The Women of Troy is a play written by Euripides that explores the aftermath of the Trojan War, specifically focusing on the experiences of the women who were left behind in the city as it was besieged and ultimately captured by the Greeks. The play serves as a poignant commentary on the brutality of war and the suffering it brings, particularly to those most vulnerable.
In this blog, I will be dissecting a full mark 20/20 sample essay on The Women of Troy. The essay will be analysed in terms of its structure, argument, and use of evidence – the techniques that helped me score a 100% in the text response SAC.
Prompt: “It’s little enough, child,/ We can give you, in this time of disaster/But what we can find, you shall have.” ‘The values of dignity and respect are central to this play.’ Discuss.
The prompt includes a quote that highlights the importance of dignity “time[s] of disaster” – it alludes to the women’s moral strength and perseverance. The themes that we should focus on are spelt out, “values of dignity and respect”. I’ve decided to focus on the following ideas to strengthen my exploration of the prompt:
- The strength of the Women of Troy, when juxtaposed against the Greeks’, showcases the importance of dignity.
- Honour manifests itself in the form of perseverance in times of hardship.
- There is nobility in death.
- Respect towards others, and traditions.
- The Greeks lack respect towards the natural order.
It is very important to stay relevant to the prompt – the ideas above remain connected to the themes of dignity and respect. We perhaps would like to contextualise those ideas by asking ourselves: respect towards who/what? How does dignity/honour manifest?
First performed in Athens in 415 BCE—after the sacking of Melos and the enslavement of its women, and immediately before the departure of the Athenian fleet to fight in Sicily—Euripides’ Women of Troy conveys the necessity of dignity and respect, even in “time[s] of disaster.” The Trojan women, though experiencing unfathomable agonies, maintain a sort of moral strength throughout their ordeal—they persevere and keep their humanity, unlike the Greeks. Euripides also explores the dignity in dying nobly—something that would have resonated with the Athenians, who, in their constant state of war, were faced with the prospect of a soldier’s death quite frequently. The importance of decency is also illustrated—those who show true strength and valour are those who show respect for their fellow human beings, and for the traditions and workings of their world.
Euripides demonstrates the importance of dignity through the strength of the women of Troy in comparison to the Greeks. His use of animal imagery highlights that while both sides of the war are reduced to animals, the true worth shown by the women is not corrupted by base instinct, rather, it is emphasised. The Greeks, in murdering an innocent child, are accused of having “invented…unheard of savagery,” and are shown to be “hunters on the trail” of Helen, who let their “uncontrollable lust” “[en]slave” them, and like “animals” they show “no power to reason”, deeming their “inferior.” While the women are also “slave[s] of [the men’s] lust,” and have been reduced to animals like “mother bird[s]” and “seagulls” crying for their young, the contrast between them and the Greeks shows them to have much more dignity. The Greeks are predators, who have become “savag[e]” and have given in to their basest desires, but the women have become representative of the best of nature—of the protectors, the carers—thus showing them to be much more honourable. The use of the passive voice and the active voice in Don Taylor’s translation reinforces this idea. Cassandra says that the Greeks started “dying, and kept on dying,” implying that they were to blame, whilst Trojans, such as Polyxena and Priam are said to have been “secretly and brutally murdered” and “barbarously killed,” respectively. Here, the use of the passive voice contrasted with the active voice for the Greeks indicates innocent on the Trojans’ part and barbarity on the Greeks’—the Trojans’ blamelessness and their victimised state shows a kind of dignity that the violent Greeks did not seem to possess.
Moreover, the women of the play show honour in their perseverance. Hecuba says that she and the women “most endure” their suffering and “flow with the stream,” the calm, tranquil image of a “stream” a stark contrast to the fire and destruction that the Greeks have brought about. Even when it seems as though the women might simply stop, they keep persevering. The episodic rather than climactic structure of the play allows us to see this—the suffering is prolonged, as the Chorus says, their “land is under the whip, the next stroke falls as [they] still bleed from the last.” The fact that more bad news keeps arriving in new “chapter[s],” and that there is no catharsis, only “everlasting sorrow,” emphasises just how strong and dignified the women are even when they are in a “time of disaster.”
Furthermore, the idea of dying with nobility and honour is at the heart of the play. Cassandra encapsulates this when she says: “it is a crown of honour to die nobly, with dignity. The really shameful thing is to die dishonourable, ignobly, without pride.” This idea of nobility in “fighting for th[e] fatherland” but dishonour in needless killing underscored the whole play and related to the Athenian situation in Euripides’ world. This is especially explore when Cassandra talks of how the Greeks’ “bodies lie forgotten in a foreign country”; this image to the Athenians so concerned with proper burial rites would have evoke doubt in them just as they were about to sail off to a “foreign country.” Here, Euripides not only questions the point of “pointless slaughter,” but emphasises the importance of dying “nobly,” fighting to defend one’s country, rather than dying “ignobly” and “without pride” in the name of conquest.
The necessity of respect for one another as human beings also underscores the play. The “wretched, meaningless” murder of Astyanax is a key moment in the play—it pushes the bounds of human decency that even Talthybius, whose professional detachment exceeds anything ever seen, believes that he is “not half hard enough” to cope with such atrocities. This murder questions the values of war—just how far can one go before losing all humanity?—and illustrates the importance of decency and compassion towards one another. The Greeks who ordered the execution of a child who has “done nothing” are, according to Hecuba “nothing, worth nothing.” The repetition of “nothing” here truly underlines the inhumanity of their actions and indicates that their lack of respect has deemed them unworthy of respect; deemed them less than human, only “nothing.” Their lack of decency continues throughout the play—with them burning “even th[e] ruins” of the city, and refusing to let Hecuba “run into the flames” and die with her city—the “mother of [them] all.” This inhumanity repeatedly shown is what shows them to have lost their decency—when even the “lackeys” like Talthybius struggle to act so immorally, ultimately the “Greek war machine” carries on, ploughing everything down on its path to victory. Thus, the importance of respect for one another is demonstrated—without it, we are no longer human, we are “nothing.”
Though their lives have been utterly destroyed, the women show a respect for tradition and the natural order of the world that is crucial to the play. Even when their city is crumbling around them, the Trojan women follow the traditional burial rites of their land, using “what [they] can find” to bury Astyanax—though they have “little enough,” they make do for the sake of respecting tradition and easing Astyanax’ journey to the Underworld. In contrast, the Greeks’ “bodies lie forgotten in a foreign country,” showing dishonour in their neglecting custom—their lack of respect once again has left them less noble. Athene’s anger at her “temple [being] desecrated” by the Greeks and at the “puddles of blood” that “smear the sanctuaries” also highlights the Greeks’ disregard for the workings of their world—they have broken even their own rules and committed acts of sacrilege that anger their gods. Here, it is clear that a lack of respect for tradition at the time was frowned upon, which is ultimately condemned in the play.
Moreover, the Greeks seem to have little consideration for the natural order of their world—doing deeds “best kept in the dark” that turn the order of the world so that men become “inferior” to “animals” and “the whole world [becomes] overturned.” Indeed, it is Andromache’s slavery, the fact that she was “born royal, and made a slave” that made the world “overturned.” The same thing happened to Hecuba, whose feet were “so used to…all the luxury of Troy” and now “belong to a slave.” These hierarchical contrasts emphasise the way the Greeks’ lack of respect for the workings of their society and their destructive actions have turned the world on its head—both the natural world and the world of Kings and Queens, now “throned in the dust.”
Ultimately, Euripides’ Women of Troy explores the importance of honour and respect in times of conflict. Though it may be difficult, we must keep our strength and our morality, like the Trojan women, in order to keep our humanity. Euripides also demonstrates that there is nobility in dying to defend one’s home, one’s love, and one’s life, while dying in the name of conquest or “pointless slaughter,” like his Athenian audience were about to, is a great dishonour. The play conveys the necessity of respect for one another and for our place in the world and its chain of being. Essentially, Euripides warns us of being swept away by the heat of conflict—in doing so we risk losing our compassion, honour and decency, and, therefore, our humanity.
Why this essay scored highly:
Comments by Lindsey Dang
The essay employs a wide range of vocabulary that not only showcases the writer's understanding of the text, but also adds depth and richness to the analysis. This varied vocabulary helps to engage the reader and displays the writer's prowess in language.
The essay skillfully integrates quotations from the play to support the analysis. This demonstrates the writer's ability to analyze the text and choose quotes that are relevant and impactful. Additionally, the seamless embedding of these quotes adds to the essay's flow and readability.
The writer makes excellent use of literary devices, including imagery, symbolism, and contrast, to analyze the text. These devices help to emphasize the themes of dignity and respect present throughout Euripides' play, giving the essay depth and insight. By examining Euripides' use of language and style, the writer effectively conveys the power of the play and its relevance to the modern world.
The essay follows a logical and coherent structure that presents a clear and concise analysis. Each paragraph focuses on a specific aspect of the text, enabling the reader to understand the various facets of Euripides' Women of Troy. This organized approach greatly contributes to the essay's success.
By drawing connections between the themes of the play and the historical context of ancient Greece, the writer successfully conveys the broader implications of Euripides' Women of Troy. This contextualisation adds another layer to the analysis, making it more comprehensive and compelling.
You cannot go wrong when complying with the instructions of assessors. Use this list by Livia in VCAA Examiner's Reports: Simple DO's and DON'T's to help you achieve top scores as a checklist when writing — to make sure you can please even the toughest and pickiest teachers and markers.
Read Livia's complete blog by clicking here .
- Analyze using diverse elements like quotes, textual form, and construction elements.
- Use metalanguage accurately and precisely.
- Challenge the topic and present a well-rounded contention.
- Consider the wording of the topic carefully, using dictionaries and analyzing nuances.
- Connect ideas and themes within your essay for a thematic discussion.
- Use a clear structure as a framework for your essay.
- Express an argument and present it effectively.
- Make your conclusion sophisticated and meaningful.
- Don't dismiss any elements of the topic or rewrite it to suit your preconceived approach.
- Don't use polysyllabic words indiscriminately; focus on clarity and communication.
- Don't memorise responses, as they may lack connection to the set question.
- Don't start with lengthy, general observations about the text in your introduction.
- Don't try to discuss every aspect of the text; choose wisely and focus on relevance.
- Don't conflate or omit key ideas presented in the topic.
- Don't list examples without analysis and connection to the author's ideas and values.
- Don't dismiss the topic, but explore the ideas you have been given within its scope.
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