Revision for ‘The Women of Troy’ by Euripides

See the source image

This Resource is for Year 12 Mainstream English students studing ‘The Women of Troy’ play by Euripides in the VCE Curriculum in Victoria.

What is the Meaning of Euripides Play?

Many of the themes and issues Euripides presents in ‘The Women of Troy’ are confronting because Euripides means to confront us in every literal understanding of the word.  The audience is forced to recognise and grapple with tremendous philosophical questions: Is this humanity? Is this morality? Is this a just war? He also makes the audience face their own moral inadequacies, as Euripides holds a mirror up to Athens.  Euripides believed that it is women and children who pay the ultimate sacrifice for war; they suffer through it and suffer after it, as society’s most vulnerable, at the hands of the powerful.  The play makes extensive moral arguments against unjust conduct in war by presenting a sympathetic look at the great suffering experienced by the vanquished women of Troy being at the mercy of their brutal Greek victors.  Euripides play is both anti-war and pro-feminist.  By giving power to the Trojan women through his narrative, he renders them as complete, complex people with strong voices, if not influence over their eventual fates.  Even though slaughtering the men of Troy, sacking their city and sending their women away to be slaves was standard military practice at the time, Euripides chastises the Greek victors for their violence, comparing them with the volatile barbarians whom they routinely disparaged [mocked].


The Cost of War               Euripides chose to focus on the aftermath of war and gives the women and children victims of war a voice in his play.  He highlights how the women are treated like chattels divided up between their Greek victors and the atrocities of war on innocent people.  Quote: “This is the crown of my sufferings, my last ordeal: to sail away and leave Troy in flames” (Hecuba).

Duty and Honour             Hecuba and Andromache cling to the ideas of obligation and duty and are honourable women who built reputations in respect of their royal positions in Troy.  Euripides places emphasis on a citizen’s service to family, friends and country which continues long after the death of their menfolkQuote: Hecuba as leader of the women is “a mother bird at her plundered nest”.

Fate                                       It is not until the last remaining lines of the play that Hecuba acknowledges the Trojans have always been fated with ill-luck and pleads with the gods to find another people to exercise their dastardly plans on.  Euripides argues that fortunes are changeable and tragedy indiscriminate.  Quote: “For what purpose have we suffered?  Why call on them [gods] we called before and they did not listen” (Hecuba).

Loss                                       The play is about loss on several levels – loss of a great war, loss of many lives both Trojan and Greek and the continual loss experienced by the survivors of war.  The Trojan women have lost many things in a physical sense and symbolically they have also lost power, position and Troy. Quote: “How must I deal with my grief?” (Hecuba) “What words of yours can release pity to match your pain?” (The Chorus)

Gender                                Menelaus is portrayed in the play as weak and officious while the other male Talthybius is represented as sensitive and decent but torn between his chivalrous inclinations and his duty as a Greek soldier.  In juxtaposition Euripides injects into the play the strength of the women who are disempowered.  He portrays Helen as more than just the beautiful legend, rather he presents her as a more calculating character with ulterior motives.  He presents Hecuba as one who has reasoning and strength of leadership, Andromache has pragmatism and Cassandra has revenge.  Quote: He puts masculinity under the microscope when Hecuba warns Menelaus about Helen and him behaving “worthy of yourself … your race and of your family” (Hecuba)

Social Class                         After Troy is destroyed all the women prisoners are reduced to equality and united in their suffering and loss.  Euripides chose to be realistic in his depiction of the Trojan royalty despite their torment, he comments on their social fall, deterioration of the class system and now they are reduced to mere slaves.  Quote: “Everything is turned upside down: royalty enslaved” (Andromache) “No queen’s bed for me now: I shall lay my shrivelled body to rest on the floor, and wear faded, worn rags to match my skin and mock my royalty” (Hecuba)


The Flaming Torch           By entering the scene carrying a flaming torch, Cassandra is not only heralded as being different from the other women but also a vestibule of foresight.  The torch can be seen as hope to the women ordering them to “raise the torch and fling the flame … flood the walls with holy light” (Cassandra).  Also, the flaming torch can symbolise destruction of Troy at the end of the play “Let those officers appointed to fire the city now bring out their torches and use them well.  Up with the flames” (Talthybius).  The flaming torch can also symbolise the destruction Cassandra will reek on Agamemnon and his family when she sails to Greece as his slave.

The Walls of Troy             Poseidon, God of the Sea exclaims the sorrow he feels as the great city of Troy and its magnificent walls crumble “Troy and its people were my city.  That ring of walls and towers I and Apollo built, squared every tone in it”.  The significance of the high walls of Troy are symbolic of a great city, good people and a great royal line, but also symbolise fallibility of the gods and the things the people of Troy cherished can easily be destroyed and brought down low.  Significantly, the death of Astaynax who is thrown from the walls that should have protected him now are part of his brutal death.  Talthybius says the young prince’s end is nasty “You must climb to the topmost fringe of your father’s towers, where the sentence says you must leave your life behind”.

Hector’s Shield                 The great shield of the Trojan prince Hector “the bravest of the Trojans” holds a special memory to those who loved him the most, his wife Andromache and his mother Hecuba.  The shield first appears when Andromache enters the stage with her son on her lap and the shield by her side along with Hector’s armour.  The saddest mention of the shield is when the body of Astaynax, broken and bloodied is carried atop it, toted by Talthybius and Greek soldiers.  Talthybius carries the boy on the shield to give to Hecuba to bury.  Andromache begged to give the child a proper burial with “this bronze-ribbed shield … which used to protect his father’s body in battle, should serve him instead as a coffin”.  While Hector was protected in many battles from the shield, it was powerless to protect him from his ultimate death and also the death of his son and family.  The shield in this instance also symbolises the dying of the Trojan royal family and the tragedy of the play.

Waves/Ocean                   As they wait shackled at the shore, the Aegean Sea serves as a constant reminder to the Trojan women that their fate is inevitable and soon, they will be parted from each other and will sail to their allotted locations in Greece.  Much like the tempestuous ocean, their future is unpredictable and lonely.  Hecuba has never sailed but considers the waves of the ocean as like fortune, calm or stormy and sailors helpless to do anything but submit to them “The tide has turned at length/Ebb with the tide, drift helpless down/Useless to struggle on/Breasting the storm when Fate prevails” (Hecuba)

Helen’s Clothing              In direct contrast to the haggard appearance of the other Trojan women prisoners, Helen’s rich robes symbolise her difference from them and hint to the audience she will again live on the side of victory with Menelaus.  Her appearance and hair are kept neatly symbolising how she will use her beauty to manipulate Menelaus to forgive her and not behead her as he said he would do.  If Helen had pulled out her hair, scratched her face (as other women in mourning have done), she would have no leverage with Menelaus.  Her beauty is her weapon.  Hecuba exposes Helen’s superficiality and greed believing her dress and grooming shows “loathsome impudence” and that Helen feels no guilt for her past crimes.

All Resources created by Online Tutoring using Zoom for Years 11 and 12 VCE Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *