by Evelyn de Morgan (1898).
Since April of this year I've been focusing on the plays of Euripides and I've now reached the tenth (out of nineteen) - The Trojan Women (Τρῳάδες) which was first performed in 415 B.C. This is now one of my favourites.
It's set in the aftermath of the Trojan War and focuses on three women - Cassandra, Hecuba, and Andromache, all of whom are familiar characters for me: Cassandra was the enslaved lover of Agamemnon, both of whom were killed by Agamemnon's wife Clytaemnestra (as told in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, 458 B.C.), Hecuba was the wife of Priam whose sons were all killed in the Trojan War, and too the mother of Polyxena, her daughter who was sacrificed (told in Hecuba by Euripides, 424 B.C.) and Cassandra, and finally Andromache, the wife of Hector (killed by Achilles) who was enslaved by Neoptolemus (told in Andromache by Euripides, 428 - 425 B.C. and also Racine's Andromaque, 1667, which I'm planning on reading very soon). In Euripides' The Trojan Women he begins immediately after the Fall of Troy (just two days after), described by Poseidon (who had helped build the walls of Troy) and Athena who is furious after Ajax the Lesser (not to be confused with the famous Ajax, the hero of the Trojan War who later killed himself, as told in Sophocles' Ajax, 450 - 4350 B.C.) dragged Cassandra from Athena's temple, possibly raping her, without punishment, an insult to Athena who had been instrumental in the winning of the Trojan War. They decide to punish the Greeks by destroying the fleet on their way home.
The play switches to the Trojan women, firstly Hecuba who is told she is to be the slave of Odysseus and her daughter Cassandra to be the concubine of Agamemnon. Cassandra, whose stability has been greatly undermined with the stress of the situation, foresees her own death at the hand of Clytaemnestra. Finally Andromache, the wife of Hecuba's son Hector, is to be the concubine of Neoptolemus, and she prays she may be allowed to keep her son Astyanax. She is told by the Greek herald Talthybius however that Astyanax will be thrown from the wall of Troy for fear that he will grow up and seek to avenge his father's death, and she is further warned that if she curses the ships her son will not be buried. So, instead, she curses Helen as Hecuba did before her, blaming her for the war.
|Helen of Troy|
by Evelyn de Morgan (1898).
There is no hope for the women: Hecuba will become the slave of Odysseus, Cassandra will be taken by Agamemnon and later murdered, and Andromache's baby is indeed killed. Helen is seen; her husband Menelaus plans to take her back to Greece and kill her but she begs for her life and claims she was bewitched by the goddess Cypris (Aphrodite), a claim which Hecuba warns Menelaus is false (the Greek audience knows, however, Menelaus will not ultimately kill her).
The ships begin to leave. Andromache had wished to bury her son but her ship had already sailed, and so it is left to Hecuba who, after the burial, attempts suicide but is stopped by the soldiers and she too sets sail for Greece. Cassandra has already been taken by this stage.
The Trojan Women is a brutal play that depicts the horrors of war, specifically the aftermath: even when the war is won, even after the deaths of many soldiers, the pain and the injustice continue. The Trojan women - Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, and Helen are all very different from each other (though Hecuba, Cassandra, and Andromache are all related either by blood or marriage) yet they each suffer. This is clearly not one of Euripides' patriotic plays, like The Suppliants (423 B.C.) or The Heracleidae (429 B.C.). It does feel a rather chaotic read, but that's very appropriate given its subject matter. I've read it's not a favourite of Euripides' fans for the perceived lack of cohesion but I thought it was an astonishingly forceful play and, as I said at the beginning, now one of my favourites, perhaps even usurping Medea! I look forward to reading it again!
And so I am now over half-way through reading Euripides' plays. What's left:
- Iphigenia in Tauris (414 B.C.)
- Ion (414 B.C.)
- Helen (412 B.C.)
- Phoenician Women (410 B.C.)
- Orestes (408 B.C.)
- Cyclops (408 B.C.)
- Bacchae (405 B.C.)
- Iphigenia at Aulis (405 B.C.)
- Rhesus (date unknown)
I'm most looking forward to Orestes because I love that myth and Bacchae as I've heard it said it's his absolute greatest. Next week however - Iphigenia in Tauris.