showed you are my true-born son,
      a child who does not hold your mother’s name
      in greater honour than your father’s. Bring her
      from the house—escort her personally—
      and hand her to me, so I can clearly see
      whether you grieve more to view my body                            1250
      tortured in this way or to look at hers
      when she receives the punishment she’s earned.
      Go now, my son. Be firm. And pity me.                                         [1070]
      To many I’ve become an abject thing,
      moaning and weeping like a virgin girl,
      a sight no man has ever seen before.
      In earlier days, when I was in distress,
      I never cried, but in this wretched state
      I find I’ve now become a whining woman.
      Come here and stand beside your father.                              1260
      See how much this poison makes me suffer.
      I’ll take this covering off and show you.
      Look! Inspect this mutilated body—
      all of you! See how wretched I am now,                                        [1080]
      how pitiful. Aaaaiiii! I can’t endure it!
      Another crippling spasm is scalding me,
      slicing through my ribs, and I must grapple
      with this ravenous pestilence once more,
      as it consumes me. O lord Hades, take me!
      O thunderbolt of Zeus, strike me! My lord,                           1270
      my father, hurl down your fire on my head!
      Let lightning strike! This plague devours me.
      Its scorching flame has broken out again!
      O you hands of mine, you hands and shoulders,
      chest, and lovely arms. These are the same arms                         [1090]
      whose power overwhelmed that creature
      that terrorized all herdsmen in Nemea,
      a savage lion no man would approach
      or dare confront. You triumphed in that fight
      with the Lernaean Hydra and held off                                  1280
      that vicious, insolent, and lawless horde
      of wild beasts with a double form, who move
      like horses and whose strength is unsurpassed.
      You overcame the Erymanthian boar,
      captured the three-headed whelp of Hades,
      fierce Echidna’s child, a monstrous hound
      no man could defeat, and killed that serpent
      in the remotest corner of the world                                               [1100]
      guarding the golden fruit.(33) I have endured
      these hardships and a thousand other trials.                        1290
      No one has ever been declared the winner
      in any fight against these hands of mine.
      But now in this miserable condition,
      my arms and legs have lost their strength,
      and my body has been torn to pieces,
      ravaged by destruction no one can see!
      I, who, according to what people say,
      was born from the very noblest mother.
      I, who am called a son of starry Zeus.
      But there is one thing you can be sure of—                          1300
      although I cannot move and may be nothing,
      the woman who has brought all this about
      will feel the strength I still have in my hands.
      Just let her come out here. She’ll soon learn                                 [1110]
      and let all people know that that in my death,
      as in my life, I made the guilty pay.

      Ah, poor Greece! I see so much misfortune
      looming up for you, if you lose this man.

      Father, your pause now prompts me to speak up.
      Please listen to me, even though you’re ill,                            1310
      for I’m appealing to your sense of justice.
      Hear what I have to say. Do not react
      with that quick rage which gnaws upon your heart.
      If you grow too enraged, you’ll never see
      that in this situation your resentment
      and the joy you seek taking your revenge
      are out of place.

                                  Say what it is you want                                      [1120]
      and then be quiet. I am far too sick
      to grasp what you are chattering about.

      I’m here to talk to you about my mother—                           1320
      where she is now and how by accident
      she made a terrible mistake.

                                                                   You traitor!
      You mentioned her again and in my presence—
      that mother of yours who killed your father!

      Yes. What’s happened makes it unacceptable
      for me to hold my tongue.

                                      To hold your tongue
      would be completely unacceptable,
      considering the evil she has done.

      Once you have learned what she has done today,
      you will not talk like that.

                                                     Then speak up.                        1330
      But be careful you do not betray me.

      I will speak. She is dead. She has just been killed.                        [1130]

      Who killed her? That is astounding! But still,
      it is not right that she was slain by someone else.

      She killed herself. There was no ‘someone else.’

      Ah no! Before my hands could slaughter her,
      as she deserves.

                                                     If you heard her story,
      that overwhelming rage you feel would change.

      A strange thing to say as you begin to speak!
      Tell me what you mean.

                                                              The truth is this—          1340
      she made a great mistake, but she meant well.

      Traitor! She killed your father! Was that good?

      When she saw your new wife in her home,
      she thought she ought to try to win you back
      by applying a love charm. But she failed.

      And who in Trachis deals in charms like that?                             [1140]

      The centaur Nessus told her long ago
      the potion would rekindle your desire.

      Ah, then this is the end. Alas for me,
      a miserable wretch now at death’s door.                               1350
      I can no longer see the light of day.
      It is my time to die. At last I see
      how matters stand with me. My son, go now—
      for your father is no longer with you.
      Go summon your entire family here,
      including my poor mother, Alcmene,
      whose love affair with Zeus was all in vain,
      so all of you can hear before I die
      what I have learned from holy oracles.                                          [1150]

      Your mother is not here. She moved away                            1360
      to Tiryns by the sea. Some of your children
      have been taken there for her to raise,
      and others, you will learn, now live in Thebes.
      But those of us still here with you, father,
      will do what must be done, at your command.

      Then listen to the work you have to do.
      You are called my son, and the time has come
      for you to show the kind of man you are.
      Years ago my father made this prophecy—
      no creature still alive and breathing air                                 1370
      would ever kill me. No. My death would come                              [1160]
      from someone dead, already down in Hades.
      And now this savage centaur, although dead,
      has robbed me of my life, as Zeus foretold.
      I will explain to you how later oracles
      support the earlier one and thus confirm
      the ancient utterance. I wrote them down
      in the sacred precincts of the Selli,
      hill-dwellers who still sleep upon the ground.
      There my father’s oak tree, which prophesies                       1380
      through many different tongues, revealed to me
      that when the day arrived which has now come
      I would be released from all the labours                                       [1170]
      life had laid upon me, and I believed
      this meant I would enjoy a peaceful life.(34)
      But I can see it only meant that I would die,
      for the dead no longer face a life of toil.
      Now, my boy, since these words are coming true,
      you must be my ally and stand with me.
      Don’t hesitate—you’ll just provoke my rage.                         1390
      Agree to work with me, like a good child
      who has discovered the most important rule—
      when fathers speak, their sons must all obey.

      Yes, father. At this point in our discussion,
      I have some serious concerns, but still,
      I will be guided by what you think best.                                       [1180]

      Then to begin with, set your right hand in mine.

      Why? What promise do you want from me?
      What are you urging me to do?

                                                  Give me your hand,
      and do not disobey.

                                             Here is my hand.                              1400
      I will not deny you anything you ask.

      Now swear by the head of Zeus, my father.

      To do what? Can you tell me what it is?

      To carry out the task I will assign you.

      I swear it—may lord Zeus be my witness.

      Now pray that if you fail to keep this oath
      then you may suffer some calamity.

      That will not happen, since I’ll keep my oath.                              [1190]
      But I will make that prayer.

                                                       All right then.
      You know the highest point on Oeta,                                   1410
      Zeus’s sacred mountain?

                                              I know it well.
      I’ve often stood up there to sacrifice.

      With your own hands you must raise my body
      and carry it up there, helped by your friends,
      as many as you want. Once in that place,
      chop down several trees—deep rooted oaks
      and tough wild olives—for a funeral pyre.
      Place my body there, and with a pine torch
      set the pyre alight. Do not mourn or weep.
      If you are indeed my son, do not lament.                              1420
      Shed no tears. If you do cry, my anger                                          [1200]
      and my curse will weigh you down forever,
      even though I will be dead.

                                                             But father,
      think about what you are asking of me!
      Is this the kind of task you’d have me do?

      I’ve told you what you need to carry out.
      If you refuse, then find another father,
      and no longer call yourself my son.

      No, no, father. This is too much to ask—
      to murder you and thus pollute myself                                 1430
      by killing my own blood.

                                                 That’s not the issue.
      You will be curing my disease—you alone
      will be the healer dealing with my pain.

      If I burn your body, will that cure it?                                            [1210]

      If that’s what you fear, at least do all the rest.

      I won’t refuse to carry you up there.

      Will you make the pyre, as I requested?

      I’ll construct the pyre. But these hands of mine
      will not light the fire. I won’t let you down.
      I’ll do all the other tasks you mention.                                  1440

      All right. That will be sufficient. And now,
      as a favour to me, one small request,
      to add to these important ones.

                                                               I’ll do it—
      no matter how difficult the task may be.

      You know the daughter of king Eurytus?

      The girl Iole? Is that the one you mean?                                       [1220]

      Yes, she’s the one. I’m asking you, my son,
      if you desire to treat me as you should
      once I am dead, remember what you swore,
      the oath you made your father, and marry her—                 1450
      make her your wife. Do not deny your father.
      No other man but you must ever have her,
      this woman who has lain in bed beside me.
      No. You, my son, must undertake this marriage.
      Do as I command. The gratitude I feel
      for the great favours you have done for me
      will disappear, if in minor matters
      you do not later treat me with respect.

      It would be wrong for me to lose my temper                                [1230]
      when you’re so ill, but how could anyone                             1460
      endure to hear you saying things like that?

      You do not mean to do what I have asked?
      That’s what your words suggest.

                                           How on earth could I?
      She alone is guilty of my mother’s death!
      And she’s to blame for what’s going on with you!
      What man would ever choose to marry her,
      unless some demon spirits of revenge
      infected him? O father, I would prefer
      to perish rather than to share my life
      with those I most detest.

                                                          It seems to me                     1470
      you are unwilling to respect my wishes,
      even when I’m dying. If you disobey,
      the curses of the gods will lie in wait.                                             [1240]

      I think you are about to show me
      how suffering is driving you insane.

      Yes, for you are now provoking the disease
      that sleeps inside me.

                                            This is all too much!
      I feel so torn! I don’t know what to do!

      That’s because you don’t believe it’s right
      to obey the father who produced you.                                  1480

      But father, are you not instructing me
      to disrespect the gods?

                                                There’s no disrespect,
      if what you do brings pleasure to my heart.

      When you order me to marry Iole
      do you consider such an action just?

      I do—and I call the gods as witnesses.

      Then I will not refuse—but I pray the gods
      will witness what you’re telling me to do,                                  [1250]
      so I can never be condemned as evil
      for doing what my father asked of me.                                  1490

      You’ve reached the right conclusion. Now hurry,
      my boy, to perform that favour—place me
      on my funeral pyre before the pain returns
      to contort my body and torment me.
      Come on all of you—lift me now. Hurry!
      This is indeed a rest from all my troubles—
      the final end of mortal Herakles.

[The group of people around Herakles approach his bed and prepare to lift him.]

      Nothing will interrupt this task, father.
      Our duty is to follow your commands.

      Come on then, before you wake my sickness.                       1500
      O my unyielding soul, give me a steel clamp                             [1260]
      to force my lips together like two stones
      and stifle any cries, for your task delights me,
      though you are doing it against your will.

      You who are coming with me, raise him up,
      and grant me your forgiveness for what I do,
      acknowledging in these events how gods
      can be so cruel. They bring forth children
      and are called their fathers, yet they can watch
      those children suffer in this way. No one                              1510
      can see the future. What’s happening now                                [1270]
      for us is full of sorrow and for gods above
      a source of shame, but for the mortal man
      who has to bear this dreadful suffering
      these moments are the harshest fate of all.

[Hyllus addresses the Chorus.]

      You young girls of Trachis, do not stay here
      beside the palace. You all have witnessed
      strange and calamitous death, much sorrow,
      and suffering no one has known before—
      but in this there is nothing that is not Zeus.(35)                    1520

[The Chorus moves away, followed by the procession carrying Herakles]





Herakles died on the funeral pyre, as he had demanded. The fire was lit by Philoctetes, a warrior leader. For this service Philoctetes was awarded Herakles’s bow and poisoned arrows. Hyllus married Iole and they had two children. In some traditional accounts, Hyllus later avenged his father by killing Eurystheus.




(1) Note that the speeches assigned to the Chorus include those spoken by the Chorus Leader, by part of the Chorus, by a single member of the Chorus, and by all of the Chorus, as a director of a production will determine. [Back to Text]

(2) Trachis is a town just north of Delphi, near Thermopylae. It was renamed Heraklea Trachinia in 426 BC. [Back to Text]

(3) Achelöus is pronounced as four syllables: Ach-el-o-us, hence the dieresis over the o. [Back to Text]

(4) The Chorus offers some details of the fight between Achelöus and Herakles below at 622 ff. The Roman poet Ovid provides a long account of the struggle (as described by Achelöus) in Metamorphoses (Book 9, lines 1 ff.). [Back to Text]

(5) The phrase “that man” is a reference to Eurystheus, for whom Herakles had to perform the twelve labours. [Back to Text]

(6) The stranger who has provided a home for Herakles and his family is, according to the traditional stories, Ceÿx, the king of Trachis (Jebb). [Back to Text]

(7) The Lydian woman is Omphale, queen of Lydia (in Asia Minor). To atone for the murder of Iphitos, the Delphic Oracle decreed that Herakles had to work for her as hired help for a period of one year, a doubly shameful task for Herakles, because Omphale was a woman and because she was a barbarian (i.e., not Greek). [Back to Text]

(8) Euboea is a long and narrow island very close to the east coast of the Greek mainland. [Back to Text]

(9) Jebb notes that the phrase “twin continents” refers to Europe and Asia (with Africa included in the latter) and that expression means, in effect, “in the habitable world.” [Back to Text]

(10) Herakles was not literally a “son of Cadmus” or linked to the founder of Thebes in any blood relationship. Herakles’s family came from Argos. However, as a result of a family quarrel between Herakles’s mortal father, Amphitryon, and his uncle Electryon, in which the latter was killed, the family moved to Thebes, where Herakles was born. Also, as Jebb notes, youthful Herakles “had been adopted into the ‘Cadmean’ nobility of Thebes.” [Back to Text]

(11) At Zeus’s Oracle at Dodoma, prophetic signs were taken from the rustling leaves in an ancient oak tree. These were then interpreted by two priestesses called the Peleiades. [Back to Text]

(12) The Malian Gulf was about six miles from Trachis. [Back to Text]

(13) Ortygia was an island where Apollo and Artemis were born to their mother Leto (their father was Zeus). The music of the flute (the “tyrant of my heart”) was associated with ecstatic religious worship, especially in the rituals of the god Dionysus (as was ivy, his sacred plant). “Evoe” is an ecstatic cry associated with the worship of Dionysus. The ivy is probably worn by members of the chorus in their hair. Bacchus is another name for Dionysus. Paean was the name of the Greek god of healing and is sometimes used (as here) in celebrations invoking Apollo. [Back to Text]

(14) Cenaeum was a headland in Euboea where there was a temple to Zeus. [Back to Text]

(15) Zeus had ordered Hermes to take Herakles to Lydia and sell him to Omphale. This was a punishment for the murder of Iphitos. The humiliation of Herakles is obviously a potential source of shame for him and his family, but Lichas excuses his public recitation of the “shame” by informing Deianeira that Zeus is responsible for these events. [Back to Text]

(16) Jebb notes that this notion of purification may simply refer to the year Herakles spent serving Omphale (the punishment imposed by Zeus for the killing of Iphitos) or it may also include a formal ritual purification at an appropriate place. Eurytus was king of Oechalia and the father of Iphitos. In some stories about Herakles, he was ordered as part of his purification to pay compensation to Eurytus for the death of Iphitos, but Herakles’s offer was refused (another reason for his anger at Eurytus). [Back to Text]

(17) Traditional stories indicate that Herakles threw Iphitos from the top of the walls of Tiryns. Many commentators prefer the notion that he threw his victim from a cliff up on the ridge. The Greek supports either notion. Jebb (in his commentary on this line) has a useful discussion of the options. [Back to Text]

(18) In Greek mythology Eros—the god of erotic passion—was one of the original gods, a son of Chaos. Later stories make him the son of Aphrodite, goddess of sexual love (in Roman mythology he becomes Cupid). [Back to Text]

(19) The various women with whom Herakles had sons are listed by Apollodorus (2.7.8), as follows: “And he had sons by the daughters of Thespius, to wit: by Procris he had Antileon and Hippeus (for the eldest daughter bore twins); by Panope he had Threpsippas; by Lyse he had Eumedes; . . . he had Creon; by Epilais he had Astyanax; by Certhe he had Iobes; by Eurybia he had Polylaus; by Patro he had Archemachus; by Meline he had Laomedon; by Clytippe he had Eurycapys; by Eubote he had Eurypylus; by Aglaia he had Antiades; by Chryseis he had Onesippus; by Oriahe [he] had Leomenes; by Lysidice he had Teles; by Menippis he had Entelides; by Anthippe he had Hippodromus; by Eury . . . he had Teleutagoras; by Hippo he had Capylus; by Euboea he had Olympus; by Nice he had Nicodromus; by Argele he had Cleolaus; by Exole he had Erythras; by Xanthis he had Homolippus; by Stratonice he had Atromus; by Iphis he had Celeustanor; by Leothoe he had Antiphus; by Antiope he had Alopius; by Calmetis he had Astybies; by Phyleis he had Tigasis, by Aeschreis he had Leuconies; by Anthea . . . ; by Eurypyle he had Archedicus; by Erato he had Dynastes; by Asopis he had Mentor; by Eone he had Smestrius; by Tiphyse he had Lyncaeus; by Olympeusa he had Halocrates; by Heliconis he had Phalias; by Hesychia he had Oestrobles; by Terpsicrate he had Euryopes; by Elachia he had Buleus; by Nicippe he had Antimachus; by Pyrippehe [he] had Patroclus; by Praxithea he had Nephus; by Lysippe he had Erasippus; by Toxicrate he had Lycurgus; by Marse he had Bucolus; by Eurytele he had Leucippus; by Hippocrate he had Hippozygus. These he had by the daughters of Thespius. And he had sons of other women: by Deianira, daughter of Oeneus, he had Hyllus, Ctesippus, Glenus and Onites; by Megara, daughter of Creon, he had Terimachus, Deicoon, and Creontiades; by Omphale he had Agelalus, from whom the family of Croesus was descended, by Chalciope, daughter of Eurypyus, he had Thettalus; by Epicaste, daughter of Augeas, he had Thestalus; by Parthenope, daughter of Stymphalus, he had Everes; by Auge, daughter of Aleus, he had Telephus; by Astyoche, daughter of Phylas, he had Tlepolemus; by Astydamia, daughter of Amyntor, he had Ctesippus; by Autonoe, daughter of Pireus, he had Palaemon.” (Translated by J. G. Frazier at Apollodorus2.html). [Back to Text]

(20) Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon were all sons of Cronos (and thus brothers). They drew lots to determine which parts of the earth each should rule. Zeus won the sky, Hades the underworld (hence, he is “lord of darkness”), and Poseidon the sea. Poseidon is called “shaker of the earth” because he is also god of earthquakes. Each of these major deities was at some point tricked by Aphrodite into one or more erotic entanglements. [Back to Text]

(21) A centaur was a legendary creature that was part man, part horse. This combination was usually imagined in one of two different ways: (1) a human torso (with arms) and head attached to the horse at the base of the horse’s neck; (2) a human body (with legs) attached to the back two-thirds of a horse. Nessus appears here to be in the second group (according to Jebb, who calls the first group hippo-centaurs and the second group andro-centaurs). The Evenus was a river in western Greece, well-known for it dangerous current. [Back to Text]

(22) The Hydra was terrifying monster with nine heads, living in Lerna. In his second labour, Herakles had to kill the beast. He attacked the heads, but every time he smashed one, two more would grow in its place, a process which Herakles dealt with by burning the creature’s flesh as soon as he had demolished a head, thus preventing the emergence of more heads in that place. After he had killed the Hydra, Herakles dipped his arrows in its blood, in order to make them lethal. Nessus is urging Deianeira to collect the Hydra’s venom which was on Herakles’s arrow and which has now seeped into his blood around the wound. [Back to Text]

(23) Jebb points out (in his commentary on line 582) that the use of love potions was regarded suspiciously, since the results were often disastrous. Hence Deianeira’s wish to reassure the Chorus of her intentions and to secure their approval. [Back to the Text]

(24) The “token” Deianeira mentions is probably a wax seal on the box containing the robe Lichas is to take to Herakles. The imprint from her ring would be in the seal. [Back to Text]

(25) Jebb points out that meetings of the Amphictyonic Council (a religious council made up of delegates from a number of independent Greek states) were held near Thermopylae. [Back to Text]

(26) This reference to Ares presumably means that by driving Herakles to war and victory, the god of war has freed him to come home and thus relieve Deianeira’s worries. [Back to Text]

(27) Cheiron (or Chiron), a son of Cronos (father of Zeus), was the most famous and respected of all centaurs. He was a friend of Herakles, but the latter shot him accidentally with a poisoned arrow. Cheiron was divine and could not die, but he could not be cured of the excessive pain caused by the wound. Eventually, in a bargain with Zeus, Cheiron gave up his immortality in exchange for the release of Prometheus (whom Zeus had chained a rock). [Back to Text]

(28) Jebb notes that this journey would involve rowing the ship from Cape Cenaeum to a harbour near Thermopylae (a distance of about 18 miles) and then a land trip (with the sailors carrying Herakles) of about six miles to Trachis. [Back to Text]

(29) The three short speeches by Chorus Members 1, 2, and 3 are sometimes combined into a single speech spoken by the Chorus Leader. [Back to Text]

(30) The meaning of this line is obscure. The general sense is that the death of Herakles and the disgrace and death of Deianeira would destroy their family household, and all their property, including their servants, would be taken over by others. [Back to Text]

(31) Pallas is a common name for the goddess Pallas Athena. Herakles was her half-brother. As Jebb notes, Athena is frequently depicted in art and story as a guardian and comforter of Herakles. [Back to Text]

(32) The Giants were monsters born from goddess Earth. When they sought to overthrow the Olympian gods in battle, Herakles fought on the side of the Olympians. [Back to Text]

(33) In the first of his famous twelve labours (set by Eurystheus) Herakles was sent to deal with a monstrous lion that was terrorizing a city in the Peloponnese. The animal’s fur made it invulnerable to any weapon. Herakles knocked the animal out with his club and strangled it. Then he skinned the lion and from then on wore the lion’s pelt as a garment (the skin retained its invulnerable qualities). Killing the Hydra, a water monster living in lake Lerna, was the second of Herakles’s labours. The creature had numerous heads and, if one head was chopped off, two more would grow back in its place (see endnote 22 above). The wild beasts with a double form are centaurs (see endnote 21 above). Herakles had to fight a crowd of them when, while travelling to confront the Erymanthian boar, he visited the centaur Pholos. The centaurs were aroused by the smell of wine and attacked Herakles and Pholos. Herakles killed most of them. Herakles set out to capture the Erymanthian boar in his fourth labour; he tied the creature up and brought it back to Eurystheus. The “three-headed whelp of Hades” is Cerberus, a huge dog guarding the gates of the underworld, a child of the monster Echidna. In his final labour Herakles captured Cerberus and brought him back to Eurystheus, who was so terrified of the beast that he ordered Herakles to return it. In his eleventh labour, Herakles was charged with bringing back the famed golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides located where the sun sets in the evening (i.e., in the far west). The apples were a divine gift and conferred immortality. To protect the fruit, Zeus’s wife Hera had placed a serpent with a hundred heads (named Ladon) in the grove where the apples grew. Herakles killed the serpent. [Back to Text]

(34) At Zeus’s temple in Dodona, the rustling sounds in a sacred oak tree were interpreted by priestesses (see Note 11 above). The Selli were a tribe living around Dodona. The comment about their sleeping on the ground is (according to Jebb) an indication that the Selli were a very old tribe with primitive customs. [Back to Text]

(35) Jebb notes that the final lines of the play (1275-1278 in the Greek; 1526-1530 in the English) have sometimes been assigned to the Chorus (or Chorus Leader) but that “a majority of modern editors” assigns them to Hyllus. [Back to Text]




Ian Johnston is an Emeritus Professor at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia. He is the author of The Ironies of War: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad and of Essays and Arguments: A Handbook for Writing Student Essays. He also translated a number of works, including the following:

Aeschylus, Oresteia (Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides)
Aeschylus, Persians
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes
Aeschylus, Suppliant Women
Aristophanes, Birds
Aristophanes, Clouds
Aristophanes, Frogs
Aristophanes, Knights
Aristophanes, Lysistrata
Aristophanes, Peace
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Abridged)
Cuvier, Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Earth
Descartes, Discourse on Method
Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Diderot, A Conversation Between D’Alembert and Diderot
Diderot, D’Alembert’s Dream
Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew
Euripides, Bacchae
Euripides, Electra
Euripides, Hippolytus
Euripides, Medea
Euripides, Orestes
Homer, Iliad (Complete and Abridged)
Homer, Odyssey (Complete and Abridged)
Kafka, Metamorphosis
Kafka, Selected Shorter Writings
Kant, Universal History of Nature and Theory of Heaven
Kant, On Perpetual Peace
Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy, Volume I
Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
Nietzsche, On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men [Second Discourse]
Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts [First Discourse]
Rousseau, Social Contract
Sophocles, Antigone
Sophocles, Ajax
Sophocles, Electra
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Sophocles, Philoctetes
Wedekind, Castle Wetterstein
Wedekind, Marquis of Keith.

Most of these translations have been published as books or audiobooks (or both)—by Richer Resources Publications, Broadview Press, Naxos, Audible, and others.

Ian Johnston maintains a web site where texts of these translations are freely available to students, teachers, artists, and the general public. The site includes a number of Ian Johnston’s lectures on these (and other) works, handbooks, curricular materials, and essays, all freely available.

The addresses where these texts are available is as follows: