In Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, who is responsible for Heracles’ death? Note: that an important part of your response to this question will be to discuss the extent to which Heracles may be responsible for his own destruction, through his nature as a traditional hero.
It could be argued that none of the characters in "Women of Trachis" are essentially and solely responsible for the death of Sophocles’ character Heracles. It is simply human error and the innate qualities of a tragic hero and heroine. All the same, one could justify that the characters could have foreseen the impact of their actions or perhaps that the disastrous end of Heracles was inevitable as it was the prediction of the oracle (Women of Trachis ll.77-82). In the first instance, the character Deianira’s role in the death of her husband will be examined. Although she sent the fatal love token that would result in his death, she means no harm by her actions. Upon reviewing her actions from this angle we can see it was an act of innocence, not out of malicious homicide intent. There will also be consideration that perhaps it was Heracles’ actions that first began the cycle of destruction for his family, and he is ultimately to blame for everyone’s downfall; “we see the imagery of Heracles the monster-killer, is himself a monster” and possibly Heracles is a threat to society as well as endangering the victims of his lust.
Although at first appearance it is easy to blame Deianira as the one responsible for the death of her husband Heracles, as she was the one who smeared the blood of Nessus on his tunic and sent it to him. However, at the outset of the play we realize her vulnerability and deepest fears of losing her husband. Achelous the river-god haunted her with horrifying images of masculinity, appallingly disturbing to a young innocent girl, as Deianira says in scene 1,
My hand was sought by the river god Achelous,
Who took three shapes when he asked my father to make
Me his: first… as a bull, then as a serpent…last
As a monster in human form with the horns of an ox… (ll.9-13)
Deianira found refuge in Heracles and depends on him for security of body and mind. Therefore it is not surprising that when her husband is away, all her insecurities come flooding back to disturb her. Thus, we cannot blame Deianira for wanting to feel safe and loved as her life as a young girl was filled with fear and anxiety and it is only the presence of Heracles that can solve this. In many Greek tragedies woman's fate hangs entirely on man, and the chorus' speech of Deianira’s suffering mirrors that ideology. So much depends upon Heracles, Deianira goes as far as saying “His life and safety means our safety, or we’re lost with him” (ll.84-85), meaning ‘If he lives, we live; and if he dies, we die.’ Heracles’ downfall is their downfall also. Son of Heracles, Hyllus supports this view that his mother is innocent; “her mistake was fatal, but her intentions were good” (Women of Trachis l.1136). Gilbert A. Davies who commentates the above scene also backs up this quote; “A pause permits Hyllus to announce his mother’s death, and to assert her innocence.” When we view her actions from this angle we can see it was an act of innocence. Deianira is overjoyed at the news that her husband is alive and well and on his way home to her, particularly after the oracles daunting prediction of this day being “Either Heracles would end his days, or else this exploit would be followed by a life of happiness for ever after” (Women of Trachis ll.79-80).
We could have expected a humanistic response from Deianira, to see her act spiteful and revengeful towards Heracles and Iole; Just as Clytemnestra killed her husband Agamemnon and his concubine upon hearing he was bringing home Cassandra from the Trojan War as second wife. However, the idea of revenge is parallel to Deianira and almost ironic because she does not act out of revenge or anger, which might be expected and a...
Bibliography: 4. Sorum, Christina E. Monsters and the Family: A study of Sophocles’ Trachiniae. Place of publication unknown: University Microfilms, 1978/9. Pages 59-73
[ 2 ]. Davies, Gilbert A, M.A. The Trachiniae of Sophocles with a commentary abridged from the larger edition of Sir Richard C. Jebb, Litt.d. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1921. page xxiv
[ 3 ]
Please join StudyMode to read the full document