“The Women of Trachis” by Sophocles

The Love That Kills

The Death of Heracles

This is an account of the death of Heracles. In a nutshell, Heracles loved Iole and because her father would not give her to him in marriage, he killed her father and other members of her family. Heracles’ wife Deianira was afraid to lose him to the younger Iole, so she gave him a robe that she thought was a love charm but was in fact dipped in poison, causing Heracles to die in extreme agony.


Ah, many and hot and cruel not in name alone have been the labors of these hands, the burdens hoisted upon these shoulders! And yet no toil ever laid on me by the bedfellow of Zeus or by the hateful Eurystheus was as harsh as this thing which the daughter of Oeneus, fair and false, has fastened upon my back, this woven net of the Erinyes in which I perish! Plastered to my sides, it has eaten away my inmost flesh and sucks the channels of my lungs, making my body its home. Already it has drunk away my fresh lifeblood, and my whole body is wasted, conquered by these indescribable bonds. Not spearmen on the battlefield, nor the Giants’ earth-born army, nor the might of savage beasts, not Hellas, nor the land of the barbarian, nor any land which I came to purify has ever done this to me. No, a woman, a weak woman, born not to the strength of man, all alone has brought me down without a stroke of the sword!

Show your pity for me, whom many might think deserving of pity—pity me moaning and weeping like a girl! No one could say that he had ever seen this man do that before. No, always without complaint I used to pursue my troubles. But now in my misery I have been found a woman, instead of the man I used to be.

King Hades, receive me! Strike me, O fire of Zeus! Hurl down your thunderbolt, ruler, dash it, Father, upon my head! Again the pest consumes me, it has blazed up, it has leapt to fury! O hands, my hands, O shoulders and chest and trusty arms, you are indeed those noted arms which once subdued with your might the dweller in Nemea, the scourge of herdsmen, the lion, a creature that no man might approach or confront; you tamed the Lernaean Hydra, and that monstrous army of beasts with double form, hostile, going on hoofed feet, violent, lawless, of surpassing violence; you tamed the beast in Erymanthia, and underground the three-headed whelp of Hades, a resistless terror, offspring of the fierce Echidna; you tamed the dragon that guarded the golden fruit in the farthest places of the earth. These toils and thousands more have I tasted, and no man has ever erected a trophy of victory over my hands. But now, with joints unhinged and with flesh torn to shreds, I have become the miserable spoil of an unseen destroyer, —I, who am called the son of noblest mother, I, who am reputed the seed of Zeus, lord of the starry sky.

It was foreshown to me by my father far in the past that I would perish by no creature that had the breath of life, but by one already dead, a dweller with Hades. So this savage Centaur in death has killed me alive, just as the divine will had been foretold. … that, at the time which lives and now is, my release from the toils laid upon me would be accomplished. And I expected prosperous days, but the meaning, it seems, was only that I would die. For toil comes no more to the dead.



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