Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Trojan Women Opens March 17th

The Monmouth College (Monmouth, IL) production of Euripides’ The Trojan Women opens this Thursday, March 17, 2005 and will run at 7:30 PM through Saturday, March 19th at the Wells Theatre on the Monmouth College campus. There will also be a 2:00 PM Sunday performance. Tickets can be order by sending an e-mail to
The play was first produced in Athens in 415 BC as a part of a trilogy that told three stories of Troy. The first play focused on Paris and the start of the Trojan War. The second featured Palamedes, a member of the attacking Athenian army who got on the wrong side of Odysseus during the war. The third play was The Trojan Women, which takes place at the end of the war during the final destruction of Troy. It did not win the prize in its year, coming in second to a playwright known as Xenocles. Of the nine tragedies produced at the festival in 415 BC only The Trojan Women has survived.

Euripides is known for his iconoclastic themes and the play is sometimes characterized as a direct reaction to Athenian political events with earlier critics tending to point to the Athenian attack on the island of Melos in 416BC as the trigger incident for the play. The island nation had been putting off declaring its allegiance either Athens or Sparta in the ongoing conflict between the two city-states. Athens finally decided to force the issue. They attacked Melos and killed all the men and sent the women and children into slavery. Most modern critics feel that Euripides didn’t write the play in direct reaction to the Melian massacre as the plays for 415BC would probably have to have been written at least a year in advance to allow for initial submission, selection of the best scripts, and some eight months of rehearsal.

This does not mean that there were not enough other examples of war-time cruelty around. Most ancient Aegean societies regarded war as a common and constant fact of life and accepted that losers were not going to get a bed of roses. Both Xenophon and Herodotus recount stories of cruelties against vanquished opponents. Thucydides, who was a contemporary of Euripides, also penned disparaging sentiments about human nature in his writings about the Peloponesian Wars. Since it was more normal to kill men of fighting age and enslave surviving women and children after battles than it was to show mercy, it can be a stretch to make a specific one to one parallel between the plight of the Trojan women and contemporary horrors. We should do better to remember that Euripides’ concern was not with the motives of the cruel Greeks, but with the suffering that they inflicted on the Trojans, which might also be inflicted back on them. Pain changes not one whit--whether the means of infliction is vengeful, sadistic, accidental, or natural (eg Tsunami).

Euripides’ concerns about suffering and revenge were not overblown. The Melian massacre had occurred by the time the play was performed in 415 BC and planning for a far larger imperialistic incursion into Sicily was ongoing. The Sicilian Expedition was approved just a few months after the play was performed. When it was finally launched in 413 BC, it ended in a massive Greek disaster that clearly hastened the final fall of Athens to Sparta in 404 BC.

A number of recent productions of the play have chosen contemporary images of sectarian genocide, holocaust ovens, or Abu Ghraib-like prisons in order to highlight the continued plight of the victims of war and terror. The Monmouth College production has chosen to keep the play in it’s historical milieu with the hope that the plight of the victims of violence will be a constant presence without becoming a ham fisted, partisan, political statement.

The communicated meaning of The Trojan Women has not changed. War, senseless violence, and mindless revenge plagued the ancient Aegean world and it continues to plague us today in the Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and, even more shamefully, on the streets of our own land. Given what we know of Euripides and his own take on the events of the Trojan War in relation to the political situation in Athens in 415BC, the Monmouth production would appear to take an approach that Euripides might commend.

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