Thoughts on Andromache

It has been suggested that Euripides is obsessed with character, but that he is indifferent to plot. Each one of his tragedies might be said to be a character study into the pure hopelessness faced by human beings.

The Andromache is an unusual play for a number of reasons. The unnamed Scholiast, a latter Byzantine, reports that the play was not presented at Athens, and may have instead been presented at Argos as part of Athenian propaganda campaign. Who is the central character of the play? The title would suggest Andromache, wife of the slain Hector of Troy. However, two-thirds of the way through the tragedy, Andromache disappears and the story concludes with a tragedy that has befallen Peleus, father of Achilles. Like, Euripides’s Hecuba the tragedy takes place following the events of the Trojan War.

“Andromache Mourning Hector” by Jacques-Louis David in 1783

Background: Andromache was the wife of Hector of Troy. Hector was the fiercest warrior of Troy, matched only by Achilles of the Greeks. He is eventually slain by Achilles in battle, as told in Homer’s Iliad. When the city of Troy is sacked, all are either killed or enslaved. The children of Hector and Andromache are thrown off the walls of Troy for fear of exacting revenge against the Greeks one day. Andromache is enslaved by Achilles’s son, Neoptolemus, and she is taken back to his island to live, along with his grandfather Peleus. Years later, Andromache has a child with Neoptolemus and he later marries a woman, Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen.

The play begins with Andromache lamenting her status in life. Neoptolemus has taken a new wife, Hermione, and she is extremely jealous of Andromache. She plots to kill either Andromache or her young son. Andromache pleads at the altar of Thetis, goddess and mother of Achilles. She has hidden her son away, but a nurse arrives to warn her that Menelaus knows the location of her son. She seeks the help of Peleus, grandfather of Neoptolemus. The elderly Peleus arrives and prevents Menelaus from killing the child. Suddenly, however, Orestes arrives and he has killed Neoptolemus. Orestes carries away Hermione. An attendant appears and tells Peleus that his chain has died out with the death of his grandson, Neoptolemus. The play ends with a surprise appearance from Thetis to Neoptolemus.

Unlike Hecuba, the Andromache is far more patriotic to the city of Athens. At the height of the Peloponnesian War, the portrayal of Menelaus, and therefore Sparta, was no doubt falling upon audiences with approval, as Athens was sorely losing its ascendance.

For this reading I used the Deborah Roberts translation.

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