Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2012Type
.......The Trojan Women is a tragedy
centering on the horror of war and its aftermath. Trojan is an adjective
referring to persons, places, and things in the ancient
city of Troy, situated west of the Aegean Sea in Asia
Minor (now part of present-day Turkey).
debuted The Trojan Women in Athens in 415 BC at
the theater on the south side of the Acropolis. The
occasion was the Great Dionysia, a yearly festival at Athens
presented in the name of the god of wine, drama, and
ribald merriment, Dionysus (known as Bacchus to the
.......Euripides based the
play on the myths and legends about the Trojan War.
Archeological and historical evidence suggests that the
war actually took place, probably between 1350 and 1100
BC. However, ancient storytellers mythologized the
events before, during, and after the war, saying gods
and goddesses took sides and even intervened in battles
to affect the outcome of the war and the fates of
heroes. The storytellers also exaggerated or fabricated
the deeds of Greek and Trojan warriors.
The most .
.......The action takes place before the walls of
Troy, an ancient city near the western coast of
present-day Turkey. The play begins at dawn on a day
after Greek armies won the Trojan War. Troy is in ruins.
Corpses lie unburied on the battlefield in front of the
city. Trojan womenincluding Hecuba, the queen of
Troycongregate outside the walls of the city in deep
despair. They are to become slaves of the victorious
.......In the ancient Mediterranean world of
the second millennium BC, feminine beauty reaches its
zenith in Helen, wife of Menelaus, the king of the
Grecian state of Sparta. Her wondrous face and body
are without flaw. She is perfect. Even the goddess of
love, Aphrodite, admires her. One day, Aphrodite
competes with other goddesses in a beauty contest in
which the winner is to receive a golden apple. The
judge is a young Trojan named Paris. Aphrodite tells
him that if he selects her she will award him the most
ravishing woman in the world. After Paris chooses
Aphrodite, she tells him about Helen, who lives in
Greece with her husband, Menelaus, the king of Sparta.
Forthwith, Paris goes to Greece, woos Helen, and
absconds with her to Troy, a walled city in Asia Minor
(in present-day Turkey).
elopement of Helen and Paris is an affront to all the
Greeks. How dare an upstart Trojan invade their land!
How dare he steal the wife of one of their kings!
Which Greek family would be next to fall victim to a
Trojan machination? Infuriated, King Menelaus and his
brother, Agamemnon, king of the state of Mycenae,
assemble a mighty army of brother Greeks who include
the finest warriors in the land. Together, they cross
the sea in one thousand ships to make war against Troy
and win back their prideand Helen.
.......After years of fighting, one of the
Greek leadersOdysseus, the king of Ithacadevises a
plan to end the war. He suggests that the Greeks
construct a great wooden horse as a weapon of war. A
Greek named Epeus supervises its construction.
Afterward, a Greek with a persuasive tongue deceives
the Trojans into believing that their foes have
wearied of the war and that the giant horse, which
stands at the gates of Troy, is a parting gift. Seeing
no Greeks on the battlefield, the Trojans move the
horse into the city. At night, Greek soldiers hiding
inside the belly of the horse drop down and open the
gates of the city for Greek armies hiding outside. The
Greeks pour into the city and overwhelm the Trojans,
wreaking slaughter and destruction and taking women as
captives. Euripides tells the story of these captives
as he imagines it.
....... Euripides wrote The
Trojan Women a short time after an army from
Athens, Greece, attacked Melos, an island in the Aegean
Sea, to force its inhabitants to become members of an
alliance against the Greek city state of Sparta. The
Athenians also demanded tribute. After the island
residents refused to yield to the Athenian demands, the
Athenians overran the city, killing male defenders who
stood their ground and capturing women and children to
serve as slaves. It is possible that Euripides wrote The
Trojan Women to protest the incursion against
Hecuba: Queen of Troy before it fell to the
Greeks. Hecuba, the main character, is an old woman who
bewails the destruction of her city and the loss of
family members. She is to become a slave in the
household of Odysseus, one of the victorious
God of the sea, who sided with the defeated Trojans
during the war. The Romans referred to him as Neptune.
Athena: Goddess of wisdom and war, also known as
Pallas Athena or Pallas. Although she sided with the
Greeks during the war, she turns against them after one of them rapes the
Trojan prophetess Cassandra in a temple dedicated to
Athena. The Romans referred to Athena as Minerva.
Widow of Troy's greatest warrior, Hector, who was slain
in battle by the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles.
Greek messenger who informs the Trojan women of what
will happen to them.
prophetess and daughter of Hecuba.
Astyanax: Son of Andromache and Hector. Although
he is just a little boy, the Greeks condemn him to
death. If they allow him to grow to manhood, they fear,
he will seek revenge against them at the head of an
Helen: See Mythological Background.
Menelaus: See Mythological Background.
Chorus of Trojan Women
Inhabitant of Achaea, a region in southern Greece.
Achilles: A Greek who was the greatest warrior in
the Trojan War. He died when an arrow shot by Paris lodged in the heel of his
of all the Greek armies that fought at Troy. He selected
Cassandra as his prize of war.
Inhabitant of Argos, a region in southeastern Greece.
Aias: This given
name identified either of two Greek warriors, Aias the
Great and Aias the Less (referred to in many
translations of ancient Greek texts as Ajax the Great
and Ajax the Less.) Aias the Great was a gigantic man
who was second only to Achilles
in battlefield prowess. Aias the Less was a smaller man
and less formidable on the battlefieldhence his
epithet, "the less." Aias the Less raped Cassandra after the fall of
Deiphobus: Trojan warrior who took Helen as his
bride after the death of Paris.
builder of the Trojan horse. He constructed it after
Odysseus conceived the idea for the structure as a
weapon of war.
of the Trojan warriors. He was slain by the greatest of
the Greek warriors, Achilles.
Hera: Wife of
Zeus and queen of the Olympian gods.
Hymen: The god of
Odysseus: King of
Ithaca, Greece, who conceived the idea for the Trojan
horse. (See the third paragraph under Mythological Background.)
Paris: Son of the king and queen of
Troy, Priam and Hecuba. He absconded to Troy with Helen,
the wife of Menelaus. (See Mythological
Background.) The affront to Menelaus was an insult to all
the Greeks, and they declared war on Troy to gain
revenge. Paris was killed by the Greek archer
of the king and queen of Troy, Priam and Hecuba. She
dies after Troy falls.
Priam: King of
Troy and husband of Hecuba. He died in the Trojan War.
Spartan king and father of Helen. He was not the
biological father of Helen, however. Helen was the
offspring of the union of Tyndarus's wife, Leda, and
Zeus: King of the Greek gods. The Romans referred
to him as Jupiter.
Arcadia: A region in south-central Greece.
Greek island that was the birthplace the god Apollo and
the goddess Artemis.
Transliteration of the word that the ancient Greeks used
as the name for their country (Greece).
Another name for Troy.
Myconus: Greek island.
Mountain in central Greece.
Phocis: A region
of ancient central Greece.
Phrygia: A region
in present-day Turkey. In The Trojan Women, the
characters use Phrygia as another name for Troy.
tone of the play is somber. Desperation, sorrow, and
anxiety afflict the Trojan women as they stand outside
the ruins of Troy and await their Greek slave masters.
lies in ruins after Greek armies win the Trojan War and
loot the city. Poseidon comes ashore and laments the
downfall of the city. In front of the tent of the
victorious Greek general, Agamemnon, the great sea god
says that the groves of Troy are now empty and that its
holy temples run with blood. Priam, the king of Troy, is
dead. The Greeks burden their ships with Trojan gold and
other booty before debarking for their native land.
.......Now that Troy has fallen with the help
of the Greek-loving Athena and Hera, Poseidon is
abandoning the site as a lost cause. As he speaks, he
hears the screams of captive Trojan women whom the
Greeks will take with them on their gold-laden ships.
Among them is Helen, the Greek beauty whom the Trojan
prince Paris brought to Troy to become his lover.
Poseidon also hears the lamentation of old Hecuba,
Priam's widow, as she lies in front of the gates of the
.......Athena then appears before Poseidon
and asks him to help her bring ruin upon the Greeks. She
explains that she turned against them after the Greek
archer Aias the Less raped the Trojan prophetess
Cassandra when she sought refuge in a temple dedicated
to Athena. The other Greeks did nothing to help
Cassandra. Nor did they reprimand Aias for his foul
.......After Poseidon agrees to assist her,
she tells him she has already received a pledge of aid
from Zeus, the king of the gods. He will unleash rain
and hail upon the Greek ships and give Athena lightning
bolts to hurl at the vessels. As for Poseidon, he could
churn the seas and stir up whirlpools, the goddess says.
Poseidon agrees to help. He then suggests that she
return to Olympus, get the lightning bolts, and prepare
to strike when the Greeks set sail. Athena and Poseidon
.......Hecuba, meanwhile, bewails the loss of
her husband, several of her children, and her proud
city. Now she is to become Greek property, a slave. The
other Trojan womenmostly young wives who lost their
husbandswill share the same fate. Helen was the cause
of all the Trojan woes, she says. When she came to Troy,
she brought ruin with her.
.......Several Trojan women ask Hecuba
whether the Greeks really plan to keep the women as
slaves. The old woman assumes so. Other Trojan women
approach and ask to what far lands they are going.
Hecuba tells them the time nears when they will know.
Hecuba then says,.Ah me! ah me! Whose slave shall I
become in my old age? in what far clime? a poor old
drone, the wretched copy of a corpse, set to keep the
gate or tend their children, I who once held royal rank
.......A Greek named Talthybius enters with
information about their destinations. When Hecuba asks
him about her daughter Cassandra, Talthybius says King
Agamemnon himself has selected her. Hecuba notes that
Cassandra is a virgin dedicated to serving as priestess
of Apollo. But Talthybius tells Hecuba that Agamemnon
has fallen in love with her. That he singled her out for
himself is a high honor, he says. Hecuba then inquires
about the fate of her daughter Polyxena and Hector's
wife, Andromache. Talthybius says Polyxena is to
minister at the tomb of Achilles; Andromache is to be
given to the son of Achilles. Hecuba herself is to serve
Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, Greece. The old woman then
laments her fateto be a slave to a treacherous foe I
hate, a monster of lawlessness.
.......The traumatized Cassandra comes forth
bearing torches. She says their flames honor Hymen, the
god of marriage, and celebrate her forthcoming marriage
to Agamemnon. Hecuba tries to calm her, telling her that
her experiences have affected her state of mind. But
Cassandra says her mother should rejoice in her match
with Agamemnon, for it will give her an opportunity to
slay him and lay waste his home to avenge my father's
and my bretheren's death.
.......Talthybius takes her words as those of
a madwoman, then tells her to go with him to give
herself up to Agamemnon. He also tells Hecuba to
accompany them so that she may await Odysseus. Cassandra
then foretells the perils that await Odysseus on his
long journey homehis encounter with the Cyclops and
Circe the sorceress, his shipwreck, the loss of all his
men, the trouble that awaits him at home alone.
(Odysseus's voyage home is the subject of Homer's Odyssey.
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.......After Cassandra leaves with
Talthybius, Hecuba laments her lot as a slave. Once she
was the queen of Troy; now she will do household chores,
such as baking bread, while wearing ragged clothing. The
other women call Hecuba's attention to the approach of
Hector's widow, Andromache, who is holding her son,
Astyanax. They are on a chariot that will carry them to
her new master.
.......Our day is past, Andromache tells
.......Hecuba says, Joy is fled, and Troy
.......To add to Hecuba's miseries,
Andromache reports that the queen's daughter Polyxena is
dead. Andromache also says that Polyxena's death was a
happier fate than this my life. But Hecuba says death
is the end of everything, but life keeps hope alive.
Andromache replies that she has no hope. The other
Trojan women say they, too, are in despair. Hecuba urges
Andromache to make the best of her situation, especially
for the sake of her son. If she bears other children in
her captivity, they can help Astyanax rebuild a new
.......Talthybius returns and, with sadness
in his voice, informs Andromache that the Greek
victorson the advice of Odysseusplan to kill Astyanax.
As the son of the brave Hector, Astyanax represents a
future threat to the Greeks. He is to be cast down from
the walls of Troy. The news breaks Andromache's heart.
She says to Astyanax:
"Oh to clasp thy tender limbs, a mother's fondest joy!
Oh to breathe thy fragrant breath! In vain it seems
these breasts did suckle thee, wrapped in thy
swaddling-clothes; all for naught I used to toil and
wore myself away!"
.......Andromache and Talthybius leave with
the boy, who is to be taken to the battlements to meet
his fate. Hecuba beats her breast in lamentation.
.......Menelaus enters, saying he plans to
take back Helen, the wife that Paris stole from him. But
he says he now regards her as just another captive
Trojan woman. He says she will accompany him back to
Greece. There, he will kill her before his countrymen
who lost sons or husbands in the Trojan War. He orders
his men to drag her from his tent by her hair. Hecuba
commends him for vowing to kill Helen, the cause of all
the Trojan woes. But she warns him to be wary of her
.......Helen comes forth and asks Menelaus
what he plans to do with her. He tells her she is to
die. Helen says it would be unjust to kill her. Here is
her explanation. First, Hecuba gave birth to Paris. It
was Paris, of course, who took Helen from Menelaus.
Therefore, it was Hecuba who was the ultimate cause of
the Trojan War. Second, Paris was called upon in his
early youth to judge which goddess was the
fairestAthena, Hera, or Aphrodite. To influence his
decision, Athena promised him command of an army and
destruction of Greece. Hera promised him sovereignty
over Asia and Europe. Aphrodite promised him Helen.
Thus, when Paris decided in favor of Aphrodite to win
Helen, Greece was spared from destruction (as promised
by Athena) or absorption into a vast dominion (as
promised by Hera).
.......In other words, Helen says, she was
the savior of Greece; but she herself was taken away by
Paris. After Paris died in the last days of the Trojan
War, she says, she wanted to return to the Greeks. But
the Trojan warrior Deiphobus carried her off by force to
be his own. All of these events prove that she does not
deserve to die, Helen tells Menelaus.
.......Hecuba then says Helen is lying about
what Athena and Hera told Paris. It makes no sense, she
says, that either goddess would make a promise that
jeopardized the future of Greece. Moreover, she says,
Helen threw herself at Paris; he did not force her to
leave Greece. She had an eye not only for Paris but also
for the gold of foreign lands. Later, when the war was
raging, her sympathies were with Paris if the Trojans
had the upper hand and with Menelaus if the Greeks had
the upper hand. As for Helen's claim that she wished to
return to the Greeks, Hecuba says that she often offered
to help Helen to escape Troy, hoping that her return to
the Greeks would end the war. But Helen did not accept
her offers. She indeed deserves to die, Hecuba says. The
chorus of Trojan women supports Hecuba's view.
.......Menelaus says he agrees with Hecuba
that Helen willingly left his home to be with Paris. He
tells Helen that she will die for her unchastity after
his ship reaches Greece. Menelaus leaves, dragging Helen
.......Talthybius approaches carrying the
corpse of Astyanax on Hector's shield. While he digs a
grave, Hecuba is to adorn the corpse with roses and
appropriate garments. Talthybius has already washed it
in the Scamander River. After he leaves, Hecuba mourns
the loss of her grandson as a tender child untimely
slain whom the Greeks robbed of his dreams for a bright
.......In the ruins of Troy, the women find
bandages to wrap the boy's wounds and a robe with which
to swathe him. After they take them to Hecuba, she
prepares the corpse. As she works over him, she
criticizes the gods for allowing Troy to fall. In vain
did we sacrifice to them, she says.
.......The corpse is carried away. Talthybius
returns and calls out to soldiers in Troy to set fire to
everything still standing. Servants of Odysseus then
take Hecuba to his fleet of ships.
Horror of War: The central theme of the play
is the horror of war. Troy is in ruins. Corpses lie
about the battlefield. Trojan women young and old
huddle together as they lament the loss of husbands
and children and shudder at the thought of becoming
slaves in a land across the sea. Hecuba, once a
great queen, is to become a lowly servant in the
house of the Greek warrior Odysseus. The rape victim
Cassandra, a prophetess of Apollo, is to become the
property of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek
One of the most painful moments in the play is the
death of Little Astyanaxthe son of the dead Trojan
leader, Hector, and his wife, Andromache. The Greeks
throw him from the walls of Troy in the belief that
he would have sought vengeance as an adult.
Dread: The captive Trojan
women dread the future. All they know for certain is
that ships will carry them across the sea to a strange
country, a different culture, unfamiliar faces, and a
degrading way of life. There will be no family members
to comfort them, no pay for the work they do.
Hope: Andromache says she would be better off
dead. But Hecuba says that where there is life there
is hope for a better tomorrow. Having lived long
enough to know that situations change, she says,
Fortune, like a madman in her moods, springs towards
this man, then towards that; and none ever experiences
the same unchanging luck.
Revenge: Athena turns against the Greeks after
Aias the Less rapes Cassandra in Athena's temple. To
gain revenge, Athena persuades Poseidon to help her
sabotage the Greek ships. Cassandra herself later
speaks of retribution when she says, "I will slay
[Agamemnon] and lay waste his home to avenge my
father's and my bretheren's death." Meanwhile, the
Greek king Menelaus plans to kill Helen, his wife, for
having run off before the war with Paris, a prince of
Troy. "My purpose is . . . to carry her to Hellas in
my seaborne ship, and then surrender her to death, a
recompense to all whose friends were slain in Ilium."
The Trojan women agree with his decision to kill her,
for they regard her as the source of all their
climax occurs when the Greeks set fire to what is left
of Troy. Of this event, Hecuba says,
Ah, woe is me! This
surely is the last, the utmost limit this, of all my
sorrows; forth from my land I go; my city is ablaze
with flame. Yet, thou aged foot, make one painful
struggle to hasten, that I may say a farewell to this
wretched town. O Troy, that erst hadst such a grand
career amongst barbarian towns, soon wilt thou be reft
of that splendid name. Lo! they are burning thee, and
leading us e'en now from our land to slavery.
prologue, or introduction, of the play begins
when Poseidon laments the fall of Troy. It
continues when Athena tells Poseidon that she
has turned against the Greeks, whom she
supported during the war, because the Greek
warrior Aias the Less raped the Trojan
prophetess Cassandra in a temple dedicated to
Athena. The prologue ends after Hecuba, who had
been queen of the city, speaks her first lines,
bemoaning the fall of her city and the fate of
the Trojan women.
.......The lines that chorus members sing when they
first appear make up what is called a parode
(or parados). The parode takes place when the
chorus of Trojan women enters and asks Hecuba about
the lines she spoke in the prologue. Her despairing
tone has unnerved the women. The parode ends when the
chorus women mourn their losses and express anxiety
about the future. Speaking in the first-person
singular, they say, in part: "I look my last and
latest on my children's bodies; henceforth shall I
endure surpassing misery; it may be as the unwilling
bride of some Helleneperish the night and fortune
that brings me to this!; it may be as a wretched
.......The lines that the characters speak as the
plot unfolds make up what are called episodes. For
example, the first episode begins with the dialogue
between Talthybius and Hecuba, with a short comment by
the chorus. It continues when Cassandra speaks her
mind, and it ends with dialogue involving Cassandra,
Hecuba, Talthybius, and the chorus.
making up the final events of the playfrom the death of
Astyanax and the burning of Troy to Hecuba's exit as the
slave of Odysseusare called the exodos.
Greek Theater: Structure
Definition and Background
Greek theater was an open-air stone structure with
tiered seating, a stage, and a ground-level orchestra.
It was an outgrowth of festivals honoring the god
Dionysus. In these festivals, called Dionysia,
the Greeks danced and sang hymns called dithyrambs
that sometimes told stories. One day, Thespis, a
choral director in Athens, used spoken words, or
dialogue, to accompany the singing and dancing in
imitation of poets who had done so before. Soon, the
dialogues of Thespis became plays, and he began
staging them in a theater.
contest of plays in 535 [B.C.] arose when Pisistratus,
the tyrant' whom the common people of Athens invested
with power, brought a rustic festival into the city
[Athens]," drama critic John Gassner writes in Masters
of Drama. Such contests became regular
features of the festivals, and the theaters in which
they were held were specially built to accommodate
Sections of the Theater......(1)
A tiered, horshoe-shaped seating area
called a theatron. The theatron faced the
east to allow the audience to view playsusually staged
later in the daywithout
A stage called a proscenium. The
staged faced the west to allow the midday sun to
illuminate the faces of the actors.
An orchestra in front of the proscenium to
accommodate the chorus.
Building behind the stage. First used as a dressing area
for actors (and sometimes an entrance or exit area for
actors), the skene eventually became a background
showing appropriate scenery.
Extensions or annexes on the sides of the skene.
Passage on the left or right through which the chorus
entered the orchestra.
Altar in the center of the orchestra used to make
sacrifices to Dionysus.
Armlike device on the skene that could lower a "god"
onto the stage from the heavens.
Study Questions and Essay
- Write an essay
explaining why The Trojan Women remains
highly relevant today.
- Write an essay
about the archeological digs that uncovered the
ruins of Troy. You might wish to begin your research
by reading about Heinrich
- Was the ancient
world more barbaric than the modern world?
- In wars of every age, the
victors usually took advantage of the
vanquishedlooting, raping, and generally running
roughshod over the conquered population. What did
Convention of 1949 do to prevent postwar