The Plot of Hecuba

Before the play begins . . .

The Trojan prince Paris judges Aphodite to be the fairest of the goddesses, and he takes as his reward the Spartan Helen. The Greeks honor an oath and sail to Troy to get her back, but only after their general Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to get a sailing wind.

Troy was ruled by Priam, among whose fifty children were Paris and his brother Hector, the great hero. Hector has died at the hands of Achilles, who in turn has died by an arrow shot by Paris. Priam’s queen, and mother of nineteen of his children, was Hecuba.

They have sent Polydorus, their youngest son and not yet able to fight, to stay with the Thracian Polymestor, along with gold enough to sustain the boy no matter what happens in the war.

After a ten-year siege, the Greeks have destroyed the city by the Odysseus’ strategem of a hollow wooden horse. Nearly all the Trojan men are dead, and all the Trojan women and children, no matter their status, are now slaves to the Greeks.

The Greeks have taken their booty to the nearby Chersonese to organize the distribution of slaves and prepare to sail for home.


In the play . . .

Polydorus appears as a ghost above the tent of Agamemnon and tells us that he’s been murdered by Polymestor for the gold. He also tells us that his sister Polyxena has been demanded as a sacrifice by the dead Achilles.

Hecuba emerges supported by attendants and talking about her terrible dreams.

The Chorus enter and report to Hecuba and then to Polyxena about the girl’s fate. Odysseus comes to take her away.  Hecuba tries to convince him to spare her, but Polyxena decides to go willingly.

After a song in which the Chorus of Trojan women wonder about where in the world they will live as slaves, the Greek herald Talthybius reports to them and to Hecuba about Polyxena’s sacrifice, presided over by Achilles’ son Neoptolemus. Hecuba sends a maid to fetch water to prepare her daughter’s body for burial. The Chorus trace their misery–and the misery of the Greeks–to the judgment of Paris.

The maid returns instead with the drowned body of Polydorus, and Hecuba grieves the loss of another child. When Agamemnon arrives to ask why Hecuba hasn’t claimed Polyxena’s body, she begs him for revenge against Polymestor. Agamemnon won’t help, but he won’t get in the way either.

The Chorus sing about the night Troy fell, and then Polymestor arrives with his two young sons. Unaware that Hecuba knows what he has done, he assures her that her son and the Trojan gold is safe. Using the pretext of more treasure that needs to be protected, Hecuba lures them into the tent, where she and the other women kill the boys and blind Polymestor.

Polymestor seeks desperately seeks help. Hecuba and Polymestor make their cases to Agamemnon, and we learn of their fates.