by Euripides

Mythological Background

After the Greeks defeated Troy, they took many of the Trojan women captive. The women would be given to the Greek leaders as slaves. Among the Trojan women captives were King Priam’s wife, Queen Hecuba, and two of her daughters – the prophetess Cassandra and her sister Polyxena. Priam and Hecuba had sent their youngest son, Polydorus, to the court of King Polymestor of Thrace for safe-keeping, along with a great treasure of gold.

When the Greeks wanted to sail home, the spirit of the dead hero Achilles prevented them from leaving Troy by stopping the winds. Achilles’ spirit wanted to be honored by the human sacrifice of the most beautiful of the princesses of Troy, Polyxena.

King Polymestor of Thrace turned out to be a disloyal friend to the Trojans: he kept the gold treasure, killed young Prince Polydorus, and threw his body into the sea. Eventually it washed up onshore near the Greek encampment, and was brought to his mother Hecuba.


In lines 251-295, Odysseus has come to bring Polyxena to be sacrificed at Achilles’ tomb. Hecuba reminds him about an incident before the end of the war: Odysseus had sneaked into Troy in disguise as a spy, but Helen recognized him and pointed him out to Hecuba. Odysseus had supplicated Hecuba to let him escape unharmed, and the queen had done so. Hecuba now in turn supplicates Odysseus to let Polyxena be spared. She points out that the real injustice done to Achilles was done by Helen, who should therefore be the victim sacrificed to Achilles. Hecuba reminds Odysseus that he owes her a favor in exchange for his life, and asks that he convince the Greeks to spare her daughter.

In lines 299-333, Odysseus responds to Hecuba. He is willing to spare her life, but will not ask the Greeks to spare Polyxena. Odysseus argues that any man’s sacrifice of his own life for the cause of his people earns him the right to be honored after death. He points out that there are Greek parents and brides grieving for dead Greek heroes. The Chorus of captive Trojan women interject a brief comment that slavery is a curse because the enslaved, overpowered by the force of their conquerors, must endure any wrong done to them.

About the Author

There is little reliable evidence about the life of Euripides, and nearly nothing from his lifetime. Most ancient sources about his life say that he was born in the year when Athens won the Battle of Salamis, 480 BCE. He presented his first tragedies in 455, and won his first victory in a drama competition in 441. He won only four victories in drama competitions during his career as a playwright. Contemporary comic playwrights (Aristophanes and others) parodied and ridiculed his work more than they did the work of any other Athenian literary figure. This suggests that, although Euripides may not have won often, people paid attention to his work. We know he died before January of 405, because Aristophanes’ comedy, The Frogs, which refers to Euripides’ death, was staged in that month and year.
Evidence about Euripides’ activity as a tragedian is reliable: for the dramatic contests each year, an inscription in stone recorded the contestants’ names, their plays, and any prizes they won. The inscriptions were copied, most notably by Aristotle and his students, then later by the Alexandrian scholars. The Alexandrians also collected copies of as many plays as they could find, compiling them into collections later used by medieval copyists. Alexandrian scholars apparently had copies of 78 plays by Euripides, 70 tragedies and 8 satyr plays, and knew titles for 14 more plays. 19 of these plays survive; one play attributed to him the Rhesus, may not be his work. At least two non-dramatic poems are ascribed to Euripides: a victory ode (now fragmentary) in honor of Alcibiades’ victories in the 416 BCE Olympic Games’ chariot races, and an epitaph in honor of the Athenians who died in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War.

Evidence from Aristotle’s reference to a lawsuit in which Euripides was involved indicates that the poet was fairly well-off in terms of wealth – not surprising in that he had enough time available to him to be able to write plays without any guarantee of financial success from them.

A remark attributed to Euripides’ fellow writer of tragedies, Sophocles, reflects the difference between Sophocles’ work and Euripides’: Sophocles is said to have claimed that he showed people as they ought to be (or ought to be shown), whereas Euripides showed them as they really were. Euripides treated the old myths, his source materials for his plots, as if they were stories about real everyday people. Often in his plays he depicts his characters at their crisis moments, revealing their weaknesses. 

A recurrent element in Euripides’ dramas is a sense of defeat and disappointment, possibly reflecting Euripides’ own feelings at the reception of his plays. He tended to focus on the weak and oppressed, the despised and misunderstood members of society: usually women, slaves, captives, strangers, and (to Greek eyes) barbarians (i.e., non-Greeks). Thus, another recurrent motif in Euripides is that of a character’s desire to escape his/ her situation. Euripides had his faults in constructing tragedies: scenes of pathos sometimes turn into scenes of sentimentality; his plays show signs of hasty or sloppy composition; and he sometimes attempted to get too much into a single character or situation. Faulty as his plays might be, however, his characters are unforgettable.

Although various reasons are given for Euripides’ decision to go to Macedon in 408 BCE, it is a guess as to which reason – his wife’s infidelity, his annoyance at having to compete against inferior poets, disdain for failing to win first prize in dramatic contests – is the true one. It should be noted that other Athenian poets and artists also accepted invitations from Archelaus, the archon of Macedon, at around the time Euripides went there. Whether Euripides was going into self-imposed exile, or intended to make only a temporary visit, is unknown. In any event, he died in Macedon. The funerary inscription on the cenotaph erected to him in Athens states that he was buried in Macedon.


Euripides. Euripides I: Iphigeneia at Aulis, Rhesus, Hecuba, Daughters of Troy, Helen. Transl. A.S. Way. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Image: Bust of Euripides. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from ca. 330 BC, Museo Pio-Clementino, Sala delle Muse, Vatican. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Euripides_Pio-Clementino_Inv302_n2.jpg

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Fanni is Radnóti's wife
Located near the Tang capital city of Chang’an, site of the modern city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, in central China.
Soldiers of that time commonly wore a white head cloth, similar to what is still worn by some peasants in China today.  The implication is that the conscripts were so young that they didn’t know how to wrap their head cloths, and needed help from elders.
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
The area of Guanxi, meaning “west of the passes”, refers to the area around the capital city of Chang’an.
This is an alternative name for a province in western China, now known as Qinghai, which literally means “blue sea”.  Kokonor Lake, located in Qinghai, is the largest saline lake in China.  
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
Oulart Hollow was the site of a famous victory of the Irish rebels over British troops, which took place on May 27, 1798. The rebels killed nearly all the British attackers in this battle. (Source: Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. H. H. Bohn, London 1854, pp 92-93, at archive.org)
The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.


An Italian word meaning “foundry.” It originally referred to a part of the city of Venice where the Jews of that city were forced to live; the area was called “the ghetto” because there was a foundry nearby. The term eventually came to refer to any part of a city in which a minority group is forced to live as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure. Because of the restrictions placed upon them, ghetto residents are often impoverished.

"You’re five nine, I am do-uble two"

A reference to the year 1959 and the year 2020.

"The Currency"

Meaning US dollars - this is drawing attention to the fact that Cuba is effectively dollarized.

"Sixty years with the dom-ino stuck"

This sentence is a reference to the Cold War notion that countries would turn Communist one after the other - like dominos. Cuba was the first domino, but it got stuck - no one else followed through into communism.


رحلنا, or "rahalna," means "we have left."


Habibi means "my love."


Ra7eel, or "raheel," means "departure."


3awda, or "awda," means "returning."


أهلاً, or "ahalan," means "welcome."

a5 ya baba

a5 ya baba, pronounced "akh ya baba," means "Oh my father."