The Trojan Women (in Greek, Troiades) is a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides. Produced during the Peloponnesian War, it is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos by the Athenians earlier in 415 BC (see Milos), the same year the play premiered. 415 BC was also the year of the scandalous desecration of the hermai and the Athenians' second expedition to Sicily, events which may also have influenced the author.
The Trojan Women is part of a trilogy of connected tales, along with Alexandros and Palamedes, and they were presented at the Dionysia along with the comedic satyr play Sisyphos. Euripides, however, did not win the competition that year and was beaten by the playwright Xenocles. The four Trojan women of the play are the same that appear in the final chapter of the Iliad lamenting over the corpse of Hector. Taking place near the same time is Hecuba, another play by Euripides. In the description of the plot below, the Greek version of the name Hecuba is Hecabe.
Euripides' play follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked, their husbands killed, and as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. However, it begins first with the gods Athena and Poseidon discussing ways to punish the Greek armies because they condoned Ajax the Lesser for raping Cassandra in Athena's temple. What follows shows how much the Trojan women have suffered as their grief is compounded when the Greeks dole out additional deaths and divide their shares of women.
The Greek herald Talthybius arrives to tell the dethroned queen Hecabe what will befall her and her children. Hecabe will be taken away with the Greek general Odysseus, and her daughter Cassandra is slated to become the conquering general Agamemnon's concubine. Cassandra, who has been driven partially mad due to a curse by which she can see the future but will never be believed when she warns others, is morbidly delighted by this news: she sees that when they arrive in Argos, her new master's embittered wife Clytemnestra will kill both her and her new master. However, because of the curse, no one understands this response, and Cassandra is carried off.
The widowed princess Andromache arrives, and Hecabe learns from her that her youngest daughter, Polyxena, has been killed as a sacrifice at the tomb of the Greek warrior Achilles.
Andromache's lot is to be the concubine of Achilles' son Neoptolemus, but the worst news yet for the royal family is yet to come: Talthybius comes to reluctantly inform her that her young son, Astyanax, has been condemned to die. The Greek leaders are afraid that the boy will grow up to avenge his father Hector, and rather than take this chance, they plan to throw him off from the battlements of Troy to his death.
Helen, though not one of the Trojan women, is supposed to suffer greatly as well: Menelaus arrives to take her back to Greece with him where a death sentence awaits her. Helen begs her husband to spare her life and he remains resolved to kill her, but the audience watching the play knows that in the Odyssey, Telemachus will learn how Helen's legendary beauty win her a reprieve.
In the end, Talthybius returns, carrying with him the body of little Astyanax on Hector's shield. Andromache's wish had been to bury her child herself, performing the proper rituals according to Trojan ways, but her ship had already departed. Talthybius, taking some pity on the Trojan women, prepares the body for burial himself and helps them to inter him before Hecabe and the rest of the women are finally taken off with Odysseus.
Throughout the play, many of the Trojan women lament the loss of the land reared them. Hecabe in particular let it be known that Troy had been her home for her entire life, only to see herself as an old grandmother watching the burning of Troy, the death of her husband, her children, and her grandchildren before she will be taken as a slave to Odysseus.
The Trojan Women in Modern Times
Greek director Michael Cacoyannis used Euripides' script as the basis for his 1971 film The Trojan Women. The movie starred American actress Katharine Hepburn as Hecuba, British actors Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Blessed as Andromache and Tathybius, French-Canadian actress Geneviève Bujold as Cassandra, Greek actress Irene Papas as Helen, and Patrick Magee, an actor born in Northern Ireland as Menelaus.
Another movie based on the Euripides play came out in 2004. The film was directed by Brad Mays.
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a version that remains largely faithful to the original text. It adds veiled references to European imperialism in Asia and minor emphasis on common existentialist themes.
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The Trojan Women