Friday, October 24, 2008

Trojan Women/Melos

I recently got a lesson in the value of a liberal education. Ohio State's theatre department put on a production of Trojan Women 2.0. Euripides wrote it in 415B.C. It tells the story of the fate of the women of the city of Troy after the Greeeks utterly destroyed that city at the end of the Trojan War. Over 24 centuries later, it is *heartbreaking* to watch. Hecuba was the Queen of Troy, but she's lived to see her husband and all her sons killed- and all her daughters raffled off as the spoils of war to the victorious Greeks. Andromache, widow of Hector, Troy's greatest warrior, is to be the trophy of the son of Achilles- the man who killed her husband. And, oh, yes, Andromache- ah, about you infant son- he could lead a Trojan revival, so say goodbye, because the Greeks are going to throw him off the walls of Troy.

The story that relatively few people would know is that Euripides wrote that play as a protest of the Athenian conduct of the Peloppenesian War. Just the year before, Athens had sent an expedition to a previously neutral island city/state of Melos, and told the Melians to either join the Athenian alliance (Translation: turn over the key to the city treasury to the Athenians or face a terrible fate.)

A few memorable quotes: after the Melians said that they would appeal to the gods for help, the Athenian reply was 'We have as much right to expect Divine Favor as you. Of men we know, and of the gods we believe, one rules wherever one can.' The other quote that stays with me is 'The strong do what they will; the weak endure what they must' (That was true centuries before Athens was founded, and I don't see that changing the next two and half millenia)

Melos refused the Athenian ultimatum and the city fell to the Athenian siege. Now remember, the Melians spoke the same language as the Athenians and worshipped the same gods.So what happened after they surrendered? All males past puberty were killed; the women and children were sold into slavery. As I watched Trojan Women, it occurred to me that went that play debuted, there were no doubt men in the audience who had killed Melian men, and who had bought or sold Melian women and children as slaves. Mindboggling.

I think General Sherman was on to something when he said, 'War is hell.'


PS A shoutout to my EXCELLENT history Professor Williamson Murray who introduced me to Thucydides and the Melian dialogue. Many thanks, Professor.

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