Learning to Bear Witness: Tragic Bystanders in Sophocles’ Trachiniae

Book Section (Chapter)

Drawing on trauma theory and writing about the Holocaust, this chapter argues that Sophocles’ Trachiniae is attuned to the complexities not just of surviving trauma, but also of bearing witness to it. Three levels of bearing witness to trauma can be identified in this play. The first concerns Deianeira’s ability to bear witness to herself within her experience of trauma. The second is exemplified by Deianeira’s wider community, the Chorus of young Trachinian women and Hyllus, who understand and relate the complexity of Deianeira’s experience of trauma only belatedly. The third level of witnessing occurs outside of the dramatic action, as the external audience confronts the sufferings of the main characters and the difficulty of bearing witness to them. By staging the complex and flawed responses of internal witnesses, the Trachiniae requires its audiences to contemplate how witnesses fail. At the same time, this play challenges its audiences to remain sympathetic to the struggles of the survivors of emotional trauma and its witnesses.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Weiberg, E

Cited Editors

  • Karanika, A; Panoussi, V

Published Date

  • January 1, 2020

Book Title

  • Emotional Trauma in Greece and Rome


  • 10

Start / End Page

  • 177 - 191

Published By

Place of Publication

  • New York

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 978-0815373476