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The Trojan Women is a play written by Euripides in 410 B.C. The play describes the women of Troy's lament over their future at the hands of the Greeks. Cassandra, who was the virgin servant of Pallas Athena, is to serve King Agamemnon. Hector's young son, Astyanax, is killed at the bidding of Ulysses, and Paris' wife, Helen of Troy, is sent to return to her first husband Menelaus. Paris' and Hector's mother, Hecuba, is the main character in the play. She is to go to that same Ulysses to be a simple slave. Hector's wife, Andromache, is also to be a concubine of a Greek. The rest of the women of Troy are in the play's chorus and are not important enough to know their own fate, and the audience is told that lots will be cast to decide their fates. The play is often considered one of the earliest examples of pacifist or anti-war literature, as it empathizes with the victims left after the sacking of Troy.

This play is also notable as it was written during the period that the Greeks' belief in the traditional gods was in decline, and the Greek audience was rejecting the gods on an intellectual basis at the same time they watched the characters of this play reject the gods as having forsaken them. (I am not a Greek scholar, and I would love to find out more about how the Greeks reacted to this play. Tell me or add a post if you know more.)

Additionally, this play is interesting as it offers an interesting character study of reactions to the situation at hand for these women (which can parallel reactions to any situation). Andromache is intensely shamed by her fate, accusing Hecuba of being a whoremonger for not reacting more passionately. Cassandra is by definition the most innocent (as a virgin), and is faced with the worst offence, to be a concubine, if not a secret wife, of King Agamemnon. She is most aggressive in her reaction, and vows that the king will die for his impetuousness. Helen plays a role which seems to me to parallel the most base stereotype men have for women. She sees her imminent death and begins to flirt with Menelaus in hopes that he will take her to his own bedchamber, rather than her deathbed. Hecuba mourns the injustice, but follows her fate with a sense of being hopeless. In Brendan Kennelly’s translation, she laments, "What does it matter if I sleep with a stranger here or in another country?"

I read Ronald Duncan's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's adaptation of the play. This version reads very well, and is a mere 80 pages long. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the mind of Sartre, the history of pacifism, and especially in ancient Greek tragedy. From Sartre's foreword, it seems that he was attempting to make the book more understandable to a modern audience, by blunting some of the history and mythology that would have been common knowledge to an ancient Greek audience. His version ends with a short soliloquy from Poseidon, which finishes with the fateful line, "Can't you see war will kill you, all of you?"

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