Saturday, April 8, 2017

Hekabe by Euripides translated by Anne Carson

A traumatized queen has had enough

Queen Hekabe has endured the violent death of most of her children and the loss of her glorious Trojan empire. Now she is a slave in the camps of the Greeks. Her suffering, however, continues -- Dead Achilles has appeared as a ghost, demanding the sacrifice of Hekabe’s youngest daughter, Polyxena. The Greeks are a little reluctant to communicate this to Hekabe but Polyxena comforts her mother and bravely goes to her death. Next, Hekabe discovers that her youngest son Polydorus, whom she entrusted to close family friend Polymestor, was murdered by his host. Now Hekabe is out for dramatic revenge.

This play is stark and beautiful. In many ways, these great classic plays feel like a response to the glorified indiscriminate war making and murdering found in the Iliad. The horrible plight of women is a theme, along with the consequences of being absolutely powerless. How are you to retain your dignity? You can’t – you can only endure. Polyxena’s death scene, as recounted by a messenger, is amazing. She doesn’t want to die being held down; she wants to die free rather than live as a slave. Much of this play is about the dishonor of being manhandled. The ending of the play, in a twist right out of an action adventure movie, is Hekabe’s outsmarting the murderer of her son and wreaking a terrible revenge.

There’s also something going on with the Greeks about the exposure of the breasts. What does it mean?

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