GSI: Jerilyn Sambrooke
8 October 2016
Rhetoric 103A Precis
Hecuba by Euripides: Odysseus’ Persuasive Spectacle
Euripides’ Hecuba is a spectacle of sorrow, a three-part Agon on Hecuba’s continual suffering over the sacrifice of her daughter Polyxena. Upon Odysseus’ arrival to send Polynexa to her death in the first Agon, it is interesting to note his lengthy argument in persuading Hecuba not to mourn the loss of her daughter as a sacrifice to Achilles’ death. Odysseus contends that Hecuba should accept her daughter as a sacrifice via three assertions: 1) in Hecuba’s place, Odysseus would give his daughter as a sacrifice if ordered to, 2) Achilles’ wishes should be treated honorably in death since we would respect his wishes honorably if alive, and 3) there are many old men and widows who are just as sorrowful as Hecuba over the consequences of the Trojan war.
By stating “what I said to all, I will not now deny, that after Troy’s capture, I would give thy daughter to the chiefest of our host because he asked a victim,” Odysseus’ first assertion implores Hecuba to willingly hand her daughter over because he would do the same. Beginning with “what I said to all, I will not now deny,” Odysseus demonstrates his words are not idle to Hecuba—his words and deeds are imparted to all unequivocally. In doing so, Odysseus attempts to exude ethos and build commonalities between him and Hecuba.
Odysseus’ second assertion fortifies the status quo that honoring wishes should also be unequivocally recognized and executed—and should be applied even to the deceased. His next phrase “now Achilles, [Hecuba], deserves honour at our hands, since for Hellas he died as nobly as a mortal can. Is not this a foul reproach to treat a man as a friend in life, but, when he is gone from us, to treat him so no more? By beginning with Achilles deserving honour at “our hands,” Odysseus makes the sacrifice an intimate process involving more than just Hecuba and Polyxena. Odysseus too is indebted in honoring Achilles. Furthermore, by implementing a rhetorical question regarding honoring the treatment of the dead in comparison to the treatment of the living, Odysseus begs Hecuba to realize that the answer is obvious. Both should be treated equally. Rather than asking Hecuba, Odysseus attempts to make Hecuba persuade herself, encouraging her to second-guess her own grief.
Lastly, Odysseus’ third assertion is an attempt to put things in perspective for Hecuba. Upon hearing her grievances, Odysseus contests that countless others, from old men to grieving widows, suffer just as much as her following the Trojan war. Subsequently, Odysseus states: “endure these sorrows; for us, if we are wrong in resolving to honour the brave, we shall bring up ourselves a charge of ignorance; but… regard not your friends as such and pay no homage to your gallant dead, that Hellas may prosper and ye may reap the fruits of such policy.” Here, Odysseus illustrates the repercussions of sacrifice. Negating the implications of sorrow, as it is shared amongst everyone in the war, Odysseus claims that if the sacrifice ended up being “wrong” and needless, then they would merely admit ignorance. On the other hand, by paying homage to the dead, Greece and its citizens via the sacrifice may harvest newfound prosperity. To Odysseus, the net gains mathematically overweigh the net loss when considering who is affected. By using the pronouns “we” and “us” when talking about the possibility of being incorrect, Odysseus constrains the fault of mistake to himself and his close associates. On the contrary, by utilizing the term “Hellas” when transitioning into positive repercussions, Hecuba is encouraged to realize that the loss of one can impact thousands of others. Whether or not it is a product of the translation, it is interesting to note that Odysseus chooses to use the specific term “Hellas” to identify Greece. Closely resembling Helen, the term “Hellas” feminizes the city-state, eluding “the reap the fruits” to fertility—even birthing. In gendering Greece, Odysseus suggests to Hecuba that Polynexa’s sacrifice will result in a feminine rebirth for countless others. As such, Hecuba would “give birth” to prosperity for all of Hellas.