by Cory Tamler (after Euripides’ The Trojan Women)
Except for the occasional heart attack, I never felt better. –Dick Cheney
TALTHYBIUS, an Achaean
HECUBA, wife of Priam, King of Troy
ERIS (“Strife”), a goddess
Troy, in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Specifically, a beach lapped by the Aegean Sea. A fire burns low in the sand. In the background, a fire burns higher: Troy is still aflame.
19 December 2006
HECUBA watches the sea and
sky. Enter TALTHYBIUS, who
watches her unnoticed for a
few moments. He gathers his
courage and speaks.
One galley, Hecuba, there lingereth yet,
Lapping the wave, to gather the last freight
Of Pyrrhus’ spoils for Thessaly. The chief
Himself long since hath parted, much in grief
For Pêleus’ sake, his grandsire, whom, men say,
Acastus, Pelias’ son, in war array
Hath driven to exile. Loath enough before
Was he to linger, and now goes the more
In haste, bearing Andromache, his prize.
’Tis she hath charmed these tears into mine eyes,
Weeping her fatherland, as o’er the wave
She gazed, and speaking words to Hector’s grave.
Howbeit, she prayed us that due rites be done
For burial of the babe, thine Hector’s son,
That now from Ilion’s tower is fallen and dead.
And, lo! this great bronze-fronted shield, the dread
Of many a Greek, that Hector held in fray,
O never in God’s name – so did she pray –
Be this borne forth to hang in Pêleus’ hall
Or that dark bridal chamber, that the wall
May hurt her eyes; but here, in Troy o’erthrown,
Instead of cedar wood and vaulted stone,
Be this her child’s last house...And in thine hands
She bade me lay him, to be swathed in bands
Of death and garments, such as rest to thee
In these thy fallen fortunes; seeing that she
Hath gone her ways, and, for her master’s haste,
May no more fold the babe unto his rest.
Howbeit, so soon as he is garlanded
And robed, we will heap earth above his head
And lift our sails...See all be swiftly done,
As thou art bidden. I have saved thee one
Labour. For as I passed Scamander’s stream
Hard by, I let the waters run on him,
And cleansed his wounds.
That was nice of you.
See, I will go forth now
And break the hard earth for his grave: so thou
And I will haste together, to set free
Our oars at last to beat the homeward sea!
Where’s my grandson?
Alas, Hecuba, he is dead. The Greeks
Have tossed him from the tower of your –
Yes, I know, I know. You just said that. But where’s his body?
My soldiers bear it on the shield without.
They wait upon my signal. When I call,
It means you are prepared.
Prepared to grieve.
Prepared to beat your chest, to call his name:
“Astyanax! Why have you come to this end?
Why are the gods so cruel, so bloodless, cold?
Ye gods! why have you now forsaken Troy?”
In just those words.
And call your women to you, clasp their hands;
Encircle now this fire on the beach
With weaving feet that tap out wrongful death.
Let your eyes bleed tears, your heart bleed loss.
Oh gods, it strikes me deep now, to the core,
To see you standing there engraved in stone.
Oh Hecuba, you save no Trojan pride
By holding in your grief with shaking hands.
Release it now. I know, I am prepared.
I watched my mother lose her eldest son,
My brother Quintus, voiced like a harp,
Who snapped like a harp’s string in hamm’ring war.
You want me to grieve.
Fear you I’ll mock? You know, my lady queen,
You know there is no Greek who feels as I:
No victor who would balk as deep as I,
Talthybius, when hearing of the deed –
When hearing it, and knowing who the bearer
Of the news to you must be.
How long are you planning on standing there?
I – well, I – I merely wait on –
I don’t plan on bursting out in tears, Talthybius. It’s very nice of you to care so much, but I’m fine, so why don’t you send your soldiers in with Astyanax and go dig the grave?
Surely you cannot expect that I
Will take this gilded wood for solid gold?
Your grandson has been murdered, Hecuba.
Well, it’s a war.
By hearts so low and cold to fear that babe –
’Twas a strange murder for brave men...
They were being thorough.
For fear some day that babe might raise again
His fallen land! Had they so little pride?
Inter arma silent leges.
While Hector fought, and thousands at his side,
They smote you, and you perished; and now, now
When all are dead and Ilion lieth low
They dread that innocent! I deem it not
Wisdom, that rage of fear that hath not thought.
Really? You don’t think it was smart of them? In ten years, or twelve, when Astyanax became a man, he might have become a rallying point. Now at least the old blood is all washed away, except for me, and I’ll be dead soon, too.
Hecuba, can this be? Are you so cold?
You chill my heart as would Aegean depths.
I just don’t see the point of screaming, tearing my hair, beating my breast, and all that. I could jump up and down and cry “Aiee! Aiee!” but what’s the good?
But does it not enrage you?
Why should it?
Because your grandson was from life’s arms ripped
So early, so unkindly, before his time.
It should have been Astyanax who for you
Performed the funeral rites. This is not fit.
The world is upside down.
Like I said: war. There’s nothing I can do about it, so why should I worry?
You aren’t sad.
Of course I’m sad. But life goes on. And Troy’s beautiful in the evening. Look at the sky, Talthybius: all lit up like fire, like a reflection of the fires that have been burning in this city all day. It’s wonderful how heaven and earth are mirrors of each other, isn’t it? If I were meant to cry and beat my chest, it would be raining right now, and the Aegean would ripple with thunder. But I’m not, and it isn’t.
You are in a state of shock, that’s all.
Listen, Talthybius, do you think I didn’t know from the moment Helen showed up here that we were doomed? She’s flaunting her beauty in the face of the gods and they’re angry. They think they’re angry just at her, but she’s a human, and so they’re angry with all of us.
Astyanax is dead. Son of your son.
The only male blood left you. Trojan hope.
Poor mad Cassandra has been raped away.
There’s no reason to be upset with things I can’t change.
Andromache, your Hector’s wife, a prize
Now for Acastus, leaves her land forever,
Leaves behind her son – your grandson – and you.
Andromache has always been strong. She will survive. Or she won’t.
Your city lies in ruins at your feet.
The bodies of your men pollute the street.
The flames roar high from every roof and grave,
And you will spend your final years a slave.
Perfect chance to start over.
For Zeus’ sake, woman, grieve! Stop being so stubborn!
Don’t you get it? That’s what the gods want from us. Sacrifices, prayers, homage, they don’t mean a damn thing to the gods. We could scorch five thousand golden mules to sweeten their nostrils and they’d let us drown in the river Styx for all they care. It’s the drama. They love it. They love to watch us kill each other and then cry about it. They egg us on, they goad us, and it’s all a big show, a trick. They shuffle us from place to place like children shift pebbles in a game of mancala. I refuse to buy into it.
No matter what the gods have done, your feelings –
What you feel –
Tell you what I feel.
I feel the still of an empty city. Quiet as ashes falling on ashes. My heart has been one with the heart of Troy since the moment I was born. Now our hearts grow silent together, swelling like sleep.
I feel the release of a little boy’s soul wandering along the banks of the Styx. He has nothing to fear anymore, not from the Greeks or from Hades. He will be well kept there, and he will pick flowers in Elysium, and see my face in the petals.
I feel the weight of Cassandra’s prophecy. My daughter may be stark raving mad, but she is also a prophet. These deeds will not go unpaid for.
I feel light. I feel lifted. This war’s been raging for ten years. Ten years, Talthybius! You must have felt the weight of it, too. For ten years I have watched my heroes fall, I
have felt sick with the blood and the burning of temples. I have struggled to advise Hector in matters of war. There has never been a moment of ease in this decade of siege. The poets will write about us for years and I am weary of it, Talthybius, and now it’s over. It’s over. It’s over. I don’t have to worry anymore. I don’t have to do anything anymore. This is the best day I’ve had in ten years. From the beginning it had to come to this. It is right. It is right that Astyanax, a child young enough he never knew a Troy at peace, should not live to see a Troy destroyed by war. I will not pay the gods with my blood and tears or deliver to them the tragedy they thirst for. It is over and I am happy and at peace.
You are a wonder, Hecuba.
Enough of this! Cease slander of the gods.
This strength is weakness, displeasing to my ears.
Down on your knees, you proud, you mortal queen,
And tear your clothes like goodly humans do,
And grant your grandson holy funeral rites,
Or I will bring your miserable life so low
That none can tell ’twixt Hecuba or ant.
Oh, go away.
Do you defy me? Are not your eyes yet red?
Don’t think I don’t know that you started this whole war, Eris – you and your Apple of Discord.
Silence, mortal! I will not be accused
By a sniveling, groveling widow such as you.
You’ve got an interesting definition of snivel, and as for groveling...do I look like I’m groveling, Talthybius?
I merely gave a gift, that’s all, a gift –
A golden apple to Aphrodite fair –
And to Athena and Hera.
A gift, goddess to goddess. What’s the crime?
Tell me what was written on the apple.
Was there something written? I forget.
It was so long ago – ten years or more.
The apple was inscribed “To the fairest.” You knew they’d fight over it. And when the gods fight, mortals always get dragged into it somehow. Paris –
I warn you, Trojan queen, you go too far.
Paris was weak, and he was wrong to want a woman like Helen. He should have known she was nothing but trouble. But Aphrodite has no excuse. Bribing a judge like that! What honor is there in cheating in a beauty contest?
I bade you hold your tongue, and you could not.
So – there – Andromache, your daughter-in-law,
Speeding now towards Greece and her new master
Will be the victim of harsh mutiny.
Bewitched by her charms, the Achaean soldiers
Will kill Acastus to steal away his bride.
They’ll rape Andromache, and, when they’re done,
They’ll heave her overboard and rinse their hands
Of blood. Back home, they’ll say she had a plague
That acted wondrous quick. There was no way
To save her. They will get away with it.
And that is your reward for insolence.
I’m sure Andromache would prefer a quick death than having to live out the rest of her life by the side of a man she loathes as much as Acastus. Hector and Astyanax are dead; at her age, she’s going to start anew, love a new husband and a new son? An Achaean?
Cassandra, dear to you, yet walks this earth.
Despite her prophecy, she might have lived –
But since you keep defying me, I choose
A death now for Cassandra, honor’d virgin,
That I would not wish on the most heinous –
Oh, spare me the details. You’ll have her accused of dishonor, yes?, of lying all these years about her sworn maidenhood. Make her into a slut, a whore –
Do you want her to destroy everything left in the world that you care about?
And her new lord, the Grecian king, will have her torn limb from limb by a pack of starving dogs. Something like that would be fitting. Just on your level.
So you have said and so shall it be done.
With your own words you’ve written Cassandra’s fate.
Oh, gods, oh, gods...
She knew she was going to die anyway. What was it she said? “Thou Greek king, Who deem’st thy fortune now so high a thing, Thou dust of the earth, a lowlier bed I see” – and saw herself lying dead on it beside him. Wild, mad, pure Cassandra. She’s better off dead too, now that I can’t look after her. She’s too delicate for any sort of life.
This isn’t winning, what you’re doing, Hecuba.
Then what is it? She’s losing. They’re losing.
I lay a curse upon each Trojan head!
Even the survivors won’t survive!
Your people will all live in misery
In squalor and in pain until they die.
Some will be lepers, some contract a plague,
Some kill each other, warped by jealous pain.
Your city never will recover its breath.
I didn’t expect it to. It’s nothing but a pile of rubble anymore anyway.
That’s it! The moment that your ship departs
To bear you into miserable slavery
The whole of Troy will sink into the sea
And a ravenous sea-monster will devour
Each relic that remains. It will be lost.
Forever, ever lost. And you, you wretch,
The queen of nowhere now, queen of a land
That may as well have never been at all
Will live another hundred years a slave
Too old to walk, too old to eat or see,
Or to do aught but dribble on your sleeve.
And when you die, your death will be in pain –
Wracked by spasms, you’ll die alone, insane.
Well, at least I know how it’s going to end.
ERIS disappears with a mighty shriek. Long pause.
What have you done?
I won, didn’t I?
It’s clear that Eris lost.
Tell your soldiers to bring Astyanax here. Once you dig that grave, we can get out of here.
You are nothing like my mother.
Look at the sky. Flickering like a reflection of fire. And the underbelly of the clouds bloody like the wool of a sheep at the slaughter. Everything’s so quiet now most of the soldiers have gone, Talthybius. The sand is warm. The sea is throbbing with life. All life, life in each wave, the fish, flashing silver under the surface. Soon the moon will be up.
(TALTHYBIUS enters, dragging the body of Astyanax on
Hector’s shield; HECUBA does not look)
The moon’s got a face. It never changes. She knows how to watch things. She watches the earth from her throne up there. She’s not like the sun, always mixing and reaching and trying to heat things up. She lets the shadows fall where they may. Oh, it’s going to be a beautiful night, Talthybius. I have never felt happier in my life. I’ve never felt more free.
TALTHYBIUS begins to dig the
grave. The body of Astyanax
rests center stage, the boy’s
hand draped over the edge of
the shield, blood still
running slowly from his index
finger. His legs are twisted
unnaturally around one
another, and his face is
turned towards us: his skull
is shattered. TALTHYBIUS
digs. HECUBA watches only the