Monday, January 26, 2015

Trojan Women - Euripides

'The Trojan Women' is an interesting play in that it focuses on the effect of war on women.  Especially the women of the losing side.  In some ways this play is a direct contradiction to the idea that history is written by the victors.  The people of Athens couldn't have simply shrugged off the connection between their heroes, the Greeks, and the poor women dealing with the aftermath of the Trojan war.
The main focus is Hecuba, the queen of Troy.  Her precious son Hector has been killed in the war as has her king, Priam.  Now she awaits her fate.  In rapid succession:
  • A messenger arrives to tell her that she will now be a slave to Odysseus.
  • Her daughter Casandra is told that she will be a slave to Agamemnon. (Casandra is madly thrilled with this because she can foresee that this will tear apart him and his family.)
  • Her youngest daughter, Polyxena, is killed at the tomb of Achilles.
  • Probably worst of all, her youngest (infant?) son Astyanax will be thrown from a tower of Troy so that he won't grow up and seek revenge.
  • She is then confronted with the scheming Helen who was behind the war in the first place.
It's a bleak play, perhaps the most bleak that I've ever read.  The rolling doom has a sort of fascination, I suppose.  I imagine watching it back then would have been very uncomfortable.  Well, even now it seems an uncomfortable thing to watch. 
Which isn't to say that it's not well written.  I can easily imagine that the role of Hecuba would be one that a talented actress could really sink her teeth into.  It's similar to Lady Macbeth in the amount of passion it must take to perform well.  
But this really was a direct challenge to Athens at a time during the Peloponessian war when Athens was doing some awful things.  I remain surprised at the amount of anti-war material has made it into this reading list.  We've read that warriors are jerks (the Illiad), that war is uncertain folly (The Peloponessian War) and here that the innocent victims of war pay far too high a price.

Not an easy play, but very worth while.


  1. I read this ages ago and it didn't make much of an impression on me, but it was during my first foray into Greek drama so I should read it again. I thought Astyanax was the son of Hector and Andromache .....??? Actually I can't even remember what happened to Andromache, except she was taken as a slave. I quite loved the warriors in the Iliad ....... their quest for fame and glory is a rather alien concept to us but I appreciated that they had something that they actually believed in and would die for. I don't know about you but I find it something of a struggle to understand the Greek mindset ....... it's so foreign!

    1. It really is so foreign to us! But I wonder if that would have been true even a few generations ago. The idea of fighting for fame and glory is incredibly out of fashion now. And while that may be for the best, I'm not sure that we've done a good job of figuring out a replacement. In fact I doubt it.
      I'm not sure if you've read any Robert Heinlein but his 'Starship Troopers' is a very good read on the subject.

    2. Your comments are interesting and I think very true ....... fame and glory were just replaced by freedom and liberty, but at least there was a purpose ...... a greater good that people believed in. As a culture, we are now so self-centred and there is nothing greater than self. It reminds me of the Dorothy Sayers quote:

      "In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair...the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die."

    3. Oh, and thanks for the recommendation. I've had my eye on it for awhile, I've just had so much to read. But I've it ordered from the library now and hopefully I can get to it before it has to go back! :-Z