Translation and Introduction Copyright 1966 by Robert M. Torrance; all rights reserved. 

This translation of Sophocles’ The Women of Trachis (Trachiniae) was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1966 together with the Philoctetes. It is dedicated to the memory of Cedric Whitman.



Deianeira, daughter of Oeneus, wife of Heracles.


Hyllus, son of Deianeira and Heracles. 

Messenger, an old man of Trachis. 

Lichas, herald of Heracles. 

Old Man.

Heracles, son of Zeus and Alcména.

Chorus, maidens of Trachis, attendants of Deianeira.

Captive women of Oechalia, including Iole. Attendants of Heracles. 

Some other names in the text

Achelóüs, a large river in western Greece. 

Cádmus, founder of Thebes, where Heracles was born.

Cenaeum, a promontory of Euboea. 

Dodóna, an oracle of Zeus in northwestern Greece. 

Euboea, a large island opposite Tráchis. 

Éurytus, king of Oechalia and father of Iole. 

Evénus, a river between Pleuron and Trachis. 

Íphitus, son of Eurytus and brother of Iole. 

Krónos, father of Zeus. 

Lócris, a region south of Malis. 

Mális, a region in southern Thessaly. 

Néssus, a centaur. 

Oechália, a city of Euboea. 

Oeniadai, a city near the mouth of the Achelóüs.

Oeta, a mountain near Tráchis. 

Ómphale, queen of Lydia. 

Pléuron, birthplace of Deianeira, near the Achelóüs.

Tráchis, a city in Malis.

The Women of Trachis

[Scene: Trachis in front of the palace of

Heracles and Deianeira.

[Enter Deianeira and Nurse.]


There is an ancient proverb people tell 

that none can judge the life of any man 

for good or bad until that man is dead; 

but I, for my part, though I am still living, 

know well that mine is miserable and hard. 

Even while I was living with my father 

Oeneus in Pleuron I was plagued by fear 

of marriage more than any other woman.

My suitor was the river Achelóüs,


who took three forms to ask me of my father:

a rambling bull once – then a writhing snake 

of gleaming colors – then again a man 

with ox-like face: and from his beard’s dark shadows

stream upon stream of water tumbled down.

Such was my suitor. As I waited there

I prayed my agony might end in death 

before I ever shared my bed with him.

But later on, to my great joy, the glorious

child of Alcména, son of Zeus, arrived,


and joined in combat with the river god,

and freed me. How they fought I cannot say,

I do not know: for only he who saw

that sight, yet did not tremble, could describe it;

but I sat petrified with terror, lest

my beauty might bring sorrow down upon me.

Then Zeus the warrior-king brought forth good issue –

if it was good . . . for though I am the wife

of Heracles I nourish fear on fear

in my concern for him, since each night brings


a sorrow which the next night steals away.

We have had children, yet he only sees them

as migrant farmers see their distant crops:

once when they sow and once again at harvest.

Such was his life that he came home but briefly;

then left again to serve his hard taskmaster.

But now that he is free from all his labors,

now I am seized by greater dread than ever.

For since the time he slew strong Iphitus,

we have been exiled here in Trachis, living


in a strange household; and where Heracles

has gone, no one can say. I only know

the bitter pangs his going left with me.

Surely he has endured some grave misfortune;

for no small time has passed since he departed,

but fifteen months already without tidings.

It must be some misfortune – as the tablets

he left with me forewarned. How often I

have prayed to God they would not bring me grief!


Queen Deianeira, many times have I


seen you bewailing Heracles’ departure

and weeping bitter tears of lamentation.

But now, if it is proper that a slave

should teach free people, I will speak up for you: 

since you have such a multitude of children,

why not send one of them to seek your husband?

Hyllus should be the first to go, if he 

has any care about his father’s welfare. 

But here he is, running fast toward the house!

If you believe my words were spoken rightly,


now is the time to try them on your son. 

[Enter Hyllus]


My child, my son, wise sayings sometimes come 

even from humble people like this woman.

She is a slave, but what she says rings free. 


What, mother? Tell me, if it may be told. 


That, since your father has been gone so long, 

it is disgraceful for you not to seek him. 


There is no need, if what I hear is true. 


Child, has some rumor told you where he is? 


They say he spent the whole long plowing season 


working in bondage for a Lydian woman. 


If he has borne this, nothing will surprise me! 


But now, I hear, he has escaped that labor. 


Where is he living then . . . or is he dead? 


They say that he is warring – or soon will –

against Euboea, Eurytus’s city. 


Are you aware, my child, that he left with me 

sure oracles about that very land? 


What are they, mother? I know nothing of them. 


Either his days will reach their end, or else, 


when he has done this labor, he will live

all his remaining life in peace and calm.

Child, when his fate is hanging in the balance,

will you not help him? Our own safety lies

in his; for if he dies we perish with him. 


I will go, mother; and if I had known 

these prophecies I would have left much sooner. 

My father’s usual fortunes gave no cause

to fear for him or be too deeply troubled;


but now I understand, and I will not

cease till I learn the whole truth in these matters. 


Go then, my son! The man who brings good news, 

however late, will surely be rewarded. 

[Hyllus leaves. The Chorus enter.] 


[Strophe A ]


Thou whom the night brings forth, when shorn of splendor,

and lays to rest again in a burst of fire –

tell me, O Sun, I pray thee,

where, oh where is Alcména’s son residing?

Thou who searest with flaming bolts of light,


is he at sea or safe on the mainland shore?

Tell me, thou crowning eye of all the heaven.

[Antistrophe A]

She who was fought for once by mighty warriors,

Deianeira, is wasting with desire;

and, like the mournful nightingale,

she cannot cease her tearful yearnings ever,

but thinks with fear on her husband’s distant journey,


racked on her widowed couch of torment, only

waiting to see her direst dreams fulfilled.

[Strophe B]

Just as the tireless winds from the south and north

scatter the waves before them on the wide sea: 

so does the son of Cadmus’s life of travail 

whirl him round and exalt him again, 

wild as the Cretan sea;

yet always some god unerringly 


holds him back from the house of Hades.

[Antistrophe B]

I will reproach you with respect, but sternly: 

you must not waste your life away in sorrow 

hopelessly. Never has Zeus, the king of all things,

granted to mortals life without pain; 

but grief and happiness come 

to every man in his turn, 


like the circling paths of the Bear.


The gleaming splendor of the night 

will not remain with men, nor yet 

will grief, nor wealth: all pass away 

at once, and soon another man 

encounters joy and sorrow.

My Queen, I ask you ever to remember 

that this is so; for when has any man


known Zeus to be so careless of his children?


Your words show clearly that my suffering 

is known to you. Oh, may you never learn 

the heartfelt anguish you are innocent of! 

Like you, the young plant grows in sheltered regions

all by itself, and no fierce summer heat

nor any storm nor any wind prevents it 

from living peacefully a life of pleasure 

till she who was a girl becomes a woman 

and learns her share of troubles in the night,


fearful for her loved husband and her children.

By looking on her own plight, such a one

might understand the cares which burden me.

I have wept often for my many sorrows,

but now one greater than before assails me;

for when lord Heracles set forth from home

upon his latest undertaking, he

left tablets here behind, inscribed with words

which he had never deigned to tell me of

in all the previous labors he endured –


so great was his belief that he would triumph.

But this time, like a dying man, he told me

what my inheritance would be, and how

the children should divide their father’s land.

He set a time, and said that when a year

and three months had gone by since his departure,

then it was fated either that he die,

or else, if he survived, that he should live

his life thereafter free of grief and pain.

This was the fate he said the gods had destined


to end the many toils of Heracles:

this was the prophecy the ancient oak tree

spoke through Dodona’s two divining doves.

And now the moment when the oracle

ordained these things to happen has arrived;

and I have started forth from my sweet slumber

trembling with fear, my friends, to think that I

might live without this noblest of all men. 


Be silent now: I see a man approaching

whose crown of laurel signifies good tidings.

[Enter an old man of Trachis, acting as a Messenger



Queen Deianeira, I shall be the first

to free you from your fears; for I can tell you

Alcména’s son is living and has triumphed

to bring home to our gods the spoils of battle. 


What is it you are telling me, old man? 


That soon the husband whom you long for will 

come home victorious in all his might. 


What citizen – or stranger – told you this? 


Lichas the herald spoke these things to many 

in a summer pasture land; and when I heard him


I sprang away to be the first to tell you –

and, hopefully, to profit by your favor. 


If he has brought good tidings, then where is he? 


Lady, he has but little room to move.

The Malian people have surrounded him

to ask him questions, and will not let him go.

All are intent on learning what they hope for,

and will not set him free until they do.

And so, against his will, he is detained

by theirs; but soon you shall behold him here. 



O Zeus who rulest the unshorn plains of Oeta, 

after long years thou grantest us great joy!

Raise up your voices, women, in the house

and in the outer court. Come, let us reap

the unenvisioned light this message brings us.



Girls who are brides to be, come, sing in triumph 

with shouts, wild shouts of joy for our hearth and home;

and let the voices of men be one

with ours in prayer to the archer-god

Apollo, our defender! Then,


maidens, raise the paean aloft

and cry to his sister

Ortygian Artemis, wielder of torches, slayer of deer,

and the nymphs of the neighboring hills.

I am raised on high, I will not reject

the cry of the flute: thou tyrant of mind and soul!

Behold me: the ivy –

euoi! –


goads me to frenzy and whirls me

round in the strife of Bacchus! 

Io io Paean!

My lady, behold,

behold, you may clearly see these things 

are taking place before you.


I see, dear friends; my watchful eyes have not 

failed to discern this group which is approaching. 

All hail the herald, who has now returned 

at long last . . . if it is good news you bring.

[Enter the herald Lichas, followed by a group of captive women; among them,Iole]


Gladly do we arrive and gladly hear you,


lady, so fitly welcome us. The man

who prospers merits fair words in return. 


Dearest of men, first tell me what I most

desire to know: is Heracles alive? 


When I last saw him he was in full strength,

alive and flourishing and free from illness. 


Where? In his homeland or some far-off country? 


Making his offering to Cenaean Zeus

with fruitful tribute on Euboea’s shore. 


To pay a vow or fill some oracle? 



A vow made when he captured and despoiled

the country of these women whom you see. 


Who are they, tell me, and who were their parents?

I pity them – unless their plight deceives me. 


When Heracles sacked Eurytus’s city

he chose them as the gods’ prize, and his own. 


Then was it for this city he was gone

till time was meaningless and days lost number? 


No. Most of that time he was held in Lydia

as he himself declares, not free, but sold


to servitude. (This word must not offend you,

lady: Zeus was the author of the deed.)

He says he spent a year of thraldom there

slaving for the barbarian Omphale.

         So deeply was he injured by this shame,

he placed himself on oath, and swore to vanquish

the perpetrator of his suffering

and force him, with his wife and child, to slavery.

His word was kept. When he had purged himself

he raised a foreign army and advanced


on Eurytus’s city, for he said

that man alone had brought this grief upon him.

He claimed that when he first came to his house

as an old comrade, Eurytus assailed him

with many words born of an evil mind,

and told him that despite those mighty arrows

his own sons could surpass him with the bow;

yes, taunted him that he had sunk to being

a free man’s slave; and then, when drunk with wine,

he cast him out. This maddened Heracles,


and once, when he saw Iphitus approaching

the hill of Tiryns in search of his lost horses,

looking at one thing, thinking of another,

Heracles threw him from the towering peak.

But then Olympian Zeus, the universal

father of all, in anger at this deed,

did not hold back from selling him to bondage,

because he dared to kill this single man

by guile. If his revenge had been but open,

Zeus would have pardoned what he did in justice: 


like us, the gods hate reckless violence.

         So all those men, who spoke with evil tongues, 

are gone to Hades, and their city is 

enslaved. These women whom you see, once happy, 

have found a life which none will envy now, 

and come to you. This was your husband’s bidding, 

and I, his faithful servant, have performed it. 

Be certain he himself will come, when he 

has made pure offering to his father Zeus 

for his great conquest. Surely this will be, 


of all good tidings you have heard, the sweetest. 


My Queen, abundant happiness is yours!

Part is before you, and the rest is promised. 


How should I not rejoice with all my heart 

when I have learned about my lord’s good fortune? 

My pleasure and his happiness are one. 

Yet one who looks afar may even fear 

for him who prospers, lest he fall thereafter. 

And as for me, my friends, a strange compassion 

came over me when I saw these poor women 


orphaned and homeless in a foreign land. 

They too were once the daughters of free men, 

perhaps; but now they lead a life of slavery. 

O Zeus, god of reverses, may I never 

behold thee thus advance against my offspring –

or, if thou dost, let me not live to see it! 

Such is my fear on looking at these women.

         Unhappy girl, come tell me who you are:

unmarried, or a mother? Your appearance 

seems innocent of all these things, and noble. 


Lichas, whose daughter is this stranger here? 

Who is her father, and what mother bore her? 

Tell me. I pitied her most when I saw her, 

for she alone knows how to feel her hardship. 


How should I know? Why do you question me?

It seems she was not born of humble parents. 


Perhaps from kings. Did Eurytus have children? 


I do not know. My inquiries were brief. 


Did you not learn her name from her companions? 


No. I have carried out my task in silence. 



Tell me yourself, unhappy girl. Not knowing 

who you are is a great misfortune for me. 


If she behaves the way she has till now

she will not move her tongue; for she has spoken

not once in all this time of anything.

She labors with the weight of her misfortune;

and ever since she left her wind-swept country

she has wept bitter streams of tears. Her fate,

surely, is hard for her, and claims our pardon. 


Then let her be, and let her go inside


if she so wishes, for I would not add

more suffering to what she now possesses:

that is enough already. Let us enter

the palace. You may hasten where you will,

and I will try to put my house in order.

[Lichas and the captive women start toward the palace.

Deianeira turns to follow.]


Stay here a moment first, and I will tell you, 

apart from these whom you are taking in,

things which you ought to know but have not heard;

for I know everything there is to tell. 


What do you want? Why have you stopped me here?


Wait, hear me. What I told you of before


you learned with profit, and so will you now. 


Then shall I call the others back again,

or will you speak to me and to my maidens? 


To you and them, yes; let the others be. 


Now they have gone, and you may tell your story. 


Nothing this man has said to you just now 

was spoken truly! Either this was false 

or what he said before had no truth in it. 


What are you saying? Tell me all you know,


for I am ignorant of what you mean. 


Why, I heard this man say – and there were many 

witnesses there – that for the girl’s sake only 

did Heracles slay Eurytus and conquer 

Oechalia’s high towers. Love alone, 

of all the gods, enticed him into battle, 

and not his irksome toil for Omphale 

in Lydia, or Iphitus’s death.

When Lichas tells his tale, he leaves out Love.

         Heracles could not make her father give 


his daughter to him for his concubine, 

and so, with some small pretext as his cause, 

he fought against her native city, where 

this Eurytus, he said, sat on the throne, 

and killed the king her father, and destroyed 

her country. Now he comes home bringing her, 

as you see, lady – and not without purpose, 

nor as his slave. Do not think that will happen, 

not when a man is burning with desire!

         I thought it best to tell you everything


which I, my Queen, had learned of from this man. 

For many other men of Trachis heard him, 

as I did, speaking in the public place: 

they will bear witness. If my words are bitter, 

then I am sorry. But I speak the truth. 


Oh wretched that I am, where do I stand?

What secret grief awaits me in my house 

now, in my misery? Was this girl really 

without a name, as Lichas swore to me? 


No, she is glorious in name and birth.


Eurytus was her father; and her name, 

Iole. This was she whose birth the herald

told nothing of, because he had not asked! 


May the false man who fashions evil secrets 

perish before all other wicked men! 


What must I do my friends? These words which I 

have heard have frightened me out of my senses. 


Go question Lichas, for he may reply

truthfully if you press him to make answer. 


Yes, I will go; your words are spoken wisely. 



What shall I do? Remain here or depart? 


Stay – for without my calling him the man

is coming from the house of his own will.

[Lichas returns from the palace.]


Madam, what shall I say to Heracles?

Tell me; for I am going, as you see. 


How quickly you are leaving, when your visit 

has been so short, and we have talked so little. 


If you have questions for me, I will stay. 


Will what you tell me be the honest truth? 


Yes, by great Zeus, in anything I know of. 



Who is the woman you have brought here with you? 


She is Euboean; I know nothing more. 


Look here: to whom do you think you are speaking? 


And who are you to question me like that? 


Answer me, if you understand my meaning. 


To royal Deianeira, if my eyes

do not deceive me – Oeneus’s daughter,

Heracles’ wife, and, furthermore, my queen. 


That is the very word I wished to hear.

You say she is your queen? 


         And rightly so. 



Well then, what punishment will you be willing 

to undergo if you are proved dishonest? 


What do you mean, “dishonest”? Are these riddles? 


No, it is you instead whose words are riddles. 


Farewell. I was a fool to listen to you. 


Stay here until you answer one brief question. 


Speak if you wish – and you will not be silent! 


That captive whom you brought here to the palace –

you know her, surely? 


         Yes. Why do you ask? 


Did you not say that she, whom you cannot


now name, was Eurytus’ child Iole? 


To whom did I say that? Where is the man

who will bear witness that you heard it from me? 


Many good citizens of Trachis heard you

proclaim it in our public meeting place. 



they say so, but it is a different thing

to state one’s fancy and to speak correctly. 


Fancy! Did you not swear that you were bringing 

this girl to be the wife of Heracles? 


To be his wife? In God’s name, my dear mistress, 


tell me, I pray you, who this stranger is. 


One who was there when you said that desire 

destroyed the city – not the Lydian woman

Omphale, but his passion for this girl. 


Madam, let this man be dismissed. To prate

with such a madman suits not my discretion. 


Do not, by Zeus I pray, whose lightning flashes 

on Oeta’s highest woodlands, hide the truth!

You are not speaking to an evil woman,

nor one who does not know that men were not


born to enjoy the same delights forever.

Whoever stands opposed to Love, with fists

clenched like a boxer, does not understand him;

for he rules over gods as he desires,

and over me. Why not another like me?

So if I blamed my husband for the passion

which has afflicted him, I would be mad –

or this girl either, who has shared with him

what is no shame for them, no wrong to me.

I could not do that. But if he has taught you


to lie, then you have learned a wicked lesson;

and if you have taught yourself these ways, then you

will seem most evil when desiring good.

Tell me the truth! It is a foul disgrace

for a free man to be known as a liar.

And do not think you will escape detection,

for many heard you speaking, and will tell me.

If you have fears, dismiss them, for to me

the greatest pain is not to learn the truth.

What harm in knowing? Has not Heracles


taken more brides than any other man?

And yet none of them ever was reproached

by me, or slandered. She will not be either,

not even if she melts with passion, for

I pitied her most when I first beheld her

because her beauty has destroyed her life,

and she, against her will, has sacked and ravaged

her native country. But let all this be

cast to the winds: to you I say, deceive

anyone else, but do not lie to me! 



She counsels well: obey her. You will never

have cause to blame her, and will win our thanks. 


Dear mistress, since I see that you are human, 

thinking as men should think, and are not proud,

I will no longer hide the truth from you:

everything is as this man has declared.

A dreadful craving for the girl came over

Heracles; and for her sake he destroyed

and sacked Oechalia, her father’s city.

He, in all fairness to him, never told me


to hide these facts from you, never denied them;

but I myself, my Queen, in fear that I

might grieve your heart by telling you such things,

erred – if indeed you count it as an error.

Now, since you understand at last the truth,

for your sake and for his as well, I pray you

to treat this woman kindly, and to stand

firmly upon the word which you have spoken.

For he whose hand was mighty in all else

is vanquished by his passion for this woman. 



Believe me, that is my sincere intent.

I do not wish to add to my affliction

by vain war with the gods. Come, let us enter

the palace, where you may receive your message –

and, since a gift should always be repaid,

take one from me. You ought not to return

with nothing, when you brought so large a train.

[Deianeira and Lichas enter the palace.]




Great is the power of Aphrodite’s triumph! 

I will not mention


the gods, nor how she deceived the son of Kronos,

nor Hades the lord of night,

no, nor Poseidon, shaker of earth.

But when this woman was wedded,

what mighty-limbed men came to claim her in marriage?

Who were they who entered the hard-hitting, dust-clouded conflict of battle?


One was a violent river in a bull’s form, 

four-leggèd, high-horned


Achelóüs from Oeniadae; the other came from

Bacchian Thebes, and his bow 

was bent and he wielded the spear and cudgel – 

Zeus’s son; and they came together 

in battle, desiring to win her in wedlock, 

while Aphrodite the blesser of marriage sat in the middle and judged them.


Then was the clash of fists and arrows

mingled with the clatter of bull’s horns;


intricate grapplings were joined;

there were deadly blows of the forehead,

and groaning was heard from both.

But she, in tender beauty,

on a far-seen hilltop,

sat and waited for her husband

even as the battle raged.

The bride these men had fought for

piteously remained;

and then she left her mother


like a lost and helpless calf.

[Deianeira returns from the palace.]


Friends, while our visitor inside the palace 

is bidding farewell to the captive maidens, 

I have come forth to you in secret, partly 

to tell you what I have contrived, but also

to win your sympathy for what I suffer.

I have received this maiden – no, not maiden – 

this mistress, as a sailor welcomes freightage: 

a burden which my heart finds hard to bear. 

For now he will have two of us to clasp


under one blanket; this is the reward

Heracles, whom we call the good and faithful,

has given me for waiting all this time!

I cannot find it in me to be angry,

often as this disease has come upon him;

but then, to live together with her, sharing

my marriage-bed – what woman could endure it?

I see her youthful beauty blooming; mine

is vanishing: his eye will love to pluck

those blossoms, but will turn away from me.


I fear that Heracles will soon be called

my husband, but this younger woman’s man.

Yet anger, as I said, is wrong for women

of understanding. Let me tell you, friends,

the solacing release that I have found.

         I have long had a present, which a beast

once gave me, hidden in an urn of bronze.

While still a child I took it from the blood

of shaggy-breasted Nessus as he died –

Nessus, a centaur who would carry men


for pay across the deep Evenus river,

using no oars or sails to help convey them.

So, when my father sent me forth to follow

Heracles, as his bride, this monster bore me

upon his back and, when we reached midstream,

touched me with lusting hands: I screamed aloud:

then Zeus’s son immediately turned round

and shot a feathered arrow whizzing through

his breast into his lungs. As he lay dying

the beast said, “Daughter of old Oeneus, listen


to me, and you will profit from this voyage,

for I will never carry any other.

Take in your hands the clotted blood around

my wound, in which the monstrous beast of Lerna,

Hydra, once dipped his arrows of black gall;

and this will be a love-charm for the heart

of Heracles, so that he will not ever

love anyone he looks on more than you.”

         I thought of this just now, my friends, for since

he died I have concealed it in my house;


and I have dipped this tunic in it, as

he said when living. Yes, I have performed it.

Oh, may I never come to know the meaning

of wickedness or women who are wicked;

but if I am able to excel this girl

by using magic charms on Heracles,

the means are ready. Do you think my actions

are rash? For if you do, I will not try them. 


If there is any promise of success,

why then, I think that you have counseled wisely. 



The only promise is that it seems best –

and yet, I cannot know until I try. 


Knowledge must come through action. You will never 

be sure unless you put it to the test. 


Ah, we will soon know, for I see the herald 

leaving the house. He will be going shortly.

Please keep my secret! Even shameful deeds,

when done in darkness, never bring disgrace.

[Lichas returns from the palace.]


Tell me what I must do now, child of Oeneus, 

for I have been delayed here far too long. 



Lichas, while you were speaking with the maidens 

inside, I have been making ready for you 

a long robe to take back to Heracles – 

a gift for him which my own hands have woven. 

Give it to him and tell him to allow

no other man to put it on before him.

He must not let the sunlight or the fire 

beside the altar or the hearth shine on it 

until he stands forth visible to all,


showing it to the gods while bulls are slaughtered.

This was my vow: that if I ever saw

or heard that he was coming, I would dress him

properly in this robe, and so present

a new man sacrificing in new garments.

Take him the seal stamped on this signet ring

as token – he will quickly recognize it.

Now go. Remember, first of all, the law

that messengers must not exceed their calling;

and then conduct yourself in such a way

that you may win my thanks as well as his. 



As I am true to Hermes, god of heralds,

and to my sacred craft, I will not fail

to take this casket to him, as it is,

adding your message to attest your gift. 


Then you may leave us now, for you have seen 

how matters stand with me here in the palace. 


I have, and I shall say that all is well. 


You know the greeting that I gave the stranger –

you saw that I have welcomed her in friendship? 


Yes; and my heart was deeply struck with pleasure. 



Then what else can you tell him? For I fear 

it is too soon to speak of my desire,

until I know if he desires me also. 

[Deianeira enters the palace. Lichas leaves.]


[Strophe A]


O you who dwell by the warm-flowing streams 

between the rocks and the harbor 

near Oeta’s mountain, and you

of the innermost reach of Malis’s gulf, 

by the shore of the golden-arrowed goddess, 

there where the Greeks hold famous council

near Thermopylae’s gateway;

[Antistrophe A]


for you the sound of the sweet-voiced flute

will soon arise, and not with a cry

of grating agony, but

with the lyrical tones of sacred song!

For the child of Alcména, Zeus’s son,

is speeding his way toward home, and bringing

trophies of might and valor.

[Strophe B]

He was gone far away from our city

at sea, while we waited for him

twelve long months, and heard nothing.


Meanwhile his loving wife

with an enduring heart

tearfully wasted away;

but now the furious god of war

has freed her from her time of sorrow. 

[Antistrophe B]

May he come, may he come! May his vessel,

his many-oared ship, not tarry

until he has reached our city,

leaving the island altar

where he is sacrificing.


May he arrive full of longing,

all fused in one with his specious garb,

his robe smeared over with persuasion. 

[Deianeira returns from the palace.]


My friends, I am afraid that I have gone

too far in everything I have just done. 


What is it, Deianeira, child of Oeneus? 


I am not certain, yet I deeply fear

my hopes of good have brought about great harm. 


Does it concern your gift to Heracles? 


It does. Oh, never recommend that any 


be hasty when his action is uncertain! 


Tell me your worries, if they may be told. 


So strange a thing has happened, friends, that if

I tell you, you will marvel at my words.

The tuft of white wool from a fleecy sheep 

with which I smeared that stately robe just now, 

has vanished – not consumed by anything 

within the house; no, self-devoured it crumbled 

down from the stone it lay on. I will tell you 

more fully how this wonder came to pass.


         None of the precepts which the savage Centaur 

spoke when the bitter arrow pierced his side 

did I forget, but held them in my mind 

like words indelibly inscribed in bronze. 

I did exactly as he told me to, 

and kept the ointment in a hidden place 

far from the warmth of sunlight or of fire 

until the time should come to smear it on. 

I did just so. And then, when I was ready, 

I spread it secretly inside the palace 


with wool which I had plucked from our own sheep, 

and folded up the gift, and placed it in 

a hollow, sunless casket, as you saw.

         But when I went back in, I saw a sight

beyond the power of speech or understanding. 

By chance I had thrown the piece of wool with which 

I smeared the robe into the blazing heat 

where sunlight fell; and as it warmed, it melted 

away to nothing, crumbling into earth 

exactly like the little particles 


of sawdust which we see when trees are leveled. 

It lies there still. And from the place it fell 

a curdled clot of bubbling foam seethed up, 

like the rich juice squeezed from the purple fruit 

of Bacchus’ vine, when poured upon the ground.

         And so I know not what to think. I see

only that I have done a dreadful deed.

Why – for what reason – should the beast whose death

I caused have shown me kindness as he died?

It cannot be! No, wishing to destroy


his slayer, he deceived me. I have learned

too late, when learning can avail no longer!

For I alone – unless my mind deceives me –

I, to my grief, will bring about his ruin.

That very arrow, I am certain, wounded

Cheiron, a god; and it destroys whatever

creature it touches. The dark blood which flowed

from Nessus’ wound contained that poison. Oh,

how can it not kill Heracles? It must!

         And yet I am resolved, if he should fall,


to perish with him in the selfsame onslaught.

One who takes pride in being good by nature

will not endure a life marred by dishonor. 


We must shun dreadful deeds; and yet must never 

condemn our hopes until those deeds occur. 


In plans unwisely made there is no place

for hope, which might lend courage even now. 


Men’s wrath is softened toward those who have erred 

unwittingly; and so it is with you. 


One who has known misfortune would not utter 


such words, but only one who feels no sorrow. 


It would be best if you were silent now

except in speaking to your son; for he

who left to seek his father has returned. 

[Enter Hyllus] 


Mother, I wish one of three things would happen: 

either that you were dead; or, if you live,

that you were not my mother; or that you

would change the heart you now have for a better! 


What have I done, my child, to cause your hatred? 


You need not doubt that on this very day


you have destroyed your husband and my father. 


My son, what word is this which you have spoken? 


One which shall be confirmed; for who can render 

unborn what has already seen the light? 


What are you saying, child? What man has told you

that I am guilty of so foul a deed? 


I saw my father’s grievous fall myself,

with my own eyes, not heard it from some other. 


Where did you come upon him and stand by him? 


If you must know, then I shall tell you all.


After he plundered Eurytus’s city

he carried off the choicest spoils of battle;

and, by a wave-washed headland of Euboea,

Cenaeum, he was dedicating altars

and woodland precincts to his father Zeus

when I, with joyous longing, first beheld him.

He was about to make great sacrifice

when his own herald Lichas came from home

bearing your gift to him, the robe of death.

He put it on as you had told him to,


and held and slaughtered twelve unblemished bulls,

the finest of the spoil; for he had brought

a hundred varied oxen to the altar.

At first – oh wretched man! – he prayed in calm

of mind, rejoicing in his lovely garment;

but when the gory flame began to blaze

up from the offerings on the sappy pine,

sweat covered all his body, and the robe

clung to his sides as if glued by a craftsman

to every joint; and from his very bones


shot up spasmodic, stinging pangs: the poison,

like some detested, bloody snake’s, devoured him.

Then he cried out aloud for ill-starred Lichas,

who was in no way guilty of your crime,

to ask what treachery made him bring the robe;

but he, unlucky man! knew not, and answered

he had but brought the gift which you had given.

When Heracles heard this a penetrating

convulsive spasm clutched his lungs, and he

seized Lichas where the ankle joins the foot


and dashed him on a rock swept by the sea

so that the white brain seeped among his hairs,

and all his shattered skull was bloodied over.

At this the people raised a mournful cry

that one was maddened and the other slain;

and no one dared to go near Heracles.

For he was dragged to earth and drawn toward heaven

screaming and wailing: all around, the cliffs

and capes of Locris and Euboea thundered.

After his anguished tossing on the ground


and frequent cries of lamentation tired him –

cursing the ill-matched marriage he had made

with you at Oeneus’ wedding ceremony,

where he had mated with his life’s destruction –

then, through the circling shroud of smoke, he raised

his rolling eyes, and saw me in the crowd

sobbing, and fixed his gaze upon me, crying:

“Oh child, come to me, do not flee my torment

even if you must die along with me.

Take me away and put me in a place


where no one living may set eyes upon me;

or if you shrink from that at least convey me

elsewhere, so that I may not perish here.”

We carried out his words and placed him in

our ship, and, with a struggle, brought him here

bellowing in his agony. Soon you

will see him – living, or but lately dead.

These are the plots and deeds against my father

which you stand guilty of. May vengeful Justice 

and Furies pay you, if my prayer be sanctioned!


It shall! for you have spurned all sanctity

by killing him who was the best of men

on earth – whose equal you will never see!

[Deianeira silently turns and enters the palace.]


Why do you leave in silence? You must know 

that silence pleads the cause of your accuser. 


Let her depart. And may some fair wind sweep her 

far from the place where I must look upon her!

Why should a mother’s name bring dignity

to her, whose deeds are nothing like a mother’s?

Good riddance to her! May she find such pleasures


as she herself has given to my father. 

[Hyllus goes into the palace.


[Strophe A]


Maidens, behold how suddenly the word 

spoken of old by the oracle

has now descended upon us!

It said that after the dozenth plowing season

had filled its quota of months the son of Zeus would

bring his toils to an end. That prophecy

comes firmly home: for how can a man whose eyes


are shadowed in death be a slave to toils thereafter? 

[Antistrophe A]

For if the guileful doom wrought by the Centaur

goads his sides and a cloud of blood surrounds him,

and poison clings to him, poison

whose father was Death and whose nurse was a gleaming serpent, 

then how shall he ever behold another sunrise?

Gripped in the monstrous hydra’s dreadful grasp,

he feels the vengeful torments, the stinging pangs,


the seething, treacherous lash of black-haired Nessus. 

[Strophe B]

Our wretched mistress could not foretell this pain.

She only saw what grief was coming upon her

from Heracles’ new marriage; she acted;

and now, because she has heeded

the words of a stranger in fatal converse,

surely she groans in anguish;

surely soft droplets moisten

her cheeks with numerous tears.


And the fate which is coming foreshadows a fall,

mighty, and born of deception.

[Antistrophe B]

And now a torrent of tears has broken forth;

disease has assaulted Heracles, to our sorrow –

a plague more dire than his foes had ever

inflicted upon him in combat.

O dark steel point of the battle spear,

swiftly thou carriedst the bride

down from Oechalia’s heights

by virtue of warlike prowess.


But the Goddess of Love has been present among us,

working these deeds in silence.

[The Nurse screams inside the palace.]

Was it my fancy or did I indeed

hear someone wailing in the house just now?

What can it be?

Someone whose scream is clearly full of anguish, 

boding some new disaster for this palace.

Take notice

with what strange, darkened aspect this old woman


comes from the house: she means to tell us something. 

[Enter Nurse


My children, great indeed were the misfortunes 

the gift to Heracles has brought upon us. 


Old woman, tell us what new thing has happened. 


Queen Deianeira has departed now

upon her final journey, without stirring. 


You do not mean that she has died? 


         I do. 


Poor woman, is she dead? 


         Twice I have told you.



Oh, poor lost mistress! Tell me now the manner of her death. 


The deed was cruel. 



         Come tell me, woman, how she met her fate. 


She brought her own life to an end. 


         What passion or what madness

led her to wield the evil blade? How could she plan this death 

after the other death which she had caused? 


With a stroke of the mournful steel. 


Ah, foolish woman! did you see it then? 


I saw it, yes; for I was standing near. 



What happened? Come now, speak. 


By her own hand she wrought the deed. 


What are you saying? 


         Only what is true. 


This new bride, Iole, has brought to being

her first-born child –

a Fury wreaking vIolence on our house! 


Too true! If you had been nearby and seen

her death, your pity would be greater still. 


And did a woman’s hand dare do this deed? 


Most horribly, as I will tell you now.


After she went, alone, into the palace

and saw her son strewing a hollow litter

outside, with which to go and meet his father,

she hid herself, lest anyone should see her,

and, falling near the altars, moaned aloud

that they were empty now; and wept whenever

she touched the objects she had known so well.

Then, as she roamed at random through the house,

if she but saw one of her own attendants,

she looked at him in misery, and sobbed,


calling upon the fate which now was hers

and on her childless state forever after.

         But then she ceased, and suddenly I saw her

rush to the room which Heracles had slept in.

There I concealed myself and watched her actions

in secret, and beheld the woman spreading

coverlets on the couch of Heracles.

When she had finished this, she leapt upon them

and sat there in the middle of the bed,

where, bursting into streams of molten tears,


she called upon her couch and bridal chamber,

crying, “Farewell forever! In the future

you will not hold me as a bride again.”

She spoke no more, but with a vehement motion

she loosed her tunic, where the golden brooch

was fastened, just above her breast; and then

uncovered all her left side and her arm.

I ran away as fast as I had strength

and told her son of what she had contrived;

but by the time we reached her room again


we saw her with a two-edged sword stuck through her,

piercing her side and cleaving to her heart.

Her son screamed when he saw her, for he knew

that he had driven her to this in anger,

learning too late from servants that her deed

was done in ignorance, at the Centaur’s bidding.

And then the wretched boy showed no restraint

in sobbing and lamenting for her death,

caressing her with kisses; he fell down

and lay there by her side, and groaned that he


had falsely charged her with a wicked crime.

He wept that he must be deprived of both

her and his father, orphaned for his life.

         Thus have these things occurred. And so, whoever

counts on the morrow or the days beyond,

thinks foolishly. Tomorrow will not come

until the present day is safe behind us.


[Strophe A]


Which woe shall I first lament?

Which misery is the greater?

Alas, it is hard to discern.

[Antistrophe A]


One we have seen in our home;

we dread the approach of the other.

What we have and await are the same. 

[Strophe B]

Would that a favoring breeze

might come to my house with power

to waft me far from these regions, lest

I die from terror

as soon as I see

Zeus’s glorious son.

For they say he is coming home


racked by unshakable pain –

a wonder not to be spoken!

[Antistrophe B]

Behold! the grief I bewailed

like a clear-toned nightingale, nears us.

These men who approach us are strangers.

How do they bring him? They move,

sorrowing as for a friend,

slowly, with noiseless tread.

Ah ah! he is carried in silence!

What must we think? Is he dead


or is he only sleeping?

[Enter Hyllus and an Old Man, followed by Heracles, borne upon a litter.]


Ah ah, I mourn,

father, I mourn for your misery!

How can I hope to assist you? Ah ah! 

Old Man

Be silent, my son, and do not arouse

the savage pain of your frenzied father.

He lives though fallen; so bite your lip 

in silence. 


         Old man, is he living still? 

Old Man

You must not waken him out of his slumber

by stirring up and reviving


the terrible, pulsing

disease, O my child. 


         But a burdensome weight

lies on me: my mind is in turmoil. 


O Zeus!

What land have I come to? What men are these

who stand around me while ceaseless pains

torment me? Ah ah! Oh, wretch that I am!

The putrid disease devours me. Oh! 

Old Man

Did I not tell you it would be better

by far to remain in silence, and not


to scatter abroad

the sleep from his brain and eyes? 


         I cannot

be still when I see him suffer. 


O Cenaean rock where I built my altars, 

how harshly you favor the sacrifice

I made in my wretchedness – O Zeus!

How great is the outrage you lay upon me!

I would that my eyes had never beheld you –

ah, woe is me! – for now I must glimpse

the inexorable flower of madness.


Oh where is the sorcerer, where is the healer –

save only Zeus – who has power enough

to soothe the destruction upon me?

If any should come, I would marvel 

[Strophe A]

Oh oh! 

Let me now, let me now finish my anguish,

let me sleep for the last time!

[Strophe B]

Why do you touch me? Where will you move me?

You are killing me, killing me!

You have wakened the pain that was quiet.


Now it has seized me – ah ah! – it is coming upon me: where are you,

Greeks, most ungrateful of men, for whom so long I have labored, 

toiling far on the sea and deep in the forest to cleanse you 

of many plagues – oh oh, I perish! – and now, in my illness,

will you not bring me fire or a spear, and turn them upon me? 

[Antistrophe A]

Oh oh!

Is no one willing to strike off my head

from my loathsome body? Ah ah!

Old Man.

O child of Heracles, this task I am facing surpasses

the strength of my hands; come now, you must help me, for you have the power,

far more than I have, to bring him relief. 



         My hands are upon him, 

yet they cannot avail, in themselves, or with others’ assistance, 

to bring relief to his anguished life: so Zeus has ordained it. 

[Strophe C]


O my child, where are you?

Come and take me now;

lift me up, thus, thus.

Oh, oh, my cruel fate!

[Antistrophe B]

It is leaping upon me, fearfully leaping!

This savage, incurable


sickness will be my destruction. 

Pallas, ah Pallas, it strikes me again! O child, I beseech you, 

pity your father: draw forth your blameless sword from its scabbard: 

strike off my head and end the distress which your impious mother 

gave me, to drive me insane. I only pray that she perish 

soon in the very way she has caused my ruin. Sweet Hades, 

[Antistrophe C]


brother of Zeus himself,

put me to sleep, to sleep, 

ending my wretched life 

with swift-wingèd death.


My friends, I shudder when I hear how great

a suffering afflicts so great a prince. 


Many fierce toils, hard not in name alone, 

my hands and shoulders have endured before;

but never did the wife of Zeus or hateful

Eurystheus lay so great a burden on me


as this one which the false-faced child of Oeneus

has fastened on my back – a binding net

woven by furies, in which I am dying.

Glued to my sides, it eats my flesh away

deep down within, and dwells inside my lungs

choking my breath: already it has drunk

my fresh warm blood and wasted my whole body,

binding me with unutterable chains.

And yet, no spearman on the battlefield,

no earth-born troop of Giants, no wild beast,


nor Greece, nor any foreign land which I

purged in my wanderings, could do this to me!

A woman – weak, not masculine by nature –

alone, without a sword, has vanquished me!

         O child, now show you are my true-born son:

do not revere your mother more than me!

Go in the house and bring her here outside

and place her in my hands, so I may know

if you will grieve more at my tortured body

or hers, when I have wrought my just revenge.


Go, child, be bold! And pity me, for I

am pitiful indeed as I lie sobbing

and moaning like a virgin! No one living

has ever seen me act like this before;

for I have never groaned at my misfortunes

till now, when I have proved myself a woman.

         Come now, approach and stand beside your father;

behold how I have suffered from my hardships.

For I will lift this covering and show you.

There, look! You all may see my mangled frame


and know how poor and pitiful I am.

Ah ah! the pain! ah ah!

Once more I feel the burning pangs convulse me,

piercing my side; I must again contend

with this unmerciful, devouring illness.

Prince Hades, take me;

come, lightning, strike me!

O Zeus, my father, hurl the thunderbolt

down on me! Yet again the plague consumes me,

blazing in fury. O my hands, my hands,


my back, my chest, and O my own dear arms,

you are the same as in the past, when you

vanquished and slew the Lion of Nemea,

the scourge of herdsmen, creature none approached

or spoke to, and brought low Lernaean Hydra;

you checked the savage tribe of beasts, half horse,

half man, the lawless, mighty, violent Centaurs,

subdued the Erymanthian Boar, and tamed

Hades’ invincible three-headed Dog,

the Serpent’s child, and killed the Dragon guarding


the golden apples at the ends of earth.

Countless have been the labors I endured,

and none has ever triumphed over me.

But now, my limbs disjointed, torn to shreds,

I lie here vanquished by an unseen ruin –

I whom they say a noble mother bore,

I who am called the son of starry Zeus.

         And yet, be sure of this: though I am nothing,

and cannot move a step, yet I will punish

her who has done this deed. Let her but come:


she will discover and proclaim that I

in death, as in my life, destroyed the wicked. 


O wretched Greece, what sorrow I foresee

coming upon you if you lose this man. 


Since you are silent, father, I will answer:

listen to what I say, sick though you are.

I will request no more than justice bids,

so hear me freely: do not yield to passion

goaded by wrath, or you will never learn

how empty is the vengeful joy you seek. 



Say what you mean, no more; for in my illness 

I cannot understand your riddling words. 


I only mean to tell you how my mother

fares now, and how unwillingly she sinned. 


O villain! do you dare to name the woman

who has destroyed your father in my presence? 


The circumstance will not permit my silence. 


Nor will the dreadful deed she has committed! 


Hear what she did today before you judge her. 


Then speak – but do not prove yourself a traitor. 



Hear me – she has just now died, newly slain. 


By whom? What marvels your dire words make known! 


She died by her own hand, not by another’s. 


Ah, has she fled her just death at my hands? 


Even your wrath would change if you knew all. 


You start off strangely: tell me what you mean. 


The truth is this: she erred, yet she meant good. 


Base villain! was it good to kill your father? 


When she beheld your new bride she endeavored

to win you with a love charm, but she erred. 



What man of Trachis deals in drugs so strong? 


The Centaur Nessus long ago convinced her

to use this potion to inflame your passion. 


Oh oh! Wretch that I am! Oh, I am dying!

I perish; I can see the light no longer!

Alas, I understand my plight too well.

Go, child – your father is no longer living –

go call your brothers and your sisters here,

and call ill-starred Alcména, who in vain

was Zeus’s wife, so that you all may learn


the oracles I know before I perish. 


Your mother is not here, for she has gone

to make her home in Tiryns by the sea.

Some of your children went to live with her,

while others, you will find, now dwell in Thebes.

We who remain here, father, will attempt

to help you as we can, and do your bidding. 


Then hear your task: the time has come for you 

to show what breed of man is called my son.

My father prophesied to me of old


that none who breathed would ever take my life,

but one already dead and gone to Hades.

And now this beast, the Centaur, as the god

foretold, though dead, has torn my life away.

         Now I will tell you of new oracles

confirming those delivered long ago.

I wrote them in the forest of the Selli –

a mountain tribe that sleeps upon the ground –

where Zeus’s multi-tongued prophetic oak-tree

told me that in the time which has now come


the many toils that I had long endured

would reach an end. I thought I would then prosper –

and yet, it only meant that death was waiting.

In death there is no toil for anyone.

Child, since these words are clearly coming true,

you must stand by me and support me now,

and not provoke my anger by delaying.

Help me by doing what I say, and learn

the best of laws, which is to serve your father. 


Father, I dread the purpose which your words


portend, but I will do as you think best. 


Then first of all place your right hand in mine. 


Why do you urge this needless pledge upon me? 


Give me your hand, and do not disobey me. 


Here: I cannot refuse you anything. 


Swear by the head of Zeus, who is my father… 


To do what? Will you tell me this as well? 


To carry out the task which I command you. 


I swear it then – and may Zeus be my witness! 


Pray, if you break your oath, that you may suffer. 



I shall not break my oath; yet I so pray. 


Now . . . do you know Zeus’ sacred mountain Oeta? 


Yes. I have often sacrificed upon it. 


That is the place where you must carry me

with your own hands, and with what friends you choose.

There hew the wood of deeply-rooted oaks

and slash the trunks of wild male olive trees,

placing my body on a pyre made from them;

then take a brightly blazing torch of pine

and light the pyre. And do not moan and weep,


for if you are my son you will perform this

without a sigh or tear. If not, my curse,

even when I am dead, will weigh upon you. 


Father, think what your words are doing to me! 


Obey! or else go find another father,

and cease to call yourself my son hereafter. 


Alas, what are you asking of me, father –

to murder you and take your blood upon me? 


No, but to be the healer of my illness

and sole physician of my agony. 



How can I heal you if I burn your body? 


If you fear that, at least perform the rest. 


Yes. I will not refuse to take you there. 


And will you build the pyre, as I have told you? 


Only if I must not lay hands upon it.

Otherwise I will carry out your wishes. 


Then that is all I ask. Now only add

to these great benefits one little favor. 


However great it is, it shall be done. 


You know the daughter of king Eurytus? 



Iole? Do I understand your meaning? 


Yes, child. This is the charge I lay upon you: 

if you revere my memory when I

have died, remembering the oath you swore,

make her your wife, and do not scorn my wish.

No other man but you must ever marry

this woman who has lain with me in love;

no, you, my son, must take her for your own.

Consent! To disrespect me in small matters

destroys the greater favors you have done. 



Ah me! You are too sick to rouse my anger,

but how could any bear to hear such thoughts? 


Your words show no intent to do my bidding. 


How can I? She alone has killed my mother

and brought you to the plight you are now in.

Who but a man possessed of vengeful spirits

could want this? Father, let me die with you

rather than live with her whose sight I loathe. 


It seems you are unwilling to respect

my dying wish! The curses of the gods


will hound you if you disregard my words. 


Oh, you will soon make clear how mad you are! 


Yes, for you have stirred up my sleeping plague. 


Wretch that I am, I know not what to do. 


Will you not deign to listen to your father? 


But need you teach me, father, to be godless? 


It is not godless to delight my heart. 


Do you consider what you ask me just? 


I do; and call the gods to bear me witness. 


Then I will not refuse you – but I pray


the gods may look upon your deed. I cannot

be blamed for doing what you tell me, father. 


At last you speak well! Now perform this favor 

swiftly, my child, and place me on the pyre

before the stinging spasm comes again.

Make haste and lift me. Now I feel release

from troubles, for my final end is here. 


Nothing prevents fulfillment of these deeds,

since you command it and compel us, father. 


O my stalwart spirit, before you arouse


this madness again, come, give me a bridle

of steel to fasten my lips like stones;

and hold back your cries, for the deed forced upon you

brings joy to my sorrowing heart. 


My followers, lift him up now, and grant me

your full forgiveness for what I must do.

But mark how the distant insensitive gods

have permitted these things to occur.

They bring forth children, they call themselves parents,

and yet they can look on this anguish and pain.


There is none who knows what the future may hold;

but the present is hard for us who are here –

for the gods it is shameful –

and for him who must bear the weight of destruction

this fate is cruelest of all.

         Maidens, you must not stay by the palace,

where you but lately have seen dreadful deaths

with many sorrows unheard of before –

and none of these things without Zeus. 

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