Hecabe by Euripides

 

Setting: In front of Agamemnon’s tent on the shores of Thrace.

Characters: Ghost of Polydorus, Hecabe, Polyxena, Odysseus, Talthybius, Agamemnon, Polymestor, Attendant, Chorus

 

Ghost: I’m Polydorus, son of Hecabe & Priam. My father sent me away when the Greeks came. I went to Thrace where father’s friend, Polymestor is king. I was sent in secrets with a store of gold so his sons wouldn’t go without after the war. I was his youngest son – too young to fight in the war. I grew up unaware of what was happening in Troy. But Polymestor murdered me for my father’s gold, while Troy, Hector & Priam fell. Polymestor threw my body into the sea, leaving me unmourned & unburied. I’ve come to be near my mother, Hecabe.

  • The Greeks are here on the Thracian shore. AS their fleet was about to leave, Achilles’s ghost appeared above his tomb, demanding my sister, Polyxena, be sacrificed as a gift of honor. This will happen because the Greeks adore him. She’s fated to die. My mother will see 2 of her children dead before her eyes. I’ve asked the powers below to allow me to come & ask my mother to bury me. One of her maids will find me to get it started. I see my mother coming from Agamemnon’s tent. She’s seen my ghost in a dream. I’ve seen her fall from such great heights to such depths [HE EXITS. HECABE ENTERS WITH 2 SERVANTS.]

Hecabe: Help me, girls. I’m your fellow slave now, once your queen. I have to use this walking stick to move faster… Why do I see all these ghosts? I dreamed I saw Polydorus & Polyxena. Gods below, take care of my boy. He’s the last of the family & I hope he’s being taken care of, but I can’t be sure. I wish Helenus & Cassandra were here to tell me. I could use their foresight. I saw Achilles’s ghost above his tomb asking for a maiden’s blood. I hope this fate can be avoided. [CHORUS ENTERS]

Chorus: We’ve been looking everywhere for you, Hecabe. We slipped away from Agamemnon’s tent to find you. We also are spoils of war. Our news won’t lighten your suffering any. The Greeks have decided to sacrifice your daughter to Achilles. His ghost stood over his grave demanding a gift. Agamemnon was against the idea but still thought that blood had to be spilled. He was more interested in Cassandra than any sacrifice. Eventually, Odysseus convinced them not to dishonor a Greek hero for the sake of a Trojan slave. Odysseus will be on his way to take Polyxena for her sacrifice. You should beg for her life.

Hecabe: Oh, how horrible. Slavery is unendurable, but this? What’s left? My husband, my sons. What else? Now Polyxena? Have you heard this? [ENTER POLYXENA]

Polyxena: What’s wrong? Why are you crying? Is something wrong?

Hecabe: Your life… The Greeks have decided to sacrifice you at Achilles’s tomb.

Polyxena: This is bad for me but more horrible for you. At least I won’t have to suffer too long. {ENTER ODYSSEUS]

Odyssesus: Ma’am, I believe you’ve heard the Greeks have decided to sacrifice Polyxena. I’ve been appointed to bring her there. Don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be. I know you’ve been through a lot but don’t make it worse.

Hecabe: I’ve got an uphill battle now. All this sorrow. Zeus should’ve let me die years ago. Every moment brings me more pain. If a slave may ask, can I hear more about this? You came to Troy as a spy, beaten up, covered in blood. Helen recognized you & told only me. You pleaded to me as a suppliant. You were effectively my slave. What did you say to me?

Odysseus: I gave you about 20 reasons to spare my life.

Hecabe: That’s right. & I did, didn’t I?

Odysseus: Yes, you did.

Hecabe: & now you repay me by killing my daughter. You’re terrible. You grasp for honors by betraying your benefactor. Why don’t you just sacrifice a bull like you always do? Did Achilles want a life sacrificed along with his? Why my daughter? She’s done nothing wrong to him. Why not Helen? This war is all her fault. Why pick a prisoner? Helen outshines all of us. She injured Achilles & all the rest of you Greeks… So much for justice… But you admit to begging for help & I helped.& now I beg for the life of my child in the same way. Please don’t kill her. She’s all I have left. Remember you’re fortunate now but you won’t always be. I was a queen & wanted for nothing. Now I have nothing. Have pity! Go to your army & tell them what I’ve said. Remember, your country prides itself on its justice without distinctions between slaves & free men. Your reputation holds a lot of weight.

Odysseus: Listen. You saved my life & I’m ready to save yours. I told the council that now that Troy has been taken, our best soldier, Achilles, who’s also been taken from us, has appeared by his grave, demanding your daughter as a sacrifice. Most cities have to suffer this in war. We Greeks honor Achilles above all other men. He gave his life for his friends. Now that he’s fallen, we must honor him with what he’s asked for. As I am still living, I don’t need any more than what’s necessary to survive. But when I die, I want all other men to gaze at my tomb with reverence. We Greeks have women back home who’ve lost their men & have suffered just as much as you. You have to endure this. If we were wrong to honor our dead, we’d admit it. But you barbarians turn your backs on your friends & dishonor those who died nobly. Greece will grow great & you barbarians will reap the ingratitude that you’ve sown.

Chorus: Oh how wretched the slave is who has to endure the wickedness of conquerors.

Hecabe: Oh, Polyxena. I tried. Perhaps your words will do more. Speak to him. He’s got children. Perhaps you could appeal to that side of him.

Polyxena: Odysseus, I won’t beg for my life or even bargain for it. I’ll go along with you because I have to & because I want to. There’s nothing left for me to live for. When I was born, my father was king of all Phrygia. I had suitors chasing me to make me their queen. All Trojan women bowed before me. I was envied by every girl. Now I’m a slave. Before I had slaves of my own. I’ll only ever be used for one thing & I want no part of that. Take me to my death. Don’t try to stop me, mother. Just let me have one final say in my life.

Chorus: She’s definitely a noble. You can tell by how she’s taking this.

Hecabe: Polyxena, you see the heavy price of nobility. Odysseus, if Achilles must have his prize, take me. I gave birth to Paris, the one who killed him.

Odysseus: Achilles asked for you daughter, not you.

Hecabe: Then kill me along with her. He’ll get twice the prize.

Odysseus: We only want one death. Any more wouldn’t be right. I don’t have to take orders from you. Now please, go away!

Polyxena: Sir, my mother has good reason to be so passionate. Mother, you can’t fight him. He & his crew are too strong. Do you want to be beaten & humiliated in your old age? Let’s just have this last moment together. I will be going off into the darkness.

Hecabe: & I will be in the sunlight living as a slave.

Polyxena: There’ll be no wedding for me, no husband’s love or any hopes fulfilled. I will be parted from you in my tomb. I was born free, of a free father & I will die as a slave. What shall I tell Hector & my father for you?

Hecabe: Tell them of my misery. My child is condemned by fate to die in her youth.

Polyxena: Farewell. Tell that to Cassandra & Polydorus. Take me, Odysseus. Put a cloak on my head. I can’t stand to see my mother cry. The only light that remains for me is between now & when I’m killed on Achilles’s grave. [ODYSSEUS & POLYXENA LEAVE]

Hecabe: I can’t stand it. Don’t let go of me. [COLLAPSES]

Chorus: The winds are blowing the ships. Will we slaves be sent to the Peloponnes? Thessaly? The islands? Delos? Athens? Argos? Wherever it is, we’ll still be slaves. [ENTER TALTHYBIUS & OLD TROJAN ATTENDANT WOMAN]

Talthybius: Tell me ladies. Where’s Hecabe?

Chorus: She’s lying over there on the ground, probably asleep.

Talthybius: This is Hecabe? Wife of Priam, former King of Phrygia & Troy? The war hasn’t been kind to her. Now she’s old & childless, lying in a pile of dust. I’d rather be dead myself. Get up, Hecabe!

Hecabe: Leave me alone. What do you want?

Talthybius: I’m the Greek herald. I’ve come for you.

Hecabe: To take me to the altar to be killed?

Talthybius: No. Your daughter is dead. I’ve come for you to go for her burial rites.

Hecabe: I was hoping to be killed instead. How did it happen?

Talthybius: It was quite sad. The whole Greek army stood in front of the grave. Achilles’s son led Polyxena to the mound. There’s been a gold cup places there full of wine for a libation for Achilles. I stood up & announce there’d be silence. Achilles’s son, Neoptolemus, spoke: “Father, take this maiden’s untainted blood that I & this army offer you. Look on us with favor & give us safe passage home.”

  • He took his sword, held it against her throat & she said: “You Greeks have destroyed Troy. I don’t need to be paid to die. I’m a royal & it’d be a disgrace to live as a slave. Kill me.”
  • Agamemnon tried to free her. She heard this, ripped off her dress, showed her breast to all. She kneeled & said” Son of Achilles, here is my breast. Do your worst.”
  • He took out his sword hesitantly but cut her throat. Blood spurted everywhere. She fell over, hiding her wound.
  • Every Greek paid her honor. Some threw leaves on her. They built a funeral pyre. Those who did or said nothing were admonished. That’s all that happened.

Chorus: Oh, how horrible for her & her family.

Hecabe: I can’t tell which pain bothers me most. One comes & then I think of another. My Polyxena, you have died most royally but it’s still so sad. If the soil is bad, the gods send rain & make it good for a crop. Good soil starved of what it needs will be barren. But man’s nature is ingrained. Bad will always be bad. Good will always be good. Misfortune doesn’t warp a man’s character. It remains good or bad. So, where does the quality come from? Heredity? Upbringing? Being nobly bred at least nudges a child toward goodness. If the lesson is well received, the man will be shown what good & evil are.

  • Talthybius, go tell the Greeks to leave my daughter’s body alone. I will take care of her. [TALTHYBIUS LEAVES. HECABE SPEAKS TO OLD ATTENDANT.]
  • Take a jar by the shore, fill it with seawater & bring it back. I have to wash my daughter & dress her up. She deserves a clan & proper burial. [ATTENDANT LEAVES]
  • How far we’ve fallen. We’re reduced to nothing, stripped of pride. A man swells with pride & arrogance because one man calls him great. But it’s all meaningless. All the eloquence is for naught. The man who can carry on without misery is the happiest. [HECABE LEAVES]

Chorus: Our slavery was pre-ordained. Paris built a ship to sail to Greece to take Helen, the most beautiful woman ever. Now everyone is in pain. Because of him, we’re all doomed. But Greek women also have to suffer for all this [ATTENDANT ENTERS WITH DRAPED BODY]

Attendant: Where’s Hecabe? The poor woman…

Chorus: What now? Will it never end?

Attendant: I have something unpleasant to tell her.

Chorus: There she is. Tell her your news. [HECABE ENTERS]

Attendant: Hecabe, as if you haven’t suffered enough. There’s nothing left for you.

Hecabe: What else is new? But why have you brought Polyxena’s body here. The Greeks said they were building her a tomb.

Attendant: [TO CHORUS] She doesn’t know. She thinks it’s Polyxena. Oh dear.

Hecabe: Come on. Who is it? Cassandra?

Attendant: No, she’s still alive. Let me show you the face.

Hecabe: Oh, my boy, Polydorus. I’d sent him to Thrace to be safe. Could it get any worse? My poor son. I had a dream about this.

Attendant: How could you know?

Hecabe: I’d heard it but I didn’t believe it. Poor Polydorus. What happened? Who killed you?

Attendant: I can’t say. I only found him washed up on the shore.

Hecabe: Was he drowned? Or had he been killed?

Attendant: I don’t know. I just found him on the shore.

Hecabe: That dream I had makes sense now. It was telling me of his death.

Chorus: Did your dream tell you who killed him?

Hecabe: The Thracian that Priam & I entrusted him to in secret.

Chorus: Polymestor? Why? The gold?

Hecabe: It’s unspeakable. What use is friendship? Look at him, hacked up by a sword.

Chorus: Who needs enemies like the Greeks when you have friends like Polymestor? Here comes our master, Agamemnon. [AGAMEMNON ENTERS]

Agamemnon: Hecabe, Talthybius told me not to let any Greek touch your daughter but you haven’t come to bury her. What’s that body there? By how it’s wrapped, it doesn’t look Greek.

Hecabe: [TO SELF] Hecabe, what should I do? Kneel to him or sit in silence?

Agamemnon: Why are you mourning with your back to me? Who is this?

Hecabe: [TO SELF] He may see me as an enemy & a slave, & push me away. It might even make things worse…

Agamemnon: What’s going on? I can’t read minds. I won’t know unless you tell me.

Hecabe: [TO SELF] I can’t expect to get my revenge without his help. I should say something. [KNEELS TO AGAMEMNON] Agamemnon, I beg you…

Agamemnon: What is it? Freedom? I can manage that.

Hecabe: No. Revenge on a murdered. For that, I’ll accept my slavery.

Agamemnon: OK, What can I do for you?

Hecabe: That body there is my son Polydorus. We had sent him away to Thrace to avoid the war. We sent him to the king, Polymestor, along with our gold. Polymestor killed him & took the gold. My attendant found him washed up on the shore. He was stabbed & thrown out to sea. I have no heart left to suffer.

Agamemnon: Was there ever a woman who’s suffered more than you?

Hecabe: No, but now I’m more concerned with my request. Please help me avenge the betrayal of my friendship, murder of my son & theft of my riches. This animal didn’t even bury him. I may be a slave & weak but the gods & their law are strong. You & I live by that law. If the law is broken with impunity, there is no justice on earth. Shame is my guide & honor should stir you. I was once a queen but now I am your slave, childless, friendless & homeless. Why not do this for me? Can I not convince you? Honor & desire are useless without persuasion. My sons are dead. I’m your prisoner. You share your bed with my daughter, Cassandra. Can that relation at least have some value to get you to help me? Look at him. I need revenge.

Chorus: It’s strange how quickly enemies can turn into friends.

Agamemnon: Poor Hecabe. I sympathize with you but the Greeks consider Polymestor an ally & your son an enemy. Any help I give will damage my position.

Hecabe: Hmm… Then you’re not free. All men are slaves to something. Some to money or chance, others to popular opinion or the law to act against their nature. Since you can’t risk it, can I just do it on my own? I can take care of it myself.

Agamemnon: How? What’s your plan? A sword? Poison? What help do you have?

Hecabe: I have my fellow Trojan women of this tent. We are smart & numerous.

Agamemnon: Can they overpower a man? I don’t think you can do it.

Hecabe: Didn’t women kill the 50 sons of Aegyptus? Or clear Lemnos of all males? Enough arguing. I have planning to do. [TO ATTENDANT] Take this message to Polymestor: “Hecabe, former Queen of Tory wants you to bring your sons to hear an important message.” [ATTENDANT LEAVES]

  • Agamemnon, please delay Polyxena’s burial. I want to make it a double.

Agamemnon: You’re in luck. The winds are too rough for us to set sail. So we will have to wait for them to die down. I hope it all works out for you. [HECABE & AGAMEMNON LEAVE SEPARATELY]

Chorus: Troy, our home, is gone. The Greeks saw to that. We’ll never see it again. It all ended at midnight. I was doing up my hair, ready to go to bed when the streets roared with a war cry. I got out of bed in my nightgown & trembled at the altar of Artemis. No luck. I saw my husband killed. I was brought here on a ship on its way to Greece. I’ll never get to go home again. I cursed Helen & Paris for bringing this upon my city & my life. They made me a slave. I hope their ships wreck & they drown at sea. [ENTER HECABE, POLYMESTOR, HIS SONS & GUARDS]

Polymestor: Oh, Priam & Hecabe, dear friends. Your fate & Troy’s fate… it’s terrible. & then losing your daughter. The gods haven’t been straight forward with our fates but our reverence for them stays out of our fears of the unknown. But what’s the use in lamentation? It never helps. When you arrived, I was upcountry. I came as soon as I got your message.

Hecabe: Yes, Polymestor. Things have been bad. You knew me as a queen & now you see me as a slave & a prisoner. Forgive me if I can’t look you straight in the eye.

Polymestor: I understand. But why did you want to see me?

Hecabe: I have something to tell you in private. Send your guards away.

Polymestor: [TO GUARDS] Leave us. I’m quite safe. [GUARDS LEAVE] [TO HECABE] So now both you & the Greek army are my friends. What can a prosperous friend do for a friend in trouble?

Hecabe: Tell me of Polydorus first. Priam & I left him in your care. Is he alive?

Polymestor: Yes, of course. Don’t worry. He’s fine.

Hecabe: Is the gold safe? Don’t get greedy!

Polymestor: I won’t. I have enough of my own.

Hecabe: OK, then it will be safe to tell you about another store of gold still buried in Troy.

Polymestor: Are you asking me to tell Polydorus this?

Hecabe: Yes. You’re a god-fearing man. I’d like your sons to know about this as well. In Troy, where Athena’s temple once stood, it’s buried under a black rock. Take care of that along with what I have hidden inside this tent. There are treasures hidden under some armor. These are our private quarters & the Greeks don’t know about them. Bring your sons inside & my ladies & I will show them too us to keep before we leave with the Greeks. [POLYMESTOR & HIS SONS ENTER, FOLLOWED BY HECABE]

Chorus: The debt will be paid soon. Your desire will lead to  your downfall. The debt is to Justice & the Gods. You may be hopeful now but you’ll soon be surprised. The weak will be too strong for you to overcome.

Polymestor: [FROM INSIDE] Help! They’re blinding me. Save my children. You can’t get away with this. I’ll smash everything.

Chorus: Some friend… He’s so strong & violent. Should we go in & help Hecabe? [HECABE ENTERS]

Hecabe: You can thrash around all you want. You’ll never get your sight back. You’ll never see your sons again. I’ve killed them.

Chorus: What? How did you overpower them?

Hecabe: You’ll see. He’ll come out a blind man. You’ll see his sons’ bodies. I’ve had my revenge. Here he comes, still as strong & violent as ever. [ENTER POLYMESTOR BLINDED]

Polymestor: Help! Where can I go? Do I have to crawl around on all fours? I have to find them. But how? Those vile women. They’ve destroyed me. Where are they? I hear them. If I find them, I’ll tear them apart. How can I leave my children ripped up like that?

Chorus: You terrible man. It’s hard to watch but you deserve this.

Polymestor: Thracians! Come for me! Greeks! Help! Why does no one hear me? These women have destroyed me. Your prisoners! What will I do?

Chorus: It’s terrible but I think you 2 are even now. [AGAMEMNON ENTERS]

Agamemnon: What’s all that noise? You can hear it from miles away. I haven’t heard that much noise since we burned Troy.

Polymestor: Agamemnon. Friend. Do you see what they’ve done?

Agamemnon: Polymestor, you look in an absolute state. Who blinded you? Who killed these kids? Whoever did this must have been pissed off at you.

Polymestor: Hecabe & your women prisoners.

Agamemnon: Impossible! Hecabe wouldn’t & couldn’t do this. Would you, Hecabe?

Polymestor: Where is she? Show me. I’ll destroy her!

Agamemnon: Stay where you are. Control yourself. Forget that barbarian behavior. State your case & I’ll judge both sides.

Polymestor: Hecabe & Priam sent their son & gold to me during the war to protect. I killed him but I was right to. I was afraid that the boy, your enemy, would bring Troy’s survivors together & refound the city. The Greeks would hear of this & come back. You’d wreak havoc on my lands again. We are Troy’s neighbors & would have to live through more war. Hecabe learned of this & lured me on with stories of more treasure & gold. She brought me & my sons into the tent. I was seated on the couch, surrounded by Trojan women. The mothers among them held my boys. Suddenly, they took out daggers & stabbed my sons. I was held down & each one of them took a turn stabbing my eyes out with their brooches. All this for taking care of your enemy. Of all the abuse that men have done to women over the years has been made up for. They are much more evil & spiteful.

Chorus: Because you suffer, you feel you have the right to generalize about women?

Hecabe: It’s not right that men’s words are louder than their deeds. Deeds are much more demonstrative than words. All the clever words in the world will be undone by evil acts. Agamemnon, listen to this… Polymestor, you say you were helping the Greeks by murdering my son. How could your savage nation be friends with Greece? You aren’t related to them. You have nothing in common with them. Why would you want to help them? You feared a second war? Tell the truth. It was my gold that cost my son his life. Why did you not kill him during the war? Or hand both him & the gold over to the Greeks? You killed a guest, not an enemy. If you were really Greece’s friend, you would have given them the gold. They needed it, being so far from home. But if you had cared for my son, as you promised you would, you would be held in high praise. Even in prosperity. Even more so in defeat. If you were poor, my son would have helped you. But now your sons are dead & you’re blind, gold is useless. Agamemnon, if you help this man – an impious, perjured, murderous, greedy traitor, you will give yourself a bad name.

Chorus: Very nice speech.

Agamemnon: This is hard to judge but I’ll have to decide… Polymestor, it’s clear you didn’t kill the boy to help me out. You did it for the gold. You’re only using your present predicament as an excuse for your actions. It might be all right to kill a guest in Thrace but to the Greeks, it’s the worst crime imaginable. You deserve your fate.

Polymestor: My fate! Trampled by that woman! You’re no king. A real king would not submit to a slave the way you have.

Hecabe: Your fate is justice done.

Polymestor: My children. My eyes.

Hecabe: Didn’t I suffer the death of my son?

Polymestor: Horrible woman. Do you enjoy mocking me?

Hecabe: I’ve punished you. My joy is justified.

Polymestor: It won’t last long. The sea waits for you.

Hecabe: To go to Greece.

Polymestor: No, to bury you. You won’t even make it to Greece. You will fall from the mast of the ship after climbing it. My prophet, Dionysus told me.

Hecabe: Didn’t he warn you about what would happen today?

Polymestor: No, otherwise I would have avoided it. You will die & your grave will be called, “Cynossema”, “the Dog’s Grave”, as a warning to sailors.

Hecabe: Whatever. I got even.

Polymestor: There’s more. Cassandra will be murdered too & Agamemnon’s wife will kill her & him with an axe.

Agamemnon: You’re asking for trouble.

Polymestor: Kill me if you like. You’ll get a bloody cleansing back in Argos. Learning of the future ain’t too fun, is it?

Agamemnon: Take this lunatic away. Gag him. Throw him on a desert island. [GUARDS TAKE POLYMESTOR AWAY] Hecabe, go bury your children. Then each one of your women will go to her master’s tent. I see a fair wind that will take us home safely.

Chorus: We must go to the harbor & the Greek tents. We will learn the life of a slave. Fate compels & none can resist. [ALL LEAVE]

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