The Message of
Euripides' "Trojan Women"
If There Are Losers There Are No Winners
In the winter of 416-415 BC, a nominally peaceful year during the
Peloponnesian War, the war between Athens and Sparta, the Athenians
invited the neutral island of Melos to join their alliance. The
Melians refused, and, in a show of power, the Athenians retaliated
by besieging their capital, forcing the people to capitulate, putting
to death all the men, and enslaving all women and children of the
During the following winter (415-414 BC), the Athenians, dangerously
intoxicated by their own power and equally unprovoked by the Sicilians,
decided to conquer the island of Sicily. Two years later (413 BC),
this expedition ended disastrously for the Athenians, who never
completely recovered from its devastation.
Between these two major events of Athenian history, in the summer
of 415 BC, Euripides presented on stage his Trojan Women. Using
the archetype of the Trojan War, he artistically and powerfully
evoked the hallucination of military and economic power, and he
provided the world with an eternal and incomparable political commentary
on the futility of war, which ruins equally both the victor and
In this play, through an artistic twist of the epic tradition,
Euripides challenges us to look closely at our values and beliefs,
and he ruthlessly pushes us over the edge as he confronts us with
the questioning of the meaning of power, civilization, sanity, truth,
beauty, justice, freedom, and above all, the meaning of personal
or public victory.
In this seminar, we will take a close look at both Euripides' tragedy
and Cacoyannis' cinematic interpretation of it, and we will seek
ways of illuminating our own lives by the play's provoking questions.