Trojan Women (Murray 1905)/Notes

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The Trojan Women of Euripides  (1905)  by Euripides, translated by Gilbert Murray


P. 11, l. 5, Poseidon.]—In the Iliad Poseidon is the enemy of Troy, here the friend. This sort of confusion comes from the fact that the Trojans and their Greek enemies were largely of the same blood, with the same tribal gods. To the Trojans, Athena the War-Goddess was, of course, their War-Goddess, the protectress of their citadel. Poseidon, god of the sea and its merchandise, and Apollo (possibly a local shepherd god?), were their natural friends and had actually built their city wall for love of the good old king, Laomedon. Zeus, the great father, had Mount Ida for his holy hill and Troy for his peculiar city. (Cf. on p. 63.)

To suit the Greek point of view all this had to be changed or explained away. In the Iliad generally Athena is the proper War-Goddess of the Greeks. Poseidon had indeed built the wall for Laomedon, but Laomedon had cheated him of his reward—as afterwards he cheated Heracles, and the Argonauts and everybody else! So Poseidon hated Troy. Troy is chiefly defended by the barbarian Ares, the oriental Aphrodite, by its own rivers Scamander and Simoïs and suchlike inferior or unprincipled gods.

Yet traces of the other tradition remain. Homer knows that Athena is specially worshipped in Troy. He knows that Apollo, who had built the wall with Poseidon, and had the same experience of Laomedon, still loves the Trojans. Zeus himself, though eventually in obedience to destiny he permits the fall of the city, nevertheless has a great tenderness towards it.

P. 11, l. 11, A steed marvellous.]—See below, on p. 36.

P. 12, l. 25, I go forth from great Ilion, &c.]—The correct ancient doctrine. When your gods forsook you, there was no more hope. Conversely, when your state became desperate, evidently your gods were forsaking you. From another point of view, also, when the city was desolate and unable to worship its gods, the gods of that city were no more.

P. 12, l. 34, Laconian Tyndarid.]—Helen was the child of Zeus and Leda, and sister of Castor and Polydeuces; but her human father was Tyndareus, an old Spartan king. She is treated as "a prisoner and a prize," i.e., as a captured enemy, not as a Greek princess delivered from the Trojans.

P. 12, l. 40, In secret slain.]—Because the Greeks were ashamed of the bloody deed. See below, p. 42, and the scene on this subject in the Hecuba.

P. 12, l. 42, Cassandra.]—In the Agamemnon the story is more clearly told, that Cassandra was loved by Apollo and endowed by him with the power of prophecy; then in some way she rejected or betrayed him, and he set upon her the curse that though seeing the truth she should never be believed. The figure of Cassandra in this play is not inconsistent with that version, but it makes a different impression. She is here a dedicated virgin, and her mystic love for Apollo does not seem to have suffered any breach.

P. 13, l. 47, Pallas.]—(See above.) The historical explanation of the Trojan Pallas and the Greek Pallas is simple enough; but as soon as the two are mythologically personified and made one, there emerges just such a bitter and ruthless goddess as Euripides, in his revolt against the current mythology, loved to depict. But it is not only the mythology that he is attacking. He seems really to feel that if there are conscious gods ruling the world, they are cruel or "inhuman" beings.

P. 15, l. 70.]—Ajax the Less, son of Oïleus, either ravished or attempted to ravish Cassandra (the story occurs in both forms) while she was clinging to the Palladium or image of Pallas. It is one of the great typical sins of the Sack of Troy, often depicted on vases.

P. 17, l. 123, Faces of ships.]—Homeric ships had prows shaped and painted to look like birds' or beasts' heads. A ship was always a wonderfully live and vivid thing to the Greek poets. (Cf. p. 64.)

P. 18, l. 132, Castor.]—Helen's brother: the Eurôtas, the river of her home, Sparta.

P. 18, l. 135, Fifty seeds.]—Priam had fifty children, nineteen of them children of Hecuba (Il. vi. 451, &c.).

P. 22, l. 205, Pirene.]—The celebrated spring on the hill of Corinth. Drawing water was a typical employment of slaves.

P. 22, l. 219 ff., Theseus' land, &c.]—Theseus' land is Attica. The poet, in the midst of his bitterness over the present conduct of his city, clings the more to its old fame for humanity. The "land high-born" where the Penêüs flows round the base of Mount Olympus in northern Thessaly is one of the haunts of Euripides' dreams in many plays. Cf. Bacchae, 410 (p. 97 in my translation). Mount Aetna fronts the "Tyrians' citadel," i.e., Carthage, built by the Phoenicians. The "sister land" is the district of Sybaris in South Italy, where the river Crathis has, or had, a red-gold colour, which makes golden the hair of men and the fleeces of sheep; and the water never lost its freshness.

P. 23, l. 235.]—Talthybius is a loyal soldier with every wish to be kind. But he is naturally in good spirits over the satisfactory end of the war, and his tact is not sufficient to enable him to understand the Trojan Women's feelings. Yet in the end, since he has to see and do the cruelties which his Chiefs only order from a distance, the real nature of his work forces itself upon him, and he feels and speaks at times almost like a Trojan. It is worth noticing how the Trojan Women generally avoid addressing him. (Cf. pp. 48, 67, 74.)

P. 24, l. 256, The haunted keys (literally, "with God through them, penetrating them").]—Cassandra was his Key-bearer, holding the door of his Holy Place. (Cf. Hip. 540, p. 30.)

P. 25, l. 270, She hath a toil, &c.]—There is something true and pathetic about this curious blindness which prevents Hecuba from understanding "so plain a riddle." (Cf. below, p. 42.) She takes the watching of a Tomb to be some strange Greek custom, and does not seek to have it explained further.

P. 26, l. 277, Odysseus.]—In Euripides generally Odysseus is the type of the successful unscrupulous man, as soldier and politician—the incarnation of what the poet most hated. In Homer of course he is totally different.

P. 27, l. 301, Burn themselves and die.]—Women under these circumstances did commit suicide in Euripides' day, as they have ever since. It is rather curious that none of the characters of the play, not even Andromache, kills herself. The explanation must be that no such suicide was recorded in the tradition (though cf. below, on p. 33); a significant fact, suggesting that in the Homeric age, when this kind of treatment of women captives was regular, the victims did not suffer quite so terribly under it.

P. 28, l. 310, Hymen.]—She addresses the Torch. The shadowy Marriage-god "Hymen" was a torch and a cry as much as anything more personal. As a torch he is the sign both of marriage and of death, of sunrise and of the consuming fire. The full Moon was specially connected with marriage ceremonies.

P. 30, l. 356, Loxias.]—The name of Apollo as an Oracular God.

Pp. 30–34, ll. 360–460, Cassandra's visions.]—The allusions are to the various sufferings of Odysseus, as narrated in the Odyssey, and to the tragedies of the house of Atreus, as told for instance in Aeschylus' Oresteia. Agamemnon together with Cassandra, and in part because he brought Cassandra, was murdered—felled with an axe—on his return home by his wife Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. Their bodies were cast into a pit among the rocks. In vengeance for this, Orestes, Agamemnon's son, committed "mother-murder," and in consequence was driven by the Erinyes (Furies) of his mother into madness and exile.

P. 30, l. 370, This their king so wise.]—Agamemnon made the war for the sake of his brother Menelaus, and slew his daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice at Aulis, to enable the ships to sail for Troy.

P. 31, ll. 394, 398, Hector and Paris.]—The point about Hector is clear, but as to Paris, the feeling that, after all, it was a glory that he and the half-divine Helen loved each other, is scarcely to be found anywhere else in Greek literature. (Cf., however, Isocrates' "Praise of Helen.") Paris and Helen were never idealised like Launcelot and Guinevere, or Tristram and Iseult.

P. 32, l. 423, A wise queen.]—Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus.

P. 33, l. 425, O Heralds, yea, Voices of Death.]—There is a play on the word for "heralds" in the Greek here, which I have evaded by a paraphrase. (Κήρ-υκες as though from Κὴρ the death-spirit, "the one thing abhorred of all mortal men.")

P. 33, l. 430, That in this place she dies.]—The death of Hecuba is connected with a certain heap of stones on the shore of the Hellespont, called Kunos-sêma, or "Dog's Tomb." According to one tradition (Eur. Hec. 1259 ff.) she threw herself off the ship into the sea; according to another she was stoned by the Greeks for her curses upon the fleet; but in both she is changed after death into a sort of Hell-hound. M. Victor Bérard suggests that the dog first comes into the story owing to the accidental resemblance of the (hypothetical) Semitic word S'qoulah, "Stone" or "Stoning," and the Greek Skulax, dog. The Homeric Scylla (Skulla) was also both a Stone and a Dog (Phèniciens et Odyssèe, i. 213). Of course in the present passage there is no direct reference to these wild sailor-stories.

P. 34, l. 456, The wind comes quick.]—i.e. The storm of the Prologue. Three Powers: the three Erinyes.

P. 36, l. 511 ff., Chorus.]—The Wooden Horse is always difficult to understand, and seems to have an obscuring effect on the language of poets who treat of it. I cannot help suspecting that the story arises from a real historical incident misunderstood. Troy, we are told, was still holding out after ten years and could not be taken, until at last by the divine suggestions of Athena, a certain Epeios devised a "Wooden Horse."

What was the "device"? According to the Odyssey and most Greek poets, it was a gigantic wooden figure of a horse. A party of heroes, led by Odysseus, got inside it and waited. The Greeks made a show of giving up the siege and sailed away, but only as far as Tenedos. The Trojans came out and found the horse, and after wondering greatly what it was meant for and what to do with it, made a breach in their walls and dragged it into the Citadel as a thank-offering to Pallas. In the night the Greeks returned; the heroes in the horse came out and opened the gates, and Troy was captured.

It seems possible that the "device" really was the building of a wooden siege-tower, as high as the walls, with a projecting and revolving neck. Such engines were (1) capable of being used at the time in Asia, as a rare and extraordinary device, because they exist on early Assyrian monuments; (2) certain to be misunderstood in Greek legendary tradition, because they were not used in Greek warfare till many centuries later. (First, perhaps, at the sieges of Perinthus and Byzantium by Philip of Macedon, 340 B.C.)

It is noteworthy that in the great picture by Polygnôtus in the Leschê at Delphi "above the wall of Troy appears the head alone of the Wooden Horse" (Paus. x. 26). Aeschylus also (Ag. 816) has some obscure phrases pointing in the same direction: "A horse's brood, a shield-bearing people, launched with a leap about the Pleiads' setting, sprang clear above the wall," &c. Euripides here treats the horse metaphorically as a sort of war-horse trampling Troy.

P. 37, l. 536, Her that spareth not. Heaven's yokeless rider.]—Athena like a northern Valkyrie, as often in the Iliad. If one tries to imagine what Athena, the War-Goddess worshipped by the Athenian mob, was like—what a mixture of bad national passions, of superstition and statecraft, of slip-shod unimaginative idealisation—one may partly understand why Euripides made her so evil. Allegorists and high-minded philosophers might make Athena entirely noble by concentrating their minds on the beautiful elements in the tradition, and forgetting or explaining away all that was savage; he was determined to pin her down to the worst facts recorded of her, and let people worship such a being if they liked!

P. 38, l. 554, To Artemis.]—Maidens at the shrine of Artemis are a fixed datum in the tradition. (Cf. Hec. 935 ff.)

P. 39 ff., l. 576 ff., Andromache and Hecuba.]—This very beautiful scene is perhaps marred to most modern readers by an element which is merely a part of the convention of ancient mourning. Each of the mourners cries: "There is no affliction like mine!" and then proceeds to argue, as it were, against the other's counter claim. One can only say that it was, after all, what they expected of each other; and I believe the same convention exists in most places where keening or wailing is an actual practice.

P. 41, l. 604, Even as the sound of a song.]—I have filled in some words which seem to be missing in the Greek here.

Pp. 41–50, Andromache.]—This character is wonderfully studied. She seems to me to be a woman who has not yet shown much character or perhaps had very intense experience, but is only waiting for sufficiently great trials to become a heroine and a saint. There is still a marked element of conventionality in her description of her life with Hector; but one feels, as she speaks, that she is already past it. Her character is built up of "Sophrosyne," of self-restraint and the love of goodness—qualities which often seem second-rate or even tiresome until they have a sufficiently great field in which to act. Very characteristic is her resolution to make the best, and not the worst, of her life in Pyrrhus' house, with all its horror of suffering and apparent degradation. So is the self-conquest by which she deliberately refrains from cursing her child's murderers, for the sake of the last poor remnant of good she can still do to him, in getting him buried. The nobility of such a character depends largely, of course, on the intensity of the feelings conquered.

It is worth noting, in this connection, that Euripides is contradicting a wide-spread tradition (Robert, Bild und Lied, pp. 63 ff.). Andromache, in the pictures of the Sack of Troy, is represented with a great pestle or some such instrument fighting with the Soldiers to rescue Astyanax (Ἀνδρο-μάχη="Man-fighting").

Observe, too, what a climax of drama is reached by means of the very fact that Andromache, to the utmost of her power, tries to do nothing "dramatic," but only what will be best. Her character in Euripides' play, Andromache, is, on the whole, similar to this, but less developed.

P. 51, l. 799 ff., In Salamis, filled with the foaming, &c.]—A striking instance of the artistic value of the Greek chorus in relieving an intolerable strain. The relief provided is something much higher than what we ordinarily call "relief"; it is a stream of pure poetry and music in key with the sadness of the surrounding scene, yet, in a way, happy just because it is beautiful. (Cf. note on Hippolytus, l. 732.)

The argument of the rather difficult lyric is: "This is not the first time Troy has been taken. Long ago Heracles made war against the old king Laomedon, because he had not given him the immortal steeds that he promised. And Telamon joined him; Telamon who might have been happy in his island of Salamis, among the bees and the pleasant waters, looking over the strait to the olive-laden hills of Athens, the beloved City! And they took ship and slew Laomedon. Yea, twice Zeus has destroyed Ilion!

(Second part.) Is it all in vain that our Trojan princes have been loved by the Gods? Ganymêdês pours the nectar of Zeus in his banquets, his face never troubled, though his motherland is burned with fire! And, to say nothing of Zeus, how can the Goddess of Morning rise and shine upon us uncaring? She loved Tithônus, son of Laomedon, and bore him up from us in a chariot to be her husband in the skies. But all that once made them love us is gone!"

P. 52, l. 833, Pools of thy bathing.]—It is probable that Ganymêdês was himself originally a pool or a spring on Ida, now a pourer of nectar in heaven.

Pp. 54–63, Menelaus and Helen.]—The meeting of Menelaus and Helen after the taking of Troy was naturally one of the great moments in the heroic legend. The versions, roughly speaking, divide themselves into two. In one (Little Iliad, Ar. Lysistr. 155, Eur. Andromache 628) Menelaus is about to kill her, but as she bares her bosom to the sword, the sword falls from his hand. In the other (Stesichorus, Sack of Ilion (?)) Menelaus or some one else takes her to the ships to be stoned, and the men cannot stone her. As Quintus of Smyrna says, "They looked on her as they would on a God!"

Both versions have affected Euripides here. And his Helen has just the magic of the Helen of legend. That touch of the supernatural which belongs of right to the Child of Heaven—a mystery, a gentleness, a strange absence of fear or wrath—is felt through all her words. One forgets to think of her guilt or innocence; she is too wonderful a being to judge, too precious to destroy. This supernatural element, being the thing which, if true, separates Helen from other women, and in a way redeems her, is for that reason exactly what Hecuba denies. The controversy has a certain eternal quality about it: the hypothesis of heavenly enchantment and the hypothesis of mere bad behaviour, neither of them entirely convincing! But the very curses of those that hate her make a kind of superhuman atmosphere about Helen in this play; she fills the background like a great well-spring of pain.

This Menelaus, however, is rather different from the traditional Menelaus. Besides being the husband of Helen, he is the typical Conqueror, for whose sake the Greeks fought and to whom the central prize of the war belongs. And we take him at the height of his triumph, the very moment for which he made the war! Hence the peculiar bitterness with which he is treated, his conquest turning to ashes in his mouth, and his love a confused turmoil of hunger and hatred, contemptible and yet terrible.

The exit of the scene would leave a modern audience quite in doubt as to what happened, unless the action were much clearer than the words. But all Athenians knew from the Odyssey that the pair were swiftly reconciled, and lived happily together as King and Queen of Sparta.

P. 54, l. 884, Thou deep base of the world.]—These lines, as a piece of religious speculation, were very famous in antiquity. And dramatically they are most important. All through the play Hecuba is a woman of remarkable intellectual power and of fearless thought. She does not definitely deny the existence of the Olympian gods, like some characters in Euripides, but she treats them as beings that have betrayed her, and whose name she scarcely deigns to speak. It is the very godlessness of Hecuba's fortitude that makes it so terrible and, properly regarded, so noble. (Cf. p. 35 "Why call on things so weak?" and p. 74 "They know, they know . . .") Such Gods were as a matter of fact the moral inferiors of good men, and Euripides will never blind his eyes to their inferiority. And as soon as people see that their god is bad, they tend to cease believing in his existence at all. (Hecuba's answer to Helen is not inconsistent with this, it is only less characteristic.)

Behind this Olympian system, however, there is a possibility of some real Providence or impersonal Governance of the world, to which here, for a moment, Hecuba makes a passionate approach. If there is any explanation, any justice, even in the form of mere punishment of the wicked, she will be content and give worship! But it seems that there is not. Then at last there remains—what most but not all modern freethinkers would probably have begun to doubt at the very beginning—the world of the departed, the spirits of the dead, who are true, and in their dim way love her still (p. 71 "Thy father far away shall comfort thee," and the last scene of the play).

This last religion, faint and shattered by doubt as it is, represents a return to the most primitive "Pelasgian" beliefs, a worship of the Dead which existed long before the Olympian system, and has long outlived it.

P. 57, l. 922, The fire-brand's image.]—Hecuba, just before Paris' birth, dreamed that she gave birth to a fire-brand. The prophets therefore advised that the babe should be killed; but Priam disobeyed them.

P. 57, l. 924, Three Crowns of Life.]—On the Judgment of Paris see Miss Harrison, Prolegomena, pp. 292 ff. Late writers degrade the story into a beauty contest between three thoroughly personal goddesses—and a contest complicated by bribery. But originally the Judgment is rather a Choice between three possible lives, like the Choice of Heracles between Work and Idleness. The elements of the choice vary in different versions: but in general Hera is royalty; Athena is prowess in war or personal merit; Aphrodite, of course, is love. And the goddesses are not really to be distinguished from the gifts they bring. They are what they give, and nothing more. Cf. the wonderful lyric Androm. 274 ff., where they come to "a young man walking to and fro alone, in an empty hut in the firelight."

There is an extraordinary effect in Helen herself being one of the Crowns of Life—a fair equivalent for the throne of the world.

P. 57, l. 940 ff., Alexander . . . Paris.]—Two plays on words in the Greek.

P. 58, l. 956, The old Gate-Warden.]—He and the Watchers are, of course, safely dead. But on the general lines of the tradition it may well be that Helen is speaking the truth. She loved both Menelaus and Paris; and, according to some versions, hated Dêïphobus, the Trojan prince who seized her after Paris' death. There is a reference to Dêïphobus in the MSS. of the play here, but I follow Wilamowitz in thinking it spurious.

Pp. 63 ff., Chorus.]—On the Trojan Zeus see above, on p. 11. Mount Ida caught the rays of the rising sun in some special manner and distributed them to the rest of the world; and in this gleam of heavenly fire the God had his dwelling, which is now the brighter for the flames of his City going up like incense!

Nothing definite is known of the Golden Images and the Moon-Feasts.

P. 64, l. 1088, Towers of the Giants.]—The prehistoric castles of Tiryns and Mycênae.

P. 65, l. 1111, May Helen be there.]—(Cf. above.) Pitanê was one of the five divisions of Sparta. Athena had a "Bronzen House" on the acropolis of Sparta. Simoïs, of course, the river of Troy.

P. 71, l. 1232, I make thee whole.]—Here as elsewhere Hecuba fluctuates between fidelity to the oldest and most instinctive religion, and a rejection of all Gods.

P. 72, l. 1240, Lo, I have seen the open hand of God.]—The text is, perhaps, imperfect here; but Professor Wilamowitz agrees with me that Hecuba has seen something like a vision. The meaning of this speech is of the utmost importance. It expresses the inmost theme of the whole play, a search for an answer to the injustice of suffering in the very splendour and beauty of suffering. Of course it must be suffering of a particular kind, or, what comes to the same thing, suffering borne in a particular way; but in that case the answer seems to me to hold. One does not really think the world evil because there are martyrs or heroes in it. For them the elements of beauty which exist in any great trial of the spirit become so great as to overpower the evil that created them—to turn it from shame and misery into tragedy. Of course to most sufferers, to children and animals and weak people, or those without inspiration, the doctrine brings no help. It is a thing invented by a poet for himself.

P. 75, l. 1288, Thou of the Ages.]—The Phrygian All-Father, identified with Zeus, son of Kronos. (Cf. on p. 11.)

P. 76, l. 1304, Now hast thou found thy prayer.]—The Gods have deserted her, but she has still the dead. (Cf. above, on p. 71.)

P. 79, l. 1332, Forth to the dark Greek ships.]—Curiously like another magnificent ending of a great poem, that of the Chanson de Roland, where Charlemagne is called forth on a fresh quest:

"Deus," dist li Reis, "si penuse est ma vie!"
Pluret des oilz, sa barbe blanche tiret. . . .

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