In a world where history is Written by the Winners (especially in 415 BC Athens) Euripides chooses instead to focus on the fates of the losers, giving A Day in the Limelight to the miserable Trojan women as their city has been sacked, their men killed and they're going to be enslaved by the winners.
The women who have a prominent role in this tragedy are exactly those who were mourning Hector at the end of The Iliad - Hecuba, Andromache, Cassandra and Helen. Since they are Royal Blood and they are the losers' women, each of them has been destined to a different Greek general - Hecuba will be taken away by Odysseus, Cassandra by Agamemnon, Andromache by Achilles' son Neoptolemus, while Helen has been sentenced to death by her estranged husband Menelaus. From Bad to Worse, horrible news are yet to come: Andromache and Hector's son Astyanax has been condemned to die, because the Greek leaders are afraid that the boy will grow up to avenge his father and would not take that risk. The boy will be thrown off from the battlements of Troy.
Meanwhile, goddess Athena, once protectress of the Greek, is enraged by Ajax the Lesser's rape of Cassandra, which took place while she was seeking shelter in Athena's temple and was embracing her statue (a unforgivable act of blasphemy, according to the customs of that time). Because of this, and the generally bad behaviour of the Greek army, she has decided to team up with Poseidon (once her archenemy) to make sure that the Greeks would have an awful return journey...but that's another story.
The Trojan Women was the third tragedy of a trilogy about the Trojan War, which included Alexandros - featuring the recognition of the abandoned Trojan prince Paris, and then Palamedes, which featured the Greek mistreatment of their fellow Greek Palamedes. The tragedy is one of the earliest examples of War Is Hell, as narrated through the eyes of the innocent civilians who end up losing everything they hold dear, and also the barbaric treatment of the spoils of war by the winners. Unfortuately, that's a theme still relevant in our days - that's why The Trojan Women has aged so well, and is still a source of endless debate and adaptations, each with their own outlook on war and of course their Reality Subtext about each authors' historical context.
If you like, read the English version of the Project Gutenberg here.
The Trojan Women features the following tropes:
- A Day in the Limelight: Women weren't given much space in The Iliad. Now they are the protagonists with their own huge Tear Jerker story.
- Adult Fear: Plenty of. To name some of them:
- Your city sacked and burnt down, to be never rebuilt;
- Your children being slaughtered, even if innocent children, for the crime of being the king's blood,
- For the young women like Cassandra or Andromache, being taken away by a Greek general as a glorified Sex Slave.
- Bearer of Bad News: Talthybius, Agamemnon's herald and friend, always appears to deliver some brand new misfortune like that all of the women are being divided up and given to different Greek heroes, or that Cassandra will be given to Agamemnon and Hecuba to Odysseus. Or even worse he delivers to Andromache the Greeks plan to kill her son.
- Call-Back: The main female characters are the same women who were mourning Hector in the final book of The Iliad.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The core of Athena's teaming up with Poseidon - the Greeks need to be punished for their atrocities.
- The Cassandra: The original one is with us, without the chance of being ever believed by someone.
- Cute and Psycho: Beautiful, virginal Cassandra is shown enthusiastically lighting the torches to celebrate that she's going to be Agamemnon's consort, while morbidly blubbering how this very "marriage" is going to bring Agamemnon closer to the grave. Everyone near her is creeped.
- Deconstruction: Euripides tended to use and adjust old myths and lore to explore his contemporary context. So we have The Trojan Women playing up the tragedies which befall the people of Troy after their city fell rather than focusing on the heroics of the main characters. And of course, instead of focusing in the heroes, it features their women.
- Despair Event Horizon: Astyanax's death is this for both Hecuba and Andromache. After this every possible hope is gone.
- Despair Speech: Most of Hecuba and Andromache's monologues are well-argumented Despair Speeches.
- Disney Villain Death: Poor Astyanax is thrown off from the battlements of Troy, in order to extinguish Priam's line for good.
- Dissonant Serenity: Talthybius, Hecuba and the chorus of Trojan women are creeped by Cassandra being eerily delighted about having been destined for Agamemnon, as she has foreseen that their marriage will lead to his death.
- Enemy Mine: Athena and Poseidon have always been harsh enemies, but in the prologue Athena seeks Poseidon's help to make the Greeks pay for their impious behavior.
- Fallen Princess: Cassandra and Andromache are Fallen Princess, Hecuba is a fallen queen.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Astyanax is thrown off from the battlements, and there's nothing his mother and grandmother could do to save him.
- Fate Worse than Death: Slavery of course is. And even if a highborn slave being taken away from your home, surviving your children and loved ones is.
- Foreshadowing: When you have Cassandra in the main cast, it is mandatory:
- She knows that she is going to die along with Agamemnon as soon as she lays her feet on Mycenae, but she's at least content with getting the final revenge on Agamemnon,
- She also correctly predicts that her mother will die before she ever sails with Odysseus, and Odysseus himself spend the next years trying hard to go home.
- From Bad to Worse: When Andromache is almost consoled by the thought that if she gets along with her new master, her son would be spared, here arrives Astyanax's death sentence.
- The Ghost: Agamemnon, Neoptolemus and Odysseus influence the plot (as the new masters of the poor protagonists) but never appear on stage.
- Gold Digger: Hecuba accuses Helen to have left Sparta and Menelaus because she was not content enough with her life there, as she had an eye not only for Paris but also for the gold of a foreign country.
- Hate Sink: Once more, Helen is source of contempt for the Trojan women, as the living casus belli and also because they know she will be spared.
- Infant Immortality: Averted. Andromache and Hector's little son is slain by Greeks to avoid any purpose of revenge.
- Karma Houdini: It seems that Helen is going to be an aversion, but after she successfully defends herself (and her beauty of course helped) Menelaus decides to postpone her death sentence to the day they'll reach Sparta, which the public know would eventually never happen.
- Kick the Dog: Greek generals are fond of this:
- Ajax the Lesser assaulted Cassandra while she was seeking shelter in Athena's temple, an unforgivable act of hybris note ;
- The Greek leaders as a whole decide to have Astyanax killed, to make sure that this child would never seek revenge;
- Neoptolemus doesn't even let Andromache properly bury and grieve her son, because he wants to leave as soon as possible. Also, he made sure if Andromache ever curses her son's killers, said son wouldn't even get proper burial.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Never shown on-screen, but Athena and Poseidon make clear in the prologue that the Greeks are going to have a rough homecoming as a reward for their blasphemy and cruelty.
- Made a Slave: The entire premise is that now that Troy has fallen and the men beaten, their women are now spoils of the winners to be enslaved.
- Never My Fault: In Helen's speech to Menelaus about the reasons she left, she blames Hecuba's defiance of exposing Paris, on Aphrodite's schemes and even Menelaus himself, obviously never remotely mentioning that she may have followed Paris on her own will. Perhaps it was true. Or perhaps not. However, Hecuba herself is having none of it.
- The Ophelia: It's a requirement for Cassandra's every single appearance. This time is even more justified: she has just endured a Trauma Conga Line of rape and enslavement, so that's probably why she's depicted as a bit...nutty.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Hecuba has outlived most of her children, and we see Andromache being set to the same fate.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Troy has been sacked and their women being preyed on by the winners. Cassandra has been explicitly stated to have been raped.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek generals, claimed Cassandra as his Hot Consort overlooking the key facts that a) the women have to be sorted between the generals, b) Cassandra is a priestess of Apollo and thus sworn to chastity. Apparently, he was that smitten.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Hecuba utterly shames Helen after hearing her justifications to Menelaus for her elopement (which she blames on everyone but ''her'') by saying that the gods had no role in her infatuation for Paris, as he was rich and handsome, then she was not satisfied with Sparta and Menelaus and looked for a wealthier husband, and of course if she was really abducted, why she didn't seek help from her brothers? Menelaus acknowledges she's right but decides to suspend Helen's death sentence anyway. Which we know it eventually would never happen.
- Talking Your Way Out: Helen successfully talks her way out of Menelaus' attempt to kill her by claiming that first that Hecuba should not have let Paris live since an oracle said he would bring destruction of Troy. Next she says that Aphrodite gave her to Paris against her will, and then, that Menelaus himself shouldn't have left Sparta when Paris was there, and if he had stayed, perhaps Paris would not have dared what he did. She gets away with it.
- Virgin Sacrifice: Hecuba's daughter Polyxena is sacrificed on Achilles' grave, to be his bride in death.
- War Is Hell: Is it ever! The tragedy is surprisingly and aversion of the usual treatment of war by Greeks, and that's why it's still interesting in the eyes of a modern reader or scholar.
- What Does He See in Her?: Talthybius (and to a lesser extent Cassandra's own mother) wonders why on earth Agamemnon claimed Mad Oracle (and also a priestess) Cassandra for himself, as Talthybius makes clear that he would never choose her despite being a princess.
- Would Hurt a Child: The Greek generals and Odysseus in particular, as they resolve to have Astyanax killed.