It’s Awkward For The Wife

“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” said Diana, Princess of Wales, and batted her eyes. That was 1995.

Deianeira, wife of Heracles, had to contend with similar, some years earlier:

Sophocles, Trachiniae 531-551.

Friends, while the stranger is inside
Taking leave of the captive women,
I’ve tiptoed outside
To tell you what my hands have done
And what’s being done to me.
You’ll come together in pitying me.

Like a sailor I’ve taken on board a heavy load,
Cargo humiliating for my heart—
A girl, but not still chaste. She’s his lover,
That’s my suspicion.
So now two women wait under one blanket,
As if one body, for my husband’s embrace.
This is how Heracles, the man they call trustworthy
and noble, thanks me for keeping his house all this time.

I don’t know how to be angry with the man
When this sickness so assails him.
And yet, what wife could share her house,
Share her marriage itself, with this woman?
I see her youth strutting and my own fading;
And we know the eye turns away
From the flower it once fondly plucked.

This frightens me.
Heracles may be called my husband
But he’ll be the younger woman’s man.

ἦμος, φίλαι, κατʼ οἶκον ὁ ξένος θροεῖ
ταῖς αἰχμαλώτοις παισὶν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐξόδῳ,
τῆμος θυραῖος ἦλθον ὡς ὑμᾶς λάθρᾳ,
τὰ μὲν φράσουσα χερσὶν ἁτεχνησάμην,
τὰ δʼ οἷα πάσχω συγκατοικτιουμένη.
κόρην γάρ, οἶμαι δʼ οὐκέτʼ, ἀλλʼ ἐζευγμένην,
παρεισδέδεγμαι φόρτον ὥστε ναυτίλος,
λωβητὸν ἐμπόλημα τῆς ἐμῆς φρενός.
καὶ νῦν δύʼ οὖσαι μίμνομεν μιᾶς ὑπὸ
χλαίνης ὑπαγκάλισμα. τοιάδʼ Ἡρακλῆς,
ὁ πιστὸς ἡμῖν κἀγαθὸς καλούμενος,
οἰκούριʼ ἀντέπεμψε τοῦ μακροῦ χρόνου.
ἐγὼ δὲ θυμοῦσθαι μὲν οὐκ ἐπίσταμαι
νοσοῦντι κείνῳ πολλὰ τῇδε τῇ νόσῳ·
τὸ δʼ αὖ ξυνοικεῖν τῇδʼ ὁμοῦ τίς ἂν γυνὴ
δύναιτο, κοινωνοῦσα τῶν αὐτῶν γάμων;
ὁρῶ γὰρ ἥβην τὴν μὲν ἕρπουσαν πρόσω,
τὴν δὲ φθίνουσαν· ὧν ἀφαρπάζειν φιλεῖ
ὀφθαλμὸς ἄνθος, τῶν δʼ ὑπεκτρέπει πόδα.
ταῦτʼ οὖν φοβοῦμαι μὴ πόσις μὲν Ἡρακλῆς
ἐμὸς καλῆται, τῆς νεωτέρας δʼ ἀνήρ.

Pablo Picasso, Femme aux Bras Croisés.
(1901-1902). Private Collection.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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