Plot : Hecabe, (more commonly called Hecuba) widow of the recently slain King Priam, is enslaved to Agamemnon after the fall of Troy. Her daughter Polyxena is doomed to be sacrificed to appease Achilles’ ghost and her son Polydorus has been treacherously murdered while a guest of her supposed friend Polymestor, King of Thrace. Overcome with grief, she sends a message to Polymestor to visit her at the Greek camp, so she can seek revenge.
I read the version in the Penguin Medea and other plays edited/translated by Philip Vellacott (ISBN 0140441298)
My thoughts : The introduction provided for this volume indicated the critics’ complaint that this play was really two stories, but I have noticed many of the previous Greek plays I have read so far could have the same thing said of them. Regardless, both ‘halves’ have their strong scenes : Polyxena’s nobility in facing death, and the attack on Polymestor and his sons.
By far my favourite passage was the herald Talthybius’ description of Polyxena’s death and the reaction of the Greek army immediately after, on page 80.
“Then he grasped his sword by the gold hilt, drew it from the sheath, and signed to the young men appointed, to take hold of her.
Polyxena saw; and this is what she said: “You Greeks, who laid my city in ruins, I die willingly. Let no one lay hands on me ; I will give my neck steadfastly to the sword. So in the name of God, let me stand free, and kill me; then I shall die free………
then she knelt down on one knee, and spoke the most heroic words of all ‘Son of Achilles, here is my breast, if that is where you wish to strike ; or if my throat, my neck is ready here ; strike home.
He with his sword, – torn between pity and resolve – cut through the channels of her breath
…then , when the deadly stroke had ended her last breath, each Argive there found his own way to do her honour. Some strewed fresh leaves over her body, some bought boughs and built a pyre, while those who stood with empty hands were roundly abused. ‘What do you mean,’ the others cried, “by bringing nothing for Polyxena? Have you no dress, no ornament to offer in her honour? Hers was the most courageous, noble heart of all.”
Diversions/digressions: [spoilers] I searched for a family tree of Priam to see how many of his family have survived according to the stories of this time.
Hector dies towards the end of Homer’s Iliad, and his brothers Paris and Deiphobus and sister Creusa die in the subsequent fall of Troy. Hector’s wife Andromache is shown as Menelaus’ concubine in Euripides’ Andromache but survives to raise a family of her own, and marries Priam’s surviving son Helenus.
Polydorus and Polyxena meet their fates in the play in this post, while Cassandra, taken as a slave and concubine by Agamemnon, meets her death in the first part of Aeschylus’ Oresteia.
Personal rating : 6
Next in line is Aristophanes’ The Knights. At this moment I don’t have access to a satisfactory copy, so my apologies if the next post may be some days in appearing while I scour some local bookshops. Ah the onerous life of a literary blogger 🙂