Understanding Deianira Uniquely among the extant tragedies of Sophocles, the Trachiniae begins with a monologue. There are of course no stage directions in our most ancient sources so we cannot be certain about the point at which Sophocles intended Deianira’s Nurse to enter the playing space, but if, as many modern editors have suggested, the two women enter together, Deianira’s speech will signal even more powerfully her feelings of distraction and isolation, because at no point in almost fifty lines of verse is there any indication that she is aware of, much less speaking to, this servant, who must already know the stories of anxious adolescence that her mistress begins to tell. And yet, Deianira’s very first words would appear to issue a defiant challenge, particularly to the almost exclusively male audience in the Theatre of Dionysus. Among men, she says, an ancient saying that suggests that one cannot describe a life as happy or unhappy until that life is over has achieved the status of an unarguable truth, but Deianira disputes its veracity; although still alive, she insists, she is nonetheless certain that her own unfortunate life disproves it. For spectators – probably the majority – already familiar with the outlines of Deianira’s biography, and especially those who recognised that her name translates as ‘man-killer’ or ‘husband-slayer’, these lines might elicit a sense of irony, or even scepticism:1 at this point Deianira is profoundly unaware that her life is about to get very much worse and that, therefore, this particular example of proverbial masculine wisdom will turn out to be right after all.2