The Trojan Women

by Euripides

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The Trojan Women

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The dramatic setting is the city of Troy, just captured by the Greeks after a bitter, ten-year war. With the exception of Talthybius, the Greek herald, and Menelaus, the Greek husband of Helen, all the mortal characters in the play are Trojan women, prisoners of war who face cruel servitude in Greece.

The tragedy is noted not for suspense-filled, dramatic scenes but for passages of powerful lyric lamentation. The pathetic solo song of Hecuba, queen of Troy, leads into an elaborate passage sung by both the queen and the chorus of Trojan women. This lyric tone intensifies in later scenes, with the solo songs of Hecuba’s daughter Cassandra, the duet between Hecuba and her daughter-in-law Andromache, and a final song between the queen and the chorus sung as their city burns to the ground.

Neither the audience nor the Trojan women are offered any moral solace in this play. The criminal Greeks are not punished. Rather, the play focuses on the sufferings of the innocent victims of war. Andromache, widow of Hector, is forced to become mistress of the son of her husband’s slayer. Her infant son, Astyanax, is cruelly hurled to his death from the walls of Troy. Cassandra, who is chosen to become the mistress of Agamemnon, leader of the Greek expedition, offers the women their only legitimate hope for vengeance, but, ironically, she is not believed. The Trojans interpret Cassandra’s true prediction of Agamemnon’s impending death as a sign of Cassandra’s madness and another reason for lamentation. Yet Helen, whose seductive and sinister charms caused the war, receives a reprieve in the play from the execution the Trojan women hope for her. For the victims of war in this tragedy, there is no justice, only suffering.

Bibliography:

Conacher, D. J. Euripidean Drama: Myth, Theme, and Structure. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967. Under “War and Its Aftermath,” Conacher describes the plot in The Trojan Women as “a succession of unrelieved and ever deepening woe” which provides an alternating rhythm of hope and desolation. An introduction to the myth behind the play is given.

Croally, N. T. Euripidean Polemic: “The Trojan Women” and the Function of Tragedy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Building on Karl Marx and Michel Foucault, Croally examines the connection between the pleasure of viewing tragedy and the teaching that it conveys, specifically resulting in the questioning of received wisdom.

Euripides. The Trojan Women. Translated by Edith Hamilton. New York: Bantam Books, 1971. Hamilton presents the play as the greatest piece of antiwar literature ever written and explores its lack of effect on Athenians’ opinions of war. The screenplay included in this volume, written by Michael Cacoyannis, provides insights into the translation of a play into film.

Gregory, Justina. Euripides and the Instruction of the Athenians. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991. Gregory examines connections between words and deeds of Andromache, Cassandra, Hecuba, and Helen, underscoring that the women had no ability to inspire action; she focuses on tragedy’s political contributions in classical Athens and political elements in Euripides’ works.

Scodel, Ruth. The Trojan Trilogy of Euripides. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhjoeck and Ruprecht, 1980. Scodel claims that the dry, analytic rhetoric of The Trojan Women balances the emotional pathos. She examines relationships between Alexandros, Palamedes, The Trojan Women, and the satyr play Sisyphus.

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