Ancient Athenian Drama
5th century BC, Ancient Greek, Athens.
Hecabe will drown in the sea, and become a dog.
What a disturbing experience it is to sit and watch the unfolding of such agony! I am still shaking with the horror of it. And as I recover into a peaceful Athenian evening and the quiet tranquility of an almond grove, I find one curious moment standing out against all the rest. I shall never truly know, of course, unless I take the plunge and accept initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries.
For the last two hours I have been on the coast of Thrace, watching as the Greek army prepares to sail home from the sacking of Troy. Hecabe, widow of the late King Priam of Troy, has had to undergo the double trauma of watching her daughter Polyxena sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles and then the body of her son Polydorus presented to her from its place of discovery on the seashore nearby. The king of Thrace, to whom she had entrusted her son, had murdered him. And although now a captive and a slave, looking forward only to a life of menial poverty, Hecabe manages to persuade Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek forces, to allow her to lure the murderous king of Thrace into a tent where, in a grand act of revenge for the death of her son, and with the help of other captive Trojan women, I watched her murder his two young sons and pierce his eyes with the long needles of brooches. I shudder still.
Blinded, the king of Thrace, in emulation perhaps of Tireseas the blind seer in Homer’s epic poetry, begins to prophesy. And we know that these prophecies will come about: that Hecabe’s daughter Cassandra will be murdered by Agamemnon’s wife when he returns to Argos with her as his concubine, and that Agamemnon himself will be killed by the same weapon that falls upon Cassandra. Agamemnon, however, listening to this, and in a blind rage at what he hears, banishes the king of Thrace to an uninhabited island, but not before the blinded king makes a third prophesy: that Hecabe will meet her end by throwing herself into the sea, and that she will become a dog.