About a month or so ago it seemed like everyone was getting books emailed to them from dailylit so I thought I’d give in and try it out. I chose to read Trojan Women by Euripdes. Since I read The Iliad earlier in the year and am now in the middle of The Odyssey I thought it would be complimentary.
The time of the play is after the Trojan War. The women have all been gathered up and they are waiting by the walls of Troy to find out their fate–who they have been awarded to as a prize. The play is a kind of first in Greek plays in that the main characters are not only all women but the story is about the women. As one would expect, there is lots of crying out against fate. Andromache bemoans all women’s fate when she wonders how it is that women who are good and do as they are taught, who marry, have children, and obey their husbands should suffer being turned into a slaves and given to other men. She, Hector’s wife, has been given to Achilles’ son, the son of the man who killed her husband. Andromache rightly wonders
I shall do service in the hall
Of them that slew…. How? Shall I thrust aside
Hector’s beloved face, and open wide
My heart to this new lord? Oh, I should stand
A traitor to the dead! And if my hand
And flesh shrink from him … lo, wrath and despite
O’er all the house, and I a slave!
Among the women awaiting their fate is Helen herself. The women of Troy all hate her and Hecuba, King Priam’s wife, wishes her dead. But curiously, when Menelaus comes to claim Helen and kill her, Hecuba says that he should let Helen speak first, that she has the right to do so. Of course Helen’s speech convinces Menelaus not to kill her and the women send Helen off with curses.
A very affecting part of the play is the burial of Hector’s son. He is a young toddler and has been killed by being thrown down from the wall of Troy by the Greeks. He is brought to the women who are allowed to bury him with Hector’s shield. The boy’s wounds are bound and he is made symbolically whole. As she lays the boy out on Hector’s shield, Hecuba grieves for both son and grandson:
Child, they have left thee beggared of all else
In Hector’s house; but one thing shalt thou keep,
This war-shield bronzen-barred, wherein to sleep.
Alas, thou guardian true of Hector’s fair
Left arm, how art thou masterless! And there
I see his handgrip printed on thy hold;
And deep stains of the precious sweat, that rolled
In battle from the brows and beard of him,
Drop after drop, are writ about thy rim.
More than anything, it is the details that got to me, the details someone grieving would notice.
Hecuba has most of the speeches in the play. She is a highly interesting character. A strong woman, still a queen in action if not in title, she frequently says she has been abandoned by the Gods and even suggests once that the Gods do not exist at all. She can’t seem to abandon them entirely, but neither can she pray to them. Toward the end of the play she has a powerful speech in which she says:
Lo, I have seen the open hand of God;
And in it nothing, nothing, save the rod
Of mine affliction, and the eternal hate,
Beyond all lands, chosen and lifted great
For Troy! Vain, vain were prayer and incense-swell
And bulls’ blood on the altars!… All is well.
Had He not turned us in His hand, and thrust
Our high things low and shook our hills as dust,
We had not been this splendour, and our wrong
An everlasting music for the song
Of earth and heaven!
This is one of the main ideas of the play, how is it that if you do everything you are supposed to, bad things still happen? A question we still have no answer for.
Reading the play through dailylit felt fragmented at times and I wondered how I was going to manage to pull it all together and make sense of it. I did, eventually, but it was a bit anxiety producing. I don’t know if it was because I chose to read a play or because it was just a short piece of reading each day. Perhaps I will try a novel or something and see if it is a different experience. If you haven’t read Trojan Women though, I recommend it. You may want to try reading it out of a book instead of via 20 emails.