The Trojan Women of Euripides

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The Trojan Women of Euripides



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The Trojan Women (Ancient Greek: Τρῳάδες, Trōiades), also known as Troades, is a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides. Produced in 415 BC during the Peloponnesian War, it is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter and subjugation of its populace by the Athenians earlier that year (see History of Milos). 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.

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A Series of Verse Translations of the GreekDramatic Poets, with Commentaries andExplanatory Notes.

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Judged by common standards, the Troädes is far from a perfect play; it is scarcely even a good play. It is an intense study of one great situation, with little plot, little construction, little or no relief or variety. The only movement of the drama is a gradual extinguishing of all the familiar lights of human life, with, perhaps, at the end, a suggestion that in the utterness of night, when all fears of a possible worse thing are passed, there is in some sense peace and even glory. But the situation itself has at least this dramatic value, that it is different from what it seems.

The consummation of a great conquest, a thing celebrated in paeans and thanksgivings, the very height of the day-dreams of unregenerate man—it seems to be a great joy, and it is in truth a great misery. It is conquest seen when the thrill of battle is over, and nothing remains but to wait and think. We feel in the background the presence of the conquerors, sinister and disappointed phantoms; of the conquered men, after long torment, now resting in death. But the living drama for Euripides lay in the conquered women. It is from them that he has named his play and built up his scheme of parts: four figures clearly lit and heroic, the others in varying grades of characterisation, nameless and barely articulate, mere half-heard voices of an eternal sorrow.

Indeed, the most usual condemnation of the play is not that it is dull, but that it is too harrowing; that scene after scene passes beyond the due limits of tragic art. There are points to be pleaded against this criticism. The very beauty of the most fearful scenes, in spite of their fearfulness, is one; the quick comfort of the lyrics is another, falling like a spell of peace when the strain is too hard to bear (cf. p. 89). But the main defence is that, like many of the greatest works of art, the Troädes is something more than art. It is also a prophecy, a bearing of witness. And the prophet, bound to deliver his message, walks outside the regular ways of the artist.

For some time before the Troädes was produced, Athens, now entirely in the hands of the War Party, had been engaged in an enterprise which, though on military grounds defensible, was bitterly resented by the more humane minority, and has been selected by Thucydides as the great crucial crime of the war. She had succeeded in compelling the neutral Dorian island of Mêlos to take up arms against her, and after a long siege had conquered the quiet and immemorially ancient town, massacred the men and sold the women and children into slavery. Mêlos fell in the autumn of 416 B.C. The Troädes was produced in the following spring. And while the gods of the prologue were prophesying destruction at sea for the sackers of Troy, the fleet of the sackers of Mêlos, flushed with conquest and marked by a slight but unforgettable taint of sacrilege, was actually preparing to set sail for its fatal enterprise against Sicily.

Not, of course, that we have in the Troädes a case of political allusion. Far from it. Euripides does not mean Mêlos when he says Troy, nor mean Alcibiades' fleet when he speaks of Agamemnon's. But he writes under the influence of a year which to him, as to Thucydides, had been filled full of indignant pity and of dire foreboding. This tragedy is perhaps, in European literature, the first great expression of the spirit of pity for mankind exalted into a moving principle; a principle which has made the most precious, and possibly the most destructive, elements of innumerable rebellions, revolutions, and martyrdoms, and of at least two great religions.

Pity is a rebel passion. Its hand is against the strong, against the organised force of society, against conventional sanctions and accepted Gods. It is the Kingdom of Heaven within us fighting against the brute powers of the world; and it is apt to have those qualities of unreason, of contempt for the counting of costs and the balancing of sacrifices, of recklessness, and even, in the last resort, of ruthlessness, which so often mark the paths of heavenly things and the doings of the children of light. It brings not peace, but a sword.

So it was with Euripides. The Troädes itself has indeed almost no fierceness and singularly little thought of revenge. It is only the crying of one of the great wrongs of the world wrought into music, as it were, and made beautiful by "the most tragic of the poets." But its author lived ever after in a deepening atmosphere of strife and even of hatred, down to the day when, "because almost all in Athens rejoiced at his suffering," he took his way to the remote valleys of Macedon to write the Bacchae and to die.

G. M.



The God Poseidon.

The Goddess Pallas Athena.

Hecuba, Queen of Troy, wife of Priam, mother of Hector and Paris.

Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba, a prophetess.

Andromache, wife of Hector, Prince of Troy.

Helen, wife of Menelaüs, King of Sparta; carried off by Paris, Prince of Troy.

Talthybius, Herald of the Greeks.

Menelaus, King of Sparta, and, together with his brother Agamemnon, General of the Greeks.

Soldiers attendant on Talthybius and Menelaus.

Chorus of Captive Trojan Women, young and old, maiden and married.

The Troädes was first acted in the year 415 B.C. "The first prize was won by Xenocles, whoever he may have been, with the four plays Oedipus, Lycaön, Bacchae and Athamas, a Satyr-play. The second by Euripides with the Alexander, Palamêdês, Troädes and Sisyphus, a Satyr-play."—Aelian, Varia Historia, ii. 8.


The scene represents a battlefield, a few days after the battle. At the back are the walls of Troy, partially ruined. In front of them, to right and left, are some huts, containing those of the Captive Women who have been specially set apart for the chief Greek leaders. At one side some dead bodies of armed men are visible. In front a tall woman with white hair is lying on the ground asleep.

It is the dusk of early dawn, before sunrise. The figure of the godPoseidonis dimly seen before the walls.


Up from Aegean caverns, pool by pool

Of blue salt sea, where feet most beautiful

Of Nereïd maidens weave beneath the foam

Their long sea-dances, I, their lord, am come,

Poseidon of the Sea. 'Twas I whose power,

With great Apollo, builded tower by tower

These walls of Troy; and still my care doth stand

True to the ancient People of my hand;

Which now as smoke is perished, in the shock

Of Argive spears. Down from Parnassus' rock

The Greek Epeios came, of Phocian seed,

And wrought by Pallas' mysteries a Steed

Marvellous, big with arms; and through my wall

It passed, a death-fraught image magical.

    The groves are empty and the sanctuaries

Run red with blood. Unburied Priam lies

By his own hearth, on God's high altar-stair,

And Phrygian gold goes forth and raiment rare

To the Argive ships; and weary soldiers roam

Waiting the wind that blows at last for home,

For wives and children, left long years away,

Beyond the seed's tenth fullness and decay,

To work this land's undoing.

                                            And for me,

Since Argive Hera conquereth, and she

Who wrought with Hera to the Phrygians' woe,

Pallas, behold, I bow mine head and go

Forth from great Ilion and mine altars old.

When a still city lieth in the hold

Of Desolation, all God's spirit there

Is sick and turns from worship.—Hearken where

The ancient River waileth with a voice

Of many women, portioned by the choice

Of war amid new lords, as the lots leap

For Thessaly, or Argos, or the steep

Of Theseus' Rock. And others yet there are,

High women, chosen from the waste of war

For the great kings, behind these portals hid;

And with them that Laconian Tyndarid,

Helen, like them a prisoner and a prize.

    And this unhappy one—would any eyes

Gaze now on Hecuba? Here at the Gates

She lies 'mid many tears for many fates

Of wrong. One child beside Achilles' grave

In secret slain, Polyxena the brave,

Lies bleeding. Priam and his sons are gone;

And, lo, Cassandra, she the Chosen One,

Whom Lord Apollo spared to walk her way

A swift and virgin spirit, on this day

Lust hath her, and she goeth garlanded

A bride of wrath to Agamemnon's bed.

[He turns to go; and another divine Presence becomes visible in the dusk. It is the goddessPallas Athena.

    O happy long ago, farewell, farewell, Ye shining towers and mine own citadel; Broken by Pallas, Child of God, or still Thy roots had held thee true.


                                            Is it the will Of God's high Brother, to whose hand is given Great power of old, and worship of all Heaven, To suffer speech from one whose enmities This day are cast aside?


                                      His will it is: Kindred and long companionship withal, Most high Athena, are things magical.


Blest be thy gentle mood!—Methinks I see A road of comfort here, for thee and me.


Thou hast some counsel of the Gods, or word Spoken of Zeus? Or is it tidings heard From some far Spirit?


                                        For this Ilion's sake, Whereon we tread, I seek thee, and would make My hand as thine.


                                    Hath that old hate and deep Failed, where she lieth in her ashen sleep? Thou pitiest her?


                          Speak first; wilt thou be one In heart with me and hand till all be done?


Yea; but lay bare thy heart. For this land's sake Thou comest, not for Hellas?


                                            I would make Mine ancient enemies laugh for joy, and bring On these Greek ships a bitter homecoming.


Swift is thy spirit's path, and strange withal, And hot thy love and hate, where'er they fall.


A deadly wrong they did me, yea within Mine holy place: thou knowest?


                                        I know the sin Of Ajax, when he cast Cassandra down . . .


And no man rose and smote him; not a frown Nor word from all the Greeks!


                                                And 'twas thine hand That gave them Troy!


                                    Therefore with thee I stand To smite them.


                            All thou cravest, even now Is ready in mine heart. What seekest thou?


An homecoming that striveth ever more And cometh to no home.


                                        Here on the shore Wouldst hold them or amid mine own salt foam?


When the last ship hath bared her sail for home!

    Zeus shall send rain, long rain and flaw of driven

Hail, and a whirling darkness blown from heaven;

To me his levin-light he promiseth

O'er ships and men, for scourging and hot death:

Do thou make wild the roads of the sea, and steep

With war of waves and yawning of the deep,

Till dead men choke Euboea's curling bay.

So Greece shall dread even in an after day

My house, nor scorn the Watchers of strange lands!


I give thy boon unbartered. These mine hands Shall stir the waste Aegean; reefs that cross The Delian pathways, jag-torn Myconos, Scyros and Lemnos, yea, and storm-driven Caphêreus with the bones of drownèd men Shall glut him.—Go thy ways, and bid the Sire Yield to thine hand the arrows of his fire. Then wait thine hour, when the last ship shall wind Her cable coil for home!                     [ExitPallas. How are ye blind, Ye treaders down of cities, ye that cast Temples to desolation, and lay waste Tombs, the untrodden sanctuaries where lie The ancient dead; yourselves so soon to die! [ExitPoseidon.

The day slowly dawns: Hecubawakes.


        Up from the earth, O weary head!

            This is not Troy, about, above—

            Not Troy, nor we the lords thereof.

        Thou breaking neck, be strengthenèd!

        Endure and chafe not. The winds rave

            And falter. Down the world's wide road,

            Float, float where streams the breath of God;

        Nor turn thy prow to breast the wave.

        Ah woe! . . . For what woe lacketh here? My children lost, my land, my lord. O thou great wealth of glory, stored Of old in Ilion, year by year

        We watched . . . and wert thou nothingness? What is there that I fear to say? And yet, what help? . . . Ah, well-a-day, This ache of lying, comfortless

        And haunted! Ah, my side, my brow And temples! All with changeful pain My body rocketh, and would fain Move to the tune of tears that flow: For tears are music too, and keep A song unheard in hearts that weep.

[She rises and gazes towards the Greek ships far off on the shore.

                O ships, O crowding faces

                    Of ships, O hurrying beat

                    Of oars as of crawling feet,

                How found ye our holy places?

                Threading the narrows through,

                    Out from the gulfs of the Greek,

                Out to the clear dark blue,

                    With hate ye came and with joy,

                And the noise of your music flew,

                    Clarion and pipe did shriek,

                As the coilèd cords ye threw,

                    Held in the heart of Troy!

                What sought ye then that ye came? A woman, a thing abhorred: A King's wife that her lord Hateth: and Castor's shame Is hot for her sake, and the reeds Of old Eurôtas stir With the noise of the name of her. She slew mine ancient King, The Sower of fifty Seeds, And cast forth mine and me, As shipwrecked men, that cling To a reef in an empty sea.

                Who am I that I sit Here at a Greek king's door, Yea, in the dust of it? A slave that men drive before, A woman that hath no home, Weeping alone for her dead; A low and bruisèd head, And the glory struck therefrom.

[She starts up from her solitary brooding, and calls to the other Trojan Women in the huts.

                O Mothers of the Brazen Spear,

                    And maidens, maidens, brides of shame,

                    Troy is a smoke, a dying flame;

                Together we will weep for her:

                I call ye as a wide-wing'd bird

                    Calleth the children of her fold,

                To cry, ah, not the cry men heard

                    In Ilion, not the songs of old,

                That echoed when my hand was true

                        On Priam's sceptre, and my feet

                        Touched on the stone one signal beat,

                    And out the Dardan music rolled;

                And Troy's great Gods gave ear thereto.

[The door of one of the huts on the right opens, and the Women steal out severally, startled and afraid.

First Woman.

[Strophe 1.

        How say'st thou? Whither moves thy cry, Thy bitter cry? Behind our door We heard thy heavy heart outpour Its sorrow: and there shivered by Fear and a quick sob shaken From prisoned hearts that shall be free no more! Hecuba.    Child, 'tis the ships that stir upon the shore... Second Woman.                 The ships, the ships awaken! Third Woman.        Dear God, what would they? Overseas Bear me afar to strange cities? Hecuba.        Nay, child, I know not. Dreams are these, Fears of the hope-forsaken.

First Woman.

    Awake, O daughters of affliction, wake And learn your lots! Even now the Argives break Their camp for sailing!


        Ah, not Cassandra! Wake not her Whom God hath maddened, lest the foe Mock at her dreaming. Leave me clear From that one edge of woe. O Troy, my Troy, thou diest here Most lonely; and most lonely we The living wander forth from thee, And the dead leave thee wailing!

[One of the huts on the left is now open, and the rest of theChoruscome out severally. Their number eventually amounts to fifteen.

Fourth Woman.

[Antistrophe 1.

        Out of the tent of the Greek king I steal, my Queen, with trembling breath: What means thy call? Not death; not death! They would not slay so low a thing! Fifth Woman.                    O, 'tis the ship-folk crying To deck the galleys: and we part, we part! Hecuba.    Nay, daughter: take the morning to thine heart. Fifth Woman.                    My heart with dread is dying! Sixth Woman.        An herald from the Greek hath come! Fifth Woman.        How have they cast me, and to whom A bondmaid? Hecuba.                    Peace, child: wait thy doom. Our lots are near the trying.

Fourth Woman.

        Argos, belike, or Phthia shall it be, Or some lone island of the tossing sea, Far, far from Troy?


            And I the agèd, where go I, A winter-frozen bee, a slave Death-shapen, as the stones that lie Hewn on a dead man's grave: The children of mine enemy To foster, or keep watch before The threshold of a master's door, I that was Queen in Troy!

A Woman to Another.

[Strophe 2.

        And thou, what tears can tell thy doom?

The Other.

            The shuttle still shall flit and change

        Beneath my fingers, but the loom,

                        Sister, be strange.





        Look, my dead child! My child, my love,

        The last look. . . .


                    Oh, there cometh worse.

        A Greek's bed in the dark. . . .


                                    God curse

        That night and all the powers thereof!


        Or pitchers to and fro to bear

            To some Pirênê on the hill,

            Where the proud water craveth still

        Its broken-hearted minister.


        God guide me yet to Theseus' land,

            The gentle land, the famed afar . . .


        But not the hungry foam—Ah, never!—

        Of fierce Eurotas, Helen's river,

        To bow to Menelaus' hand,

            That wasted Troy with war!

A Woman.

[Antistrophe 2.

        They told us of a land high-born,

            Where glimmers round Olympus' roots

        A lordly river, red with corn

                      And burdened fruits.


        Aye, that were next in my desire

            To Athens, where good spirits dwell . . .


        Or Aetna's breast, the deeps of fire

            That front the Tyrian's Citadel:

        First mother, she, of Sicily

            And mighty mountains: fame hath told

            Their crowns of goodness manifold. . . .


        And, close beyond the narrowing sea,

        A sister land, where float enchanted

            Ionian summits, wave on wave,

        And Crathis of the burning tresses

        Makes red the happy vale, and blesses

        With gold of fountains spirit-haunted

                Homes of true men and brave!


        But lo, who cometh: and his lips Grave with the weight of dooms unknown: A Herald from the Grecian ships. Swift comes he, hot-foot to be done And finished. Ah, what bringeth he Of news or judgment? Slaves are we, Spoils that the Greek hath won!

[Talthybius, followed by some Soldiers, enters from the left.


Thou know'st me, Hecuba. Often have I crossed Thy plain with tidings from the Hellene host. 'Tis I, Talthybius. . . . Nay, of ancient use Thou know'st me. And I come to bear thee news.


                Ah me, 'tis here, 'tis here, Women of Troy, our long embosomed fear!


The lots are cast, if that it was ye feared.


                What lord, what land. . . . Ah me, Phthia or Thebes, or sea-worn Thessaly?


Each hath her own. Ye go not in one herd.


Say then what lot hath any? What of joy Falls, or can fall on any child of Troy?


I know: but make thy questions severally.


                My stricken one must be Still first. Say how Cassandra's portion lies.


Chosen from all for Agamemnon's prize!


                How, for his Spartan bride A tirewoman? For Helen's sister's pride?


Nay, nay: a bride herself, for the King's bed.


The sainted of Apollo? And her own Prize that God promisèd Out of the golden clouds, her virgin crown? . . .


He loved her for that same strange holiness.


                Daughter, away, away, Cast all away, The haunted Keys, the lonely stole's array That kept thy body like a sacred place!


Is't not rare fortune that the King hath smiled On such a maid?


                            What of that other child Ye reft from me but now?

Talthybius (speaking with some constraint).

Polyxena? Or what child meanest thou?


The same. What man now hath her, or what doom?


She rests apart, to watch Achilles' tomb.


To watch a tomb? My daughter? What is this? . . . Speak, Friend? What fashion of the laws of Greece?


Count thy maid happy! She hath naught of ill To fear . . .


                    What meanest thou? She liveth still?


I mean, she hath one toil that holds her free From all toil else.


                                What of Andromache, Wife of mine iron-hearted Hector, where Journeyeth she?


Pyrrhus, Achilles' son, hath taken her.


                And I, whose slave am I, The shaken head, the arm that creepeth by, Staff-crutchèd, like to fall?


Odysseus, Ithaca's king, hath thee for thrall.


    Beat, beat the crownless head:

    Rend the cheek till the tears run red!

    A lying man and a pitiless

    Shall be lord of me, a heart full-flown

            With scorn of righteousness:

    O heart of a beast where law is none,

    Where all things change so that lust be fed,

    The oath and the deed, the right and the wrong,

    Even the hate of the forkèd tongue:

    Even the hate turns and is cold,

    False as the love that was false of old!

    O Women of Troy, weep for me! Yea, I am gone: I am gone my ways. Mine is the crown of misery, The bitterest day of all our days.