Delahoyde & Hughes


Euripides' play Hecabe, produced in 425 b.c.e., begins with an introduction from the ghost of Polydorus -- Priam and Hecabe's youngest son who was sent away with treasures to stay with a family friend, Polymestor, in Thrace for safekeeping. Troy has fallen now, and when news reached Polymestor, he killed Polydorus and flung his corpse into the sea. It's due to float ashore today. Meanwhile, the ghost of Achilles has appeared to the Greeks and demanded sacrifice: Polyxena, another daughter of the former Trojan royal couple. Priam is dead. His widow has much to bear soon.

Hecabe has dreamt of these two children and bad omens. A Chorus of Trojan women, now slaves of Agamemnon, reports of the demands of the dead Achilles and the recent Greek debate. A woeful Hecabe informs Polyxena but the girl seems more sorry for her mother's grief than for the loss of her own life.

Odysseus arrives and Hecabe appeals to his sense of honor: she reminds him that she alone recognized him in his disguise when he sneaked into Troy once but did not rat him out. So take her, Hecabe, instead of the girl. Odysseus employs some sophistry to weasel out of such a deal. He and Polyxena exit.

The Chorus speculates on where it will end up now. Thessaly? Athens? A Greek herald, Talthybius, wonders, "is all our belief in gods a myth, a lie / Foolishly cherished, while blind hazard rules the world" (77). He has the lamentable duty to inform Hecabe of Polyxena's noble death, who "even as she died, took care to fall / Becomingly, hiding what should be hidden from men's view" (79). Now Hecabe must prepare the body for funeral rites. She sends an old attendant to fetch a jar of sea-water. Polydorus' corpse is discovered, and Hecabe requests from Agamemnon the right to have vengeance against Polymestor. Agamemnon thinks that "women -- can't do anything" (89), but whatever.

Polymestor is sent for and brings his two young sons. He puts on a hypocritical yet cursory display of sympathy. "The gods dispose our fortunes / This way and that in sheer confusion, so that we / May reverence them through fear of the unknown" (92). He pretends Polydorus is still alive. Hecabe tells him there's more treasure and tricks him into a tent where she and the other women kill his sons and put out his eyes. He emerges, blind and crawling after Hecabe.

Agamemnon must judge the events. Polymestor claims now that he feared that Polydorus might raise an army to avenge the sacking of Troy. He says the women gouged out his eyes with their brooches (whereas Ovid says Hecabe scraped them out with her fingernails and kept digging at the empty sockets -- see Metamorphoses, Book 13). Polymestor ends with a slur against women (99).

Hecabe explains what bull he is full of and convinces Agamemnon that Polymestor is ruled by greed. Agamemnon agrees that Hecabe has suffered adequately and the Polymestor got what he had coming to him. Polymestor says that a prophet in Thrace revealed that Hecabe will turn into a dog and throw herself from the masthead of the ship into the sea. "Cynossema, the Dog's Grave, / A sign for sailors" (102) will be the place bearing her name and memory. Cassandra and Agamemnon will be murdered by Clytemnestra. Agamemnon has had enough. He orders that Polymestor be gagged and thrown onto a desert island. Hecabe must attend the corpses of two children; Agamemnon looks forward to the trip home; and the Chorus resigns itself to slavery.

Works Cited

Euripides. Hecabe. Trans. Philip Vellacott. Medea and Other Plays. Baltimore: Penguin Classics, 1963. 63-103, 201.

Powell, Barry. Classical Myth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.


Orpheus: Greek Plays