Metamorphoses

Metamorphoses

by

Ovid

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Metamorphoses can help.

Metamorphoses: Book 13: The Sufferings of Hecuba Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When the Trojan War began, King Priam sent his son Polydorus to Thrace so that he’d be safe. However, Polydorus’s guardian was greedy for Polydorus’s wealth. He killed Polydorus and threw his body into the sea, hoping to conceal the murder. As King Agamemnon sails into Thrace to rest, the ghost of Achilles appears from a cleft in the cliff and asks how the Greeks can sail off without honoring him. He says they must appease him by sacrificing Polyxena, King Priam’s last daughter. The Greeks obey Achilles and seize Polyxena from Hecuba’s arms.
The ghost of Achilles tells the Greeks to punish the bereaved women of Troy even more than they are already being punished. The Greeks respect Achilles’s posthumous wish for complete revenge, indicating that they still believe Achilles is alive and guiding them through the war to a certain extent. In this way, no one in the Metamorphoses is ever considered to have been annihilated in death, only transformed or transported.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
When Polyxena realizes she is about to be killed, she raises her throat to the sword. She says she wishes she could spare her mother the grief of her death. She asks that the guards leave their hands off her so that she can die untouched. She says that she is Priam’s daughter, not a slave, and that Hecuba deserves to bury her after she dies. Moved by her speech, the Greek soldiers reluctantly kill Polyxena. They carry her to Hecuba, lamenting for all of Priam’s dead children. Hecuba clutches Polyxena and weeps.
Compared to Polyxena’s bravery in the face of death, the Greek’s sacrifice of her at Achilles’s bidding is cowardly, continuing the bloodshed of a war that is finally over. Achilles’s posthumous wish suggests that victors of war seek to completely obliterate nations and that revenge always comes back around to complete itself.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Hecuba laments that she thought Polyxena would be safe from death because she was a girl. When Achilles died, Hecuba felt safe again, but now she realizes she must still fear Achilles; he is still taking her family from her. Hecuba used to be a powerful queen, but now she is a slave with no family. Hecuba feels she has no happiness now that her daughter has been killed. She envies Hector his death because he can’t see Polyxena’s murdered body. At last Hecuba consoles herself by remembering that one of her sons still lives: she believes Polydorus is safe in Thrace.
Although Ovid portrayed Troy as being on the wrong side of the Trojan War, this scene in which Hecuba is made a war prisoner and harshly punished portrays the Greeks as in the wrong. By listing the just causes and the wrongs on both sides of the Trojan War, Ovid seems to be making the claim that war itself is a horrible yet inevitable event that affects even noncombatants in unjust ways.
Themes
Humanity vs. Nature  Theme Icon
Hecuba steps off the ship in Thrace. Suddenly, she notices Polydorus’s murdered body washed up on the beach. She is mute with grief and then with rage. Thinking only of vengeance, she sends for Polydorus’s guardian, Polymestor, saying she has more gold to give him for her son. Greedy for more gold, Polymestor meets Hecuba. Hecuba grabs him, digging her fingers into his eyes and clawing apart his face. Furious, the Thracian people pelt Hecuba with stones. She growls at them, turning into a dog. To this day, Hecuba wanders Thrace howling with grief. Both the Trojans and the Greeks lament her fate.
Many times throughout the Metamorphoses, anger and the thirst for revenge overwhelm a person’s grief. Similar to the way grief led Procne and Philomela to seek brutal revenge against Tereus, Hecuba is sent into a frenzy when she finds out her son has been murdered and heads straight to avenge him. This frenzied state becomes so extreme that she transforms into a dog; she’s unable to function as a human anymore.
Themes
Metamorphosis Theme Icon
Get the entire Metamorphoses LitChart as a printable PDF.
Metamorphoses PDF