(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Action centers around Andromache’s enslavement to Neoptolemus, murderer of her son by Hector. Andromache and Neoptolemus subsequently have a son whom Neoptolemus’ barren Spartan wife, Hermione, threatens to kill. Menelaus, Hermione’s father, lures Andromache from the altar of Thetis, where she has sought sanctuary, only to arrest and condemn her and her son to death. By implication, all Spartans practice sophistry and teachery.

Peleus, grandfather of Neoptolemus, enters to defend Neoptolemus’ interests. Old and frail as he is, he frightens Spartan Menelaus away with harsh words and threats of violence. Spartans are also cowards.

Hermione threatens suicide when deserted by her father but is stayed by Orestes, who confides his plot to have Neoptolemus murdered while the young man is in Delphi at Apollo’s sanctuary. This is sacrilege, though Neoptolemus himself is at Delphi to make amends for having cursed the god for allowing his father, Achilles, to die at Troy.

Peleus discovers the plot only after Neoptolemus’ death, but Thetis, his goddess-wife, appears to console him. Thetis will see to it that Peleus himself will die soon. Then they both can journey to Elysium, paradise of heroes, and watch the ghost of their son Achilles at its warrior’s play.

Clearly this is not a tragedy, and critics have offered varied and sometimes farfetched interpretations of the play. Friction between northern and southern...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Temple of Thetis

Temple of Thetis. Temple in Thessaly, the central region of ancient Greece, near Phthia, the home of Neoptolemus, the goddess Thetis’s grandson and son of Achilles, and Pharsala, the home of Peleus, Thetis’s mortal husband. The ancient Greeks considered temples, and particularly temple altars, sanctuaries—places of asylum for both good and evil people. In Euripides’ play, the Trojan hero Hector’s widow, Andromache, is seeking refuge at the Temple of Thetis from the threat of Neoptolemus’s Spartan wife, Hermione, and her father, Menelaus. She trusts that whoever respects the gods will honor the tradition of sanctuary. However, the Greek king Menelaus does not respect that tradition and lures Andromache away from the altar and lies to her by telling her that her son will be spared if she forfeits her own life. His disrespect for the temple reflects both his untrustworthiness and his barbarism.

Euripides’ symbolic use of temples also occurs when the report comes that Neoptolemus is killed by Spartans while praying in the temple of Apollo in another gross example of Spartan treachery, arrogance, and brutality. Unlike the Spartans, Peleus—who could despise Andromache because his son was killed by her brother-in-law—honors Andromache’s request from the altar for protection, rescuing her from Menelaus.

Euripides thus uses temples as sacred places of refuge, and, by extension, as measuring rods of civilized decency. Characters such as Menelaus who dishonor the sanctity of sanctuaries, demonstrate their vileness, while those who show respect for the sanctuary demonstrate their nobility and righteousness.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Aldrich, K. M. The “Andromache” of Euripides. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961. A detailed analysis of the play. Aldrich makes an argument for the work’s unity of plot and theme.

Allan, William. The “Andromache” and Euripedean Tragedy. Oxford, England: Oxford, 2000. A thorough analysis of the play, which the author asserts deserves a greater degree of critical appreciation than it has received historically.

Grube, G. M. A. The Drama of Euripides. London: Methuen, 1941. A learned, traditional, close reading of the play. Accepts the anti-Spartan tone of the work at face value and sees the characters as lively but not subtle.

Kitto, Humphrey Davy Findley. Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. London: Methuen, 1939. A classic study of classical tragedy. Argues that Andromache is unified in theme but not in plot and that Hermione, Menelaus, and Orestes embody negative Spartan qualities of “arrogance, treachery, and criminal ruthlessness.” Expresses admiration for the work’s action and characterization.

Kovacs, Paul David. The “Andromache” of Euripides. Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1980. Argues against the view that Euripides’ tragedies are antiheroic and that they attack traditional attitudes. Instead, Kovacs sees Andromache as conventional and close to Sophocles’ view of the tragic. Kovacs also disputes the claim that Euripides sides with the Sophists in this play.

Vellacott, Philip. Ironic Drama: A Study of Euripides’ Method and Meaning. London: Cambridge University Press, 1975. Sees Andromache as an indictment of cruelty to women and the horrors of war. Vellacott rejects the view that the play’s early episodes are irrelevant to the outcome, maintaining instead that these scenes are essential.