43 pages 1 hour read


Trojan Women

Fiction | Play | Adult | BCE

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Summary and Study Guide


Trojan Women is a tragic play written by the ancient Athenian playwright Euripides. It was first performed in Athens in 415 BC, as part of a trilogy of plays depicting the legendary kingdom of Troy: the other two, now lost, were called Alexandros (about the Trojan prince Paris) and Palamedes (about the Greek hero Palamedes during the Trojan War).

Trojan Women takes place in the immediate aftermath of Troy’s defeat, which ended the ten-year Trojan War, fought between the Trojans and the Greeks. The night before the play’s events, the Greeks infiltrated the city hidden inside a giant wooden horse, which the Trojans took to be an offering to the gods. The Greeks have now killed the Trojan men, and are in the process of enslaving the surviving women and children before they head back to Greece.

The play opens with a Prologue delivered by the sea god Poseidon, who describes the fall of Troy, a city he favored. The goddess Athena joins Poseidon and asks for his help destroying the Greek ships, in retaliation for sacrileges committed by the Greeks. The gods depart, and the Trojan queen Hecuba and the Chorus of Trojan women together begin to lament the previous night’s disaster. The Greek messenger Talthybius arrives, bringing the bad news that the Greeks have allotted all the women and children to their new masters. Hecuba learns that she’ll be the slave of Odysseus, whom she despises.

Hecuba’s daughter Cassandra enters, and encourages the women to celebrate her ‘wedding’ to her new Greek master, Agamemnon. The women think Cassandra is crazy, but she in fact has prophetic powers and knows that both she and Agamemnon will soon die. She rejoices at this knowledge, but the others fail to understand her. The Greeks take Cassandra away.

Next, Hecuba’s daughter-in-law Andromache enters. Andromache was married to the great Trojan prince Hector, who has died, and she has a young son with her, Astyanax. Andromache tells Hecuba that she longs for death, but Hecuba encourages Andromache to cling to whatever hope she can. Andromache places great value on her womanly duties, and she does not know whether to submit to her new master, who will take her as a concubine, or to resist out of loyalty to Hector. Hecuba advises Andromache to follow where fate takes her and submit. The messenger Talthybius returns and announces that the Greeks have decided to execute the child Astyanax. Powerless, Andromache cooperates in order to secure a proper burial for her son, and she bids Astyanax farewell before the Greeks take him. Andromache is then taken away to her slavery.

The Spartan king Menelaus and his former wife Helen enter next. Helen left Menelaus for the Trojan prince Paris, which prompted the Greeks to attack Troy and start the Trojan War. Now that Menelaus has finally recaptured Helen, he intends to kill her. Helen delivers a persuasive speech in her own defense, but Hecuba counters with her own speech accusing Helen of malicious behavior. Menelaus decides that Helen must die, but he agrees to wait until they have returned to Sparta before killing her.

Talthybius enters again with the body of Astyanax borne on the hero Hector’s shield. Hecuba leads the Trojan women in mourning over the boy’s body and adorning his corpse with robes and garlands for burial. As the Greeks take the boy’s body away for burial, Talthybius instructs his men to begin burning down the city. Hecuba tries to throw herself into the flames, but the Greeks stop her. She and the other women mourn the destruction of their city. Hopeless and resigned, they then follow their Greek masters to their ships.

Quotes, line numbers, and page numbers in this guide are based on the following translation:

Svarlien, Diane Arnson, translator, with introduction and notes by Ruth Scodel. Andromache, Hecuba, Trojan Women. By Euripides, Hackett Publishing Company, 2012.

Note: There are several different names for Greece, the Greeks, Troy, and the Trojans used throughout this work, which are listed here.

Greece: Hellas, Dorian Land, Argos.

Greeks: Achaeans, Argives, Danaans, Hellenes.

Troy: Ilion, Phrygia, Pergamon, Dardanus’ city.

Trojans: Phrygians, barbarians.