Classics Sophocles’ Trachiniae
P. J. Finglass
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0303


Once viewed as inferior to the other six surviving dramas, Sophocles’ Trachiniae has been rehabilitated by scholarship in recent decades. Named “The Women of Trachis” after its chorus, it opens with Heracles’ wife Deianira at Trachis in central Greece awaiting the return of her husband, who has been away for over a year. After the chorus console Deianira in her distress, the news comes that Heracles is on the way home, which brings her joy; but the mood soon darkens when it becomes clear that he has fallen in love with another woman, Iole, whose city he sacked and whom he is sending home ahead of himself. Despite the pain which this causes Deianira, she nevertheless shows pity to Iole, and attempts to recover her husband’s love by sending him a robe dipped in the blood of the centaur Nessus, which she believes to be a love charm; the blood is in fact a deadly poison, and Hyllus, Deianira’s son by Heracles, furiously describes to her his father’s physical agony; Deianira kills herself as a result. In the final scene the audience itself sees Heracles’ agony after he is taken on stage; as egotistical as Deianira was compassionate, he orders Hyllus to unite himself to Iole, before being taken off to a funeral pyre at the close. The dramatic contrast between the two main characters, their shifting fortunes, and the powerful emotions that they express all make this drama one of Sophocles’ masterpieces.

Editions and Commentaries

The most commonly used text of the drama is Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992; almost exactly the same text appears (with drastically reduced apparatus) in Lloyd-Jones 1998, accompanied by a translation. The other major modern critical edition, Dawe 1996, deserves consultation, but is more wayward in its choice of emendations; Dain 1955 is highly conservative, and now out-of-date in its use of manuscripts both ancient and modern. The best modern commentary is Easterling 1982, which takes the play seriously as a work of literature as well as offering a freshly constituted text; by contrast, Davies 1991 offers a photocopy of the uncorrected 1990 impression of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, and is less helpful as a commentary too, often simply referring the reader to secondary literature without providing a discussion in the commentary itself. Both Easterling 1982 and Davies 1991 examine the relationship of Sophocles’ play with other ancient accounts of the myth of Heracles and Deianira. Jebb 1892 is still essential, even though inevitably outdated in many respects; Kamerbeek 1959 is much less useful; Longo 1968 gives primarily linguistic guidance. What remains of the ancient commentators on the play is well edited by Xenis 2010.

  • Dain, A. 1955. Sophocle. Tome I. Les Trachiniennes—Antigone. Texte établi par Alphonse Dain et traduit par Paul Mazon. Paris: Société d’édition “Les Belles Lettres”.

    Edition of the text unsatisfactory, but accompanying translation of high calibre (see Mazon 1955, cited under Translations).

  • Davies, M. 1991. Sophocles. Trachiniae. Oxford: Clarendon.

    A reprint of the 1990 impression of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, with brief introduction and rather sparse commentary.

  • Dawe, R. D. 1996. Sophoclis Trachiniae. Stuttgart and Leipzig: Teubner.

    Critical edition with adventurous, often idiosyncratic text.

  • Easterling, P. E. 1982. Sophocles. Trachiniae. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Text with excellent modern introduction and commentary.

  • Jebb, R. C. 1892. Sophocles: The plays and fragments. Part V. The Trachiniae. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Classic commentary on the play; inevitably out of date in all kinds of ways, but the editor’s good sense and style ensure that his book remains essential. Reprinted as R. C. Jebb, Sophocles. Plays. Trachiniae. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2004. General editor P. E. Easterling, with an introduction by B. Goward.

  • Kamerbeek, J. C. 1959. The plays of Sophocles: Commentaries. Part II. The Trachiniae. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Commentary only; highly conservative in textual matters and pedestrian in terms of literary and linguistic analysis.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H. 1998. Sophocles. Antigone. The Women of Trachis. Philoctetes. Oedipus at Colonus. Loeb Classical Library 21. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Corrected revision of 1994 impression. Text virtually the same as that of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson 1992, but with facing translation.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H., and N. G. Wilson. 1992. Sophoclis Fabulae. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Corrected revision of 1990 impression. The most widely used edition; often reliable, though fond of unlikely conjectures.

  • Longo, O. 1968. Commento linguistico alle Trachinie di Sofocle. Proagones 8. Padua, Italy: Editrice Antenore.

    Sustained linguistic analysis of the drama.

  • Xenis, G. A. 2010. Scholia vetera in Sophoclis Trachinias. Sammlung griechischer und lateinischer Grammatiker 13. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    New critical edition of the scholia (ancient commentaries) on Sophocles’ Trachiniae.

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