In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Euripides’ Trojan Women

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Texts
  • Commentaries
  • Translations
  • Modern Script Adaptations for Performance

Classics Euripides’ Trojan Women
N. T. Croally
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0299


First performed in 415 BCE, possibly as part of a trilogy (or even a tetralogy), The Trojan Women is a remarkable play, which has drawn both admiration and criticism from classical scholars and theatrical practitioners. While the play has never been quite as popular or glamorous as Medea, or Hippolytus, or Bacchae, critics have nevertheless been drawn to it for a number of reasons: for the grim uniqueness of its mise-en-scène, for its stark representation of the effects of war (often applied to contemporary wars in 20th- and 21st-century productions), for its extreme examination of crucial Athenian values, for the pathos of the Trojan women’s situation, for the startling and anomalous appearance (in both senses) of Helen, for its occasionally giddying rhetoric, for its often beautiful language and imagery, for its tone—both relentless and inconsistent—for its sophisticated adaptation of Homer, and for its pervasive self-awareness. The prologue, spoken by the god Poseidon, is followed by an exchange between Poseidon and Athena. Following that is a monody sung by Hecuba, itself followed by a parodos delivered by both Hecuba and the chorus. The rest of the play has episodes (scenes in which actors speak) alternating with choral lyrics. All this is apparently conventional. However, while divine prologues are not unusual in Euripides (there are four other instances in the extant plays), a conversation between two gods is something of a novelty. Hecuba is on stage from the very beginning of the play and remains there mainly prostrate and/or in lamentation until the very end, a constant reminder of the dreadful effects of war. Such a constant presence is unusual. The play is dominated by women. The chorus remains on stage with Hecuba once it enters to deliver the parodos. Each episode is an exchange or confrontations between Hecuba and another individual woman, first Cassandra, then Andromache and finally Helen. This is most certainly a little-seen structural feature. In addition, only two men appear, one the Greek herald Talthybius, the other Menelaus in the agon scene (in which he says very little). No other 5th-century tragedy has so many lines spoken by women; no other 5th-century tragedy limits three of its most important characters to individual episodes. The play’s structural peculiarities have made some critics rate the play as second-rate. However, any viewing of a good production should persuade us that this is a play of extreme emotional power.

General Overviews

There are not many monographs concerned with The Trojan Women. Croally 1994 and Goff 2009 are the best introductions, though the latter is more concerned with reception. (Willis 2005, cited under Reception in Recent Times, is entirely concerned with reception.) Listed below are some important works about Euripides in more general terms. Barlow 2008 and Rutherford 2012 have a great deal of interest to say about the language of tragedy in a formal sense. Gregory 1991 is, again, a wide-ranging book with much to say about Euripides generally. Koniaris 1973 and Scodel 1980 are the two most detailed studies of whether The Trojan Women was part of either a trilogy or a tetralogy. For information concerning the biography of Euripides, the dating of his plays, bibliography and reference works, scholia, manuscripts, and textual tradition, concordances, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Classics article Euripides.

  • Barlow, Shirley A. 2008. The imagery of Euripides: A study in the dramatic use of pictorial language. London: Bristol Classical Press.

    This is an important analysis of the use of imagery in Euripides, through close reading of Euripides and the other tragedians.

  • Croally, N. T. 1994. Euripidean polemic: The Trojan Women and the function of tragedy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Mainly devoted to The Trojan Women. The play is placed in the social and political context of late-5th-century Athens, and argues that The Trojan Women is a good example of tragic teaching, where tragic teaching is seen as the dramatic examination of important Athenian values in the other-world of myth. What makes The Trojan Women stand out is the (extreme) dramatic context of war, in which values can be put to an extreme test.

  • De Romilly, Jaqueline. 1986. La Modernité d’Euripide. Paris: Presse Universitaires de France.

    This is a reflection on whether Euripides seemed “modern” or “contemporary” to his audience, as well as whether we should see him as a modernist now.

  • Goff, Barbara. 2009. Euripides: Trojan Women. London: Duckworth.

    This reflection on The Trojan Women—sensible and balanced—is divided into three sections: contexts; the play; 20th-century receptions. The first section deals with the contemporary context—Athens, Melos, and tragedy. The second section organizes its discussion through the various characters. The third section deals with ten 20th-century productions (mainly on the stage).

  • Gregory, Justina. 1991. Euripides and the instruction of the Athenians. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.13027

    Deals with five plays of Euripides—Alcestis, Hippolytus, Hecuba, Heracles, Trojan Women—under the overarching theme of tragic teaching. Chapter 5 (pp. 155–183) considers The Trojan Women not only as a play of despair and lamentation but also one in which the power of logos—a belief in which was so essential to Athenian democracy—helps the characters bear the unendurable.

  • Koniaris, George Leonidas. 1973. Alexander, Palamedes, Troades, Sisyphus. A connected tetralogy? A connected trilogy?. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 77:85–124.

    DOI: 10.2307/311061

    A carefully argued criticism of attempts to argue for a close trilogic connection, such as between the three plays of the Oresteia.

  • Rutherford, R. 2012. Greek tragic style. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511842771

    A detailed analysis of the various ways in which we talk about tragic style, incorporating imagery, spoken verse, sung lyric, character types, irony, and wisdom.

  • Scodel, Ruth. 1980. The Trojan trilogy of Euripides. Gottingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

    DOI: 10.13109/9783666251566

    The fullest treatment of whether The Trojan Women was part of a trilogy. There is a reconstruction of Alexander (pp. 20–42), of Palamedes (pp. 43–63), and detailed discussion of Sisyphus (pp. 122–137). This is also the fullest argument in favor of trilogic connection, partly based on the reversals that occur from play to play, and partly based on the agones that appear in all three plays.

  • Stevens, P. T. 1956. Euripides and the Athenians. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 76:87–94.

    DOI: 10.2307/629555

    This article convincingly argues that while Euripides did not win as many first prizes as either Aeschylus or Sophocles, that does not mean that he was unpopular (as some traditions have it). It is unlikely, given the number of plays of his that we know were performed, that he was ever turned down by the archon eponumos. Important as context. Available online by subscription.

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