Revisiting Greek Drama, Part 2: The Trojan Women of Euripides vs. My No More Trojan Wennen

Note:  This post uses Refreshed English vocabulary and orthography.

Yesterday, in my first blog post in this three-part series, I discussed how Theater in Western Society had its roots in the religious rituals associated with the worship of the Ancient Greek God, Dionysius. Today, in Part 2, I will reveal how my dissatisfaction with the portrayal of the femele characters in The Trojan [Wennen] of the Classical dramatist Euripides inspired me to write No More Trojan Wennen, my own version of decisions made and actions taken in the aftermath of the Trojan war. 

TRIGGER WARNING:  THIS POST CONTAINS REFERENCES TO VIOLENCE OF A SEXUAL NATURE THAT MAY PROVE UPSETTING TO SOME READERS.

Greetings from Justicea!

I was first introduced to Classical Greek tragedy in high school when my senior-year literature class was assigned to read Antigone by Sophocles. I was hooked immediately! The year was 1977, and I had never before read a drama containing such a strong femele character motivated to action, not by an emotion alone, but also by a principle. Antigone, the title character, was the type of wenn whom I had been longing to find in plays and bring to life on the stage. But Antigone was not only the kind of character I wanted to play as an actor; she was also the kind of character that I, as a playwright, wanted to produce for other actors seaching for dynamic femele roles.

The Trojan Wennen of Euripides

I next encountered Greek tragedy formally in college. As an undergraduate, I took a literature course in which I had to read The Trojan Wennen of Euripides. Earlier in the semester, I had revisited Antigone and had been introduced to the powerful Medea of Euripides’ play of the same name. Therefore, when I sat myself down in the sixth floor lounge of my dorm after dinner with this “new” Greek tragedy, I expected to be treated to some great debate and thrilled by the heightened actions of more strong femele characters, such as the Classical repertoire had to offer.

What a disappointment that read turned out to be for me!

The Trojan Wennen was forty pages in length, and as I recall my experience of reading it that night, the first ten pages were filled with nothing but the lament, lament, lament of Trojan wennen followed by a wenn being dragged away from the ruins of Troy by Greek soldiers. 

I thought, “Surely, the Trojan wennen will take some action in the upcoming pages.” 

However, the second ten-page stretch was also filled with the lament, lament, lament of Trojan wennen followed by a Greek soldier throwing someone over a rampart—which inspired even more lamentation in the third leg of the tragedy!

I was rather vexed at this point. 

“OK, Hecuba,” I said to the main character. “You’re the Queen of Troy. You have only ten pages left to actually do something. Take a stand!—Make it good!” 

And so I proceeded to read the last ten pages. Lament, lament, lament. Then more Greek soldiers arrived on the scene, rounded up the remaining Trojan wennen—who offered no resistance at all, neither physically nor verbally!—and led them off to the Greek ships and slavery. The End.

My Reaction to Euripides’ Version

Rage! My twenty-year old self felt cheated! I felt that I had wasted my time reading a drama in which nothing had happened. Passivity may be the default personality trait found in most femele characters portrayed in plays of other time periods—but I expected more of Greek drama!

Where were the resilient and powerful femele figures I had been anticipating? In a play peopled by a city full of wennen, where was the one like the betrayed Medea, who poisoned her rival to punish her unfaithful spouse and then made her exit by flying off on the back of a dragon?!  Where was there a wenn like Antigone, who exhibited the courage to defend Natural Law against the pitiless Humin Law that her Uncle Creon had enacted when no one else in her city-state would dare speak up?

I had wanted wennen who were heroes; I had received damsels in distress!

The Voice of the Victim

It wasn’t until later that I learned The Trojan Wennen of Euripides is considered a great play because its characters did “nothing.” It examines the powerlessness of people trapped in inescapable situations. It is the voice of the victim.

Maybe I didn’t like the play at age twenty because it was too real. Maybe I still needed to believe, at that tender age, that there is always something a person can do in any bad situation. — especially a femele (or, in my case, a person on the transgender spectrum who is constantly misgendered as femele)!  Yet that is not always the case.

Throughout history, people have been rounded up and dragged off to intolerable situations — on slave ships bound for the New World, in cattle cars heading to concentration camps. Today, young wenns find themselves trapped in humin trafficking rings. Even soldiers armed with weapons can feel themselves powerless in the midst of combat; or when they are sent out on a mission that seems hopeless; or if they come to the conclusion that their efforts and sacrafices — or those of their comrades — have been in vain.

Real-life victims don’t have the option of flying off to freedom on the backs of dragons. Real life offers fewer remedies.

My Own No More Trojan Wennen (NMTW)

I began seriously writing plays with an eye to becoming a professional playwright after obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in 1981.  No More Trojan Wennen, based on The Trojan Wennen of Euripides, was my second effort.

My first play had been a one-act comedy set in then present-day Philadelphia and inspired by the Theater of the Absurd works that I had been reading on my own at the time. When I sat down to write the first draft of No More Trojan Wennen in the mid-1980s, I envisioned it as a parody rather than a tragedy. At that point, I had neither forgotten nor forgiven Euripides for his hommage to passivity and excessive lamentation—and I certainly was not going to pay hommage OR femmage to those qualities, myself! Therefore, the title of my version began as a tongue-in-cheek comment on the Classical dramatist’s portrayal of these characters, as if I were saying, “I can’t take their ceaseless lamentations any longer. Please, No More Trojan Wennen!” 

However, I had written no more than three or four pages of dialogue before I realized that my play had the potential to be something much, much more.  Why write a parody of Euripides’ downtrodden femeles when I could write a serious work about the determined femeles that I had envisioned the Trojan wennen as being? Wasn’t one of my goals in becoming a playwright to give femele actors pithy, principle characters to enact and young girls powerful, resourceful role models to emulate?

In my version of the aftermath of the Trojan War, Hecuba is more than the grieving widow of King Priam. She is the capable yet compassionate leader of those Trojans wennen who remain within the ruins of Troy. She commands respect by her very presence as well as by her words and deeds. Her wennen have organized and are disciplined. They have taken up spears and have trained themselves for one last battle. Agamemnon, Commander of Acadian Forces, does not see them as posing any real threat to him or his Greek army, but he has extended to Hecuba a “courtesy” choice: She can surrender voluntarily and have herself and her wennen taken away to Greece in bondage, or she can resist and watch as the Greek soldiers slaughter the remaining Trojan wennen before her eyes. Hecuba has twenty-four hours to make her decision. The play opens at dawn on the day in which she must give answer to Agamemnon and follows the unraveling of events through dusk.

The Voice of Volition

No matter how hopeless this situation still appears for the Trojan wennen, my play does give them some agency. They may be demoralized by the calamities they have faced, but they are not paralyzed by them. Of course, there is lamentation from time-to-time throughout the drama. Hecuba, Cassandra, and Andromache must still cope with the same loses that they had suffered in the original play, but they now have an option and a choice to make: Will they choose to surrender and live out the rest of their lives as concubines in Greece, or will they decide to avoid this fate by participating in one heroic last stand? The decision that they must make is not dissimilar to one debated over by the Jewish zealots who opposed the Roman army at Masada in 66 C.E..

New Characters, New Perspectives

In addition to the inclusion of a choice to be made by the Trojan wennen, I also introduce a few new characters in my play who are not found in any Classical work about the Trojan War.

Nicodice and Hafiye are young spear maidens of Troy, yet rivals to each other. Nicodice’s mother had been a Trojan, and her father had been an Athenian merchant who had married her mother long before the outbreak of the war. As a person of mixed heritage, Nicodice’s loyalty is constantly called into question by Trojans and Greeks alike.

Two new Greek characters are Bulamachos, a gruff and hardened field soldier, and Philotimos, a young Greek soldier and suitor to Nicodice. Learning to see his nation’s actions from Nicodice’s perspective has led Philotimos to take a more critical view of the Greek “Ideal.” Bulamachos and Philotimos join Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, and Odysseus, King of Ithaca, two Greek generals and veterans of Euripides’ play. There is also an innovation in Agamemnon’s character. This arrogant Commander of Greek Forces, who, in Classical literature, had thought nothing of offering one of his daughters as a humin sacrafice in order for his fleet to get the winds to sail to Troy, in my play, appears to be developing a conscience!

Over the years, I have written two versions of NMTW. In the older version, the deities Athena, the feminine God of Wisdom, and Apollo, the masculine God of Reason, also appear as characters. In the newer version, written as my own belief in both divinity and divine intervention dwindled with age, they are absent.

Same Theme, Different Focus

Same Theme

The Trojan Wennen of Euripides and my own No More Trojan Wennen are sibling plays borne of the legends surrounding the Trojan War and its aftermath. The core characters of Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, Helen, Agamemnon, and Odysseus appear in both works. In each play, the ruined city of Troy becomes a metaphor for — and a visible symbol of — the ruin that comes to every person who has been involved, in any way, in the ravenages of war.

The Trojan wennen have been desolated by the loss of both their men folk, most of whom met violent ends in brutal combat while defending the city, and of their mothers, sisters, and children, who were viciously murdered after the Greek army infiltrated Troy. Furthermore, they are now gripped by fear over the dismal prospects for their own fate.

Although the obvious victims of the ravages of war, the Trojan wennen are not the only walking wounded on the stage at Troy. Less apparent victims — and, perhaps, worse for being so — are the Greek soldiers — the so-called “victors” of this struggle. As the perpetrators of what the Hecuba of my play calls, “A decade of decadence and Troy’s destruction,” the Greeks saw fit to trade in any civilized qualities they possessed, such as compassion and constraint, for the savagery they deemed necessary to win the war — and their willingness to win at any cost came at the price of their collective huminity.

Where Euripides’ play and my version of the Trojan War story diverge is in their focus. 

Different Focus

As I mentioned earlier, Euripides’ play presents the voice of the victim. The focus of his drama is to show the futility of war and the desolation suffered by those caught up in it. No matter how hard we may fight on or for how long, sometimes we are presented with situations that we cannot find a way to overcome. At those times, it seems that all we can do is raise our voice in lament. — and we hate it! Admitting defeat makes us feel weak, small, and powerless. We may blame ourselves. We may cry out, “Surely, there must have been something that I could have done if only I had been smart enough? strong enough? observant enough? to have seen the situation clearly!” Euripides’ play gives us a dramatic portrayal of characters grappling with such feelings — characters with whom we can identity if we are dealing with trauma in our own lives. Through these characters, we can experience a catharsis.

The focus of my No More Trojan Wennen, by contrast, is to counter the stereotypical portrayal of femeles on stage and in life as hapless damsels in distress. By presenting empowered wennen who can maintain their composure and think clearly through to a solution when faced with a crisis, my play gives wenns and girls role models which they can emulate or identify with, and that enhance their sense of empowerment in their own lives.

Both Euripides’ The Trojan Wennen and my No More Trojan Wennen, despite their difference in focus, fulfill the purpose of Theater discussed in Part 1 of this blog series. Both plays allow us to conduct and observe an exploration of all that is sensibly humin so that we can continue to come to a better understanding of ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live!

Coming Up: About Revisiting Greek Drama, Part 3

Tomorrow, in my last blog post of this three-part series, I will discuss how the drama of Post-War Troy can be seen as a metaphor for Post-Trump America. I will also include more information about my Voices of Troy series, a collection of monologue selected from No More Trojan Wennen, which I plan to post on this blog site starting Monday, April 19, and running until the end of National Poetry Month, April 30.

If you like this post and don’t want to miss Part 3 of this Revisiting Greek Drama series—or the upcoming 12 posts of the Voices of Troy monologue series, why not sign up to follow the Greetings from Justicea blog?  Just enter your email in the box on the right and click FOLLOW, and you will receive an email notice when a new posting is available!

Also, if you like this blog post, please give it a “Like” here and/or on Facebook, and share it with your friends!

And, of course, I’d love to get your feedback!  You can leave a comment below, or you can use the Contact Page if you’d rather make a private comment!  Until tomorrow—

Peace & Siblinghood,

Justy DeForest, GFJ Blogger

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