52. The Women of Troy, by Euripides (415 BC)


Less a plot than a prologue to other tragedies, including some of Euripides’ earlier plays,  The Women of Troy  reveals the immediate fates of the remaining wives and daughters of the Royal House of Priam after the fall of Troy; and in the opening scene, shows how Poseidon and Athene plan to collaborate to wreck the Greek navy at sea, including driving Odysseus off course.

My copy was the Penguin Black Classic edition The Bacchae and other plays, edited and translated by Philip Vellacott (ISBN 0140440445)

My thoughts

Not one of Euripides’ strongest tragedies, mostly due to the lack of a strong central story. Yet there is great tragedy is the death of young Astyanax, the son of dead Hector, thrown to his death from the burning battlements of ruined Troy, and left to his grieving grandmother Hecabe to bury.

Helen also comes in for her fair share of hatred from the surviving Trojan women, and the scene where she pleads her innocence to Menelaus is almost a courtroom trial, with Hecabe as prosecutor.

Other outstanding scenes are Cassandra’s crazed claims of happiness in the idea of being carried off to be Agamemnon’s concubine, and her foreknowledge of her own murder, and the contrast of Hecabe’s and Andromache’s anguish with Menelaus’ almost euphoric pleasure in his imminent re-possession and destruction of Helen.

Favourite lines/passages

A little gem hidden in the Chorus’ reminiscences of the beauty of their land before the invasion of the Greek armies and the horrors of war

“Ida – dear remembered name – where steep snow-swollen rivers foam and fall through ivied forest glades, past that bare height, Earth’s frontier hushed with breath of gods, that glows with Dawn’s first shaft of light”                                                                                           Chorus, pages 124-125

Diversions/digressions : The Women of Troy seems to be the first actual surviving recounting in any detail of the Trojan Horse strategy.

“….that horse pregnant with armed men, called by all future ages The Wooden Horse, and sent it to glide, weighty with hidden death, through the Trojan walls.”                             Poseidon, page 89

I was also very surprised to discover Hollywood made an all-star spectacle based on this play in 1971, with Katherine Hepburn as Hecuba, Vanessa Redgrave as Andromache, Genevieve Bujold as Cassandra and Greek actress Irene Papas as Helen with Patrick Magee as Menelaus and Brian Blessed in one of his earliest movie roles as the messenger Talthybius. I had never heard of this movie, but closer investigation shows that Irene Papas also starred in movie versions of Iphigenia, Antigone and Electra. They don’t seem to see the light of day very often.

Personal rating : 4

Next :  Back to comedy with The Birds by Aristophanes

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