The Captive Woman’s Lament in Greek Tragedy.

Chapter 6. The Captive Woman in the House: Euripides’ Andromache

Euripides’ Andromache may not have been originally produced in Athens, if we may trust the comment of a scholiast at line 445 of the play, nor can we be certain of the date of its production, which is generally assumed to be the mid-420s. [1] It is, moreover, a complicated drama that has not always been admired, though several recent studies have gone a long way towards better explicating its themes and structure. [2]

I have nevertheless thought it useful to include it in my discussion, because there are several components of the play that shed light on the captive woman’s lament. First, with Andromache we witness another important dimension of the captive woman’s role in Greek tragedy, that of the captive war prize whose introduction into the home initiates death and destruction. As a captive woman, Andromache’s safety continues to be in jeopardy even after she is well established in Greece as the sexual slave of Neoptolemus, and she therefore resorts to lament at several points in the play. Finally, the play’s supposed anti-Spartan sentiment, discussed briefly in Chapter 3, raises new questions about the role of the captive Trojan women in fifth-century tragedy.

If Cassandra were not consistently portrayed as mad or else in the frenzy of prophesy (or both), it would have been logical to begin this chapter with a discussion of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, which is the earliest extant play to feature prominently the speech and songs of a captive woman. In that play Cassandra, like Andromache, is brought to the home of her Greek captor, but unlike Andromache, she has no one to save her from the murderous designs of her captor’s wife. Cassandra’s presence on stage in that play is marked by her exceptional lyrics, which she sings in exchange with the spoken words of the {151|152} chorus. Most of her song consists of prophetic visions of the murder taking place within the house, but there are occasional moments where Cassandra reflects upon her own situation, particularly in the following two passages:

ἰὼ γάμοι, γάμοι Πάριδος,/ὀλέθριοι φίλων./ἰὼ Σκαμάνδρου πάτριον ποτόν./τότε μὲν ἀμφὶ σὰς ἀιόνας τάλαιν’/ἠνυτόμαν τροφαῖς·/νῦν δ’ ἀμφὶ Κωκυτόν τε κἀχερουσίους/ὄχθους ἔοικα θεσπιῳδήσειν τάχα.

Agamemnon 1156-61

Oh marriages, marriages of Paris, so destructive to those near and dear! Oh native river, Scamander! Once upon a time around your banks I, the wretch, grew up. But now by Kokytos and the banks of Acheron, it seems, I will soon sing my prophecies.

ἰὼ πόνοι πόνοι πόλεος/ὀλομένας τὸ πᾶν./ἰὼ πρόπυργοι θυσίαι πατρὸς/πολυκανεῖς βοτῶν ποιονόμων· ἄκος δ’/οὐδὲν ἐπήρκεσαν/τὸ μὴ πόλιν μὲν ὥσπερ οὖν ἐχρῆν παθεῖν.

Agamemnon 1167-71

Oh pains, pains of the city, destructive to all! Oh sacrifices performed by my father before the city sacrifices, full of the slaughter of beasts that feed on grass! But the cure was not strong enough to protect the city so that it did not have to suffer.

As I have noted elsewhere, captive women were also featured in the plays of Sophocles, and Tecmessa in the Ajax is in many ways the archetypal lamenting captive woman of Greek tragedy. [4] Likewise the plot of Sophocles’ Trachinian Women resembles that of the Agamemnon and the Andromache in several respects. [5] The hero, Herakles, is away from home and long awaited by his wife, Deianeira. A group of captive women from a town that Herakles has recently sacked is sent to the home in advance of Herakles’ arrival. One of them, Iolê, is immediately recognized by Deianeira as a princess and a rival. From there the plots of the three plays diverge considerably, but as in the Agamemnon, death and the destruction of the marriage are the result of the captive woman’s arrival in the home. [6] A choral ode of Euripides likewise highlights the themes we have been tracing:

τὰν μὲν Οἰχαλίᾳ/πῶλον ἄζυγα λέκτρων, ἄναν-/δρον τὸ πρὶν καὶ ἄνυμφον, οἴ-/κων ζεύξασ’ ἀπ’ Εὐρυτίων/δρομάδα ναΐδ’ ὅπως τε βάκ-/χαν σὺν αἵματι, σὺν καπνῷ,/φονίοισι νυμφείοις/Ἀλκμήνας τόκῳ Κύπρις ἐξέδωκεν·/ὦ τλάμων ὑμεναίων.

Euripides, Hippolytus 545-554

There was that maiden in Oikhalia, a filly unyoked and unmarried, husbandless and not yet a bride, whom, unyoking her from Eurytos’ house like some running Naiad or Bacchant, amidst blood and smoke and murderous marital vows, Kypris gave as bride to the son of Alkmênê. What a wretched wedding hymn!

As in the case of the captive women of Troy, the “marriage” of Iolê brings destruction not only on the house of her “husband,” but is also predicated on {153|154} the destruction of her own family and town. Sophocles does not give Iolê a speaking role; if he had, her words no doubt would have had much in common with those of Tecmessa and the Trojan women of Euripides.

Whereas in the Agamemnon Cassandra laments only sparingly and in the Trachinian Women Iole remains silent throughout, in the Andromache lament plays a crucial role. It is the means by which Andromache gains the sympathy of the local women and other characters, her sole defense in a land of strangers against a hostile and indeed murderous mistress. The play begins with a prologue spoken by Andromache in which she narrates her Trojan past, her present life in Phthia as sex slave of Neoptolemus, and the impending danger. Jealous of the fact that Andromache has had a son by her husband Neoptolemus, the still childless Hermione threatens to kill both Andromache and her child with the help of her father Menelaus. The contents of this speech, as we will see, get reshaped in the form of laments at key moments elsewhere in the play.

Immediately following the prologue is a brief conversation with a fellow Trojan captive, after which Andromache introduces an extraordinary lament:

χώρει νυν· ἡμεῖς δ’, οἷσπερ ἐγκείμεσθ’ ἀεὶ/θρήνοισι καὶ γόοισι καὶ δακρύμασι,/πρὸς αἰθέρ’ ἐκτενοῦμεν … πάρεστι δ’ οὐχ ἓν ἀλλὰ πολλά {154|155} μοι στένειν,/πόλιν πατρῴαν τὸν θανόντα θ’ Ἕκτορα/στερρόν τε τὸν ἐμὸν δαίμον’ ᾧ συνεζύγην/δούλειον ἦμαρ εἰσπεσοῦσ’ ἀναξίως.

Andromache 91-93, 96-99

Go now; but I, the things in which I always wrap myself, thrênoi and gooi and tears, I will draw out, lifting them up toward the heavens… For I have not one but many things to lament, my native city and my dead husband Hektor and the hard daimôn to which I am yoked, since I undeservedly met the day of slavery.

Andromache makes clear that what she is about to sing is a lament; in the same verse we find not only the two primary terms for laments, goos and thrênos, but also tears (δακρύμασι 92). The themes of her lament are laid out clearly as well. Unlike a traditional lament for the dead, which, though often wide-ranging, is primarily concerned with one source of grief, Andromache has many causes of sorrow. She laments the loss of city, husband, and freedom, which are as we have seen the defining sorrows of captive women. In the song that follows, Andromache narrates her own particular past, but also the pasts of all the Trojan women.

I turn now to Andromache’s elegiac lament, which I give here in full:

Ἰλίῳ αἰπεινᾷ Πάρις οὐ γάμον ἀλλά τιν’ ἄταν
ἀγάγετ’ εὐναίαν εἰς θαλάμους Ἑλέναν. {155|156}
ἇς ἕνεκ’, ὦ Τροία, δορὶ καὶ πυρὶ δηιάλωτον
εἷλέ σ’ ὁ χιλιόναυς Ἑλλάδος ὀξὺς Ἄρης
καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν μελέας πόσιν Ἕκτορα, τὸν περὶ τείχη
εἵλκυσε διφρεύων παῖς ἁλίας Θέτιδος·
αὐτὰ δ’ ἐκ θαλάμων ἀγόμαν ἐπὶ θῖνα θαλάσσας,
δουλοσύναν στυγερὰν ἀμφιβαλοῦσα κάρᾳ.
πολλὰ δὲ δάκρυά μοι κατέβα χροός, ἁνίκ’ ἔλειπον
ἄστυ τε καὶ θαλάμους καὶ πόσιν ἐν κονίαις.
ὤμοι ἐγὼ μελέα, τί μ’ ἐχρῆν ἔτι φέγγος ὁρᾶσθαι
Ἑρμιόνας δούλαν; ἇς ὕπο τειρομένα
πρὸς τόδ’ ἄγαλμα θεᾶς ἱκέτις περὶ χεῖρε βαλοῦσα
τάκομαι ὡς πετρίνα πιδακόεσσα λιβάς.

Euripides, Andromache 103-116

To lofty Ilium Paris did not conduct a wedding but a curse,
when he brought Helen into his bridal chamber as a wife.
For her sake, Troy, with spear and fire
a thousand Greek ships and a swift Ares took you captive
together with my husband Hektor—wretched me—whom around the walls
the son of the sea goddess Thetis dragged, driving his chariot.
But I myself was led away from my bridal chamber to the shore of the sea,
encircling my head with abominable slavery.
My skin poured down many tears, when I left behind
my city and my bridal chamber and my husband in the dust.
Alas, wretched me! Why was it necessary for me to survive to look upon the light
as Hermione’s slave? Worn down by her,
as a suppliant of the goddess I throw my arms around this statue,
melting like a spring that gushes forth from the rocks.

The sixth couplet in Andromache’s lament begins with the exclamation ὤμοι ἐγὼ μελέα, which I have crudely translated here and similarly elsewhere as “Alas, wretched me.” The phrase echoes verse 107 just a few lines earlier (καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν μελέας πόσιν). Such exclamations have only been touched on in my discussion so far (see especially Chapter 5), but I would like to point them out briefly here, because they are probably the phrases that are most closely related to the laments of actual women outside of tragedy and epic. {158|159} Because no laments from antiquity survive beyond the stylized examples preserved in literature, it is impossible to conjecture the extent to which the laments of literature and the laments of actual women are related. Nevertheless in Chapter 1, I surveyed some modern traditions, including that of Modern Greece, that suggest ways in which women’s songs may be incorporated into men’s traditions. Here, too, the continuities observable in the lament traditions of rural Modern Greece may provide some insight. Anna Caraveli-Chavez, building on the work of Margaret Alexiou, has studied the dynamics of interjections and emotional exclamations in modern Greek laments, and argues that they create a parenthetical voice within the primary narrative:

And finally, as I noted above, Andromache’s lament comes to its conclusion in the seventh couplet with a comparison of Andromache to a rocky spring. In her tears she melts:

τάκομαι ὡς πετρίνα πιδακόεσσα λιβάς
I melt like a spring that gushes forth from the rocks.

This simile is remarkable in that it is likely to have evoked for its ancient audience several archetypal scenes of lamentation in Greek epic and tragedy at the same time. First there is the verb τάκομαι (“I melt”), whose epic contexts I have already discussed in connection with the Hecuba. The spring gushing forth from the rock likewise has epic resonance: Patroklos is compared to just such a spring when he laments the suffering of the Greeks in Iliad 16. But the quintessential context for a mourner as a rocky spring is probably the myth of Niobe, adduced within the lament-filled final book of the Iliad as the ultimate mourner:

νῦν δέ που ἐν πέτρῃσιν ἐν οὔρεσιν οἰοπόλοισιν
ἐν Σιπύλῳ, ὅθι φασὶ θεάων ἔμμεναι εὐνὰς
νυμφάων, αἵ τ’ ἀμφ’ Ἀχελώϊον ἐρρώσαντο,
ἔνθα λίθος περ ἐοῦσα θεῶν ἐκ κήδεα πέσσει.

Iliad 24.614-617

And now somewhere among the rocks in the lonely mountains
in Sipylos, where they say are the haunts of goddesses, {160|161}
the nymphs who dance around the Acheloos river,
there as a stone she weighs her cares from the gods.

On this note Andromache’s elegiac lament comes to a close. The chorus of women of Phthia then enters, and reiterate many of the themes of Andromache’s lament:

γνῶθι δ’ οὖσ’ ἐπὶ ξένας
δμωὶς ἐπ’ ἀλλοτρίας
πόλεος, ἔνθ’ οὐ φίλων τιν’ εἰσορᾷς
σῶν, ὦ δυστυχεστάτα,
‹ὦ› παντάλαινα νύμφα.

Euripides, Andromache 136-140

Realize that you are
a servant in a foreign city
where there are none of those near and dear to you to turn to,
O most unfortunate of women,
O all-suffering bride.

The chorus understands well Andromache’s plight, and having heard her lament they now pity her, though they are powerless to help. Twice in the {161|162} next five lines they express their pity, calling Andromache “most pitiable” (οἰκτροτάτα 141; see also 144). As in the Hecuba it seems that the Greeks within the play (in this case the chorus) point to the expected emotional reaction of the audience. Indeed, Andromache retains the sympathy of all throughout, with the obvious exceptions of the Spartan Hermione and her father Menelaus.

If we try to place this blurring of Greek and Trojan in its larger context, however, we face some inevitable interpretive difficulties due to our ignorance of the play’s intended first performance. Certainly the play was produced during the Peloponnesian War, and as I noted in Chapter 3, many have read the vilification of Hermione as anti-Spartan sentiment within this context. Because Hermione and Menelaus are acting on their own and independently of the collective Greek expedition to Troy, I admit here with reservations that it is possible that the Andromache would have been appreciated as an anti-Spartan play. There is a danger in taking this hypothesis too far, because as in the case of the Persians, I do not believe we should reduce the complex drama that is the Andromache (or any tragedy) to patriotic propaganda. But if the Andromache is an anti-Spartan play, it is possible only because the events that transpire are clearly separated from the Trojan War itself, and because the Trojans were never fully enfolded in the Greek concept of the barbarian. The Athenians (or whatever population was the original intended audience) are not being asked to examine their own actions against those of the Greeks in a paradigmatic war, but rather to sympathize in a new context with a figure who has always been sympathetic, Andromache, the archetypal lamenting widow and future captive woman we see in the Iliad. {162|}


[ back ] 1. εἰλικρινῶς δὲ τοὺς τοῦ δράματος χρόνους οὐκ ἔστι λαβεῖν. οὐ δεδίδακται γὰρ Ἀθήνησιν. For the date as well as arguments for and against production outside of Athens see Allan 2000, 149-60.

[ back ] 2. See especially Anderson 1997 and Allan 2000.

[ back ] 3. Andromache 403. See, e.g., Hecuba 265-266, 629-656, 942-951; Trojan Women 131-137, 498-499, 766-773, 780-781, 890-1059; Andromache 103-116, 602-613. On the perverted marriages of the Trojan captives see Seaford 1987.

[ back ] 4. See Chapter 1.

[ back ] 5. The date of the Trachinian Women is unknown, but it is thought to be among the earliest of Sophocles’ plays, and was almost certainly produced well after the Agamemnon and well before the Andromache.

[ back ] 6. See Segal 1995, 69-94. For an illuminating discussion of the relationship of the concubine to the oikos in Classical Athens, see Ferrari 2003, 192-200.

[ back ] 7. See Wohl 1998, 3-56. See also Wohl’s discussion of Cassandra in the Agamememnon, whose lack of resistance (despite her speaking role) she contrasts with Iolê (Wohl 1998, 116): [ back ] [R]ather than lamenting the sufferings of Iphigeneia, Cassandra merely replicates them in her own person; rather than exposing the logic of fetishism, Cassandra denies and, with her death, reproduces it. [ back ] The lack of resistance that Wohl perceives complements my own observation that in the Agamemnon Cassandra does not lament, but as we have seen there are a few places in which Cassandra does employ the language of lament to articulate and perhaps protest her own sorrow. (On Cassandra’s resistance or lack thereof see also Rabinowitz 2000.)

[ back ] 8. Ferrari 1997, 8. (See also Ferrari 1990 and 2003, 54-56 and 73-81.) On the concept of aidôs see, in addition to Ferrari, Cairns 1993.

[ back ] 9. See Page 1936, 206-10.

[ back ] 10. See the arguments of Page in Page 1936. For a summary of the counterarguments, see the commentary of Lloyd 1994 ad loc.

[ back ] 11. See, e.g., Euripides, Herakles 456-491, where Megara laments her sons in anticipation of their death at the hands of Lykos.

[ back ] 12. Cf. Andromache 401-403, as well as Trojan Women 569-571. See Seaford 1987, 123-30.

[ back ] 13. See, e,g., Iliad 6.447-465 and 24.725-734.

[ back ] 14. Cf. Iliad 22.468-472, where Andromache, upon learning of the death of Hektor, tears the veil from her head that Aphrodite gave her on her wedding day.

[ back ] 15. See discussion above in Chapter 4.

[ back ] 16. On paradigmatic versus syntagmatic lament narratives see Dué 2002, 5-16.

[ back ] 17. See LSJ9, s.v. κονία.

[ back ] 18. Caraveli-Chavez 1978, 27.

[ back ] 19. On the antiphonal structure of Greek laments, see also Alexiou 1974, 131-60. Caraveli-Chavez’s arguments complement very nicely the hypothesis of Page 1936, 219-20—not likely to have been known to Caraveli-Chavez: “Most important and illuminating is the repetition of ὤμοι ἐγὼ μελέα from καὶ τὸν ἐμὸν μελέας. It seems to me likely that this repetition faintly recalls an ancient elegiac refrain. In the Iliad… a cry is raised by a chorus of bystanders at the end of a Lament. Now it would be a short step from this to insert such cries at the end of successive stages within a Lament… Zacher thinks the word ἔλεγος itself is derived from the word ἔλεγε, a cry of lamentation, repeated as a refrain at regular intervals throughout an ‘elegiac’ poem.”

[ back ] 20. See Alexiou 1974, 171-177.

[ back ] 21. See the commentary of Richardson 1993, ad loc. For more on the geographical landmark and ancient references to it, see the commentary of Jebb 1891 ad Antigone 831.

[ back ] 22. See also Andromache 532-534, where the image of the spring trickling down from a rock is used a second time, when Andromache and her son beseech Menelaus to spare them in an antiphonal choral ode. For Andromache’s lament before Menelaus at 383-420 as an attempt to save the life of herself and her son, see Chapter 1.

[ back ] 23. Andromache 930-935. For Andromache as a barbarian and slave, see especially 147-180, 243, and 261.

[ back ] 24. Andromache 161, 241-242, 245.