It has been the fortune of the Trachiniae to provoke
Divergent views of the Trachiniae. Difficulty of judging it rightly.
The Heracles myth.— Argive legends.
The Argive legends are those which best preserve the primitive Dorian conception of Heracles. They are alloyed, indeed, with later elements, of a political origin. Thus, in order that the Dorian conquerors might have some hereditary title to the land, Heracles was made the son of Alcmena, and, through her, a scion of the Perseidae; Tiryns was his heritage, of which he had been despoiled. Again, the struggles between Argos and Sparta for the headship of Peloponnesus have a reflex in those wars which the Argive Heracles wages in Elis or Messenia. But, when such elements have been set aside, there remains the old-Dorian hero, slayer of monsters, purger of the earth, who triumphs over the terrors of Hades, and brings the apples of immortality from the garden of the Hesperides. We do not know exactly when the ‘twelve labours’ of Heracles became a definite legend. The earliest evidence for it is afforded by the temple of Zeus at Olympia, about 450 B.C. The twelve labours were there portrayed on the metopes,—six on those of the western front, and six on those of the eastern. All the twelve subjects are known from the existing remains7. The list agrees, in much the larger part, with twelve labours enumerated by the Chorus in the Hercules Furens of Euripides8, a play of which the date may be placed about 421—416 B.C. Neither list knows any places, outside of Peloponnesus, except Crete and Thrace; nor does either list recognise any of those later myths in which Heracles symbolises the struggles of Argos with Sparta. In both lists the journey to the Hesperides has lost its original meaning,—the attainment of immortality,—since it precedes the capture of Cerberus. These are some reasons for thinking that a cycle of twelve labours had become fixed in Dorian legend long before the fifth century B.C.9 The Dorians of Argclis were those among whom it first took shape, as the scenes of the labours show. But nothing is known as to the form in which it first became current. One thing, however, is plain. Although the twelve tasks are more or less independent of each other, the series has the unity of a single idea. Heracles is the destroyer of pests on land and sea, the saviour of Argolis first and then the champion of humanity, the strong man who secures peace to the husbandman and an open path to the sailor: with his club and his bow, he goes forth against armed warriors, or monsters of superhuman malignity, reliant on his inborn might, and conscious of a divine strain in his blood. This is no Achilles, no image of that chivalry which Aeolian legend had delineated and Ionian poetry adorned; no steeds, swift as the wind, bear his chariot into battle; no panoply of bronze, wrought by Hephaestus, flashes on him, ‘like the gleam of blazing fire, or of the sun as it arises’: in the gentle graces of human existence, in the softer human sympathies, he has no portion; no music of the lyre soothes his rest in the camp; he has never known such tears as came into the eyes of the young Achaean warrior, when the aged king of Troy, kneeling at his feet, kissed the hand that had slain Hector; nor has he anything of that peculiar pathos which is given alike to Hector and to Achilles by the dim presage of an early doom, the uncertain shadow which now and again flits across the meridian of their glory; the golden scales, lifted in the hand of Zeus, have never trembled with the fate of Heracles, for his destiny was fixed before his birth, and is inseparable from his origin,—that he must toil while he lives, and must live until his task has been accomplished. He embodies a sterner ideal; one in which there is less of spiritual charm and of flexible intelligence, but which has a moral grandeur of its own; we might say that relatively to the Ionian view of life it is as the Hebraic ideal to the Hellenic. And this ideal may rightly be called ‘Dorian,’ in the sense that it presumably represents a conception of the primitive Dorian folk, bearing a general stamp which can be traced in historical expressions of the Dorian nature. That conception appears in only two other sets of legends besides the Argive. And these belong to near kinsmen of the Dorian stock, the Boeotians and the Thessalians.
The Homeric poems contain only incidental allusions
Heracles in the Homeric poems.
The Heracleia of Peisander.
Little is known of the efforts made to solve this poetical problem. The Dorian Peisander, of Cameirus in Rhodes, is named as the author of an epic poem on Heracles, a Heracleia19. He seems to have confined himself to the ‘labours’ which Heracles performed for Eurystheus; and he was the first poet, we are told, who gave Heracles the lion's skin and the club20. Peisander is usually placed about 650 B.C.; but, according to one view, that date is too early21. In the Alexandrian age he enjoyed a high repute. The Ionian Panyasis22 of Halicarnassus, circ. 480 B.C., also
The Heracleia of Panyasis.
The Capture of Oechalia.
Lyric poets on Heracles. Archilochus.
Lyric poetry also, from an early time, had been busied with these legends. The Ionian Archilochus (circ. 670 B.C.) composed a famous hymn to the victorious Heracles. It was known as the “καλλίνικος”27, and was a counterpart, at the Olympian games, of ‘See, the conquering hero comes,’—being sung at the evening procession in honour of a victor, if no special ode had been written for the occasion. But it was in the choral form, a distinctively Dorian creation, that lyric poetry rendered its loftiest
Deianeira associated with Heracles.
Heracles in drama.
Such, then, was the position of the Heracles-myth at the time when Attic Tragedy was advancing to maturity. This legend had become the common property of Hellas; and its primitive meaning had been, to a great extent, overlaid by alien additions or embellishments. Particular episodes had been successfully treated in epic poetry of the Homeric or Hesiodic school, and also in lyrics, both Ionian and Dorian. But the whole legend had not been embodied in any poem which took rank with the foremost creations of the Greek genius.
Recollecting such traditions of the theatre, we cannot
The Mad Heracles of Euripides.
There is no external evidence for the date of the Mad
The Trachiniae of Sophocles.
The two mythic elements.
Later digests of the Heracles legends.
Freedom of the fifth century poets.
Sequence of events in the Trachiniae.
The outline of the whole story, as Sophocles conceived
The antecedents of the plot.
Analysis of the play. I. Prologue: 1—93.
The scene is laid before the house at Trachis. Deianeira is alone with a female slave, an old and attached domestic, who has been the nurse of her children. Communing with her own thoughts, rather than directly addressing her attendant, the wife of Heracles recalls the sorrows which have been her portion from youth upwards,—culminating now in a terrible anxiety concerning her absent lord. It is fifteen months since he left home; but no tidings have come from him. And she feels almost sure that something is amiss, when she thinks of a certain tablet which he left with her... Here the aged Nurse ventures to interpose. Deianeira has several sons; why should not one of them,—Hyllus, for example, the eldest,—go in search of his father? Just then Hyllus himself is seen approaching, and in haste; for he has news to tell. Heracles is, or soon will be, in Euboea, warring against Oechalia, the city of Eurytus. During the past year he has been in servitude to Omphalè, a Lydian woman. Deianeira then tells her son the purport of the tablet to which she had previously alluded. It contains an oracle, which shows that this war in Euboea must decide the fate of Heracles; he will die; or he will thenceforth live in peace. Hyllus at once resolves to join his father in Euboea, and departs for that purpose. The Chorus now enters: it consists of fifteen Trachinian maidens, full of kindly sympathy for the Aetolian princess
II. First episode: 141—496.
First stasimon: 497—530.
III. Second episode: 531—632.
Second stasimon: 633—662.
IV. Third episode: 663—820.
Third stasimon: 821—862.
V. Fourth episode: 863—946.
Fourth stasimon: 947—970.
VI. Exodos: 971— 1278.
In the first and larger part of the play, Deianeira is the
The characters.— Deianeira.
The Heracles of the Trachiniae may be considered in
Among the secondary parts, that of Hyllus has an im-
The minor persons are portrayed with care and ani-
The minor persons.
The incident of the robe.
Among the difficulties of detail which the subject presented to a dramatist, not the least was that of the supposed ‘love-charm.’ The operation of the hydra's venom, like that of the poison in the wound of Philoctetes, is supernatural. Since, however, an innocent yet deliberate human agent intervenes between Nessus and Heracles, the poet was compelled to treat the incident with circumstance, and to invest it with just enough probability for the purpose of scenic effect. Sophocles has managed this by a simple but skilful device. He merely makes an assumption which no spectator would pause to examine. ‘The hydra's venom was such that exposure to heat must call it into activity.’ All is then easy. Nessus tells Deianeira that his gift, this infallible love-charm, must be kept in a cool and dark place. She tells us how scrupulously she had observed this rule. She impresses it upon Lichas. The spectator knows that the robe is to be worn for the first time on an occasion of burnt sacrifice; and his anxiety is awakened. It is interesting to compare this episode with the parallel
Comparison with the Medea.
Supposed solar imagery.
The allusions in the Trachiniae to oracles concerning
But the unity of the plot is independent of the oracles. It is effected by the love of Heracles for Iolè, which causes him to destroy Oechalia, and also causes Deianeira to send the robe; thus bringing the two episodes into a strict connection. Professor Campbell is, in my opinion, quite right when he says that ‘in point of dramatic structure the Trachiniae will bear comparison with the greatest of Sophoclean tragedies.’ For, even if, as I hold, the inferiority in dramatic interest of Heracles to Deianeira is such as to constitute a serious defect, this is not a defect of structure. It does not concern the manner in which the plot has been put together. It concerns something antecedent to the plot; namely, the conception of Heracles adopted by the poet, as compared with his conception of Deianeira. Given those two conceptions, the most perfect dramatic structure could not save the interest in Heracles from being overpowered by the interest in Deianeira.
Unity of time neglected.
After the two dramas of the Attic masters, Heracles
Seneca's Hercules Oetaeus.
The Latin Deianeira
Purumve claris noctibus sidus micat,
Stetit furenti similis ac torvum intuens
”57,— like ‘an Armenian tigress,’ the poet adds, or ‘a Maenad shaking the thyrsus.’ Then Deianeira prays Juno to torment Heracles with all imaginable plagues58; and finally avows her own readiness to kill him59. Certainly Seneca has protected our sympathy with the hero from competition; but the hero himself, bragging and whining by turns, fails to profit by that advantage. The Hercules Oetaeus became the model of Rotrou, in his tragedy entitled Hercule Mourant60; and also influenced, in a greater or less degree, several other French dramas on the same theme61. It was inevitable that the Latin writer, rather than Sophocles, should be imitated by a French dramatist of the seventeenth century. Apart from this, however, the Deianeira of Seneca, considered as a general type, would be more truly congenial to the French stage. It was difficult for the Latin races to imagine a woman, supplanted in her husband's love, who did not wish to kill somebody,—her rival, or her husband, or both. Ovid's Deianeira is by no means so bad as Seneca's; but she, too, has the impulse to destroy Iolè62. The Deianeira of the Trachiniae, with anguish in her soul,—intent on regaining her lord's heart, but not angry, not malevolent towards him or towards Iolè,—this Deianeira is a creation of the Hellenic spirit, refined by the sweetness, the purity, the restrained strength of Athens at her best; if any one would see the spiritual kinswomen of this Deianeira, he must look for them on the grave-reliefs of the Cerameicus.
The wide range of subjects or motives which the Heracles legends gave to Greek art of every period includes, of course, several episodes mentioned in the Trachiniae;—the combat of Heracles with Acheloüs; the death of Nessus; Heracles with the Eurytidae; the death of Iphitus; the servitude to Om phalè63. But, in relation to the legends of Heracles, Attic Tragedy, represented by the Mad Heracles and the Trachiniae, had no direct influence upon art, such as can be traced, for instance, in regard to Philoctetes. For the story of Heracles, artists drew upon other, generally older, sources of poetry or tradition. When, indeed, in Hellenistic and Roman times a degenerate Heracles became the type of a strong man easily enthralled by pleasure, a companion of the Bacchic thiasos or of the Erôtes64, then the art which desired to portray him often went for material to the theatre; but such material was furnished by the Heracles of Comedy or of satyr-drama. It is not surprising, then, that the illustrations of the Trachiniae which Greek art affords are only of a general kind. For example, each of the three successive forms assumed by the Acheloüs of the Trachiniae, when he was a suitor for Deianeira, can be separately identified in works of art65. But, though the fight of Heracles with Acheloüs was a subject often treated by artists, no extant representation of that combat corresponds precisely with the scene as described by Sophocles66.
We have now considered the nature of the legendary
Successive phases in the style of Sophocles.
Nowhere is the poet's ethical portraiture more delicately
Distinctive traits in the diction of the Trachiniae.
The extent to which the Trachiniae shows the influ-
Supposed influence of Euripides.