Sophocles, creator; Sophocles the plays and fragments with critical notes, commentary, and translation in English prose, Part 5 The Trachiniae; Jebb, Richard Claverhouse, Sir, 1841-1905, editor, translator; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1892.
There is a saying among men, put forth long ago, that you cannot judge a mortal’s life and know whether it is good or bad until he dies. But well I know, even before I have passed away to Hades’ domain, that my life is ill-fortuned and heavy.
For I, while still dwelling in the house of my father Oeneus at Pleuron, had such fear of marriage as never any woman of Aetolia had. For my suitor was a river-god, Achelous,
who in three shapes was always asking me from my father—coming now as a bull in visible form, now as a serpent, sheeny and coiled, now ox-faced with human trunk, while from his thick-shaded beard wellheads of fountain-water sprayed.
In the expectation that such a suitor would get me, I was always praying in my misery that I might die, before I should ever approach that marriage-bed. But at last, to my joy, the glorious son of Zeus and Alcmena came and
closed with him in combat and delivered me. The manner of their fighting I cannot clearly recount. I know it not, but if there be anyone who watched that sight without trembling, he might give an account of it. But I, as I sat there, was struck with terror,
lest my beauty should win me sorrow in the end. But Zeus, Arbiter of Contests, accomplished a good ending—if indeed it was good. For since being joined with Heracles as his chosen bride, I nourish one fear after another in my anxiety for him. One night brings distress,
and the next night, in turn, drives it out. Children, furthermore, were born to us, whom at the time he looked at only as the farmer looks at a distant field, visiting it only once to sow seed and once to reap. Such was the manner of his life, ever sending him
to and from our home in servitude to some master. But now, when he has risen above those trials—now it is that my fear is keenest. For ever since he slew the mighty Iphitus, we have been dwelling here in Trachis, refugees
in the home of a foreign host. But where Heracles is, no one knows. I only know that he is gone, and has caused me sharp pain for him. I am almost sure that he has come to some suffering. The interval has not been brief; rather, he is unheard from ten months already,
plus another five. Yes, there has been some terrible misfortune. That tablet which he left with me before departing suggests it to me. I often pray to the gods that I did not receive it to my misfortune.
Deianeira, my mistress, many are the times already that I have
observed you mourning the departure of Heracles with great weeping and lamentation. But now—if it is proper to school the free-born with the doctrines of a slave, and if I am obliged to point out what you should do—how is it that you so abound in sons, yet
you do not send one of them to seek your husband, especially Hyllus? It would be appropriate to send him, if he cared for his father’s sake that he be deemed to fare well. Here he is now, dashing to the house in timely stride. So if in your eyes I speak in season,
you can use both my counsel and the man.
My child, my son, wise words fall, it seems, from humble lips. For this woman is a slave, but her advice is worthy of the free.
What sort of advice, Mother? Tell me, if I may be told.
It brings shame, she says, that you have not sought to learn of your father and where he is, when he has been abroad for so long.
But I know where, if one can put any trust in rumors.
And in what region, my child, do you hear that he has settled?