Known in Latin as the Troades, Euripides’s The Trojan Women was said by Aelian’s Varia Historica (published in the third century A.D.) to have been performed for the first time in 415 BC at the 91st Olympiad. Ultimately, he won second place, losing to Xenocles, a now lost Athenian tragedian. The Trojan Women was part three of a group of three tragedies and a satyr play, as was common. However, unlike his notable predecessors, Euripides rarely wrote a tragic cycle like the Oresteia or the Oedipus cycle. His plays typically do not follow any kind of order. Instead, Euripides is much more interested in the tragic passions experienced by various characters, particularly women and foreigners.
The Trojan Women is a play that is almost devoid of any plot. It details the experiences of several prominent women after the fall of Troy: the fate of Hecuba, as portrayed in greater detail by Euripides in his play entitled Hecuba, as she becomes a slave in the house of Odysseus and her daughter Cassandra who becomes a concubine of Agamemnon. Next we hear from Andromache, also detailed in her own play by Euripides, entitled Andromache. She is the widowed wife of Hector, the warrior of Troy who was slain by Achilles. Andromache bemoans the fate of the Trojan women, as her young son Astyanax is being thrown from the high walls of Troy to his death. Andromache is fated to become a concubine of Achilles’s son, Neoptolemus. Lastly, we hear from Helen, the cause of the Trojan War. She is slated to be taken back to Greece where Menelaus has a death sentence awaiting her (though we know through Homer’s Odyssey and other texts that Helen was never actually killed Menelaus, and that they ruled together again for years). At the end of the play, all the women are taken away to live out their future enslavement, each praying for death. Hecuba comments on her life:
“Ah, wretched me. So this is the unhappy end
and goal of all the sorrows I have lived. I go
forth from my country and a city lit with flames.
Come, aged feet; make one last weary struggle, that I
may hail my city in its affiliation. O Troy, once
so huge over all Asia in the drawn win of pride,
your very name of glory shall be stripped away.
They are burning you, and us they drag forth from our land
enslaved. O gods! Do I call upon those gods for help?
I cried to them before now, and they would not hear.
Come then, hurl ourselves into the pyre. Best now,
to die in the flaming ruins of our fathers’ house!” (1271-1283)