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About the project

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End of Life

Dramatic Reading of Women of Trachis + Philoctetes, by Sophocles

Translated and Directed by Bryan Doerries

End of Life presents readings of ancient Greek plays in public settings and medical communities as a catalyst for facilitated discussions about challenges faced by patients, families, and health professionals today around end of life care. This unique, participatory event is intended to promote powerful, open discussion among diverse communities - public and professional - fostering compassion, cooperation, and understanding about living with chronic suffering and the mortality we all share.

I think we all have to acknowledge that dying, the moment of death, is always going to be fearful and mysterious. And no matter how much you believe in the afterlife, or in rebirth, or the peace of the grave, everybody dies. And it’s okay that it happens. But there is no way that death isn’t going to rupture your reality. And that calls into question what it means to be you. What does it mean for all of us to be mortal? And what does it mean to be a doctor when everyones mortal? Facing those questions is not necessarily comfortable.
Dr. Leslie Blackhall, Palliative Care, University of Virginia School of Medicine, 2015
End of Life at the Castro Theater, San Francisco, CA Photo by Marjolaine Goldsmith

About the plays

  • Women of Trachis by Sophocles

    Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, tells the story of Heracles—the strongest of all Greek heroes—who has been unintentionally poisoned by his wife, Deineira, after she discovers that he has fallen in love with a younger woman. In an attempt to win back her husband’s affection mistakes a lethal toxin, which was given to her by a dying centaur years ago for a love potion. Deineira sends him a robe dipped in the liquid. When Heracles puts on the robe it immediately eats through his skin, muscle tissue, down through his bones to the marrow. Heracles falls to the ground, clutching his sides, crying out in pain, calling for his teenage son, Hyllus, to come to his aid and to help him put an end to the seemingly endless waves of pain.

  • Philoctetes by Sophocles

    Sophocles’ Philoctetes tells the story of decorated warrior who is abandoned on a deserted island because of mysterious chronic illness that he contracts on the way to the Trojan War. Nine years later, the Greeks learn from an oracle that in order to win the war they must rescue him from the island. When they finally come for him, the wounded warrior must overcome nine long years of festering resentment and shame in order to accept help from the very men who betrayed him.

End of Life Highlights

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Charles S. Dutton as Hercules in Women of Trachis

Harvard Medical School / 2010

Harvard End Of Life
End of Life

Screams from Greek stage aim for doctors’ hearts Drama animates issues in Harvard ethics course

Harvard Medical School / 2010

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Bryan Doerries End Of Life Harvard Medical School
End of Life

Theater of the mind, heart and spirit

Harvard Medical School / 2010

End of Life

End of Life - Women of Trachis Reading │ IOM Committee on Approaching Death

Chautauqua Institution CHQ Health Care Forum / 2013

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