The Captive Woman’s Lament in Greek Tragedy.

Chapter 4. The Captive Woman’s Lament and her Revenge in Euripides’ Hecuba

Hecuba, a wretch forlorn and captive, when she saw Polyxena first slaughtered, and her son, her Polydorus, on the wild sea-beach next met the mourning woman’s view, then reft of sense did she bark like a dog; such mighty power had grief to wrench her soul.

Dante, Inferno Canto xxx, 16-21 [1]

Woe, woe is me! What words can I utter? What sorrow, what lamentation, the wretchedness of wretched old age, and slavery that I cannot bear or endure! Woe is me! Who will defend me? What family, and what city? Aged Priam is gone; gone are my children. Which way am I to go, this or that? Where can I be safe? Where is any god or power divine to help me?

I would like to begin my discussion of the laments of captive Trojan women in Euripides by exploring Euripides’ Hecuba, which is thought to have been first produced during the mid-420’s BC, at the height of the first phase of the Peloponnesian War. [3] Hecuba was famously all suffering, of all the victims at Troy she was portrayed as having lost the most. She was the queen of Troy, and had many, many children, only to witness {117|118} her husband and sons die. Priam, Hecuba’s husband and the king of Troy, died in the sack of Troy, but Hecuba had to live on, to experience even more suffering, lose still more children, and become the slave of her family’s killers. In the first half of the Hecuba, she loses her virgin daughter Polyxena to the violence of the Greeks. Polyxena is sacrificed as an offering to the tomb of Achilles, who, as a powerful hero after his death, has apparently demanded some kind of prize before the Greeks can leave Troy. [4] In the second half of this play she finds out that her only remaining and youngest son, Polydorus, whom she and Priam had sent away from Troy for his protection, has been killed by Polymestor, King of Thrace, who was supposed to be protecting him. At the end of the play Hecuba watches another daughter, Cassandra, be led off as a concubine, in full knowledge that Cassandra is going to die when she reaches Greece. The play’s climax occurs when Hecuba and her fellow captive Trojan women lure Polymestor and his two young sons into the women’s tents in the Achaean post-war camp in near-by Thrace. [5] The women blind Polymestor using the pins from their dresses and kill Polymestor’s two boys.

In order to accept this second, more sympathetic interpretation of Hecuba’s character, her actions, and her transformation, we must fully appreciate the lament-filled speeches and songs of the principal characters. Also important for this argument are the choral odes of the play and their concern for the fate of the captive Trojan women. These songs make us sympathetic to the grief of the victims of the war, the innocent women, who even after the war is over continue to be brutalized. They evoke the pity of the Greeks within the play, and this proves to be a decisive element in the plot of Hecuba’s revenge. But are the Athenians in the audience to be expected to react as the Greek soldiers do to these laments, or should we expect a response from the external audience that is entirely different from the internal one? The emotional dynamic of the captive woman’s lament plays a crucial role in some of the critical interpretive issues of the drama. {119|120}

Hecuba herself is the embodiment of grief. From her initial sung exchange with the chorus that follows the prologue, Hecuba’s voice is one of lament:

οἲ ἐγὼ μελέα, τί ποτ’ ἀπύσω;/ποίαν ἀχώ, ποῖον ὀδυρμόν,/δειλαία δειλαίου γήρως,/δουλείας [τᾶς] οὐ τλατᾶς,/[τᾶς] οὐ φερτᾶς; οἴμοι./τίς ἀμύνει μοι; ποία γέννα,/ποία δὲ πόλις; φροῦδος πρέσβυς,/φροῦδοι παῖδες./ποίαν ἢ ταύταν ἢ κείναν/στείχω; ποῖ δὴ σωθῶ; ποῦ τις θεῶν/ἢ δαιμόνων ἐπαρωγός;/ὦ κάκ’ ἐνεγκοῦσαι,/Τρῳάδες ὦ κάκ’ ἐνεγκοῦσαι/πήματ’, ἀπωλέσατ’ ὠλέσατ’· οὐκέτι μοι βίος/ἀγαστὸς ἐν φάει.

Hecuba 154-168

Woe, woe is me! What words can I utter? What sorrow, what lamentation, the wretchedness of wretched old age, and slavery that I cannot bear or endure! Woe is me! Who will defend me? What family, and what city? Aged Priam is gone, gone are my children. Which way am I to go, this or that? Where can I be safe? Where is any god or power divine to help me? Ah, Trojan women! bringers of evil tidings! bringers of evil pain! you have made an end, an utter end of me; life in the light is no longer desirable for me.

Hecuba’s song is her reaction to the news delivered by chorus that her daughter Polyxena is going to be sacrificed by the Greeks. Polyxena’s death {120|121} is yet one more blow for the grieving Hecuba, who thought she could sink no further in her sorrow. In terms of plot Polyxena’s suffering and death in the play are subordinated to their larger purpose, which is to bring Hecuba one step closer to her breaking point of grief. But though subordinated, the character of Polyxena makes an extraordinary impression on those around her, and thus contributes an important dimension to our interpretation of the play as a whole. Because she goes knowingly and in her mind willingly to her death, she has the opportunity to lament her own death and construct her own interpretation of its significance. She chooses death in place of the marriage she can no longer attain, and death instead of slavery.

As I noted in the introduction, in the course of choosing to die, Polyxena narrates her life history and the hopes she had for her future in a form that is typical of women’s laments:

τί γάρ με δεῖ ζῆν; ᾗ πατὴρ μὲν ἦν ἄναξ/Φρυγῶν ἁπάντων· τοῦτό μοι πρῶτον βίου·/ἔπειτ’ ἐθρέφθην ἐλπίδων καλῶν ὕπο/βασιλεῦσι νύμφη, ζῆλον οὐ σμικρὸν γάμων/ἔχουσ’, ὅτου δῶμ’ ἑστίαν τ’ ἀφίξομαι·/δέσποινα δ’ ἡ δύστηνος Ἰδαίαισιν ἦ/γυναιξὶ, παρθένοις τ’ ἀπόβλεπτος μέτα,/ἴση θεοῖσι πλὴν τὸ κατθανεῖν μόνον·/νῦν δ’ εἰμὶ δούλη. πρῶτα μέν με τοὔνομα/θανεῖν ἐρᾶν τίθησιν οὐκ εἰωθὸς ὄν·/ἔπειτ’ ἴσως ἂν δεσποτῶν ὠμῶν φρένας/τύχοιμ’ ἄν, ὅστις ἀργύρου μ’ ὠνήσεται,/τὴν Ἕκτορός τε χἁτέρων πολλῶν κάσιν,/προσθεὶς δ’ ἀνάγκην σιτοποιὸν ἐν δόμοις,/σαίρειν τε δῶμα κερκίσιν τ’ ἐφεστάναι/λυπρὰν ἄγουσαν ἡμέραν μ’ ἀναγκάσει·/λέχη δὲ τἀμὰ δοῦλος ὠνητός ποθεν/χρανεῖ, τυράννων πρόσθεν ἠξιωμένα./οὐ δῆτ’· ἀφίημ’ ὀμμάτων ἐλευθέρων/φέγγος τόδ’, ᾍδῃ προστιθεῖσ’ ἐμὸν δέμας.

Hecuba 349-368

Why should I go on living? I whose father was lord of all the Phrygians? This was the most important thing in life for me. Then I was nursed on fair hopes to be a bride for kings, the center of fierce jealousy among suitors, to see whose home I would make my own; and over each woman of Ida I was queen, ah me! a maiden marked amid women and girls, equal to the gods, save for death alone. But now I am a slave. That name first makes me long for death, so strange it sounds; and then maybe my lot might give me to some savage master, one that would buy me for money—me, the sister of Hektor and many other princes—who would make me knead his bread within his halls, or sweep his house or set me working at the loom, leading a life of misery; while some slave, bought I know not whence, will defile my bed, once deemed worthy of royalty. No, never! {121|122} Here I close my eyes upon the light, free as yet, and I consign my body to Hades.

Here Polyxena, like the chorus elsewhere in the play, speculates about her future life, home, and master. Her lament is perfectly constructed so as to highlight the contrast between past and present and to justify her decision to die. Whereas in traditional laments for the dead the contrast between past and present is invoked alongside a longing for death, Polyxena’s lament makes that wish a reality. It is in many ways a speech act.

The efficacy of Polyxena’s proleptic lament for herself is confirmed by the reaction that Greeks have to her death. As Talthybius tells it, once her throat is slit, the Greeks hasten to honor the corpse:

ἐπεὶ δ’ ἀφῆκε πνεῦμα θανασίμῳ σφαγῇ,/οὐδεὶς τὸν αὐτὸν εἶχεν Ἀργείων πόνον·/ἀλλ’ οἳ μὲν αὐτῶν τὴν θανοῦσαν ἐκ χερῶν/φύλλοις ἔβαλλον, οἳ δὲ πληροῦσιν πυρὰν/κορμοὺς φέροντες πευκίνους, ὁ δ’ οὐ φέρων/πρὸς τοῦ φέροντος τοιάδ’ ἤκουεν κακά·/Ἕστηκας, ὦ κάκιστε, τῇ νεάνιδι/οὐ πέπλον οὐδὲ κόσμον ἐν χεροῖν ἔχων;/οὐκ εἶ τι δώσων τῇ {122|123} περίσσ’ εὐκαρδίῳ/ψυχήν τ’ ἀρίστῃ; τοιάδ’ ἀμφὶ σῆς λέγων/παιδὸς θανούσης, εὐτεκνωτάτην τέ σε/πασῶν γυναικῶν δυστυχεστάτην θ’ ὁρῶ.

Hecuba 571-582

As soon as she had breathed her last through the fatal gash, each Argive set his hand to different tasks, some strewing leaves over the dead woman in handfuls, others bringing pine-logs and heaping up a pyre; and he, who brought nothing, would hear from him who did such things as these, “You stand there, worthless, with no robe or ornament to bring for the maiden? Are you not going to give anything to her who showed such peerless bravery and excellence of spirit?” Such is the tale I tell about your daughter’s death, and I look upon you as the most successful all mothers, yet the most unfortunate of all women.

Although Polyxena’s compressed second speech (as it is reported by Talthybius) is less clearly a lament than her speech to Odysseus, the Greeks react as if they too had heard her previous words. Immediately upon killing her, they begin to heap up a hero’s funeral pyre and bring offerings. The final description of Polyxena completes the transformation: “peerless in bravery and the best (aristê) in regard to her spirit (psukhê).” Hecuba, moreover, is labeled the most fortunate of mothers for having Polyxena (euteknôtatên 581), even if she is the most unfortunate with respect to all else.

It is appropriate that a tragedy about the Trojan War evokes the heroic quest for glory that constitutes epic poetry. The Hecuba does this by assimilating the figures of Polyxena and Achilles, for whom she dies. Just as beautiful, however, is the way that Euripides conjures epic lamentation as well. As Polyxena leaves her mother, she is overcome with tears. She “melts”:

κόμιζ’, Ὀδυσσεῦ, μ’ ἀμφιθεὶς κάραι πέπλους,
ὡς πρὶν σφαγῆναί γ’ ἐκτέτηκα καρδίαν
θρήνοισι μητρὸς τήνδε τ’ ἐκτήκω γόοις.

Hecuba, 432-434

Come, Odysseus, veil my head with my garment and take me away;
for now, even before my slaughter, my heart is melted
by my mother’s laments, and I in turn melt hers with my own laments.

The metaphor of lamentation as melting derives ultimately from epic and the traditional imagery of Homeric similes. In Odyssey 8.522, when Odysseus weeps upon hearing the song of the sack of Troy, the Greek word is τήκετο: he too melts. It is precisely at that moment that Odysseus is compared to a lamenting woman, who, after watching her husband die fighting for his city, is being led off into slavery. The full resonance of the metaphor of melting, however, can only be understood within the context of other epic similes. [
17] The more complete image can be found in Odyssey 19.204-209, where Penelope’s face, upon hearing one of Odysseus’ “Cretan lies,” is said to melt:

τῆς δ’ ἄρ’ ἀκουούσης ῥέε δάκρυα, τήκετο δὲ χρώς·
ὡς δὲ χιὼν κατατήκετ’ ἐν ἀκροπόλοισιν ὄρεσσιν,
ἥν τ’ Εὖρος κατέτηξεν, ἐπὴν Ζέφυρος καταχεύῃ·
τηκομένης δ’ ἄρα τῆς ποταμοὶ πλήθουσι ῥέοντες·
ὣς τῆς τήκετο καλὰ παρήϊα δάκρυ χεούσης,
κλαιούσης ἑὸν ἄνδρα παρήμενον.

Odyssey 19.204-209

The tears flowed from her as she listened, and her skin melted.
As the snow wastes upon the mountain tops {124|125}
when the East wind has melted it, after the West wind has heaped it up
and the rivers run full with the water from the melted snow,
even so did her beautiful cheeks melt as she shed tears
weeping for the husband who was all the time sitting beside her.

It is clear from the simile that the word “melt” refers to the liquid of tears, which is compared the liquid of melted snow. In other words, the tears are a critical piece of the puzzle. “To melt” does not mean “to be overcome,” as one translator handles it, but “to produce tears.” [
18] In the Hecuba, Polyxena and Hecuba each melt in reaction to the laments of the other. The most common Greek terms for songs of lament, goos and thrênos, are used to describe the kind of speech and song the women employ. [19] This grief is specifically associated with both the tears of epic and the sorrow of a captive woman, in what is undoubtedly a traditional image, but which may also be an allusion to one of the most striking similes ever applied to Odysseus.

But while I see an attempt on the part of Polyxena to construct a heroic identity for herself in death, an attempt that is reinforced by the epic and heroic resonances in her laments, I am very sympathetic to the work of a number of scholars who argue that Polyxena’s quest for kleos is undercut in a variety of ways, particularly in the scene that narrates her death. A feminist reading of this play would say that Polyxena, as a Trojan captive woman, dies to liberate herself—that is to save herself from servitude and sexual degradation. But at the same time, we the audience are compelled to view the sacrifice through the gaze of the soldiers. Her death is narrated by Talthybius, so that technically we hear first and then visualize by means of this soldier’s words. And this narration, according to many interpretations, {125|126} very much eroticizes her death, with the result that to a certain extent Polyxena is degraded anyway by the lustful gaze of the soldiers. [20] The text of the play itself supports the idea that Polyxena has been sexually violated by the slitting of her throat, an act which is repeatedly referred to as a wedding in death or else as a substitute for a wedding. Hecuba, in asking her fellow captives to lay out the corpse of Polyxena, calls her “my child—a bride but not a bride, a maiden and not a maiden” (νύμφην τ’ ἄνυμφον παρθένον τ’ ἀπάρθενον 611-612), suggesting that Polyxena has now become a gunê, but in the most twisted of circumstances. [21]

I think there is even more to be seen in the gaze of the soldiers, however. In Chapter 3, following such scholars as Gloria Ferrari and Michael Anderson, I argued that Greek art of the Archaic and Classical periods almost universally depicts events connected with the fall of Troy as a series of sacrilegious and abominable acts that anger Athena and set in motion the disasters experienced by the Greeks on their return voyages. Moreover, these depictions were on display in many prominent places around Athens, including the Parthenon on the Acropolis and the Painted Stoa in the agora. Euripides seems all too conscious of the significance of Polyxena’s death and Hecuba’s suffering in Greek art, and calls our attention to it in two crucial passages. In the first of these two passages, Talthybius relates that just before Neoptolemus kills {126|127} Polyxena, she bared her breasts and begged him to strike her in the chest or at the throat (he chooses the latter):

κἀπεὶ τόδ’ εἰσήκουσε δεσποτῶν ἔπος,
λαβοῦσα πέπλους ἐξ ἄκρας ἐπωμίδος
ἔρρηξε λαγόνας ἐς μέσας παρ’ ὀμφαλόν,
μαστούς τ’ ἔδειξε στέρνα θ’ ὡς ἀγάλματος

Hecuba 557-561

And she, when she heard her captors’ words,
took her robe and from the shoulder
to the waist tore it open,
displaying a breast and bosom as beautiful
as a statue’s [agalma].

The similarities between the Polyxena and Iphigeneia passages go even beyond the comparison of these two sacrificial virgins to artwork. [28] Both deaths are portrayed as a substitute for marriage. [29] The thematic and visual connections between the two sacrifices, particularly the evocative description of their robes and the comparison to artwork, set them up as bookends of one another, the two framing sacrileges of the Trojan War. Iphigeneia’s {128|129} death too is an abominable act, fundamentally linked to the fall of Troy. In another choral ode of the Agamemnon, Helen is, like Iphigeneia, an agalma (741), who seemed unthreatening when she first arrived, but who ultimately destroyed Troy, (νυμφόκλαυτος Ἐρινύς 749). [30] But already in the opening choral song that depicts Iphigeneia’s death, the play makes clear how we are to interpret the act, no matter how necessary it was:

ἐπεὶ δ’ ἀνάγκας ἔδυ λέπαδνον/φρενὸς πνέων δυσσεβῆ τροπαίαν/ἄναγνον ἀνίερον, τόθεν/τὸ παντότολμον φρονεῖν μετέγνω./βροτοὺς θρασύνει γὰρ αἰσχρόμητις/τάλαινα παρακοπὰ πρωτοπήμων. ἔτλα δ’ οὖν/θυτὴρ γενέσθαι θυγατρός,/γυναικοποίνων πολέμων ἀρωγὰν/καὶ προτέλεια ναῶν.

Agamemnon 218-226

Indeed, it is one of the riddles of the play that even before the Greek expedition from Aulis sets out, Artemis has already conceived wrath for the sack of Troy. In the opening ode Troy is represented in an omen as a pregnant hare, devoured by two the eagles, Agamemnon and Menelaus (Agamemnon 109-120), and this sign bodes ill: “an abomination to Artemis is the feast of the eagles” (στυγεῖ δὲ δεῖπνον αἰετῶν 137). [

Now that we have examined the place of the laments of Hecuba and Polyxena and their effect within the drama, we can better explore the end of the Hecuba (with its violence and subsequent prophecies) and its implications. I have argued that Polyxena becomes heroized almost before our eyes in the course of Talthybius’ narrative about her death, and Euripides’ Polyxena does indeed conform to a traditional heroization pattern in which 1) a virgin’s life is traded for a military victory or the ending of a plague; 2) the victim is willing; and 3) the sacrifice is carried out and the victim receives cult honors as a sôtêr. [37] Hecuba, however, who remains alive for the duration of Euripides’ play, does not become a hero in the course of the play itself. Instead, her death and immortalization are foretold. Polymestor, upon losing his sight at the hands of Hecuba and the Trojan women, becomes prophetic:

ἙΚ οὐ γάρ με χαίρειν χρή σε τιμωρουμένην;
ΠΟ ἀλλ’ οὐ τάχ’, ἡνίκ’ ἄν σε ποντία νοτὶς–
ἙΚ μῶν ναυστολήσῃ γῆς ὅρους Ἑλληνίδος; {131|132}
ΠΟ κρύψῃ μὲν οὖν πεσοῦσαν ἐκ καρχησίων.
ἙΚ πρὸς τοῦ βιαίων τυγχάνουσαν ἁλμάτων;
ΠΟ αὐτὴ πρὸς ἱστὸν ναὸς ἀμβήσῃ ποδί.
ἙΚ ὑποπτέροις νώτοισιν ἢ ποίῳ τρόπῳ;
ΠΟ κύων γενήσῃ πύρσ’ ἔχουσα δέργματα.
ἙΚ πῶς δ’ οἶσθα μορφῆς τῆς ἐμῆς μετάστασιν;
ΠΟ ὁ Θρῃξὶ μάντις εἶπε Διόνυσος τάδε.
ἙΚ σοὶ δ’ οὐκ ἔχρησεν οὐδὲν ὧν ἔχεις κακῶν;
ΠΟ οὐ γάρ ποτ’ ἂν σύ μ’ εἷλες ὧδε σὺν δόλῳ.
ἙΚ θανοῦσα δ’ ἢ ζῶσ’ ἐνθάδ’ ἐκπλήσω μόρον;
ΠΟ θανοῦσα· τύμβῳ δ’ ὄνομα σῷ κεκλήσεται–
ἙΚ μορφῆς ἐπῳδόν, ἢ τί, τῆς ἐμῆς ἐρεῖς;
ΠΟ κυνὸς ταλαίνης σῆμα, ναυτίλοις τέκμαρ.

Hecuba 1258-1273

HECUBA I am avenged on you; have I not cause for joy?
POLYMESTOR The joy will soon cease, in the day when ocean’s flood…
HECUBA Shall convey me to the shores of the Greek land?
POLYMESTOR No, but close over you when you fall from the masthead.
HECUBA Who will force me to take the leap?
POLYMESTOR Of your own accord you will climb the ship’s mast.
HECUBA With wings upon my back, or by what means?
POLYMESTOR You will become a dog with fiery eyes.
HECUBA How do you know of my transformation?
POLYMESTOR Dionysus, our Thracian prophet, told me so.
HECUBA And did he tell you nothing of your present suffering?
POLYMESTOR No; otherwise you would never have caught me thus by guile.
HECUBA Will I die or live, and so complete my destiny here?
POLYMESTOR You will die; and to your tomb will be given a name—
HECUBA Recalling my form, or what will you tell me?
POLYMESTOR “The suffering hound’s grave [sêma],” a mark for mariners.

Here, as I noted above, we come to perhaps the most difficult point of interpretation in the play. What are we to make of Hecuba’s impending transformation into “the sêma of the dog,” the landmark known as Cynossema?

Finally, I submit that the suffering being contemplated in the Hecuba is that of the Greeks no less than the Trojans, whose laments narrate the sorrows of Greek and Trojan alike. In the last chapter, I adduced the choral ode at Hecuba 638-656, in which the chorus of Trojan women sympathetically imagines the sorrow of Spartan girl and a mother who has lost her {134|135} sons, as an example of the universality of war-time suffering presented in the play. That comparison is doubly remarkable, in that it is spoken by Trojans (the historical victims of the Greeks) about Spartans, the current enemy of the Athenians. (And we should not forget that it is Athenians youths who are playing the role of these Trojan captive women contemplating the suffering of the Spartan women.) Like the Iliad therefore, the Hecuba can explore the agony of war for the Greeks—Athenian and Spartan alike—by means of the sorrow of the Trojan women, as it is expressed in the captive woman’s lament.{135|}


[ back ] 1. Ecuba, trista, misera e cattiva,/poscia che vide Polissena morta,/e del suo Polidoro in su la riva/del mar si fu la dolorosa accorta/forsennata latrò sì come cane:/tanto il dolor le fe’ la mente torta. (Translation after Cary [New York: P. F. Collier and Son, 1914].)

[ back ] 2. οἲ ἐγὼ μελέα, τί ποτ’ ἀπύσω;/ποίαν ἀχώ, ποῖον ὀδυρμόν,/δειλαία δειλαίου γήρως,/δουλείας [τᾶς] οὐ τλατᾶς,/[τᾶς] οὐ φερτᾶς; οἴμοι./τίς ἀμύνει μοι; ποία γέννα,/ποία δὲ πόλις; φροῦδος πρέσβυς,/φροῦδοι παῖδες./ποίαν ἢ ταύταν ἢ κείναν/στείχω; ποῖ δὴ σωθῶ; ποῦ τις θεῶν/ἢ δαιμόνων ἐπαρωγός;/ὦ κάκ’ ἐνεγκοῦσαι,/Τρῳάδες ὦ κάκ’ ἐνεγκοῦσαι/πήματ’, ἀπωλέσατ’ ὠλέσατ’· οὐκέτι μοι βίος/ἀγαστὸς ἐν φάει.

[ back ] 3. On the complicated assemblage of evidence used to date this play, see the excellent summary provided in the edition of Gregory 1999, xii-xv.

[ back ] 4. It is not clear in the play itself whether Achilles has specified Polyxena as the one to be sacrificed, nor is it absolutely certain that the sacrifice is a prerequisite to leaving Troy. For a survey of the difficulties, see, e.g., Kovacs 1987, 112-114 and the edition of Gregory 1999.

[ back ] 5. The play’s setting in Thrace is another difficult issue, given that Achilles’ tomb should be in Sigeum. See again Kovacs 1987, 112-114.

[ back ] 6. In fact, she leaves stage briefly twice, at 628 and 1022.

[ back ] 7. For more on the term sêma (“sign, symbol; tomb”), see discussion below.

[ back ] 8. See, e.g., Kirkwood 1947, Abrahamson 1952, Conacher 1967, Reckford 1985, Nussbaum 1986, Michelini 1987, and Segal 1993.

[ back ] 9. See especially Kovacs 1987, Burnett 1994, Loraux 1998, and Gregory 1999. See also Mossman 1995 and Burnett 1998, who rightly argue that Hecuba’s revenge would not have been as problematic for the Athenian audience as it is for modern critics. Burnett 1994 explores the full range of connotations that the dog may convey in ancient sources.

[ back ] 10. Gregory 1999, xxxiv. Translation is Gregory’s.

[ back ] 12. On this particular variation of the desperation speech, see Dué 2000.

[ back ] 13. Among Achilles’ primary traditional epithets in the Iliad are theoeikelos and theois epieikelos, each meaning “equal to the gods.” An even closer parallel is daimoni îsos “equal to a daimôn,” applied to Patroklos as well as other warriors at critical moments as they approach death. So also is îsos Arêi “equal to Ares,” applied, e.g., to Patroklos at Iliad 11.604, just as he takes the first steps that set in motion his fatal impersonation of Achilles. On the application of theoeikelos to Hektor and Andromache on their wedding day see Nagy 1974, 134-39 and Dué 2002, 59. Polyxena’s description of herself as bride sought after by many suitors also of course evokes Helen.

[ back ] 14. On Polyxena’s attempt to achieve a warrior’s death and its consequent kleos, see Loraux 1987.

[ back ] 15. See the Introduction.

[ back ] 16. For Tecmessa, see the Introduction. For modern Greek funerals, I am thinking here especially of the work of Herzfeld 1993. See also the Introduction and Chapter 1.

[ back ] 17. On the traditionality of epic similes and the associations that they carry throughout the contexts in which they are employed, see Muellner 1990.

[ back ] 18. Cf. Iliad 16.2-4, in which the tears of Patroklos are compared to a spring trickling down a rock, and Andromache 116 (discussed below). In English the metaphor of melting is connected with the idea of coldness. We say “the heart is warmed” or “I warmed up to him.” By extension, a hard or inflexible person “melts.” The concept of coldness seems to be there in the Greek as well, but I would argue that the liquid is equally important (cf. Page 1936 on Andromache’s lament, discussed below). Odysseus melts, and in the same verse “wets the cheeks under his eyelids with tears” (δάκρυ δ’ ἔδευεν ὑπὸ βλεφάροισι παρειάς 522). Similarly Penelope “pours down tears.” The translation “was overcome” is that of Samuel Butler.

[ back ] 19. For the terminology of Greek laments see Alexiou 1974, 11-12, Sultan 1993, 93-94, Derderian 2001, chapter 1, and Tsagalis 2004, chapter 1. Goos is usually applied to the laments of nonprofessional female relatives, while thrênos is used of lament “especially composed and performed at the funeral by nonkinsmen” (Alexiou 1974, 12). In tragedy, however, there is little distinction between the two terms. For one explanation of the merging of the terms in tragedy, see Nagy 1994-1995.

[ back ] 20. See especially Rabinowitz 1993, 54-62, Segal 1993, 172, and Steiner 2001, 206. For the eroticization of the sacrifice, see further below.

[ back ] 21. See Loraux 1987, 39, as well as Rabinowitz 1993, 54-56, and Sissa 1990, 99. For death as a wedding, see Chapter 1.

[ back ] 22. Segal 1993, 174, with references there.

[ back ] 23. I imagine, following the arguments of Ferrari 1997, that the robes of Iphigeneia are flowing towards the ground as she is held over the altar, not that she is actually disrobed, but this interpretation is certainly open to debate. Euripides may well have had in mind the latter scenario.

[ back ] 24. Similarly, the Iphigeneia of Euripides’ Iphigeneia at Aulis professes to die willingly and is allowed to voice her reasons for doing so—reasons which there too gain the admiration of all within the play.

[ back ] 25. On the visual and metaphorical aspects of this passage see especially Ferrari 1997, as well as Loraux 1987, vii-ix on imagining through words, and Ferrari 2003, 61-86 on the relationship between words and image in metaphor.

[ back ] 26. Examples include a proto-Attic krater by the Nessos painter from the early seventh century BC (Boston 6.67, but identification is not certain) and a white-ground lekythos by Douris from the fifth century (Palermo NI 1886). See also the Apulian red figure krater from the fourth century BC (London F 159) and London 1206, a sculpted column drum from Ephesus, also from the fourth century BC. Pliny describes a famous painting of the sacrifice by the late-fifth-century-BC painter Timanthes, in which the grief of each of the figures is portrayed in different, striking ways. (See Pliny, Natural History, 35.73.) For more on the artistic and literary representations of this myth in antiquity see Ahlberg-Cornell 1992, 52-53, Gantz 1993, 582-588, and Woodford 2003, 4-9.

[ back ] 27. Collard 1991 (ad loc) suggests that Euripides has been influenced in his depiction of Polyxena by Polygnotus’ painting in the Painted Stoa (on which see Chapter 3). The idea of women in a painting who can be seen lamenting by the spectator calls to mind a well known quotation of Simonides in Plutarch’s Moralia (346): “Simonides called painting silent poetry and poetry painting that speaks.” For a full explication of this statement see Ferrari 1997, 1ff. (translation is Ferrari’s). Note also Hecuba 836-840 (discussed below in note 000), in which Hecuba wishes that Daedalus could place a voice in her arms and hands and hair—in other words that he make her a lamenting statue. For more on Hecuba and figures in tragedy who are likened or liken themselves to statues see Steiner 2001 (on Hecuba, see especially 51-53). On tragedy’s engagement of the visual arts see also Zeitlin 1995 and note 000, below. For a recent study of the “poetics of appearance” that unites the imagery of tragedy with archaic sculpture see Stieber 2004.

[ back ] 28. For further points of comparison, see Rabinowitz 1993, 54.

[ back ] 29. For Iphigeneia as a bride see Seaford 1987, 108-110 and 124-125. On this point I am struck by the fact that Mary Stieber (2004) links the Archaic korai on the Acropolis, sometimes termed in accompanying inscriptions and hence in scholarship agalmata, with grave memorials for young women who have died just before or in the first years on marriage. Stieber devotes her final chapter to the famous statue Phrasikleia, whose accompanying inscription notes that she will forever have the name kore (‘maiden’) in place of marriage. (See especially Stieber 2004, 178.) Additionally, among those who interpret the Attic korai as agalmata–that is, as delightful gifts for Athena–Robin Osborne (1994) has associated them with “the world of exchange of precious objects.” As Stieber points out, this world of exchange included women. Polyxena, Iphigeneia, and Helen (see below) are all objects of exchange, used, in the words of Osborne of Attic korai, “to mark the relationship between men and gods.” See Stieber 2004, 21-23 and Osborne 1994, 90-91.

[ back ] 30. Translation is adapted from that of Herbert Weir Smyth [Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1926].

[ back ] 31. Translation of this passage is adapted from that of Smyth.

[ back ] 32. Here again I adapt the translation of Smyth, which nicely captures the force of στυγεῖ. On the feast of the eagles, see Ferrari 1997, especially pp. 24-28, and discussion below. It would be impossible here to fully explicate the many thematic and metaphorical connections between the sacrifice of Iphigeneia and the sack of Troy in the Agamemnon. For a fuller discussion, see especially Ferrari 1997 (with citations there), as well as Zeitlin 1965 and 1966, Lebeck 1971, and Käppel 1998.

[ back ] 33. Note also Trojan Women 686-687, where Hecuba says that she has never embarked on a ship, but she has seen them in paintings (γραφῇ 687). I am tempted to read this too as reference to visual traditions about the Nostoi and paintings such as that in the Cnidian Leskhê, discussed in Chapter 3, where the Greeks are depicted leaving Troy with their captives. See also Anderson 1997, who, following Burnett 1977, compares the structure of the Trojan Women to the practices of visual artists. On Euripides’ engagement of the visual arts see Zeitlin 1993 and 1995.

[ back ] 34. See Cohen 1997 and the discussion of Gregory 1999 on this passage, with her citations of the various interpretations. See also Collard 1991 (ad loc) and note 000, above.

[ back ] 35. On the connection between the emotion of pity and the tears of sorrow see the Conclusion.

[ back ] 36. See Hecuba 850-851: ἐγώ σε καὶ σὸν παῖδα καὶ τύχας σέθεν,/Ἑκάβη, δι’ οἴκτου χεῖρά θ’ ἱκεσίαν ἔχω (“Hecuba, I feel pity for you and your child and your misfortune as well as your suppliant gesture”). On this point see also Steiner 2001, 53. Hecuba employs a number of rhetorical strategies in her speech to Agamemnon here, including lament. The most commented upon of these strategies is no doubt the appeal to Agamemnon’s desire for Cassandra, which has been read by many scholars as emblematic of Hecuba’s degradation of character. (For counter arguments, see Mossman 1995, 126-128 and Scodel 1998.) The speech moves to its conclusion with a powerful combination of supplication and lamentation: “If only I had a voice in arms, in hands, in hair and feet, either by the skills of Daedalus or one of the gods, so that they might weep all together and take hold of your knees” (εἴ μοι γένοιτο φθόγγος ἐν βραχίοσι/καὶ χερσὶ καὶ κόμαισι καὶ ποδῶν βάσει/ἢ Δαιδάλου τέχναισιν ἢ θεῶν τινος,/ὡς πάνθ’ ὁμαρτῇ σῶν ἔχοιντο γουνάτων/κλαίοντ’ 836-840). On the connection between lament and revenge, see Chapter 1 and Chapter 5.

[ back ] 37. See Larson 1995, 16 and 103-106. In this case it is not a military victory that is achieved but rather the propitiation of the hero Achilles, whose potentially destructive anger is thereby avoided.

[ back ] 38. See Nagy 1987.

[ back ] 39. See Frame 1978 (Odysseus) and Nagy 1979, 338-347 (Achilles) and 1990(a), 231-232 (Odysseus). As Nagy argues, Achilles’ tomb is conceived of as a navigational sign, with the result that Achilles is a savior of sailors and the hero of the Hellespont.

[ back ] 40. This part of the Troy saga was narrated in the now lost epic traditions known as the Sack of Troy and the Homeward Voyages (Nostoi): “The Achaeans sail off, while Athena plots destruction for them on the seas” (from Proclus’ summary of the Sack of Troy). See also Odyssey 3.130-135: αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ Πριάμοιο πόλιν διεπέρσαμεν αἰπήν,/βῆμεν δ’ ἐν νήεσσι, θεὸς δ’ ἐσκέδασσεν Ἀχαιούς,/καὶ τότε δὴ Ζεὺς λυγρὸν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μήδετο νόστον/Ἀργείοις, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι νοήμονες οὐδὲ δίκαιοι/πάντες ἔσαν· τῶ σφεων πολέες κακὸν οἶτον ἐπέσπον/μήνιος ἐξ ὀλοῆς γλαυκώπιδος ὀβριμοπάτρης (“When we had sacked the high city of Priam/and were setting sail in our ships, a god scattered the Achaeans,/and at that point Zeus devised grief for the Argives on their homeward voyage [nostos];/for they had not all been either wise or just,/and hence many came to a bad end/through the wrath of the grey-eyed daughter of a mighty father [= Athena]”).

[ back ] 41. For more on the landmark see Burnett 1994, 159-60.

[ back ] 42. I use the term “heroize” specifically in the sense that their narratives mirror the traditional narratives associated with the Greek heroes of myth and cult.

[ back ] 43. See Chapter 3.

[ back ] 44. On this point see King 1985 with Chapter 5, note 000, below.

[ back ] 45. See, e.g., Hecuba 108-140, 254-266, and 309-320.