Ancient Athenian Drama

Euripides: Hecabe

5th century BC, Ancient Greek, Athens.

Hecabe will drown in the sea, and become a dog.

What a disturbing experience it is to sit and watch the unfolding of such agony! I am still shaking with the horror of it. And as I recover into a peaceful Athenian evening and the quiet tranquility of an almond grove, I find one curious moment standing out against all the rest. I shall never truly know, of course, unless I take the plunge and accept initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries.

For the last two hours I have been on the coast of Thrace, watching as the Greek army prepares to sail home from the sacking of Troy. Hecabe, widow of the late King Priam of Troy, has had to undergo the double trauma of watching her daughter Polyxena sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles and then the body of her son Polydorus presented to her from its place of discovery on the seashore nearby. The king of Thrace, to whom she had entrusted her son, has murdered him. And although now a captive and a slave, looking forward only to a life of menial poverty, Hecabe managed to persuade Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek forces, to allow her to lure the king of Thrace into a tent where, in a grand act of revenge and with the help of other captive Trojan women, she murdered his two young sons and pierced his eyes with the long needles of brooches. I shudder still.

Blinded, the king of Thrace, in emulation perhaps of Tireseas the blind seer in Homerís epic poetry, began to prophesy. And we know that these prophecies will come about: that Hecabeís daughter Cassandra will be murdered by Agamemnonís wife when he returns to Argos with her as his concubine, and that Agamemnon himself will be killed by the same weapon that falls upon Cassandra. Agamemnon, in a blind rage at this personally tragic oracle banishes the king of Thrace to an uninhabited island, but not before the blinded king makes a third prophesy: that Hecabe will meet her end by throwing herself into the sea, and that she will become a dog.

Story fragment retold from: Vellacott, Philip, 1963, reprinted 2002. Medea, Hecabe, Electra, Heracles (Penguin Classics). Translated from Ancient Greek with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Hecabe, pp 63–103.


Euripides – Wikipedia

Greek tragedy – Wikipedia

The Tragedies of Euripides: Hecuba – English translation, Project Gutenberg


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