(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In 416 b.c.e., the Athenian empire, at war against Sparta, captured the neutral island of Melos in the Aegean Sea. Punishing the Melians for their resistance, the Athenians killed all the men who remained on the island and reduced the women and children to slavery. This act of unprovoked aggression turned Euripides against the Athenian cause in the Peloponnesian War, a cause that he had earlier supported. For example, his negative depiction of the Corinthians in the Medea, written during the first year of the war, may be traced in large part to the alliance that existed between Corinth and Sparta. Fifteen years later, however, Euripides has shifted from seeing the Spartans and their allies as the enemy to seeing war itself as the enemy.

The structure of The Trojan Women is episodic. That is to say, it does not so much tell a continuous story as depict a series of individual and discrete scenes. The sum total of the episodes is not a plot, as in standard narrative tragedy, but an impression. The impression that Euripides sought to convey in The Trojan Women is that war is unspeakably horrible. The author attempted in the various scenes of this tragedy to depict the suffering that war causes even for those innocents who do not fight in it, innocents such as women, children, and the elderly.

Unity is provided in the drama by the continual presence of Hecuba. In her person are represented...

(The entire section is 511 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On the second morning after the fall of Troy and the massacre of all its male inhabitants, Poseidon appears to lament the ruins and vows vengeance against the Greeks. To his surprise, Pallas Athena, the goddess who aided the Greeks, joins him in plotting a disastrous homeward voyage for the victors who despoiled her temple in Troy. They withdraw as Hecuba rises from among the sleeping Trojan women to mourn the burning city and her dead sons and husband. The chorus join her in chanting an anguished lament.

Talthybius, the herald of the Greeks, arrives to announce that Agamemnon chose Cassandra to be his concubine and that the other royal women of Troy were assigned by lot—Polyxena to the tomb of Achilles, Andromache to Achilles’ son Neoptolemus, and Hecuba herself to Odysseus, king of Ithaca and conceiver of the wooden horse that led to the fall of the city. Amid the cries of the grieving women, Cassandra appears, bearing a flaming torch in each hand. The chorus is convinced that she is mad as she dances and prays to Hymen, god of marriage, that Agamemnon take her soon to Argos as his bride, for there she will cause his death and the ruin of his entire family. As for Odysseus, she foretells that he will suffer for ten more years on the seas before reaching his homeland. As Talthybius leads her off, he observes that Agamemnon himself must be mad to fall in love with the insane Cassandra.

Hecuba, broken with grief, collapses to the ground. From the city comes a Greek-drawn chariot loaded with the spoils of war and bearing Andromache and her infant son Astyanax. Cursing Helen, the cause of all their woe, Andromache calls upon the dead Hector to come to her and announces enviously that Polyxena was just killed upon the tomb of Achilles as a gift to the dead hero. Drawing upon her last remaining strength, Hecuba tries to comfort the distraught Andromache and urges that instead of...

(The entire section is 779 words.)