Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Trojan Women by Seneca.

The Trojan Women Setting Fire to Their Fleet by Claude Lorrain (1643).
[Source: The Met]

The Trojan Women (Troades) is a play by Seneca the Younger (c. 54 B.C.) largely inspired by Euripides' The Trojan Women (415 B.C.) and Hecuba (424 B.C.), a story also told in Book XII of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

It begins with a monologue by Hecuba,
The man who puts his trust in kingly power,
The potentate wielding of authority
In his high court, having no fear of gods,
And their capricious will, the man who takes
His happy state for granted - let that man
Look upon me, and upon thee, O Troy.
She describes the destruction of Troy and the death of some of her children and of her husband Priam; and we learn she is about to lose another child, her daughter Polyxena, and her grandson Astyanax. It is Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, who wishes to sacrifice Polyxena, however Agamemnon argues against the sacrifice: he once sacrificed his own daughter Iphigenia (see Aeschylus' Agamemnon and Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis and Iphigenia in Tauris for example) and knows well of the guilt such sacrifices bring. The prophet Calchas, however, says that Polyxena must die.

Meanwhile, Hecuba's daughter-in-law Andromache is desperately trying to prevent Ulysses from killing her son Astyanax, who is the heir of Priam (Ulysses fears later revenge when the boy is older). She hides him at the grave of her husband Hector, but is discovered by Ulysses.

Neither Hecuba nor Andromache are successful in protecting their loved ones, and there is a strong theme of sacrifice and the surrounding debates, something we see with Andromache arguing with Ulysses and Agamemnon arguing with Pyrrhus: this unites the two story lines. The perhaps misuse of power is also central, that of the gods and the men in charge who have wreaked havoc and caused much hurt and distress. Yet despite the agonies that are suffered by Hecuba and Andromache the two women remain strong throughout, and even reasonable and rational. It is as much a play as it is philosophy. Trojan Women is very strong, though I wouldn't say it was a favourite.

And that was my 36th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Father by August Strindberg.

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Further Reading

2 comments:

  1. it's curious how these plays portray a progressive series of gruesome and mortal events, but ascribe the beginnings of them to the caprice of the gods... it seems particularly human to blame bad things on someone else... unfortunately...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed it is. Still happens - I read someone blame the Texas hurricane not on climate change but on lesbians and the wrath of God. Some things don't change...

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