RIII.2-2954: Priam, Hecabe and Hector (detail). Altkorinth. Vasenb. (nach Mon. d. Inst. 1855, T.20). Roscher, 1884.
"A free man?—There is no such thing! All men are slaves; some, slaves of money; some, of chance; others are forced, either by mass opinion, or the threatening law, to act against their nature." (Hecabe 1 to Agamemnon. Euripides, Hecabe 864).
"It is deplorable, Agamemnon, that men's words should ever seem to speak more loudly than their deeds. Good deeds alone should make the doer eloquent, and bad deeds dress themselves in rotten arguments … There are men who make this practice a fine art. Their so-called cleverness cannot last long; they all, without exception, come to a bad end." (Hecabe 1 to Agamemnon. Euripides, Hecabe 1189).
"Gone is the old prosperity, Troy is no more!
Gone are the hero-sons that I bore." (Hecabe 1. Euripides, Daughters of Troy 582).
"I see the gods' work, who exalt on high that which was naught, and bring the proud names low." (Hecabe 1. Euripides, Daughters of Troy 611).
Hecabe 1 was queen of Troy at the time when the Trojan War was fought. She lost most of her relatives, avenged one of them, and left this world turned into a bitch, or so they say. Hecabe 1, who was first queen and then slave, gained immortal Fame for having suffered
utter defeat, and having seen her whole mighty
world turned into ashes.
The parentage of Hecabe 1 seems to have always been a matter of dispute, in particular concerning her mother. This is why the question"Who is the mother of Hecabe?has been one great favorite among the many questions loved by those who, like Emperor Tiberius, give themselves to pedantry, carrying the myths to laughable extremes. And other silly questions may concern the song of the SIRENS, the colour of someone's eyes, the number of ships in some fleet, and many other similar things, which are believed, by those able to turn anything into a quiz, to be far reaching in regard to the knowledge of the myths.
The Dream of Hecabe 1
In any case, Hecabe 1 became queen of Troy when King Priam 1 married her, having handed over his first wife Arisbe, daughter of the seer Merops 1, to Hyrtacus. Hecabe 1's first son was Hector 1, but
when her second son Paris was about to be born, she dreamt that she had
brought forth a firebrand which spread over the
whole city, and burned it. This is why Paris was exposed when he was born; for Aesacus 1, son of Priam 1 and his first wife Arisbe, having learned the art of interpreting dreams from his maternal grandfather Merops 1, declared that Paris was to
become the ruin of the country, and advised to
expose the babe. And also the seeress Cassandra, daughter of Hecabe 1, wished to have the ill-omened child destroyed; for she shrieked:
Kill the destroyer of Priam's city! Kill that child!" (Cassandra. Euripides, Andromache 293).
Paris had no hard
These were the consequences of the dream of Hecabe 1. Yet Paris survived, living as a shepherd, and when he later
turned into a prince, he never reproached the
outrageous treatment which he suffered as a child.
And when Paris, after
having fetched Helen in Sparta, came on his
homeward way to Sidon (a coastal city in
Phoenicia), he bought there rich robes with which
he presented the same mother that had let him be
exposed. But fate arranged that she who had been
willing to reject one child, should unwillingly
It is a great thing to be the queen of a
powerful realm as that of Priam 1, who ruled the
whole of Phrygia, and
thereby live in the midst of riches, honours, and
splendid hopes, being revered by all citizens.
This, in fact, is almost like being a god, except
that Death cannot be
bribed. Yet, even though immortality is still
lacking, the numerous offspring may be thought to
mitigate that unavoidable deficiency. For many
parents feel that they will live on in their
children, who will close their eyes; and that is
why they may feel that they have themselves died
when a son or a daughter dies, not being able to
find any consolation:
"All my children, all are taken away … Sorrow and suffering have destroyed me. I am dead." (Hecabe 1. Euripides, Hecabe 421, 431).
Lost in battle
And Hecabe 1 lost, not one, but many of her children in the war. Above all Hector 1, who was the
pillar of Troy, and as she herself confessed, the dearest to her heart of all her children. And besides him, her other sons: Antiphus 5, whom Agamemnon killed, and Deiphobus 1, whom Menelaus slew, and Hipponous 2, and Pammon 1, and Polites 1, and Troilus, and also Paris, who in spite of
being called the plague of Troy, was the man who
avenged Hector 1,
putting an end to Achilles' life with a
poisoned arrow, before he himself was slain by Philoctetes.
However, as war does not limit itself to exterminate warriors, but instead spreads misery to many others as well, Hecabe 1 lost her grandson, little Astyanax 2, whom the Achaeans murdered; Laodice 3, who was swallowed up by a chasm in the earth in the sight of all when Troy had fallen; Polyxena 1, who was
slaughtered on the grave of Achilles by the Achaeans, and also Polydorus 3, who was supposed to be safe in a foreign land. Hecabe 1's daughter Cassandra survived the
massacre at Troy, but
instead she was humiliated by Ajax 2, who in a fit of
cowardice, raped her. And before Cassandra left for Mycenae, as slave and
concubine of Agamemnon, Hecabe 1 learned that it had been prophesied that her daughter should be murdered by Agamemnon's wife Clytaemnestra. These are the losses of Hecabe 1 regarding her children. But she also lost her husband King Priam 1, who was famed as
father, and for his boundless treasures, and whom
she saw butchered on an altar-stone, although she,
knowing that weapons would not rescue them, had
tried to save him. For when Troy was being sacked, and Hecabe 1 and her daughters were huddled together round the shrines hoping for the protection of the gods, she, seeing King Priam 1 harnessed in the armour of his youth, prayed
him to take refuge with herself and her daughters
as a suppliant at the altar, saying:
"My poor, poor husband … what thought so mad drove you to gird on these weapons? … Not such the aid nor these the defenders the hour craves … Come here, please; this altar will guard us all, or else we will die together." (Hecabe 1 to Priam 1. Virgil, Aeneid 2.519).
But in vain, for when Neoptolemus appeared, Priam 1 opposed
him with his harmless spear, and then Achilles' son, winding the left hand in his hair, buried with the right his sword to the hilt in the old man's side. And Hecabe 1 lost her home and city, the royal palace at Troy,
experiencing in her own flesh how Wealth, luxury, and Fame, which make mortals
swell with arrogance, mean nothing. That is why she
"The man who
day by day lives on, escaping miseryhe is
happiest." (Hecabe 1. Euripides, Hecabe 629).
And there are some, who seeing that those who once were renowned for wealth and power are humiliated and perish, while huge empires suffer sudden death, may come to think that their belief in gods is itself "a myth," and that blind hazard rules the world. For such turns of Fortune are difficult to
follow, and it is hard to believe, when prosperity
shows its lovely face, that ruin could be at hand.
Now, one of the best ways to invite ruin is to
engage in war; for war might even destroy the
victors in addition to the defeated. But despite
these well known facts, it is not before war has
begun, that its seriousness is fully perceived, and
its consequences truly feared. For the various
outcomes of war are difficult to foresee, once the
folly and fury of men is unleashed. That is why
pre-emptive measures are taken during the course of
war, to avoid complete disaster, if luck were
missing. And so Priam 1,
who before the war could have restored Helen and the stolen property to the Achaean envoysthus avoiding an armed conflictfearing defeat and extermination once the war had started, sent his youngest son Polydorus 3 away from Troy to Thrace, to the palace of his old friend Polymestor 1, king of the Bistonians.
The forethought of Priam 1 came to nothing
Along with Polydorus 3, Priam 1 sent to Thrace a
secret store of gold, which, if ever Troy should fall, could
help to rescue the remains of his house. While Troy stood firm and was still strong, Polydorus 3 lived a happy life in King Polymestor 1's palace. But when Hector 1 and King Priam 1 himself were
killed and Troy was sacked, Polymestor 1, in order to get the Trojan gold, murdered his guest, throwing his body into the sea. The corpse of Polydorus 3 appeared in the shore, close to the place where the Achaean army was encamped, and delivered to his mother, the former queen of Troy, who was now a prisoner. Warned by a dream, Hecabe 1 understood who the murderer was, and which his motive. And wishing to avenge his son, she planned the ruin of this false and perjured friend, who had committed such a black treachery without fearing the powers below nor those above.
Agamemnon aware of
For this purpose, she sent a messenger to Polymestor 1, begging him to come and bring his sons, so that all would listen to something she had to tell them. Agamemnon was fully informed by Hecabe 1 of the crime perpetrated by Polymestor 1, and having at the moment the queen's daughter Cassandra lying by his side in bed, was inclined to put things aright, even though he was reluctant to invite criticism from the Achaeans, who regarded Polymestor 1 as an ally. This is why Agamemnon, not
opposing her in any way, provided the messenger
with a safe-conduct through the camp, declaring
important both for individuals and for the State in
general, that the wrongdoer should suffer, and the
honest man reap his reward." (Agamemnon to Hecabe 1. Euripides, Hecabe 901).
Hecabe 1 obtained such solemn words, the safe-conduct for the messenger, and the leave to carry out her revenge, after having reminded Agamemnon that it is a good man's duty to uphold the right, and punish wickedness always and everywhere. And as Hecabe 1 guaranteed that she and the Trojan women with her were able to carry out the revenge with their own resources, the king gave his consent; for if he kept himself apart, Agamemnon reasoned, the army could not think that he had connived at killing Polymestor 1, an ally, for the love of Cassandra, a Trojan. Yet Agamemnon doubted that women could overpower a man; for even if they were many, he thought, they would lack cunning, or strength, or some other splendid quality possessed only by males. That is why Hecabe 1 refreshed his memory:
"Did not women
kill Aegyptus' fifty sons? Was it not women who
stripped Lemnos clear of males?" (Hecabe 1 to Agamemnon.
Euripides, Hecabe 886).
This is how the former foes came to an agreement, and Polymestor 1, having received Hecabe 1's message, appeared before her accompanied with his sons. After having dismissed the bodyguard, Hecabe 1 asked for his son and the gold, and treacherous Polymestor 1 reassured her, saying that her son was alive, and the gold safe at his palace. Then Hecabe 1 fabricated a story about a store of gold buried long ago in the place in Troy where once Athena's temple stood, asking Polymestor 1 to take charge of some items, belonging to that treasure, which she had brought with her when leaving Troy,
and that now were hidden in her tent. Lured by her tales of gold treasured by Priam 1's family, the Thracian king and his two sons were brought alone into the tent. There Polymnestor 1 sat in the middle of a couch with Trojan women sitting on both sides of him, first admiring the texture of his cloak, and then looking at his spears and passing them on from one to another, so that at the end he was disarmed and the weapons far away. And as men seldom can resist the loving glances of women, their proofs of admiration, their gentle talk, or their soft proximity, Polymestor 1 was taken by surprise when they, all of a sudden, whipped out daggers from their clothes, and stabbed his sons. And as coming out from dreams is not done in a twinkling, he could not react fast enough when the twenty women in the tent fell on his arms and legs, and holding him down by the hair, stabbed and tore his eyes with their brooches. No wonder this instructive experience confirmed Polymestor 1's opinion about women, which this traitor, coming out of the tent, and complaining in front of Agamemnon,
put in this manner:
like a woman breeds in land or sea; and those who
have most to do with women know it best." (Polymestor 1 to Agamemnon. Euripides, Hecabe 1180).
Now Polymestor 1, unable to curb his bold tongue, and likewise unable to forget he was a barbarian (for only such could conceive the idea of murdering a guest for gold), would have loved to rip Hecabe 1 into rags. But being blind he had to control himself, and state his case in front of King Agamemnon. And so he tried to win the king's good will, arguing that Polydorus 3 was the enemy of the Achaeans, and that if left alive, he might gather Trojan survivors and re-found the city. However, not being able to explain why he had not killed Polydorus 3 when Troy was still strong, or handed him alive to the Achaeans during the war, Polymestor 1 could not persuade him. It is difficult for a ruler to openly help an impious, perjured, and polluted traitor; and as killing a guest is a wicked crime in any civilized country, nobody wishes to soil himself through leniency or omission. And that is why, before ordering his guards to throw Polymestor 1 on some desert island, Agamemnon said:
pronounced you innocent, I should be myself
guilty." (Agamemnon to Polymestor 1. Euripides, Hecabe 1249).
Others say differently
Yet others have said that this is not what happened. Instead they affirm that when Polydorus 3 was born, his father Priam 1 gave him to his daughter Iliona, who was married to King Polymestor 1. Iliona, who was Polydorus 3's sister, brought him up as her own son; and the son Deipylus 1 that she had by Polymestor 1, she brought as if he were her brother, thinking that if anything happened to either of them, she could give the other to her parents at Troy. Now, when Troy was sacked, the
Achaeans purposed to destroy the house of Priam 1, and that is why they murdered little Astyanax 2, the son of Hector 1. With regard to Polydorus 3, the Achaeans sent messengers to King Polymestor 1, promising him Electra 2, daughter of Agamemnon, in marriage, together with a large amount of gold, if he would kill Polydorus 3.
Polymestor 1, still a gold-lover, killed by his guest
Polymnestor 1 found the offer attractive, and slew his own son Deipylus 1 unwittingly, thinking he had killed Polydorus 3. In the meantime, this young man had gone to the Oracle at Delphi, and having inquired about his parents, he learned that his city was burned, his father dead, and his mother held in servitude. When Polydorus 3 returned home to Thrace, not knowing that he came originally from Troy, and believing Polymestor 1 and Iliona to be his parents, he thought that the Oracle had spoken falsely. However, his sister Iliona, who later committed suicide on account of her family's misfortunes, revealed the truth, and following her advice, Polydorus 3 blinded Polymestor 1 and killed him.
In any case, the time Hecabe 1 spent in the Achaean camp after the war was a painful one. The women of Troy had been
taken captive and were given as prizes to the
Achaean warriors, and just as Hector 1's wife Andromache was
assigned to Neoptolemus, and Cassandra to Agamemnon, Hecabe 1 was assigned to Odysseus, who also was
the man that came to her demanding the surrender of
her daughter Polyxena 1, who was to be sacrificed on Achilles' tomb. For
that was, the Achaeans said, the wish of Achilles' ghost, that
having appeared above his tomb, delayed the return
of the army, and demanded that bloody gift of
honour for his tomb. Some have said that the reason for sacrificing
this beautiful girl was that, during the war, Achilles had sought her
in marriage, but when he came for an interview he
was killed by Paris and Deiphobus 1. When Odysseus appeared before Hecabe 1 in order to fetch Polyxena 1, the former
queen of Troy reminded him
that he was in her debt. For he, during the war,
having once come as a spy to Troy disguised in filthy
wrappings, was recognized by Helen, who told no one except Queen Hecabe 1. And being then in great danger, Odysseus clasped the queen's knees, touched her cheek, and invented a legion of reasons to save his life, finally persuading Hecabe 1 to let him go, which shows that all pains to learn and study all other skills are of no avail if Persuasion, which is the queen of human arts, has not been mastered. This debt Odysseus was willing to pay, but in the person of Hecabe 1, and not in that of Polyxena 1, no matter
how much the queen implored:
"Do not tear my child from me, do not kill her … In her lies my joy, in her I forget troubles, and find comfort for all I have lost. She is my city now; my nurse, my staff, my guide." (Hecabe 1 to Odysseus. Euripides, Hecabe 276).
These words and many others did not move Odysseus' heart, who
thought that gratitude to the dead who had fought
for their country should come first. For, he
reasoned, if once more they would have to mobilize
and fight their enemies, many could hesitate to
join up and fight, if they saw that those who were
killed did not receive any special honour. This is how Polyxena 1 was lost. Her mother shed many tears, but herself she did not care, and showed no intention of touching someone's beard to try to save her life. For as she said, the mere name of "slave" made her in love with death. And in fact, having lived all her life as a princess, she had no desire of finding herself under a harsh-minded master, or being sent to a kitchen, or sweep a house, or stand in bitterness weaving at the loom, or having her bed claimed by some bought slave. This is why she declared:
unaccustomed to the taste of misery bears it, but
suffers as his neck accepts the yoke. For such a
one there is more happiness in dying than living.
For life bereft of honor is toil and
trouble." (Polyxena 1 to Hecabe 1. Euripides, Hecabe 375).
And other prisoners, as Hector 1's wife Andromache, who
survived the war and the Achaean camp, thought
likewise; for she said:
"To have been
unborn I count as one with death;
But better death than life in bitterness.
No pain feels death, which has no sense of
But who has prospered, and has fallen on woe,
Forlorn of soul strays far from olden
bliss." (Andromache to Hecabe 1. Euripides, Daughters
of Troy 636).
So having prepared her mind in such a way, Polyxena 1 died
willingly on the tomb of Achilles, being there
stabbed to death by Neoptolemus. And
they say that the whole Achaean army, having
watched her gestures and heard her last words,
considered her to have the most courageous and
noble heart of all.
End of Hecabe 1
When all postwar businesses had been settled, Hecabe 1 sailed away with Odysseus, to whom she had been assigned in servitude, and when they were passing the Hellespont, she threw herself into the sea, and according to some, she was turned into a bitch. Others have said that this happened when the Achaeans had made the ships ready for home-return. Still others assert that when Hecabe 1 had gouged Polymestor 1's eyeballs from their sockets, the Thracians attacked her with shafts and stones, but she bit the stones they threw and started barking when she tried to speak, turning finally into a dog. The place where this happened was called ever since Cynossemathe Dog's Tomband reminds of the woman who earned Fame worldwide for having
lost everything, and confronted a most complete
Comment by Menelaus
All this things happened, some say, because of
the will of the gods. But some have called Paris, the plague of Troy; for he, having
seduced Helen, caused
destruction to his own country. And some affirm
that Helen is to blame;
for, they reason, women are not abducted if they do
not want it themselves. As it is well known, the ACHAEAN LEADERS were bound by treaty, or by what is known as The
Oath of Tyndareus, to
join the alliance that sailed to Troy in order to demand the
restoration of Helen to
his husband Menelaus.
Someone may think that one important cause behind
the Achaean expedition must have been Menelaus' boundless
love for Helen. Yet he has
"Not so much
came I, as men deem, to Troy for her, but to avenge me on the
man, the traitor guest who stole my wife from
of Troy 865).
Another with identical name: Hecabe 2 is one of the DANAIDS.