The Women of Trachis is another play in which Sophocles presents a female character, Deianeira, the wife of Heracles.
The drama can be considered to be a powerful study of a female typology – the jealous woman.
The plot of the play can be divided into two portions. The first is dominated by Deianeira, while Hercules dominates the second.
Deianeira accuses his husband of neglecting his family, because of his rare visits and often adventures. While Heracles is involved in a battle, his wife sends their son, Hyllus to find him, as she is concerned about Heracles faith. Shortly after Hyllus leaves a messenger arrives telling that Heracles is victorious in his recent battle and that he was coming home soon.
Lichas, a companion of Heracles, brings in some slave girls, captured from a recent battle, and tells Deianeira Heracles attacked that city because Eurytus enslaved Heracles and her husband wanted revenge. One of the slaves is Iole, daughter of Eurytus. Deianeira soon finds out the true story, that Heracles laid siege to the city, just to obtain Iole.
Mad about his husband falling for Iole, she uses a love charm on him. She remembers that when she was younger, she had been carried across a river by the centaur Nessus.
During the crossing, Nessus grabbed her, but Heracles shot him with an arrow. With his last breath, he told Deianeira his blood would keep Heracles forever faithful, if she should create a robe with his blood. She does that and sends the robe through Lichas with the strict instructions that only Heracles should wear it, and that it has to be kept in the dark until he puts it on.
But after she sends it, she starts to have a bad feeling about it. She throws some of the left-over material into sunlight and the material reacts like boiling acid.
All that Nessus had told her was a lie. Shortly after she realizes her mistake, her son arrives and tells her Heracles lies dying, due to the robe.
The pain was so big that he even killed Lichas, the deliverer. Deianeira can not suffer the blame her son was putting on her and commits suicide.
Hyllus than understands the real intension of his mother, and explains everything to his dying father, who has been carried to his home in horrible pain. The prophesies are now fulfilled - Heracles was to be killed by someone who was already dead, and he understands his real killer is Nessus.
Although his pain is so big that he is begging to be killed, Heracles makes a final wish that Hyllus is to marry Iole. At the end of the play, Heracles is carried off to be burned alive, as an ending to his suffering.
The Trachiniae has not been a favorite drama for the critics. Most of them consider it deficient when it comes to the techniques of the writing.
Those who consider it a bad play, assume that it was the work of the inexperienced young Sophocles, or, on the contrary, the work of decaying old Sophocles.
Despite the critics’ opinion, the play is generally appreciated by the public for its tenderness and pathos.