October 26, 2004

Summary – 'The Trojan Women' by Euripides

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The Trojan Women

Play begins with Poseidon lamenting the death of his city, telling us that all the heroes of Troy are dead and now all that remains is for the Greeks to share out the women as spoils of war. Athene appears, telling Poseidon that she is angry with the Greeks for defiling her temple during the sacking of Troy, and the two gods make a pact to cause the Greeks sorrow on their voyages home.

Next we see Hecuba, widow of Priam, sitting in Agamemnon’s tent lamenting her fate. The Chorus are all women in the same situation, unknowing of where they are to be sent. Then the Greek herald, Talthybius, arrives and tells the women that they are all to be sent to different places – he tells Hecuba that Cassandra is to leave as Agamemnon’s concubine, but does not tell her the truth about the sacrifice of her other daughter, Polyxena, instead saying that she is an attendant at Achilles’ tomb. He tells Hecuba that she has been assigned to Odysseus. Cassandra is brought in, and she tells Hecuba not to mourn for her as she is going to bring doom upon the house of Atreus, and make sure that Agamemnon is killed.

Andromache, Hector’s widow, is next to arrive, with her infant son Astyanax. She tells Hecuba the truth about Polyxena’s death. Talthybius comes in and tells Andromache that Odysseus has decided to kill Astyanax, as the son of a great man such as Hector is too dangerous – he must be thrown off a cliff.

Menelaus then arrives, explaining that it was not for love of Helen that he started the war, but for a desire for revenge upon Paris. He expresses his desire to kill Helen, and Hecuba praises him. When Helen is brought in, she pleads with Menelaus to let her explain herself – Hecuba tells Menelaus to listen, but then she (Hecuba) will provide a rebuttal. Helen tells Menelaus that Aphrodite is to blame, not her, and that she tried to join the Greek army again when Paris was killed, but was prevented from doing so by the Trojans – she asks for pity and comfort, not revenge. Hecuba then takes her turn, saying that Helen loved Paris, and she switched sides during the war whenever one seemed to be on top. Menelaus agrees with Hecuba, and sends Helen back to Sparta on a different ship from his own, to face justice there.

Talthybius arrives with the body of Astyanax, explaining that Andromache has already been taken off by Neoptolemus, and so it is now Hecuba’s responsibility to bury the child. After she has lamented over the child and performed a few simple rites, the order is given for Troy to be burned and for Hecuba to be taken to Odysseus. Hecuba attempts to run into the fire but is prevented by Odysseus’ soldiers, and so Hecuba and the women of the Chorus get onto the ship away from the burning city.

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