The Trojan Women

Hecuba Character Analysis

The former Queen of Troy. She is arguably the play’s protagonist; she never exits the stage, and acts as the Trojan Women’s emotional heart. Once a proud noblewoman, a loving wife, and a doting mother, with Troy’s defeat Hecuba has been reduced to a slave. However, even as she prepares herself for her bleak future, she holds on to her former values and as much of her former dignity as she can. She remains practical, always thinking about her family and what remains of her legacy. She deeply loves her sons and daughters, and although their safety is out of her control, she exercises what small power she has to try and help them. She has a deep capacity for emotion — love for those who she respects, and hatred for those, like Helen, who she sees as immoral or unethical.

Hecuba Quotes in The Trojan Women

The The Trojan Women quotes below are all either spoken by Hecuba or refer to Hecuba. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Cost of War Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Chicago Press edition of The Trojan Women published in 2013.
Line 98-294 Quotes

Rise, stricken head, from the dust;
lift up the throat. This is Troy, but Troy
and we, Troy’s kings, are perished.
Stoop to the changing fortune.
Steer for the crossing and your fortune,
hold not life’s prow on the course against
wave beat and accident.
Ah me,
what need I further for tears’ occasion,
state perished, my sons, and my husband?
O massive pride that my fathers heaped
to magnificence, you meant nothing.
Must I be hushed? Were it better thus?

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Priam, Hector
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:
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I am led captive
from my house, an old, unhappy woman,
like my city ruined and pitiful.
Come then, sad wives of the Trojans
whose spears were bronze,
their daughters, brides of disaster,
let us mourn the smoke of Ilium.
And I, as among winged birds
the mother, lead out
the clashing cry, the song; not that song
wherein once long ago,
where Priam leaned on his scepter,
my feet were queens of the choir and led
the proud dance to the gods of Phrygia.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Priam
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:
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And I,
whose wretched slave
shall I be? Where, in my gray age,
a faint drone,
poor image of a corpse,
weak shining among dead men? Shall
I stand and keep guard at their doors,
Shall I nurse their children, I who in Troy
held state as a princess?

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker)
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:
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Hecuba: Who was given my child? Tell me, who shall be lord
of my poor abused Cassandra?
Talthybius: King Agamemnon chose her. She was given to him.
Hecuba: Slave woman to that Lacedaemonian wife?
My unhappy child!
Talthybius: No. Rather to be joined with him in a dark bed of love.
Hecuba: She, Apollo’s virgin, blessed in the privilege
the gold-haired god gave her, a life forever unwed?
Talthybius: Love’s archery and the prophetic maiden struck him hard.
Hecuba: Dash down, my daughter,
the twigs of your consecration,
break the god’s garland to your throat gathered.
Talthybius: Is it not high favor to be brought to a king’s bed?

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Talthybius (speaker), Cassandra, Agamemnon
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:
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Line 294-461 Quotes

O Mother, star my hair with flowers of victory.
This is a king I marry; then be glad; escort
the bride—and if she falters, thrust her strongly on.
If Loxias lives, the Achaeans’ pride, great Agamemnon
has won a wife more fatal than ever Helen was.
Since I will kill him, and avenge my brothers’ blood
and my father’s in desolation of his house.
But I leave this in silence and sing not now the axe
to drop against my throat and other throats than mine,
the agony of the mother murdered, brought to pass
from our marriage rites, and Atreus’ house made desolate.

Related Characters: Cassandra (speaker), Hecuba, Helen, Agamemnon
Page Number: 354
Explanation and Analysis:
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Line 568-797 Quotes

Hecuba: O my children….
Andromache: …once. No longer.
Hecuba: Lost, lost, Troy our dominion…
Andromache: …unhappy…
Hecuba: …and my lordly children.
Andromache: Gone, alas!
Hecuba: They were mine.
Andromache: Sorrows only.
Hecuba: Sad destiny…
Andromache: …of our city…
Hecuba: …a wreck, and burning.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Andromache (speaker)
Page Number: 581
Explanation and Analysis:
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We are the hated of the gods, since once your youngest, escaping
death, brought down Troy’s towers in the arms of a worthless woman;
piled at the feet of Pallas the bleeding bodies of our young men
sprawled, kites’ food, while Troy takes up the yoke of captivity.

Related Characters: Andromache (speaker), Hecuba, Helen
Page Number: 597
Explanation and Analysis:
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O my sons, this city and your mother are desolate of you.
Sound of lamentation and sorrow,
tears on tears shed. Home, farewell.
The dead have forgotten all sorrows.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Andromache
Page Number: 603
Explanation and Analysis:
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Andromache: She is dead, and this was death indeed; and yet to die
as she did was happier than to live as I live now.
Hecuba: Child, no. No life, no light is any kind of death,
since death is nothing, and in life the hopes live still.
Andromache: O Mother, our mother, hear me while I reason through
this matter fairly—might it even hush your grief!
Death, I am sure, is like never being born, but death
is better thus by far than to live a life of pain,
since the dead, with no perception of evil, feel no grief,
while he who was happy once and then unfortunate
finds his heart driven far from the old lost happiness.
She died; it is as if she never saw the light
of the day, for she knows nothing now of what she suffered.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Andromache (speaker), Talthybius
Page Number: 630
Explanation and Analysis:
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…I gave
my lord’s presence the tribute of hushed lips, and eyes
quietly downcast. I knew when my will must have its way
over his, knew also how to give way to him in turn.
Men learned of this; I was talked of in the Achaean camp,
and reputation has destroyed me now. At the choice
of women, Achilles’ son picked me from the rest, to be
his wife: a murderer’s house and I shall be his slave.
If I dash back the beloved memory of Hector
and open wide my heart to my new lord, I shall be
a traitor to the dead love, and know it; if I cling
faithful to the past, I win my master’s hatred…
I hate and loathe that woman who cast away the once
beloved, and takes another in her arms of love.
Even the young mare torn from her running mate and teamed
with another will not easily wear the yoke. And yet
this is a brute and speechless beast of burden, not
like us intelligent, lower far in nature’s scale.

Related Characters: Andromache (speaker), Hecuba, Neoptolemus, Hector
Page Number: 653
Explanation and Analysis:
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Andromache: No, Hecuba; can you not see my fate is worse
than hers you mourn, Polyxena’s? The one thing left
always while life lasts, hope, is not for me. I keep
no secret deception in my heart—sweet though it be
to dream—that I shall ever be happy any more.
Chorus Leader: You stand where I do in misfortune, and while you mourn
your life, you tell me what I, too, am suffering.

Related Characters: Andromache (speaker), The Chorus (speaker), Hecuba
Page Number: 679
Explanation and Analysis:
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He must be hurled down from the battlements of Troy.
Let it happen this way. It will be wiser in the end.
Do not fight it. Take your grief nobly, as you were born;
give up the struggle where your strength is feebleness
with no force anywhere to help. Listen to me!
Your city is gone, your husband. You are in our power.
How can one woman hope to struggle against the arms
of Greece? Think, then. Give up the passionate contest.
Don’t…do any shameful thing, or any deed of hatred.
And please—I request you—hurl no curse at the Achaeans
for fear the army, save over some reckless word,
forbid the child his burial and the dirge of honor.
Be brave, be silent; out of such patience you’ll be sure
the child you leave behind will not lie unburied here,
and that to you the Achaeans will be less unkind.

Related Characters: Talthybius (speaker), Hecuba, Andromache, Astyanax
Page Number: 725
Explanation and Analysis:
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Line 860-1059 Quotes

Hecuba: O power, who mount the world, wheel where the world rides,
O mystery of man’s knowledge, whosoever you be,
named Zeus, nature’s necessity or mortal mind,
I call upon you; for you walk the path none hears
yet bring all human action back to right at last.
Menelaus: What can this mean? How strange a way to call on gods.
Hecuba: Kill your wife, Menelaus, and I will bless your name.
But keep your eyes away from her. Desire will win.
She looks enchantment, and where she looks homes are set fire;
she captures cities as she captures the eyes of men.
We have had experience, you and I. We know the truth.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Menelaus
Page Number: 884
Explanation and Analysis:
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She mothered the beginning of all this wickedness.
For Paris was her child. And next to her the old king,
who would not destroy the infant Alexander, that dream
of the firebrand’s agony, has ruined Troy and me.
This is not all; listen to the rest I have to say.
Alexander was the judge of the goddess trinity.
Pallas Athena would have given him power, to lead
the Phrygian arms on Hellas and make it desolate.
All Asia was Hera’s promise, and the uttermost zones
of Europe for his lordship, if her way prevailed.
But Aphrodite, marveling at my loveliness,
promised it to him, if he would say her beauty surpassed
all others. Think what this means, and all the consequence.
Cypris prevailed, and I was won in marriage: all
for Greek advantage. You are not ruled by barbarians,
you have not been defeated in war nor serve a tyrant.
Yet Hellas’ fortune was my own misfortune. I,
sold once for my body’s beauty, stand accused, who should
for what has been done wear garlands on my head.

Related Characters: Helen (speaker), Hecuba, Menelaus, Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Priam, Paris
Page Number: 919
Explanation and Analysis:
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My son was handsome beyond all other men.
You looked at him, and sense went Cyprian at the sight,
since Aphrodite is nothing but the human lust,
named rightly, since the world of lust begins the god’s name.
You saw him in the barbaric splendor of his robes,
gorgeous with gold. It made your senses itch. You thought,
being queen only in Argos, in little luxury,
that once you got rid of Sparta for the Phrygian city
where gold streamed everywhere, you could let extravagance
run wild. No longer were Menelaus and his house
sufficient for your spoiled luxurious appetites.
So much for that. You say my son took you away
by force. What Spartan heard you cry for help? You did
cry out? Or did you? Castor, your brother, was there, a young
man, and his twin not yet caught up among the stars.
Then when you had reached Troy, and the Argives at your heels
came, and the agony of the murderous spears began,
when the reports came in that Menelaus’ side
was winning, you would praise him, simply to make my son
unhappy at the strength of his love’s challenger,
forgetting your husband when the luck went back to Troy.
You worked hard: not to make yourself a better woman,
but to make sure always to be on the winning side.
You claim you tried to slip away with ropes let down
form the ramparts, and this proves you stayed against your will?
Perhaps. But when were you ever caught in the strangling noose,
or sharpening a dagger? Which any noble wife
would do, desperate with longing for her lord’s return.
Yet over and over again I gave you good advice:
“Make your escape, my daughter; there are other girls
for my sons to marry…Let the Greeks, and us,
stop fighting.”

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Menelaus, Helen, Aphrodite, Paris
Page Number: 987
Explanation and Analysis:
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Line 1060-1332 Quotes

Achaeans! All your strength is in your spears, not in
the mind. What were you afraid of, that it made you kill
this child so savagely? That Troy, which fell, might be
raised from the ground once more? Your strength meant nothing, then.
When Hector’s spear was fortunate, and numberless
strong hands were there to help him, we were still destroyed.
Now when the city is fallen and the Phrygians slain,
this baby terrified you? I despise the fear
which is pure terror in a mind unreasoning.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Andromache, Talthybius, Astyanax, Hector
Page Number: 1158
Explanation and Analysis:
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What would the poet say,
what words might he inscribe upon your monument?
“Here lies a little child the Argives killed, because
they were afraid of him.” That? The epitaph of Greek shame.
You will not win your father’s heritage, except
for this, which is your coffin now: the brazen shield.
O shield, that guarded the strong shape of Hector’s arm:
the bravest man of all, who wore you once, is dead.
How sweet the impression of his body on your sling,
and at the true circle of your rim the stain of sweat
where in the grind of his many combats Hector leaned
his chin against you, and the drops fell from his brow!
Take up your work now; bring from what is left some fair
coverings to wrap this poor dead child. The gods will not
allow us much. But let him have what we can give.
That mortal is a fool who, prospering, thinks his life
has any strong foundation; since our fortune’s course
of action is the reeling way a madman takes,
and no one person is ever happy all the time.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Astyanax, Hector
Related Symbols: Hector’s Shield
Page Number: 1188
Explanation and Analysis:
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The gods mean nothing except to make life hard for me,
and of all cities they chose Troy to hate. In vain
we sacrificed. And yet had not the very hand
of a god gripped and crushed this city deep in the ground,
we should have disappeared in darkness, and not given
a theme for music, and songs of men to come.
You may go now, and hide the dead in his poor tomb;
he has those flowers that are the right of the underworld.
I think it makes small difference to the dead, if they
are buried in the tokens of luxury. All that
is an empty glorification left for those who live.

Related Characters: Hecuba (speaker), Astyanax
Page Number: 1240
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Hecuba Character Timeline in The Trojan Women

The timeline below shows where the character Hecuba appears in The Trojan Women. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Line 1-97
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...claimed as slaves by the Greek men. He mentions Helen dismissively, but feels pity for Hecuba, who has lost many members of her family, including her daughter Polyxena and husband Priam—who... (full context)
Line 98-294
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Hecuba lies on the stage in despair. She slowly gets up and begins to speak. She... (full context)
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Hecuba begins to sing. The intended recipient is Helen, although she is not present. According to... (full context)
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Now, Hecuba is “an old, unhappy woman, like my city ruined and pitiful.” She blames Helen for... (full context)
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Hecuba sees herself as a mother hen, leading her chicks (the other women of Troy) in... (full context)
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Half of the Chorus enters the stage from the tent. They begin to sing with Hecuba, and the song becomes a call and response. The chorus asks Hecuba why she is... (full context)
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Hecuba hopes that Cassandra will not come to see her in this moment. Seeing her daughter,... (full context)
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The second half of the Chorus enters from the tent. They begin to sing with Hecuba as well. Hecuba, an old woman, wonders what will happen to her. She was once... (full context)
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...a group of soldiers, enters from offstage. Although he is a Greek herald, he and Hecuba know each other from earlier in the war and are friendly. Hecuba and the Chorus... (full context)
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Hecuba wonders where her daughter Cassandra will go. Talthybius says Agamemnon has claimed her as a... (full context)
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Hecuba hopes Cassandra will tear the sacred garlands of the gods off of her body in... (full context)
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Hecuba asks who has claimed her youngest daughter, Polyxena. Talthybius tells her Polyxena no longer feels... (full context)
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Hecuba is devastated to learn that Odysseus has claimed her for himself. She despises Odysseus, who... (full context)
Line 294-461
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...Hymen. She announces she feels blessed to “lie at a king’s side.” While her mother Hecuba cries over the loss of her husband and city, Cassandra will celebrate her “marriage” and... (full context)
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Cassandra implores Hecuba to dance with her. She calls out to the god Apollo, and to Hymen again.... (full context)
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The Chorus Leader asks Hecuba to stop Cassandra from dancing. Hecuba takes her torch away and gives it to the... (full context)
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Cassandra begins to see her own future, and narrates it to Hecuba. She predicts that as a wife she will be “more fatal than Helen ever was.”... (full context)
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...one’s home. She compares herself to warriors in her “marriage” to Agamemnon. She explains to Hecuba that only her enslavement will “bring to destruction those whom you and I have hated... (full context)
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Before she leaves, Cassandra delivers one final speech. She wonders why she predicted that Hecuba would die in Troy, when it seems as though Odysseus will take her to be... (full context)
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...take my mate.” In anticipation of her defilement, Cassandra takes off her holy jewelry, bids Hecuba goodbye, and promises her dead brothers and dead father that “I will be with you... (full context)
Line 461-567
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Hecuba collapses to the ground in tears. The Chorus Leader tries to help her, but Hecuba... (full context)
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Hecuba considers asking the gods for help, but realizes that they have allowed her to suffer... (full context)
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Hecuba’s own enslavement is just one additional indignity added to a pile of many. Still, it... (full context)
Line 568-797
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...wagon, piled with other spoils of war. The Chorus announces her arrival and calls to Hecuba to come see her daughter-in-law and her grandchild. (full context)
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Hecuba and Andromache begin to sing together, alternating phrases. Andromache announces that she will soon go... (full context)
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Andromache calls out to Hector, her dead husband and Hecuba’s son. Andromache wants to die and join him. She believes the people of Troy must... (full context)
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The two women stop singing and begin to speak. Hecuba says she sees the destruction of Troy as “the work of gods who pile tower-high... (full context)
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Andromache reveals that Hecuba has lost another daughter; Polyxena was killed to “pleasure dead Achilles’ corpse.” Hecuba, who had... (full context)
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Hecuba begins to mourn Polyxena. Andromache tries to comfort her. Andromache saw Polyxena die, and was... (full context)
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...will be nothing like the love she felt for her husband. Andromache then turns to Hecuba. She argues that her fate, which binds her to Neoptolemus, is worse than Polyxena’s. She... (full context)
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Hecuba describes her own suffering through metaphor. As she grapples with an onslaught of woe, she... (full context)
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Hecuba advises Andromache to serve her master well, and to make him love her as protection.... (full context)
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...too much pity, too much shame to kill a child. He exits after the guards. Hecuba begins to chant. She wonders what suffering could possibly be left for her and the... (full context)
Line 860-1059
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Hecuba, who has remained onstage watching Menelaus’s speech, takes a moment to invoke the gods. She... (full context)
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...kill her. Helen asks if she’ll be allowed to make an argument for her life. Hecuba presses Menelaus to at least listen to Helen, although she also wants Helen dead. Menelaus... (full context)
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...She argues based on points she anticipates Menelaus will use against her. First, she accuses Hecuba, the mother of Paris, as being to blame for the conflict. Then she blames Paris... (full context)
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The Chorus Leader, having listened to Helen’s defense, implores Hecuba to “break down the beguilement” of this well-spoken but wicked woman. (full context)
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Hecuba begins her rebuttal by defending the gods. She is skeptical that Hera and Athena were... (full context)
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Hecuba also attacks Helen’s claim that she was taken by force. She wonders if any Spartans... (full context)
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Furthermore, Hecuba argues that if Helen really wanted to escape she would have tried to kill herself,... (full context)
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Hecuba feels that Helen should at least seem repentant, and believes she retains her “old impudence,”... (full context)
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Menelaus agrees with Hecuba’s assessment of Helen and her story. He thinks her talk of Aphrodite is “for pure... (full context)
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Hecuba urges Menelaus to think of his fallen friends and soldiers. She also tells him, if... (full context)
Line 1060-1332
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...city, accompanied by Greek soldiers. They carry Astyanax’s lifeless body on Hector’s shield. Talthybius tells Hecuba that the ships have been leaving. Neoptolemus left with Andromache, who was unable to bury... (full context)
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Talthybius urges Hecuba to hurry, but promises to give her the time she needs. He has already cleaned... (full context)
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Hecuba wonders why the Greek army found it necessary to kill a child. Were they afraid... (full context)
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Hecuba remembers when Astyanax was alive, and how he would jump on her bed and promise... (full context)
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The Chorus begins to sing in conversation with Hecuba, who continues to speak. Hecuba drapes Astyanax in a robe, which she notes that he... (full context)
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Hecuba feels that the gods have joined together to ruin her life. She believes Troy’s destruction... (full context)
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...of Troy. When the trumpet calls, it is their signal to board the Greek ships. Hecuba unhappily prepares to leave. She reflects on how Troy, once so powerful, will have its... (full context)
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Hecuba wonders if she should call out to the gods. She reflects that she had asked... (full context)
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Hecuba and the Chorus sing together as the city burns behind them. Hecuba wonders if Zeus... (full context)
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Hecuba and the Chorus describe the flames and smoke of the burning city, pausing when they... (full context)