The following is a prologue soliloquy from a play I've been writing off and on for the last year or so. The play is inspired by Greek myth and concerns, in part, the fate of Andromache wife of the Trojan hero Hector after the sack of Troy (Ilium). The other part is the fate of the cursed House of Atreus, in this case Agamemnon and his children Orestes and his sisters Electra and Chrysothemis.
I have taken many liberties with the material, but I have I hope remained respectful of the material and the Ancient Greek concepts that underpinned their mythological traditions.
(It is winter in Epirus. The setting is the audience hall of the Royal palace. The Throne, on a dais of two steps, is in the centre back. The throne is polished dark wood with a crimson cloak draped over one of its arms. In front to the right is a long table with simple seats with no backs, were the Royal councillors sit. It is late at night and except for several torches burning the room is dark. Sitting at the table unable to sleep and lost in thought is Andromache. She is Queen of Epirus, called also Molossia and its people Molossians. In the back hedged by black curtains is a large window through which can be dimly seen mountains covered with snow. It is cold and Andromache, wearing a white full length tunic has covered her head and shoulders with a shawl.)
(Raising her head)
The wind moves down from the mountains into this room and I shiver from it. One might think that being Queen I would at least be warm. For is it not by my word that men live or die? But how that is or better came to be is a story. How did Andromache daughter of (unknown), dweller of well-walled Ilium and wife of Hector, tamer of horses end up here in this wintry mountain land far away from the Scamander’s meanderings? How did I become undisputed mistress of Epirus, Queen of the Molossians? Here my word is law and my commands obeyed. Yet once I was simply Hector’s wife, with just the household slaves and servants to command, not, armies, fleets. A whole kingdom!! If I could, I would undo all this and again be Hector’s wife. Then I was happy, but happiness is hubris, which the Gods do punish. For to call oneself, or any man happy is to tempt the providence of the Gods and earn their wrath. Call no one happy until they are cold and buried.
So what is the story of my fate?
My fate was cursed by Helen and Paris. Did not Paris return after being cast away by his parents to die, for prophecy said he would destroy Ilium. But die he did not and when he returned out of love and guilt his parents took him back glad that their infanticide had failed. Loving my own children I blame Priam and Hecuba neither for the fear that made them cast out Paris nor the love with which they embraced him upon his return. But like a scorpion he betrayed them. Knowing the prophecy he insisted on fulfilling it. Instead of being mild and meek, he boldly embraced his desires and destroyed us all.
His partner in this madness was Helen. As beautiful as the mountains and has pitiless! Paris conceived a reckless passion for her and she for him. Helen was married to Menelaus. Who by marrying her had become King of un-walled Sparta. So rather than say goodbye to Helen and her aching loins, which no man could ever satisfy, Menelaus was compelled in order to remain King of Sparta to get her back. He called upon his brother, the vile and blood-splattered Agamemnon, husband by force and murder of Clytaemnestra sister of Helen, King of rich in gold Mycenae, to help him. Now Agamemnon was high King of the Greeks and so he called his vassals to his side at Aulis and from there they sailed to Troy.
There for 10 long years they besieged Ilium. Not all their bravery or power could break the will of Ilium. My husband Hector, son of Priam led the Trojans. For all their Achilles, Ajaxes and Odysseuses, and so forth, none could match my Hector in valour and none could defeat him. Then Achilles, a man without pity or mercy by a trick defeated and slew my Hector and then tied his body to his chariot and drove round the walls of Ilium. How I wailed my grief that day! How I wished I was dead beside him! Priam by gold got Hector’s body from Achilles, having abjected himself before his son’s murderer.
Impious Achilles was shortly after slain by Paris, who killed him by poison in manner Achilles well deserved. Paris was shortly slain also thus not living to see Troy’s black fate, dying in pain and disgrace. The fruits of his selfish, heedless desires, disdainful of law or honour!
Black-hearted Odysseus, no stranger to lying and treachery, then devised a piece of deception to breach Ilium’s walls. Which stood un-breached despite Hector’s fall. If valour will not work, there is always deception.
I will not repeat the story of the Wooden Horse. How it was pulled into Troy. How that night the Greeks concealed within opened Troy’s gates and the Greeks, who had seemed to leave returned and entered.
Shall I describe the horrors of that night? How Priam, a helpless aged supplicant was murdered clinging to Zeus’ alter. That night the temples were sacrilegiously sacked. In that night my sister by marriage prophecy intoxicated Cassandra, whose virginity was consecrated to the God Apollo, was taken by Agamemnon, right in Apollo’s temple, on the alter. There he enjoyed her in defiance of the God and all justice. Stifling her screams with his hands. Yes the outrages, murders, rapes, impious, acts were never ending. Thus in their victory did the Greeks defy both Man’s and the God’s justice.
But what I remember the most is the day that followed. Pain so great that I did not know I could bear it. The Greeks in council decided that Asytanax, my son and Hector’s should die least he live and grow and rebuilt Ilium and avenge her wrongs. Odysseus, seconded by Agamemnon urged this terrible horror upon the Greeks. With some reluctance the Greeks shed the last of justice and honour and agreed. Only Neoptolemos son of Achilles, and Odysseus could do it. They climbed the ruined wall in order to throw my son into Elysium. At the last moment even those stone men hesitated, but urged by Agamemnon they threw my little one down to shatter on the ground.
I felt and saw nothing. Like a piece of wood I was insensible for hours, nay days. Like a fire in my soul I burned for seemly an eternity. Any parent who loses a child will feel such pain but how much worst is it when it is by man’s cruelty.
I was given to Neoptolemos, Achille’s son. A man hateful to me. Son of the murderer of Hector, and slayer of my son.
So I went with him to here called Epirus by the Greeks Molossia by the inhabitants. For they wanted a great warrior has their King, to unite the tribes and bring them prestige with the Greeks.
I had another child by Hector. Born before he died on the day in honour of Hestia, guardian of hearth and home. So I named her Hestia, although Hector called her also Hecuba in honour of his mother the Queen.
A slave named Kimon, unknowing to me, saved her by claiming the child to be his and her mother a fellow slave who had died. I thought her dead. After all if it was too dangerous to allow Asytanax to live, least he grow up to avenge Troy. Then it must follow that Hestia must die least she marry and have a male child that lives and avenges sacked Ilium.
By the Gods will Kimon was given to Neoptolemos, and since the Greeks could not be bothered with a girl child they allowed him to keep Hestia.
My joy was unbounded when I found that Hestia lived; yet I could not let the Greeks know she lived. Least my joy slay her, I kept the face and manner of a beaten captive.
So some years past in Molossia, with iron hearted Neoptolemos ruling with hatred and terror over the Molossians. They at first thought that his cruelties were just politics to make his rule secure and would once their purpose achieved be moderated. That was not to be for like his blood soaked father Neoptolemos kept death has his most favoured mistress and terror has his favourite councillor.
At this time Neoptolemos become besotted with me. Frankly I suppose because I hated him so and took but little effort to hide my endless hate. Thus he desired me because I would not yield to him.
Certainly he could have taken me by force, his servants holding me down while he satiated his lust. But that meant nothing to him, he wanted me willingly and totally. He wished to possess me utterly. Not just this slave’s body but her mind and soul has well.
He cast about how to do this. At length certain servants out of fear and or for favour told him of certain things I had said too and done with the slave child Hestia.
Neoptolemos seized Kimon and tortured him so savagely that Kimon’s wits left him. But Kimon said nothing, broken though he was. So much for the worthless taunts about “slave honour”. Kimon has more of it than virtually any “nobly” born man.
Leaving Kimon shattered in a dank dungeon. Neoptolemos, that ignoble man, took Hestia and put a dagger to her throat and threatened to kill her while I would be forced to watch until he knew the secret. The point of the dagger cut and red blood was flooding out when I shrieked. “Stop Stop!!! She is my daughter! Stop!!!”. I collapsed and was insensible for a day.
Hestia lived although I’m told it was by mere chance. Maybe but I suppose Neoptolemos’ threat to castrate and disembowel the Doctors and Nurses if she died played a part.
There was no mercy in Neoptolemos’ action for he intended to use my daughter has a weapon against me.
It came to past that once I had regained my senses Neoptolemos told me that has the price of my daughter’s life I must marry him and be an entirely devoted wife to him. Should I falter in this Hestia would die before my eyes. Thus far did Neoptolemos go in his infamous defiance of justice.
How could I do it! I hated him so. Sooner or later I would show the hate I bore him and Hestia would die. Further how could I marry the man who murdered Asytanax!! Who also took part in the impious sacking of Troy? And was guilty of countless other pollutions and sacrilege.
The other Greeks were enraged upon learning that seed of Hector remained and pressured him to slay Hestia. Meanwhile Hermione daughter of Neoptolemos was furious concerning the marriage. For she was betrothed to Orestes the accursed, murderer of his mother, avenger of an ignoble, worthless father. Orestes with his friend Pylades came to Epirus and there they conspired with Hermione to slay Neoptolemos. For Orestes if he could not be king of Golden Mycenae, being banished from there, wanted kingship of Molossia, which he could only get by marrying Hermione and succeeding Neoptolemos has king. Both Orestes and Hermione were fearful that should I marry Neoptolemos I would have a son who would get the Kingship.
I was not aware of Orestes and Hermione’s plans. I instead sought to save Hestia by marrying Neoptolemos and then by the most frightful oaths bind him, upon everlasting torment in Tartarus and execration to the end of time among men, to protect Hestia. Then I would retire to my apartments and slay myself. Thus I would save Hestia.
The Greek pressure to murder Hestia grew so I agreed to marry Neoptolemos quickly. I further did not know that many of the Molossian Nobles hated Neoptolemos to such an extent that they too were conspiring to slay him. For both Noble and Commoner were groaning under him and cursed him. What was keeping them from acting was they could not decide what frightful form of torture to kill him by and who should be King after his well deserved murder. Some of the conspirators got wind of Orestes and Hermione’s plot and decided to let it happen and then move in if it either failed or succeeded. In one case to clean up the mess and ensure Orestes and Hermione did not become rulers of Epirus and in the other to ensure that Neoptolemos was indeed slain.
So the day came and with a false smile and acting happiness I went through the marriage ceremony, knowing not that Orestes and Pylades lay in wait to slay Neoptolemos after the ceremony.
After the ceremony and the Oaths for Hestia, I retired to my room supposedly to get ready for the bridal bed. Has I lay the knife to my wrist I saw. Priam and Hecuba appear.
They cried out “ Daughter No, Oh please daughter NO! NO!”
Then Cassandra appeared and cried out “In the name of Apollo Live sister!”
Hector than appeared behind me, holding me saying “Beloved wife please live on!”
Clutching the knife still I nerved myself to banish those cowardly daemons. But then dearest Asytanax appeared and said quietly “Mother! for my sake d’ont!”.
I dropped the knife and collapsed into a heap. Raging at my cowardice, weeping for my weakness. At length I heard dimly through the door and then louder and louder.
“All Hail Andromache Queen of the Molossians” over and over and over again, until the sound was deafening; until the very roof shook. Then the door opened.
Thrasybullus was at the door He hailed me has Queen between gritted teeth and knelled. For he was one of the conspirators and he secretly longed to be King himself. I was speechless and in a stupor. But enough! this story could last a eternity if I don’t end it.
To get to the end. Orestes and Pylades had murdered Neoptolemos in his chamber where they had laid in wait for him. Piercing him with their swords and laying him dead in his blood splattered bridegroom robe with his marriage garland festooned with his blood and brains. Word soon spread that Neoptolemos was dead by the hand of the cursed Orestes. Instead of hailing him has their hero and deliverer he was cursed has a matricide hated by the gods and all those associated with him similarly accursed. Since I was married to Neoptolemos and much pitied by the people for my miseries the cry arose that it was the God’s will that Neoptolemos die and I be Queen. Before the Conspirators could act the commons, called by the stupid the “mob”, had proclaimed me Queen. They dared not for fear of their lives go against the people and so they went along knowing that I would not be Queen long, or so they hoped. That hope was forestalled by the support the commons gave me through out the land, out of piety and the belief that my ruling was just. It certainly helped that the nobles realized that supporting me was the only alternative to a vicious civil war among many claimants.
So I was crowned, and Hestia proclaimed my heir to Epirus. It has been 10 years since then, 15 since Iluim was made a ruin. Despite the intrigues of Nobles and the alliances and conspiracies of the other Greek states who fear the reborn house of Priam, I am still Queen. The calamines and hatred of the Greeks have merely reinforced the peoples love for me and softened the Nobles antipathy to me. Thrasybullus is my chief Councillor and if I trust him not completely I trust him well enough. And if he still finds it hard to accept me has Queen he prefers it to virtually all other possibilities. Except him becoming King. However he knows he would not survive deposing me. So he stakes his and his families future on his son Creon marrying Hestia. A match I approve of given that Hestia likes Creon much and such a marriage would remove most of the remaining opposition to me and Hestia.
As for Orestes, Pylades and Hermione, they fled into exile still stirring up opposition on behalf of Hermione’s “rights”. Orestes still dreams of becoming king of Golden Mycenae. Electra, Orestes fellow matricide and sister, has married Pylades and has had two still born children. So the God’s curse follows them both.
A new alliance of Greek states is being formed against us. For the Greeks have recovered from the storms both natural and man made that decimated the Greeks upon their homecoming from desecrated Ilium and punished them for their damnable innumerable sins against justice. Fleets destroyed by storms, lands decimated by plague, civil war, family homicidal strife, murder, thievery, dishonour, exile, were their just reward for their “honourable” victory.
Thus did the Gods reward their self proclaimed champions.
But late I heard a secret message from Orestes saying he wishes to meet me so we can “act to our mutual benefit”, and requesting safe conduct for himself, Electra, and Pylades.
Against the advice of my council I have given Orestes what he wants. For I hope what he proposes will weaken if not break the alliance against Molossia that threatens us.
As for my happiness? I have little and it is mostly my daughter. But then I’m a wife again. For upon becoming Queen I freed Kimon, mad though he was, and then married him. My advisers were aghast!! Ha! Ha! I did it for three reasons. 1, I did not wish to have endless disputes and fighting over who would marry me. 2, Hestia already regarded Kimon has her father. 3, Mainly I married him because next to Hector and Priam, not excluding my own father, he is the most honourable man I have ever known. So marrying him was definitely the just and right thing to do.
Kimon is simply my consort and not King and I am pleased to say is now quite sane, most of the time anyway.
But soft I hear someone approaching.
Gantz, Timothy, Early Greek Myth, v. 1 & 2, The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MA, 1993.
Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, Revised Edition, v. 1 & 2, Penguin Books, London, 1960.
Schwab, Gustav, Gods and Heroes: Myths and Epics of Ancient Greece, Pantheon Books, New York, 1946.
Aeschylus, The Oresteian Trilogy, Penguin Books, London, 1956. Contains the plays Agamemnon, The Choephori, (The Libation Bearers), The Eumenies, (The Furies), which I used.
Sophocles, Electra and Other Plays, Penguin Books, London, 1953. Contains Electra which I used.
Euripides, The Bacchae and other Plays, Second Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1973. Contains The Trojan Women which I used.
IBID, Orestes and Other Plays, 1972. Contains Orestes and Andromache which I used.
IBID. Medea / Hecabe / Electra / Heracles, 1963. Contains Electra, and Hecabe which I used.
Racine, Jean, Andromache and Other Plays, Penguin Books, London, 1967. Contains Andromache which I used.