41. Andromache, by Euripides (425 BC)


In the aftermath of the fall of Troy, Hector’s widow Andromache has been given to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus to be his slave and concubine, and he fathers a son to her. Now with his new bride Hermione, daughter of Menelaus, blaming Andromache for her own failure to conceive a child, the lives of Andromache and her son are in dire jeopardy. But there are more twists in this story, and some unexpected happy endings.

My version is again the Penguin edition of Orestes and other plays translated by Philip Vellacott (ISBN 0140442596)

My thoughts

The shadow of the Trojan war continues to bring tragedy to both the Greeks and Trojans. The play starts with Hermione and Menelaus as classic villains, Andromache and her son Molossus about to be their tragic victims. I  wanted to cheer as, for once, help arrives in time as Achilles’ ancient father Peleus gives Menelaus a proper tongue lashing, laying open all his stupidity and cowardice, and labeling this King of Sparta a “blackguard, son of a blackguard …. contemptible, amorous weakling …  beneath contempt.”

Menelaus retreats from the old man’s anger yet I had to smile as he described Peleus as “a walking ghost endowed with a loud voice, incapable of everything but endless talk”

As with most Greek tragedies up until now, I would have expected a last-minute reversal of fortune that sees Andromache killed after all, but Euripides breaks the mould and tells a different and more intricate story, albeit featuring a series of unlikely events. Hermione is filled with remorse and fear of what her husband will do to her when he finds out what she has tried to do, and tries to commit suicide. Orestes (Agamemnon’s son, remember Aeschylus’ Oresteian trilogy) appears on the scene and elopes with Hermione, having originally been betrothed to her (Menelaus broke that arrangement), and announces how he has plotted the death of Neoptolemus already. Said death leaves poor old Peleus alone and distraught until the Goddess Thetis (his wife and Achilles’ mother) materialises, to promise Peleus immortality as a God, a future with her under the waves, and a happy ending for Andromache as she will remarry and see her son Molossus begin a new dynasty of kings so that the Trojan line does not entirely become extinct.

Except for Neoptolemus (who we never meet on stage) everyone seems to get a happy ending!

Worth noting the political messages within the script : Autocracy is more effective than democracy, and Spartans are lying, cruel and treacherous.

Personal rating: 7, thanks to the more intricate plot and the less tragic results.

Next : Finally some comic relief with Aristophanes’ The Acharnians



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