Unlock the mysteries of 50 study scores (or the highly coveted Premier’s Award) through our essay commentary on an essay written by one of our senior tutors – VCE English Premier’s Award recipient, Aurora Lahur. The vague assessment criteria published does not necessarily inform us on how to achieve the 9 or 10/10 in the analytical response section, but annotating an essay written by a 10/10 past student – keeping in mind the criteria and the VCAA examiner’s report – will help you learn a thing or two about the expectations of assessors and markers.
The plot of The Women of Troy is not complex; it lacks catharsis and climatic events. Euripides’ play is a series of lamentations, set after the main canonical event (the Trojan war), and before the Trojan women enter their lives as concubines for the Greek masters. Due to the play’s unconventional structure, it is important that we consider the use of metalanguage, narrative features and stylistic devices in unpacking thematic ideas. Analysing the plot alone will not suffice, as the play focuses on a lack of action – mirroring the emptiness and futility of warfare.
“The forces that control our lives are as unpredictable in their behaviour…” Discuss the role of fate in The Women of Troy
Find the key words:
- ‘The forces that control’ — Divine forces, divine intervention, fate, fortunes.
- ‘Unpredictable’ – Capricious, fickle, unforeseeable.
- ‘Fate’ – Human lives, fortunes, tragedies, predetermined events.
Ask questions: What forces does the prompt refer to? The gods, divine forces? Indeed, human fate is preordained by gods. Are we in control at all? Yes, we have the personal responsibility to act moral. Well then, would it be enough, or are still not in control? Euripides suggests that the gods are not always predictable, or fair.
Rewrite your answers in the form of arguments:
- Euripides aims to convey the absolute power that gods hold over mortal lives, and in doing so expounds that they dictate one’s ultimate fate.
- Having established the fixedness of destiny, Euripides asserts that humans have a personal responsibility to act morally up to the point of their fate.
- While Euripides concedes to the limited power mortals have over their lives, he also radically subverts Classical religiosity in his criticism of the gods themselves.
Tip: Consider the density of the key words and their synonyms. This is how we can assess the relevance of our arguments.
The traditional structure of an essay: Introduction – Body Paragraphs (x3) – Conclusion.
Presented for a society steeped in polytheistic belief systems, Euripides’ The Women of Troy seeks to examine the idea of predetermination and the extent to which mortals can control their actions. In establishing the overwhelming power of the gods as the backdrop for excessive conflict, Euripides confirms to his Athenian audience that the fates of mortals are dictated by supernatural forces. However, in a departure from traditional perspectives on fate, Euripides suggests that mortals possess the capacity to act freely in the interim, with the profound mental strength of the Trojan women epitomising the honourable response to immense suffering. As such, Euripides attests to the futility of blaming the gods, and further propounds that they are intrinsically flawed and unworthy of devotion.
Commentary: The essay opens with a thematic statement, outlining the theme it will focus on, i.e. ‘predetermination’ and ‘control’ while weaving information about the social context ‘society steeped in polytheistic belief systems’. The language is clear, and the precise and diverse use of verbs ‘examine’, ‘confirm’, suggest’, ‘attest’, ‘propound’ shows great control in writing. The arguments are clearly outlined, and the ideas are framed in the form of ‘authorial intent’.
Body Paragraph 1:
Euripides aims to convey the absolute power that gods hold over mortal lives, and in doing so expounds that they dictate one’s ultimate fate. Opening with Poseidon and Athene’s wrathful desire to “make the Greeks’ return home a disaster”, Euripides subverts conventional tragedian structure by featuring two gods rather than the usual Choral Ode in the Prologue; his intent is to establish the overarching involvement of the divine in generating the “destruction” promised for the ignoble Greeks. Such a notion would have been familiar for the fifth century Athenian audience, whose view of events as totally preordained by the supernatural align with Euripides’ initial implications. With the Classical Grecian belief that the thread of human destiny is spun and severed by the Moirai goddesses, the audience understands that mortal lives are at the mercy of the omnipotent gods. Cassandra’s prophetic declaration that the “arrow has left the string, but not yet hit the bull” for Odysseus then serves as Euripides’ confirmation of the certainty of the Greek soldier’s dire fate to suffer a “catalogue of horrors” and “face the seductive desire for oblivion”. The hunting imagery of an “arrow” moving unequivocally towards its target of the “bull” is designed to mirror the linear nature of time itself, allowing Euripides to delineate the futility of changing one’s fate.
Commentary: The topic sentence is articulate and highly relevant. The structure is easy to follow, with the play’s opening being analysed at the beginning of the paragraph to provide context but also supporting the idea explored in the topic sentence. Terms such as ‘Choral Odes’ and ‘Prologue’ demonstrate a deeper understanding of the Greek drama structure. The quotes are well-integrated throughout the paragraph, and the author mentions the world of the text and its system of values a few times: ‘fifth century BC Athenian audience’, ‘Classical Grecian belief’. Analysis of metalanguage, in this case, ‘hunting imagery’ and its connection to the ‘linear nature of time’ is also excellent as it shows authenticity and an expert understanding of the play’s construction.
Body Paragraph 2:
Having established the fixedness of destiny, Euripides asserts that humans have a personal responsibility to act morally up to the point of their fate. With Hecuba’s idiomatic commandment to “lift up [her] head from the dust” at the beginning of the Parados, the Classical Greek audience internally recognises the sheer mental fortitude of the “mother” of Troy despite her “crown of pain”. In juxtaposing such a portrait of unwavering dignity with the initial stage direction of “lying face down and quite still”, Euripides presents the audience with the epitome of honourable conduct despite an eventual “ravaged” fate; it is his chief concern to elucidate that responding optimistically to one’s destiny to be “yoked as a slave” can transcend the perils of one’s current situation. Contrasting Hecuba’s admirable conduct is Helen’s “wicked” attempts to exculpate herself from “death in the stoning pit”. Her insistence that her “unfaithful[ness]” was “the direct responsibility of the goddess” Aphrodite enables the playwright to delineate a comparatively ignoble reaction to one’s unchangeable fate. By removing herself from blame entirely and asserting that she “had no choice”, Helen is purported as the archetype of deception, with her sophistic arguments rendering her worthy of the audience’s contempt. Hence, in celebrating the dignified reaction of Hecuba while simultaneously castigating Helen for her deceit, Euripides propounds that mortals do possess an ability to control their actions before the arrival of their fate.
Commentary: The second paragraphh challenges the ideas presented in the first body paragraph: while the gods have the power to dictate our lives, humans are also culpable – we have the responsibility to act moral. Again, the author has analysed the use of idiomatic language in ‘lift up her head from the dust’, its position in the Parados – and connected this literary device to the argument. Many students struggle to draw such connections – falling into the trap of analysing metalanguage in isolation, and forcing a connetion between themes and language. The transition from Hecuba’s dignity to her pain through ‘juxtaposition’ also makes the analysis both articulate and well-substantiated.
Body Paragraph 3:
While Euripides concedes to the limited power mortals have over their lives, he also radically subverts Classical religiosity in his criticism of the gods themselves. Highlighting Hecuba’s aggrandised perception of the gods in her insistence that Athene “would never have perpetrated such acts of brainless stupidity”, Euripides seeks to encapsulate the mortal obsession with the divine that permeates both the world of the text and wider fifth century Athenian society. The notion that the gods are all-powerful beings that are supportive of justice is deftly destroyed by Euripides, chiefly in his stage direction “Exeunt Athene and Poseidon” at the close of the Prologue; he implies that the gods possess a “cavalier” indifference to the “screams and moans” of women, unperturbed by the “desolation” wrought upon innocents. That the gods “desert famous Troy” without attempting to intervene in the injustice would be viewed by the Classical audience as unorthodox, given the importance of worship and dedication of entire lives to pleasing the “vindictive” gods. It follows that the Chorus’ cry that the “father” of Troy “sees and does nothing” creates a sense of disillusionment in the gods for their lack of concern for the Trojan women. With the dramatic irony of the two gods having “deserted” the stage compounded with Hecuba’s realisation that “the forces that control our lives” are “unpredictable in their behaviour”, Euripides formalises his censuring of the gods as egotistical and indifferent to the anguish of mortals. It follows that Euripides’ message to his audience is to refrain from glorifying divinities, for despite their absolute power to change one’s fate, they are ultimately unworthy of praise.
Commentary: An excellent understanding of context is clearly showcased here. The paragraph mentions the Greek system of beliefs, and acknowledges that Euripides’ portrayal of the deities is subversive. Stage directions are mentioned, and the quotes are seamlessly integrated into the analysis. It is a good rule of thumb to prioritise shorter quotes to help the flow of your writing.
Indeed, The Women of Troy seeks to understand the role of fate during periods of uncompromising barbarity, and questions whether mortals have free-will while subjugated by forces of excess. Through building upon a traditional interpretation of divine omnipotence, Euripides veers from convention in his portrayal of the gods as apathetic and cavalier in their behaviour. It is ultimately Euripides’ intent to propound that humans possess the freedom to respond with dignity in spite of their anguished fates, dually embroiling the audience with a sense of disillusionment in the gods and a motivation to behave in a similarly righteous way to the eponymous Trojan women.
Commentary: Summarise your ideas, and ensure that you don’t mention any new ideas. Give it a ‘philosophical’ twist to write a ‘mic-drop ending’.
There is no 'perfect' essay -- but the above tips will help your essays standout, rendering you competitive in the upcoming exams. We hope this helps you understand what teachers and assessors are looking for!
Commentary by Lindsey Dang
Other Resources on The Women of Troy
- An Ultimate Guide to The Women of Troy
- Narrative Conventions and Symbolism in The Women of Troy
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