EURIPIDES: Trojan Women

In the Trojan Women, Euripides describes the aftermath of the Trojan War. The play opens with Poseidon grieving over his beloved city of Troy, which the Greeks have conquered. Athena appears, and implores Poseidon to aid her in bringing woe to the Greeks during their voyage home. Though she helped the Greeks defeat Troy, they incurred her wrath by profaning her temple. Poseidon agrees, and the gods exit. The remainder of the play is concerned with the griefs of the vanquished women of Troy as they mourn the loss of their loved ones and lament their fate as slaves to the victorious Greeks. In a particularly disturbing scene, Greek messengers tear Astyanax – the baby boy of the slain Trojan hero Hector– away from his mother Andromache, and cast him from the walls of Troy to his death.

The play has a strong anti-war sentiment. Euripides demonstrates that there is no true victor in war. Though the suffering of the Trojans is obvious, Euripides uses the character of the Trojan prophetess Cassandra to illuminate the suffering of the Greeks. She argues that the Greeks are less fortunate than the Trojans because the Greek soldiers fought and died in a foreign land. They did not have the joy and comfort of seeing their families during the war like the Trojans. And though they may have won the war, Euripides warns that the men who sack cities make deserts around themselves, and are destroyed.

Like the previous two plays of Euripides that I have read – the Medea and the Hippolytus – this play contains harsh criticism of Aphrodite, and the emotion of love that she represents. Both Trojan and Greeks curse the love triangle of Helen, Paris, and Menelaus as the cause of the war. Helen herself blames the goddess Aphrodite for charming her to flee with Paris from Sparta to Troy. Euripides applies the same moral in this play as the others – love is a dangerous passion that should be revered and sought moderately.

“A fool is he who sacks the towns of men, with shrines and tombs, the dead man’s hallowed home, for at the last he makes a desert round himself, and dies.”

“I will prove this city happier far than those Achaeans, who for the sake of one woman and one man’s love of her have lost a countless host in seeking Helen. Their captain too, whom men call wise, yielding to his brother for a woman’s sake – and she a willing prize whom no man forced – hath lost the joy he had of his own children in his home. For from the day that they did land upon Scamander’s strand, their doom began; whomsoever Ares slew, those never saw their babes again, nor were they shrouded for the tomb by hand of wife, but in a foreign land they lie. At home the case was still the same; wives were dying widows, parents were left childless in their homes, having reared their sons for others, and none is left to make libations of blood upon the ground before their tombs. Truly to such praise as this their host can make an ample claim. But the Trojans were dying, first for their fatherland, fairest fame to win; whomsoever the sword laid low, all these found friends to bear their bodies home and were laid to rest in the bosom of their native land, their funeral rites all duly paid by duteous hands. And all such Phrygians as escaped the warrior’s death lived ever day by day with wife and children by them – joys the Achaeans had left behind. As for Hector and his griefs, he is dead and gone, but still his fame remains as bravest of the brave, and this was a result of the Achaeans’ coming; for had they remained at home, his worth would have gone unnoticed. Whosoever is wise should fly from making war; but if he be brought to this pass, a noble death will crown his city with glory, a coward’s end with shame.”

“Of all the prosperous crowd, count none a happy man before he die.”

“The dead alone forget their griefs and never shed a tear.”

“What sweet relief to sufferers ’tis to weep, to mourn, lament, and chant the dirge that tells of grief!”

“’Tis all one ne’er to have been born and to be dead, and better far is death than life with misery. For the dead feel no sorrow anymore and know no grief.”

“For every sensual act that men commit, they lay upon this goddess, and rightly does her name of Aphrodite begin the word for “senselessness”; so when thou didst catch sight of him in gorgeous foreign garb, ablaze with gold, thy senses utterly forsook thee.”

“Who loves once, must love always.”

“Foolish mortal is he who thinks his luck secure and so rejoices; for fortune, like a madman in her moods, springs towards this man, then towards that; and none ever experiences the same unchanging luck.”

“The manner of burial makes little difference to the dead.”

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2 thoughts on “EURIPIDES: Trojan Women”

  1. In 1971, a fairly faithful film version was made by director Michael Cacoyannis (of Zorba the Greek fame), with a excellent cast: Katherine Hepurn in the role of Hecuba, Vanessa Redgrave (Andromache), Geneviève Bujold (Cassandra), Irene Papas (Helen), Patrick Magee and Brian Blessed. And the script is based on Edith Hamilton’s translation of Eurupides’ play.

    –And just as the original play had significance in light of Athens destruction of Melos, its no coincidence the film version was made in the midst of the Vietnam War (and starring someone like Vanessa Redgrave, after all!).

    A highly recommended film– top notch acting. Cacoyannis also directed Iphigenia (at Aulis) in 1977, another great film based on Euripides.

    1. Excellent. I will search around for the film.

      The relationship between the ancient Greek world and the modern world is fascinating. I’m always amazed that history finds a way of repeating itself, just with different actors.

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