By Euripides (485-406 BC)
A Study Guide
Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2012
.......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).
.......Euripides 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 Romans.)
.......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 women—including Hecuba, the queen of Troy—congregate outside the walls of the city in deep despair. They are to become slaves of the victorious Greeks.
.......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).
.......The 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 pride—and Helen.
.......After years of fighting, one of the Greek leaders—Odysseus, the king of Ithaca—devises 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 Melos.
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 Greeks.
Poseidon: 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.
Andromache: Widow of Troy's greatest warrior, Hector, who was slain in battle by the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles.
Talthybius: Greek messenger who informs the Trojan women of what will happen to them.
Cassandra: Trojan 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 army.
Helen: See Mythological Background.
Menelaus: See Mythological Background.
Chorus of Trojan Women
Achaean: 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 foot.
Agamemnon: Leader of all the Greek armies that fought at Troy. He selected Cassandra as his prize of war.
Argive: 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 battlefield—hence his epithet, "the less." Aias the Less raped Cassandra after the fall of Troy.
Deiphobus: Trojan warrior who took Helen as his bride after the death of Paris.
Epeus: The builder of the Trojan horse. He constructed it after Odysseus conceived the idea for the structure as a weapon of war.
Hector: Greatest 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 marriage.
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 Philoctetes.
Polyxena: Daughter 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.
Tyndarus: A 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.
Zeus: King of the Greek gods. The Romans referred to him as Jupiter.
Arcadia: A region in south-central Greece.
Delos: Greek island that was the birthplace the god Apollo and the goddess Artemis.
Euboea: Greek island.
Hellas: Transliteration of the word that the ancient Greeks used as the name for their country (Greece).
Ilium: Another name for Troy.
Lemnos: Greek island.
Myconus: Greek island.
Parnassus: 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.
Scyros: Greek island.
.......The 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.Plot Summary
.......Troy 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 city.
.......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 deed.
.......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 exit.
.......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 women—mostly young wives who lost their husbands—will 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 in Troy.”
.......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 fate—“to 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 home—his 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. Click here to access the study guide for this work.)
.......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.
.......Hecuba says, “Joy is fled, and Troy o'erthrown.”
.......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 Troy.
.......Talthybius returns and, with sadness in his voice, informs Andromache that the Greek victors—on the advice of Odysseus—plan 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 bewitching charms.
.......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 fairest—Athena, 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 with him.
.......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 future.
.......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
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.
.......The 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.
Parode, Episode, Stasimon
.......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 Hellene—perish the night and fortune that brings me to this!; it may be as a wretched slave."
.......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.
.......The lines making up the final events of the play—from the death of Astyanax and the burning of Troy to Hecuba's exit as the slave of Odysseus—are called the exodos.
Greek Theater: Structure
Definition and Background
....."A 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 them.
Major Sections of the Theater
.....(2) A stage called a proscenium. The staged faced the west to allow the midday sun to illuminate the faces of the actors.
.....(3) An orchestra in front of the proscenium to accommodate the chorus.
Other Theater Sections
.....Skene: 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.
.....Paraskenia: Extensions or annexes on the sides of the skene.
.....Parados: Passage on the left or right through which the chorus entered the orchestra.
.....Thymele: Altar in the center of the orchestra used to make sacrifices to Dionysus.
.....Machine: Armlike device on the skene that could lower a "god" onto the stage from the heavens.
Study Questions and Essay Topics