The Trojan Women



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Themes and Colors
The Cost of War Theme Icon
Fate, Fortune, and the Gods Theme Icon
Duty, Obligation, and Integrity  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Trojan Women, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Men and Women Theme Icon

Unsurprisingly, given the play’s title, the women in The Trojan Women are its protagonists, and their experiences and suffering are the play’s primary concern. The play was written around 415 BCE, but describes semi-fictional events that supposedly took place 700 years earlier. In Euripides’ day, in Ancient Greece, women had few rights. They were first the property of their fathers, and later of their husbands—and, like slaves of any gender, were ineligible for citizenship. This lack of legal and political agency directly affects Euripides’ portrayal of the Trojan women, all of whom are deprived even of the protection of husbands and fathers, and are at the mercy of the foreign men who have seized their city. Women and their bodies are seen as objects to win, use, and dispose of, much like the besieged city of Troy itself. However, despite their poor treatment by the men in their story, which strips them of agency, Euripides nonetheless gives them power through his narrative—rendering them as complete, complex people, with strong voices, if not influence over their eventual fates. Although the women of Troy suffer, in giving clear voice to their suffering they are given, at least, the power of expression.

The women of the Trojan Women are given less power and agency than their male counterparts. After the fall of Troy they are overwhelmingly forced into sex slavery, a form of enslavement based on power as much as it is based on sexual desire. Men and women see this enslavement differently. Talthybius, one of the play’s only mortal, male, speaking characters, doesn’t understand the horror of enslavement. Regarding Cassandra, who has been chosen to serve King Agamemnon, he wonders, “Is it not high favor to be brought to a king’s bed?” clearly not understanding that enslavement is a violation of a human’s dignity and decency regardless of the status of the slave owner. The women, unsurprisingly, see their bondage as debasement. Hecuba exclaims, “I am gone, doomed, undone”, expressing emotions experienced by most of the women. Their enslavement at once strips any power they had in their previous life (Helen, a queen, is immediately claimed by Menelaus after the death of Paris and is “numbered among the other women of Troy, a slave.”). Hecuba encourages the other women to rebel against their subjugation. She urges Cassandra, especially, to “Dash down, my daughter, / the twigs of your consecration, / break the god’s garlands to your throat gathered.”

In the aftermath of Greece’s victory, in interactions between Greek men and Trojan women, men are in positions of power and women are in positions of explicit subjugation. Moreover, sex (or, more accurately, rape) is the primary means by which men in the play subjugate women. Women’s worth is therefore seen as coming from their sexual viability, and their bodies’ ability to reproduce. Within the world of the play, women who are not sexual objects have little use. This is evident in Hecuba’s warning to Menelaus. She worries that even hatred will not be enough for Menelaus to overcome his desire for his ex-wife Helen, as there is no other relationship a man and a woman could have. She urges, “Kill your wife, Menelaus, and I will bless your name. / But keep your eyes away from her. Desire will win.”

The correlation of value with sexual viability is difficult for all the women, but especially Hecuba. Much of a woman’s value came from her ability to have children or take care of the household. Hecuba knows that she is past her reproductive prime, and so her enslavement is out of spite. “And I / whose wretched slave / shall I be? Where, in my gray age, / a faint drone, / poor image of a corpse….Shall / I stand and keep guard at their doors, / shall I nurse their children, I who in Troy / held state as a princess?” She understands that her enslavement is primarily an insult to her pride and former status, as she has moved beyond her use as a sex object.

It is only in Astyanax’s death that readers/audiences are given an example of what men can and should be. Just as women do not have to exist as sexual objects to be dominated, seen only in relationship to men, men do not have to exist as sexual conquerors ready to dominate, seen only in relationship to women. As she mourns him, Hecuba imagines what Astyanax’s future could have looked like — one defined by learning and family as much as by war and violence. Through this fantasy Hecuba criticizes what she sees as simplistic, toxic Greek masculinity. She complains, the Greeks have “all your strength in your spears, not in / the mind,” suggesting a vision of manhood that is not founded on war and domination of women.

The destruction of the women’s bodies and spirits, and the theft of their agency mirrors the destruction of the city of Troy itself. This comparison reinforces both the tragedy of the siege of Troy, and the scale of violence enacted on the women. It also gives the women a certain power, implying that they themselves are the heart of Troy, all that is left of a fallen empire. Together, Hecuba and Andromache speak in alternating lines, their overlapping speech drawing direct parallels between the loss of their city and their children, the wrecking of their destinies and the wrecking of their home. Together they cry, “Lost, lost, Troy our dominion…unhappy…and my lordly children. Gone, alas! They were mine. Sorrows only. Sad destiny…of our city…a wreck and burning.” Hecuba describes how “I am led captive / from my house, an old, unhappy woman, / like my city ruined and pitiful.” Hecuba also calls out, “O soil where my children grew,” directly describing the city, but conceivably also describing her own body in which her children originated. In the play’s final moments, the women prepare to board the Greek ships and shed the last of their agency. As they leave, the city of Troy burns, and they sing, “O Troy, once / so huge over all Asia in the drawn wind of pride, / your very name of glory shall be stripped away,” their own glory similarly stripped away, and their own bodies scattered to the wind on various enemy ships.

In the world of The Trojan Women, strict gender roles hurt both men and women. The women are treated as objects, valued only for their potential as sexual partners, traded and claimed as property. They are generally not seen as full human beings. Instead, they are seen as unequal and inferior, and as property (to the point where their bodies themselves begin to blend into the ravaged city), and they are passed around like prizes and spoils of war. Unable to control their own destinies, they are instead fated to suffer at the hands of enemy soldiers for however long these men see fit to keep them alive. This designation as a weaker gender obviously hurts these women, but The Trojan Women makes it clear that such binaries, which designate women as weak and men as strong, hurt men too. Men, who have the potential to be complex, emotional beings, are instead forced into the role of the sex-seeking aggressor. Menelaus, for example, cannot act in his own self-interest and let go of his ex-wife because of his overwhelming feelings of sexual attraction to Helen. Astyanax, a baby, is killed because as a Trojan “man” he poses a threat to the Greek army. Euripides has no easy fix for the uneven gender dynamics of his play, which likely reflect the uneven gender dynamics of his time as well. Instead, he perceptively outlines the dangers of cleanly splitting society in two, and of too narrowly defining what it means to be a man or a woman.

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Men and Women Quotes in The Trojan Women

Below you will find the important quotes in The Trojan Women related to the theme of Men and Women.
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:

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:

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:

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:
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:

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:

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:

…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:
Line 860-1059 Quotes

O splendor of sunburst breaking forth this day, whereon
I lay my hands once more on Helen, my wife. And yet
it is not so much as men think, for a woman’s sake
I came to Troy, but against that guest proved treacherous,
who like a robber carried the woman from my house.
Since the gods have seen to it that he paid the penalty,
fallen before the Hellenic spear, his kingdom wrecked,
I come for her now, the Spartan once my own, whose name
I can no longer speak with any happiness,
to take her away. In this house of captivity
she is numbered among the other women of Troy, a slave.
And those men whose work with the spear has won her back
gave her to me, to kill, or not to kill, but lead
alive to the land of Argos, if such be my pleasure.
And such it is; the death of Helen in Troy I will let
pass, have the oars take her by seaways back to Greek
soil, and there give her over to execution;
blood penalty for friends who are dead in Ilium here.

Related Characters: Menelaus (speaker), Helen, Paris
Page Number: 860
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:

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:
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:

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: