Last night we all went to see a performance of The Trojan Women performed at an old Roman style theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This theatre sits beneath the Acropolis in Athens, with a view of both the entry gate and the back of the infamous Parthenon.
The Trojan Women is a highly tragic play, it was written by Euripides and performed in 415 BCE. This play focuses on the aftermath of the Trojan War – more specifically the fate of the women after Troy is taken. Although the play does not seem to follow the character development of one main character, it does follow mini plots in a sort of vignette – style. Hecuba, Queen of Troy and wife of Priam, remains onstage the entire performance and encounters a series of three women.
First to come and lament her fate is the profit Cassandra. Doomed to be a seer yet to never be believed, Cassandra gives a chilling performance in which she performs her own wedding march while she revels in the tragic fate that will become her new master/husband, Agamemnon (if you don’t know the story of Agamemnon I highly recommend looking it up). After Cassandra is dragged away, Andromache, wife of Hector, comes to comfort Hecuba for the horrors that have befallen her children, only to learn that her own son is condemned to die. Wailing in utter sorrow, Andromache watches as her young boy is lead away only moments before she herself is given as a concubine to the son of Achilles. Last to come forward is Helen. While Helen laments her own fate of assured death at the hand of her husband, Menelaus, Hecuba curses the woman that brought upon the destruction of Troy. The play ends with the return of the body of Andromache’s son, Hecuba’s grandson. As Hecuba mourns the loss of her family and country she is lead off, along with a chorus of Trojan women, to her life in slavery.
Although this play is set in the heroic age, many believe this was a Euripidean anti-war play. In 415 BCE when this play was first performed, the Athenians were engaged in the Peloponnesian War and had just put down a rebellion on the island of Melos. In response to the Melian Revolt, the Athenians killed all the men and children of the island and enslaved the women – an action similar to the one taken by the Greeks, against the Trojans, in The Trojan Women. Many feel that the timing of this play indicates that Euripides was attempting to illustrate the horrors of Athenian policy through a very public protest.
It is clear that Euripides won second prize for his trilogy (including this play) at the City Dionysia, a city-wide festival celebrating the god of wine and revelry, in 415. Having seen this play last night, I can now honestly say that through his mastery of words, it is completely clear why Euripides is considered a seminal part of the tragedic world.