Hecuba collapses to the ground in tears. The Chorus Leader tries to help her, but Hecuba brushes her off. She believes she deserves all the pain she’s endured.
Hecuba is able to stay strong for herself, but finds it difficult to remain stoic when she sees her family suffer. Watching Hecuba react to Cassandra’s enslavement helps instruct the audience on how traumatic and devastating the war is for its survivors.
Hecuba considers asking the gods for help, but realizes that they have allowed her to suffer so far, and so seem unlikely to ease her suffering now. She begins to recount her fall from grace. She was formerly a queen, married to Priam, a king, and her children were royalty as well. Her sons and daughters were her pride and joy, and her husband was her great love. As a result, it was agonizing to see the men she loved killed, her city ransacked, her daughters enslaved.
Hecuba has begun to lose faith in the gods. Although she once prayed to them for relief, she believes her fortune now is destined to be random at best, and miserable at worst. After falling so drastically from grace, she believes that the future, and her future specifically, is impossible to predict.
Hecuba’s own enslavement is just one additional indignity added to a pile of many. Still, it upsets her to imagine her future—an older woman so recently respected, now forced to sleep on the ground and serve a master she does not respect. She blames all this on Helen: “All this came to pass / and shall be, for the way one woman chose a man.” Hecuba calls out to her daughter Polyxena, and to Cassandra. She pulls herself up off the ground and is escorted by Greek soldiers to the back of the stage, where she collapses again.
Because she was once a queen, Hecuba’s fall from grace is the most dramatic of any of the characters in the play. Furthermore, because she is an older woman, even in her enslavement she is made to feel degraded and worthless. Of course, it is not “better” or “worse” to be a slave who cleans a house than a slave who is forced to have sex with one’s captor, but in Hecuba’s mind, her enslavement has been designed to maximize her suffering and humiliation.
The Chorus begins to sing. They feel that they must sing a “dirge for Troy’s death.” Together they describe how the war ended: they believed Troy had won and the city’s citizens came out to celebrate. The Greeks had gifted them an enormous statue of a horse, and they took it as a peace offering and a surrender. The Trojans delivered the horse to the temple of Athena, and celebrated, dancing and singing into the night. Then, suddenly, the Greeks burst out from inside the horse and slaughtered the celebrating Trojans, killing the men, and taking the women as slaves.
The Fall of Troy was especially bloody and tragic because it came amidst joyful celebration. The Trojans had let their guard down, and assumed they were safe at last, after ten years of conflict. When the Greeks erupted from the horse, which the Trojans had assumed was a hollow gift, they killed not only armed and ready soldiers, but unarmed and unprepared men, women, and children.