I’ve told you before that I’m not a very creative person. I can’t draw if my life depended on it, but last week I attempted to summarise Euripides’ play, ‘The Women of Troy’ to my Year 12s in the form of visuals. I will completely embarrass myself and include them in this summary to help you try and visualise what’s going on in the play, but going from the reaction received from my class, I think they may have some idea what’s going on and they’re hoping that I explain things in some more depth and without the drawings in the coming weeks. I’m also hoping that this summary will help them and anyone else studying the play to understand the basic plot of the play.
A long time ago, there was a king and queen of Troy, Priam (the king) and Hecuba (the queen). They ruled the kingdom of Troy and had lots of kids. Priam had 50 sons and many daughters (not all were the children of Hecuba, that would be impossible, but he was the king so he had a few concubines – look it up). They had a son called Paris and when he was born they were told that he would be the cause of the fall of Troy. Both Priam and Hecuba were worried but couldn’t kill their child so they told one of their servants to do it, but they couldn’t do it either, so they left the infant near Mount Ida.
He ended up surviving (long story) and one day three goddesses ran into him and asked him which one of them was the most beautiful? If he had chosen Hera, she would have made him the owner of all the land in Europe and Asia. Athene had promised him strength and to become a great warrior and fighter. Aphrodite (the goddess of love) had promised him the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen. Why he chose Aphrodite is beyond me, I probably would have picked one of the other two, but Paris was a little superficial so he went for Aphrodite.
Anyway, he ended up in Sparta where he befriended Menelaus, who was married to Helen. Menelaus had to go to Crete and left his wife in the ‘trusting’ hands of his new mate Paris. Paris doing the right thing and abiding to the god Aphrodite, seduced Helen and she fell in love with him and they ran off to Troy together, leaving poor old Menelaus betrayed and furious. Not only was he angry, but so was Athene because Paris didn’t think she was the most beautiful, so she helped Menelaus and the Greeks start a war against Troy and the rest is history. (Well it’s in Homer’s Illiad if you need a rundown of the Trojan war and we don’t have enough time, plus you’re not analysing that, you’re analysing the play so that’s where we start the next section).
During the War
Lots went down here, but the quick version of this story is Menelaus sends his men to Troy. Hector the great Trojan warrior is killed by Achilles the great Greek warrior (both are great). Paris kills Achilles, and Priam is killed by Neoptolemus (Achilles’ son). There are a lot of deaths, a lot of destruction, and a lot of violence. The war has left the women without husbands, and without a home, and they are now awaiting their fate to find out what happens to them and what the Greeks will do to them.
The play starts with Poseidon positioned above Hecuba who is lying face down on the ground. Poseidon is talking about how the city that he helped to build with Apollo has been destroyed and he has been left with nothing. Remember the gods are egotistical so if they don’t have anyone to worship them, they get upset. Along comes Athene who is his niece (and has been fighting for the Greeks for the last 10 years and against her uncle) asks Poseidon to join forces with her to get her revenge on the Greeks for disrespecting her. Ajax had raped Cassandra at Athene’s temple, but the Greeks didn’t punish him, so she will. Poseidon agrees because he’s lost his worshippers and says he’ll help make the journey home for the Greeks really bad by causing mayhem on the water (he is the god of the ocean after all – and remember the gods control nature, not human behaviour.) They agree to this new alliance and the gods take great pleasure in what is to come for the Greeks’ 10-year journey home (see Homer’s Odyssey for more details on that story).
Hecuba gets up and awaits her fate
The gods disappear and Hecuba rises from the dust of her city. Note that she is in every single scene of this play from start to finish, so she’s our central character and pivotal to everyone’s life. She’s pretty upset that everyone she loves is dead or about to be taken away from her. She’s lost her identity as queen, she’s lost her identity as a mother and as a Trojan. She awaits to find out her fate from the Greek messenger Talthybius who will let her know who her new master will be. Talthybius enters and lets all of the women know that they will not be leaving together and will be going to different places causing more grief amongst the women because they won’t even have each other.
Hecuba asks Talthybius what will happen to her daughter Cassandra. Cassandra is seen as being a crazy woman who has visions of the future but her prophecies are often dismissed because Apollo put a curse on her and made sure that nobody would believe her, even though everything she says will happen actually does happen.
Her destiny is to be Agamemnon’s slave. The Greek leader chooses her because she is the consecrated virgin and because she’s sacred makes her more desirable to him. He’s a man who wants something he shouldn’t have but because of his power uses it to get what he wants. But don’t worry, Cassandra knows that she will get her revenge on him and his whole family as she has foreseen her future and knows that he’ll die. So will she, but it will be worth it because it means that her father’s and brother’s deaths will be avenged.
Andromache finds out her future
At this stage, Hecuba is devastated to learn that her poor ‘mad’ daughter Cassandra (who she thinks has completely lost the plot due to her dancing and singing a wedding song), is going off to be the slave of Agamemnon. Along comes her daughter-in-law Andromache who is wheeled in on a wagon with her son Astyanax lamenting about all that she has lost. Her entrance is symbolic of the objectification of the women and that she is seen as ‘loot’ to be taken by the Greeks. She values being a mother, a loyal wife devoted to her husband, and proud of her home. She reveals to Hecuba that her other daughter Polyxena has also been killed which adds to her grief (because it wasn’t enough already).
Andromache learns that she will be the slave to Neoptomelus – he is the son of Achilles the guy that killed her husband Hector. This couldn’t get any worse or could it? Hecuba tries to tell her that she should be grateful that she’s still alive, but Andromache disagrees and couldn’t think that there could be anything worse than to be the ‘whore’ for this man. But in true Euripides style, it does get worse. Talthybius comes along and tells her that he has some bad news and not to hate him because he’s just the messenger, but he has to take her son Astyanax and kill him. The Greeks are worried that when he grows up that he’ll try and get revenge on them, so they want to make sure that won’t happen by throwing him off what is left of the walls of Troy. Talthybius suggests she doesn’t resist and to let him go and if she does that, they will let Astyanax be buried with the grace he deserves.
Can it get any worse?? What’s next?
It can, and will, but along comes ‘the man’ Menelaus the guy who started the war and wanted revenge on the man who stole his wife. He comes along to pick up his wife Helen and punish her for betraying and disrespecting him. Helen walks out all glammed up in her best dress, and makeup and argues her case as to why her life should be spared. She blames Hecuba for giving birth to Paris and not killing him at birth, she blames Paris for seducing her, she blames the gods for sending Paris to her, and she blames Menelaus for being a ‘spineless idiot’ and leaving her. She pretty much blames everyone but takes no responsibility for her actions.
Menelaus tells her that he will take her back to Greece where she will be stoned to death by all the women who lost their husbands because of her. She will be an example of what happens to women who betray their husbands. Hecuba warns him not to get on the same ship as Helen because he will not resist her charm (she’s probably right). They go off, (likely on the same ship) but Helen doesn’t die apparently, but don’t write that in your essays because it’s not in the play.
Can Hecuba get a break?
Nope. She needs to bury her grandson. So in comes Talthybius who, bless him, has cleaned up Astyanax, but has still been violently killed by the Greeks. He has cleaned up the child and wrapped him in cloth and brings Hector’s shield to bury with the child. This is symbolic of the end of Troy and any hope of any resurrection of the city. She buries him, and her cries are mirrored by the wails of the chorus who mourn the loss of their city, identity, family, and hope.
After burying the child, the Greeks begin their final destruction of the city by burning everything that is left. Hecuba has no hope left and tries to throw herself into the flames of her burning city only to be stopped by the Greeks and dragged off to the ‘black ship’ to be the slave of Odysseus (who’s going to have a very bad trip home because remember the gods are going to make things a little uncomfortable for the next 10 years).
Is there a happy ending?
No. There is no happy ending. The play ends, the gods do not return and there is no hope left. Euripides’ message to the audience is that war is futile. Nobody wins. There is death and there is violence and destruction that is pointless. He is suggesting that even if all hope is lost, any life is a good life and that even in those times of crises and tragedy, you need to look for the silver lining and appreciate the life that you do have.
This is just Ronnie’s ramblings version and summary. There is so much more to this play and so much to analyse but I’ve just gone through the basic plot of the story for those of you who just need to figure out what’s going on.
I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible without the depth. I will be adding more posts about this play in the coming weeks focusing on more analysis and of course essay writing and how to approach the SAC and exam.
I have created a character analysis PPT that can be found on my teachers pay teachers site for download.
Our silver lining is that it is almost the school holidays and for most of us there is only two more written SACs to go.
As I always say, if you have any questions, get in touch.
#Keep it zesty