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  • "Expel the Barbarian from Your Heart":Intimations of the Cyclops in Euripides's Hecuba

Audiences find Euripides's Hecuba unremittingly bleak, and critics find its composition confused. I argue that the play has an aesthetic integrity throughout its composition that derives from Euripides's use of the Odyssey's Cyclops episode, and that a study of the several ways in which Homer's symbolism is used reveals the play to be a profound examination of the nature of justice and injustice, vengeance and barbarism. Euripides exposes the "barbarian" in the heart of every character: it is the Cyclops within, a Cyclopean tendency in the soul that has brutal but also sophisticated expressions. He even indicts his audience.

In memoriam: Mira Balija Planinc

Euripides's Hecuba is not one of the best-known tragedies. The story is vividly memorable, however. Troy has fallen. The Greeks have finished their killing and plundering and have begun their homeward journey. As soon as they cross the Hellespont and make camp on what some might call the European side, in Thrace, they bury Achilles. The Trojan queen, Hecuba, is enslaved, as are the only two of her daughters who remain alive, Polyxena and Cassandra, the latter to Agamemnon [End Page 403] himself. Her husband Priam was killed at Troy, and so too were all of their many sons—except one: the youngest, Polydorus, who years before had been sent for his protection, along with a substantial amount of Trojan gold, to an ally, Polymestor, ruler of this very region of Thrace. The Greeks find that they cannot set sail again. The winds have been calmed by the spirit of Achilles, who demands that Hecuba's daughter Polyxena be sacrificed on his grave; and after deliberation, the Greeks agree to slit her throat, with appropriate ritual observances.

In the first episode of the play, Odysseus informs Hecuba of the decision, rebuffs her pleas, and takes Polyxena from her. Polyxena refuses to debase herself and maintains her dignity throughout the ordeal. In the second episode, a messenger describes the slaughter at some length, as well as the army's honoring of the nobility of character Polyxena demonstrated in the manner of her death. This is only the beginning; there is worse to come for Hecuba. While she is lamenting her daughter's death, the corpse of Polydorus is brought to her. As soon as Polymestor heard that Troy had fallen, he killed the boy and threw his body into the sea, where it was discovered by one of Hecuba's women when it washed up on shore. In the play's third episode, Hecuba pleads with Agamemnon for his assistance in making Polymestor pay the penalty for his appalling crime.

But what would justice be? Indeed, how is justice possible when those responsible for administering it are guilty of the same crime, and much worse? Agamemnon grants her a single favor, for as long as the winds remain calm: he will do nothing to help Polymestor. In the fourth episode, Hecuba draws the unsuspecting Polymestor to the slave women's tent with the promise of treasures still hidden at Troy. He is even persuaded to bring along his young sons. Once inside, Hecuba blinds him with broach pins and she and the others kill the two boys. When the raging and howling Polymestor cries out for help from the Greeks, Agamemnon returns and, now more concerned about justice, holds court. He silences Polymestor's vengeful ranting—Polymestor threatens to tear Hecuba apart and sate himself on her flesh—by saying: "Expel the barbarian from your heart (ἐκβαλὼν δὲ καρδίας τὸ βάρβαρον) and speak, so that … I may decide justly (δικαίως)" (Hecuba 1129–31).1 His decision is to do nothing: justice has been sufficiently served, he claims. Polymestor is sent into exile at the end of the play, his mouth gagged when his prophecies begin to turn against Agamemnon. And Hecuba is left to bury her children. [End Page 404]

The play is seldom performed. Modern audiences find it unremittingly bleak. And yet there was a time when Hecuba was the best known not only of Euripides's plays but of all Greek tragedies. It was celebrated in the early Renaissance, when it was measured by Roman standards of the degree of its "variety (varietas)" and "atrocity (atrocitas)."2 One can only speculate about the reasons, but evidently the play was then read as a spectacle of the atrocities typical of the ancients for a Christian society that entirely disregarded the differences between the Romans and Greeks in defining itself against all "pagans," understood as barbarians: the worse the atrocities, the better; the more variety in the spectacle, the more edifying. The Greeks' own conventional distinction between Greek and barbarian would be lost on such an audience, to say nothing of Euripides's dramatic attempts to turn that distinction against the Greeks themselves: not simply against the Homeric heroes but directly against the Athenians in his original audience who were slaughtering other Greeks in the Peloponnesian War.3

In later centuries, into the early modern period, the play fell into disfavor for much the same reasons, but in a different mode: the spectacle itself was rejected along with the pagan barbarism it portrayed, moral disapprobation now supplemented by aesthetic critique often ironically derived from Aristotle's Poetics. It is not really a tragedy, critics said; its composition is confused; the action is not unified; nor is the play held together by consistency of character: insofar as Hecuba herself might be considered the focus of the play, her character simply degenerates instead of developing or revealing itself in struggling against adversity—indeed, one of Polymestor's concluding prophecies is that Hecuba will metamorphose into a "dog (κύων) … with fiery eyes (πύρσ᾽ ἔχουσα δέργµατα)" (1265). The play contains nothing elevating, only the excitement of the extreme and abhorrent. Modern scholarship concurs. Nasty, brutal, and too long. What's more, the play falls apart into its two distinct episodes: the sacrifice of Hecuba's daughter has no intrinsic connection to the murder of her son and its consequences. One of the play's few advocates, Martha Nussbaum, claims that there is a deeper unity to its construction. She argues, however, that the focus of the play is Polyxena's moral integrity, which Euripides emphasizes through its contrast with the utter depravity of Hecuba's vengeance.4

The concerns of modern theatergoers, if not those of a professor of legal and ethical theory, are not primarily philological. They find revenge itself repugnant, even if it might be attractive initially, and therefore Hecuba seems incomprehensible to them as a work of art. No [End Page 405] matter how outrageous Fortune is, our society's determination, and our strong conviction, is that one does not take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them: the judgment of what does and does not constitute an injustice and how injustices are to be punished is the function of the state and its appointed officials. Indeed, society considers direct action against an injustice committed against oneself or one's family to be unjust, even if the authorities responsible for acting on one's behalf are themselves corrupt and implicated in the injustice. The term "revenge" is now commonly thought to describe a reciprocity of vengeance—an eye for an eye, an injustice for an injustice, implicitly understood as acting on one's own—even though the "re" prefix is an intensifier denoting the degree of one's vindication, one might say, or the intensity with which one acts in restoring a just order.

For us, a revenge tragedy cannot be about justice; it is necessarily a spectacular melee of injustices in which the only possible intimation of justice would be a refusal to act. But our convictions are not the ancients' convictions, nor are ours necessarily more moral.5 Euripides did not write a revenge tragedy. Through its dramatic orchestration of appalling events, his Hecuba stirs up a tense and passionate longing for justice in its audience, for justice as a decisive, restorative act in the full understanding of the impossibility of any just action without injustice. No matter the difficulty of knowing what is to be done, one must always act toward justice, even in hopeless circumstances. Hecuba is a tragedy of the necessity of bearing the injustice of acting against injustice.

Euripides's tragic understanding of justice is a broad and ambitious topic. This study is more narrowly philological and exegetic. Its purpose, however, is to illuminate something of the moral depth and complexity of Euripides's play. My argument is that the play is entirely consistent in its aesthetic composition and that its form expresses its substance perfectly. The hermeneutic key to unlocking its meaning is Euripides's use of Homeric imagery. It is well known to scholars—because it is rather obvious—that Euripides used Homer's account of the blinding of the Cyclops as the basis for the episode in which Hecuba and the Trojan women blind Polymestor and kill his sons. Scholars being what they are, they make almost nothing of the fact; indeed, some insist that nothing at all follows from it and even deny the legitimacy of extending the literary-critical analysis to consider why Euripides seems to cast Hecuba in the role of Odysseus.6

It is more than permissible to go further. It is, in fact, entirely necessary. The unity of the play derives from Euripides's consistent use of book 9 [End Page 406] of the Odyssey in composing all of the play's major episodes. Euripides tells the story of the Greeks' sacrifice of Polyxena in such a way that every one of the Greek heroes—Agamemnon, Odysseus, the dead Achilles—is compared to the Cyclops. And yet the play makes no direct reference to Homer's text. This is, in part, because Euripides sets the action of the play shortly before Odysseus and his men are blown off their homeward course to eventually encounter the Cyclops; but more important, it is because he trusted that the members of his audience, none of whom was a professor of classics, were sufficiently literate to appreciate the significance of his intimations of the Homeric story. Euripides's Hecuba is a study of political brutality. More profound, however, it is a study of what underlies such brutality, of what might be called the Cyclopean aspect of the human psyche. Euripides does not use the name of the Cyclops to describe it. Instead, in the most revealing of Agamemnon's many hypocritical remarks, it is called "the barbarian [in] the heart" (1129–30). The play shows the barbarian within every character's heart; and in every instance, Euripides portrays it symbolically as the Cyclops within, a Cyclopean tendency in the soul.

To appreciate Euripides's work in composing the play, recall the broadest strokes of Homer's story. Odysseus and a dozen of his men find themselves trapped in the cave of Polyphemos the Cyclops. He eats them two at a time, intending to eat them all. To manage an escape, Odysseus first makes Polyphemos drunk with strong, foreign wine. He and his remaining men then blind him in his sleep. But not before Odysseus also confuses Polyphemos with a rhetorical trick: "No-one (Οὖτις) is my name" (Odyssey 9.366),7 he says. Invisibility is necessary, both to sight and to thought and speech. When the blinded Polyphemos cries out in pain, the other Cyclopes come to the sealed mouth of the cave and ask, with some concern, "Surely no one (µή τίς) is killing you by cunning or force?" (9.406) and then leave reassured when he replies that No-one is indeed killing him (9.408–9). In the darkness and silence, the vengeful Polyphemos cannot lay hands on Odysseus who, with the remaining men, escapes through a sort of metamorphosis: they briefly transform themselves into sheep. When Odysseus thinks he is safe, he proudly identifies himself as "Odysseus, sacker of cities (πτολιπόρθιον)" (9.504), and Polyphemos replies with a rather damning prophecy about the difficulty of his homecoming.

Now, Euripides was an astute interpreter of Homer; all the playwrights were. He understood that Homer's Cyclops is, in part, already a representation of the barbarian in the heart, and that the Odyssey is, in part, a [End Page 407] narrative of the difficult process through which Odysseus himself expels the Cyclops, the barbarian in his own heart. Nevertheless, Homer's Odysseus is an ambiguous character. For instance: when finally back on Ithaca, disguised, he comes up with a plan to confine the suitors in the courtyard of his house, defenseless and without escape, as he and his men had been confined in the Cyclops's cave; and in killing them all, even their leader, he succeeds where Polyphemos had failed. Though the killing is countenanced by the gods, Odysseus seems more Cyclopean than the Cyclops.

In his composition of Hecuba, Euripides invents the character of Polymestor and makes him unambiguously a Cyclops in human form: there is nothing redemptive about him, no inner struggle, no narrative justification or excuse—a barbarian, a monster of greed, the rightful object of the Greeks' disdain and ridicule.8 The literary parallels are unmistakable: he kills Hecuba's child, Polydorus, in his own home; she and her companions tempt him with foreign treasure—making him drunk with greed—and blind him; if he could lay hands on her, he would eat her flesh in revenge; and when she escapes him—Agamemnon's decision taking the place of the gods' will—Polymestor prophecies that she will have no homecoming after a metamorphosis. Her Thracian grave will become the Cynossema, "the tomb of a wretched dog, a landmark for sailors (κυνὸς ταλαίνης σῆµα, ναυτίλοις τέκµαρ)" (1273) on the Hellespont.

Now, the Cyclops kills Odysseus's men in pairs. Two of Hecuba's children are killed, but Polymestor only kills one of them. The murderers of Polyxena are thus also the Cyclops. And, in a word, that is everyone: Euripides indicts all the Greeks, collectively and individually. Agamemnon's indictment of Polymestor's barbaric heart is eloquent hypocrisy; the Greeks' pride in the rule of reason over passion and laws over tyranny is empty boasting; and their piety is nothing but the spiritual aroma of their brutal slaughter of Polyxena. To develop the critique, Euripides invents the entire episode of Polyxena's sacrifice, and the drama of her acceptance of it, just as he invents the story of Polydorus's murder.9

The Greek most viscerally like the Cyclops is, of course, the man-murdering Achilles. His tomb is, for Polyxena, the cave of Polyphemos; and beneath the fraud of religious sacrifice, her death is as grotesque and bloody as the deaths of Odysseus's companions. Achilles does not act alone, however. Indeed, he does not act at all. The entire Greek army acts on his behalf: all of them together are the monstrous, bloodthirsty Cyclops. And the most Cyclopean of them in character are their leaders, [End Page 408] Agamemnon and Odysseus. Euripides uses Homeric symbolism quite explicitly to indict them individually. Agamemnon would be implicated if for no other reason than that he seems to have a taste for sacrificial blood. He is as willing to allow Polyxena to be sacrificed for the sake of favorable winds as he had been to sacrifice his own daughter, Iphigenia.

But Euripides makes it more obvious. In the scene in which the blinded Polymestor emerges from the Trojan women's tent, he bellows in pain and rage: "Does anyone hear? Will no one (οὐδεὶς) help me?" (1094). He calls the Greeks as Polyphemos had called the other Cyclopes to assist him against "No-one (Οὖτις)." And who appears? Agamemnon, with his entourage. Euripides's identification of Odysseus and the Cyclops comes earlier in the play; slightly less obvious, but equally condemning. When Odysseus comes to take Polyxena from Hecuba, she attempts to plead for her daughter's life by reminding him of the time she had spared his life. Odysseus had been caught spying on Troy in the guise of a blind beggar, she recalls, with "drops of blood running down [his] cheeks (ὀµµάτων τ᾽ ἄπο φόνου σταλαγµοὶ σὴν κατέσταζον γένυν)" (240–41). As the story is told in the Odyssey (4.235–64), Odysseus is disguised as a beggar, but he is not feigning blindness with bloody eyes. Euripides reinvents the episode for Hecuba's account to compare Odysseus to the Cyclops, both directly, through its imagery, and indirectly, through a foreshadowing of Polymestor's fate.10

The brilliance of Euripides's reading of Homer is not primarily in his understanding of the Cyclopean as an attribute of the soul—that is simply there in Homer, after all—but rather in his representation of the various ways in which the Cyclopean in the soul appears in and through the eyes. He describes a Cyclopean countenance or look, an aversion to seeing the Cyclopean in the other's eyes, a Cyclopean aversion to looking into the other's eyes, and a Cyclopean gaze. For instance, when Odysseus comes to take Polyxena, he will not look her in the eyes (343); he is merciless, for he knows that meeting her gaze would require recognizing her as a supplicant. In stark contrast, when Polyxena accepts her fate, she does so with "free eyes (ὀµµάτων ἐλευθέρων)" (367). Another example: later in the play, when Agamemnon comes to insist that Hecuba dispose of Polyxena's corpse, she refuses to face him. She turns her back to him and weeps (739–40). More significantly, she soliloquizes, her internal dialogue made explicit to the audience, considering if it is possible, in her desperate circumstances, to do anything to avenge her murdered children (749–50). It is said to be a rare moment in Greek tragedy, a revelation of the nature of self-consciousness, effectively symbolized by the turning of one's eyes inward. [End Page 409]

The substance of Hecuba's reflections is more significant, however. Polyxena and Polydorus are both dead; almost her entire family has been killed, and her city destroyed. The Greeks cannot be made to pay for such barbarism—she has no way to challenge Odysseus and Agamemnon—but she might be able to use Agamemnon to make Polymestor "pay the price of justice (τοῦ δικαίου τήνδε σοι δοῦναι δίκην)" (853), she thinks. It is all she can do to have Polymestor stand for them all. A final example, showing even more psychological depth: when Polymestor first appears onstage, imagining that the murder of Polydorus has remained unknown, Euripides draws attention to the hypocrisy in his eyes. He tells Hecuba that he "weep[s] (δακρύω)" (954) for her suffering. Hecuba refuses to face him, explicitly telling him: "I won't be able to look at you right in the eyes (προσβλέπειν ὀρ θαῖς κ όραις)" (972)—not from shame, as she alleges, but rather to avert her eyes from what Charles Segal calls Polymestor's "inner monstrosity."

And perhaps there is an even deeper psychological acuity in Euripides's poetry: Hecuba averts her eyes, but do we? Euripides uses the episode of Polyxena's execution, particularly the attraction of her innocence, to question his audience. Segal calls it Euripides's "trap": the scene is horrible, but it tempts us to "succumb to its alluring mixture of reverence and the personal nobility of the victim." If we do, we "confound the admiration that we are supposed to feel for the victim with the circumstances of her killing."11 Our own Cyclopean gaze is exposed—the same "lustful gaze" as the Greek army's (CWL, p. 126).

There is one final use Euripides makes of the Homeric symbolism. It raises the most difficult question in the play. And it is also a trap—a trap many have been caught in, some jumping in headfirst. Hecuba is also identified with Polyphemos. The Cyclops kills Odysseus's men in pairs. When Hecuba blinds Polymestor, she acts as Odysseus did. But when she and the others kill his two sons in the slave women's tent, they are the Cyclops in his cave; or, in keeping with her role as Odysseus, Hecuba is comparable to Odysseus at his worst, trapping the suitors and leaving none alive, more Cyclopean than the Cyclops. What is more, the killing of the children is not impulsive; it is deliberate. Earlier in the play, when Hecuba attempts to persuade Odysseus not to take Polyxena, there is resignation in her voice and she displays an almost unthinkable equanimity when she pleads, "Enough are dead" (278). But after Polyxena's murder and the sudden discovery of Polydorus's murder as well, Hecuba speaks openly of avenging both her children, mentioning Polymestor's two sons explicitly when she speaks with Agamemnon (749–50, 890). [End Page 410]

Segal, an otherwise astute commentator, claims that in killing the boys Hecuba comes to resemble her "bestial antagonist, Polymestor": they are both "barbarians" (EPS, pp. 185, 187). Nussbaum agrees, arguing that Euripides's point in emphasizing Hecuba's depravity is to highlight the moral excellence of Polyxena's forbearance. The trap lies in imagining all instances in the play of the Cyclopean—the barbarian in the heart—to be the same. One might fall into it by being unaware of the full range of ways that Euripides uses Homer's symbolism to represent types of barbarism. Consequently, it might seem that the only interpretive question is whether the entire play is a spectacle of pagan atrocities or an intimation of the sublimity of self-sacrifice in the religious or ethical sense. Neither Polyxena's submission nor Hecuba's vengeance is morally preferable, however. Both are extremes or excesses that arise from their enslavement. Both are terrifying and deplorable. And—although this is hard to say for Hecuba—both show dignity in impossible circumstances.

Homer's Odysseus at his most barbaric is justified both by divine sanction and by narrative necessity: the Odyssey is about the lengthy process of his overcoming of the Cyclopean in himself, with the gods' help. Hecuba's actions have no divine sanction. The murders of the children are hers alone. Euripides portrays the murders as an unjustifiable excess. How can they be excused? Or if they are inexcusable, how can they even be understood? Euripides's differentiation of barbarisms provides some insight. All such actions arise from the barbarian in the heart in some way; and different sorts of barbarism can be distinguished by the degrees of reflective awareness or rational consent to its rule in the heart, by its evidence in the eyes, and by the various ways in which speech can be used to lie in attempting to mask it with rationalizations. There is the barbarism of the slaughter at Troy, disguised as honor; the barbarism of the slaughter of Polydorus, from unadorned greed and convenience; the barbarism of the slaughter of Polyxena, disguised as piety and divine necessity—the barbarism of the hypocritical justifications of low barbarism as the highest justice, religious or political; there is also the barbarism of Agamemnon, hypocritically standing as the embodiment of law in judging the case between Hecuba and Polymestor; and the undeniable barbarism of Hecuba's blinding of Polymestor and killing of his sons, which we must judge for ourselves.

Hecuba yields to the barbarian in the heart, but differently than anyone else in the play. What should she do? What is justice—not in itself, but for her, here and now? Her entire family murdered; her civilization destroyed; enslaved and humiliated by her conquerors; prevented [End Page 411] from speaking and acting freely, neither a queen nor fully a human being. Who should be punished? For what? And by whom? Who can be? Only Polymestor. He can stand for them all, the one Cyclops of all the Cyclopes she might be able to make pay some part of the price of justice. And what is the fitting price? Where is the boundary between justice and injustice? What should she do in such uncertainty? Nothing? She does what she is able to do, acting toward justice in the impossibility of justice. Her actions are thus necessarily and inescapably unjust. In blinding Polymestor she knows that she has allowed the barbarian in the heart its rein. And yet his punishment does not seem to overstep a boundary: no one mourns for him long; he is only blinded when his death would be condoned. The killing of his sons is a transgression, however, even if the act is driven by the same coarse passion necessary for the punishment of their father. And Hecuba comes to know this too. Her tragedy is the recognition of the impossibility of justice, of the impossibility of refusing to act against injustice, and of the necessity of bearing the injustice of acting.

Homer's Odysseus is excused for overstepping boundaries. Euripides's Hecuba bears the unforgivable responsibility. But through several literary allusions, Euripides also hints at a forgiveness of understanding. First, a remarkable moment when Hecuba is identified with Homer's justified Odysseus. In the Odyssey, the unrecognized Odysseus twice asks Demodokos, the singer attending the court of the Phaeacians, to sing of the fall of Troy, and particularly about his own role in bringing about and participating in the slaughter. Both times he weeps: the first time covering his head (8.83–88); the second time openly, his appearance transformed. Homer says Odysseus "melted (τήκετο)" (8.522) on hearing the tale, weeping as one of the enslaved Trojan women had wept over her husband who had fallen, unable to defend his city, his family, and his children (8.521–34).

Hecuba is one of those very women, and the first among them. When Euripides's Odysseus leads Polyxena away to be sacrificed for Achilles, Hecuba also "melts" in tears. Both she and Polyxena weep, and Polyxena's speech at the moment evokes the full significance of Demodokos's songs in the Odyssey. She says: "Come, Odysseus, veil my head with my garment and take me away; / for now … my heart is melted (ἐκτέτηκα) / by my mother's laments, and I in turn melt (ἐκτήκω) hers with my own laments" (432–34; trans. from CWL, p. 124). Hecuba is not only identified with the justified Odysseus; in citing Homer against Homer, Euripides has Hecuba supersede him. In the most important thing, however, she [End Page 412] and Odysseus remain strictly comparable: Homer's Odysseus goes on from his transformative moment to slaughter the suitors; and Hecuba's weeping does not prevent her from striking back against the men who enslaved her and killed her family.

Then, there is the somewhat perplexing and discordant conclusion of the play: Polymestor's prophecy that Hecuba will be metamorphosed into a "dog (κύων) … with fiery eyes (πύρσ᾽ ἔχουσα δέργµατα)" (1265), her tomb "a landmark for sailors" (1273). Polymestor means to be damning when he says this, as Achilles meant to be damning in the Iliad when Homer had him suggest the Cyclopean character of Agamemnon's soul in calling him "dog-eyes (κυνὸς ὄµµατ᾽)" (1.225) and "a ruler who eats his people (δηµοβόρος βασιλεὺς)" (1.231). But Polymestor says more than he means: prophecies are divinely inspired, and metamorphoses do not occur without divine intervention. Her transformation into a dog makes Hecuba one of the Furies, the "doglike Erinyes [who] in Aeschylus' Eumenides gouge out eyes," but who also "transform under Athena's influence into kindly protectors of justice" (E:H, p. 59). And the transformation of her tomb into the Cynossema, the landmark on the Thracian side of the Hellespont, then taken as the boundary between Europe and Asia, makes Hecuba—at the cost of her life—the means of safe passage from "barbarian" to "Greek." She becomes the fiery-eyed guardian of boundaries, perpetually burning for justice.

Justice is itself a boundary, a demarcation. How are we to know where it is if others do not show us, even in transgressions? When Agamemnon holds court and exonerates Hecuba, Polymestor accepts the judgment and says he has paid "justice (δίκην)" (1253). Hecuba then says she celebrates "being avenged (τιµωρουµένην)" (1258). Vengeance and justice can be synonymous, though we do not hear the synonymy today. "Being avenged (τιµωρουµένην)" is the restoration of timē—not only the restoration of honor, as we hear it, but also the restoration of something of the order violated by injustice, even in the awareness that that order can never be properly restored. Injustice is irremediable, always. "Being avenged" is thus the restoration of dikē—the right order, the judgment of it, the custom of observing it—and of nomos—the distribution or allotment that has been decided to be fair and just.

The nomos is not only our decision about the distribution, however; for when the underlying, given demarcations we imperfectly understand, observe, and honor are violated beyond endurance, Nemesis arises, the divine force for the restoration of the nomos, of what is fitting and due. Hecuba sings a "Bacchic song of vengeance (βακχεῖον ἐξ ἀλάστορος … [End Page 413] νόµον)" (686–87) for her children; her terrifying vengeance might very well be divinely sanctioned, a manifestation of the divine fury of Nemesis. For "the gods are strong," Hecuba herself says, "and their ruler is Nomos (Νόµος). By nomos (νόµῳ) we hold the gods, and live with the boundaries between unjust and just (ἄδικα καὶ δίκαι᾽ ὡρισµένοι)" (799–801). The Chorus echoes her words: "the laws of necessity demarcate (τὰς ἀνάγκας οἱ νόµοι διώρισαν) what happens to human beings" (846–47). The laws of necessity also make life inescapably tragic. There are demarcations, boundaries. We must not overstep them. And we cannot live justly without overstepping them.

Zdravko Planinc
McMaster University


1. For the Greek text of Euripides's Hecuba, I have used the online Perseus Collection of Greek and Roman Materials (Tufts University); hereafter cited by line number. Except in one instance, the English translation used is Euripides, Hecuba, trans. Robin Mitchell-Boyask (Newburyport: Focus Classical Library, 2006), with emendations of my own as necessary.

2. Malcolm Heath, "'Jure principem locum tenet': Euripides' Hecuba," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 35 (1987): 6.

3. Casey Dué, The Captive Woman's Lament in Greek Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), p. 134; hereafter abbreviated CWL.

4. Martha Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, rev. ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 405–6; David Kovacs, The Heroic Muse: Studies in the "Hippolytus" and "Hecuba" of Euripides (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), pp. 108–12.

5. Stuart Lawrence, Moral Awareness in Greek Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 224.

6. Froma Zeitlin, Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 69–71; Judith Mossman, Wild Justice: A Study of Euripides' "Hecuba" (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 191–92.

7. For the Greek text of the Odyssey, and at a later point the Iliad, I have again used the online Perseus Collection; hereafter cited by both book and line number. English translations are my own, though not uncommon.

8. Edith Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 107–10.

9. Helene Foley, Euripides: "Hecuba" (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), pp. 4, 14, 20; hereafter abbreviated E:H.

10. Mitchell-Boyask, Hecuba, p. 40n37.

11. Charles Segal, Euripides and the Poetics of Sorrow (Durham: Duke University Press), pp. 168, 174–75; hereafter abbreviated EPS.

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