The Powerful and the Powerless in Euripides' "Trojan Women" AS Classics Notes

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The Powerful and the Powerless in Euripides’ “Trojan Women”

 

Euripides’ play “Trojan Women was performed in Athens at the city Dionysia in 415BC and gained second prize as part of a trilogy, where each play dealt with a different part of the Trojan war. “Trojan Women” was the final play and deals with the aftermath of the war on the women of the losing side after their city has been destroyed by the Greeks. Unlike some of the other Greek tragedies, the play is not really a story, but more a succession of different tragic events as the women of Troy are divided up as slaves for the Greek army. As most of the protagonists are slaves, one of the key themes of the play is the fall of the mighty, in particular Queen Hecabe, who represents the misfortunes of Troy, and the ideas of characters being powerful or powerless.

Hecabe

Queen Hecabe remains on stage throughout the play and becomes the spokeswoman for the survivors of the war. As the play goes on, a series of events causes her even more suffering- at the start of the play, her husband Priam and several of her children are dead and her city is destroyed. Hecabe then learns that she must become Odysseus’ slave, that her daughter Cassandra must leave Troy without her mother to marry Agamemnon, that her daughter Polyxena is dead and then finally that her grandson Astayanax is to be killed by the Greeks. After each blow to Hecabe she falls to the ground, making her seem utterly powerless. As queen of Troy, Hecabe represents the city and the devastation it has suffered, and Euripides reinforces her lack of power frequently by describing her as old and weak- “poor old decrepit Hecabe” “the old woman who needs a stick”. However, despite all her suffering, Hecabe gets up from the ground every time she falls- could Euripides be suggesting that she still has some power left?

The gods

The prologue of “Trojan Women” is also unusual- it features a conversation between two gods, Athena and Poseidon. The gods are naturally powerful figures in Greek tragedy and these two are no different- they demonstrate their power through their punishment of the Greeks. Athena wants “to make their journey home one of bitterness and pain” due to the fact that the Greeks have sacked her

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