A timely warning to the Athenian Elite

The Trojan Women - Euripides, Gilbert Murray

I liked one of the short descriptions of this play: a bunch of women wailing and moaning about the significant turn in their life. While that statement may sum this play up, I do not actually think at it gets to the core of what Euripides is exploring, particularly since these women have found themselves on the losing side of a war, which is generally always a bad thing. In the days of Ancient Greece, to be a woman on the losing side of a war pretty much meant the loss of freedom and a lifetime of sex slavery, and I suspect that that is only when you still have your looks about you: once they are gone I suspect the life gets even worse.

This is not necessarily low born women either, though the same probably applies to them. However, as is the case with most plays and other forms of literature, we are dealing with high born people, such as queens and princesses. To them such a radical change in their social status would have been mentally debilitating, and that is something that the Greek Tragedians explore well, the idea of mental anguish. Some have suggested that there is a struggle between the desire to end one's life and the possibility of hope, though the only hope one sees in this play is the hope that the victors suffer as much as the vanquished. Indeed, the Greek generals do have their own trials to face, however most of them make it back to their homes, and freedom (though whether freedom in the form of relying upon slaves to maintain your lifestyle is in fact freedom is another debate for another time). All these women have to look forward to is a life of sexual slavery only to be discarded when their looks are gone. There is no concept of human rights in this period, and while Athens could have been considered a slave's paradise, slaves were little more than property, and the only reason that you kept them fed and sheltered was because good slaves were expensive.

There is a contemporary event to which this play relates and that was the sacking of Miletus by the Athenians. Just as the Greeks sacked Troy, killed all of the men and enslaved the women and children, the Athenians did that to Miletus as well. What Euripides is trying to expose is the pain and agony that the citizens, particularly the women, of Miletus would have experienced at the time. It was also a warning to Athens, though one must remember that only the men were allowed to go to the theatre. Still, the war was a long way from being concluded, but Athens had suffered, and was about to suffer, some serious set backs with the disastrous Sicilian expedition, and the plays that were produced after that time clearly demonstrate the loss of hope that the Athenians were facing. If there was any hope at all in the eyes of the Trojan Woman, it would be small and fleeting.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/599855984