GSI: Jerilyn Sambrooke
November 26, 2016
In Hecuba, Euripides uses Hecuba’s son, Polydorus, to represent the life she once had and the trials and tribulations she has undergone since the fall of her empire. Hecuba has lost everything, but holds on to the hope that Polydorus remains alive; despite the fact that, unbeknownst to her Polydorus had died. Euripides incorporates Polydorus in the play as a symbolic means of showcasing her sense of hope as she anchors herself to the thought that her son is both alive and well. Upon finally receiving news of her son’s death, Hecuba becomes overwhelmed by grief and sorrow. This culminates in Hecuba ultimately deciding to seek revenge for the death of her son, an act representative of not only her need to seek retribution for her son’s sake, but also amplified by her sudden loss of power rooted in her overthrow as queen.
The first words in Hecuba are not spoken by any of the main characters established throughout the play, rather they are in fact stated by Polydorus’ ghost. In characterizing the figure of Polydorus, Euripides opens a new door of perspective and establishes a voice of hope. When Hecuba says, “Ye gods of this land! preserve my son, the last and only anchor of my house” Polydorus clearly portrays himself as an agent of hope. Hecuba’s life has become an amalgamation of tragedy with the only remaining symbol of hope in her life being Polydorus. Hecuba has now experienced the deaths of all but two of her children with her daughter, Polyxena, facing imminent execution. The thought of Polydorus, her final remaining heir, being alive acts as the last shred of hope she has left to hold on to. After the plethora of tragedy that Hecuba’s life has come to be defined by, she relies on Polydorus as the final remaining symbol of hope in her life.
When Hecuba learns of the death of Polydorus, the figure of Polydorus transforms from hope to grief. With the death of Hecuba’s final heir and the only semblance of hope and optimism, Polydorus comes to embody despair and heartache in place of the promising character he once was. Polydorus now comes to represent all the grief that Hecuba has undergone in her life. This despair changes Hecuba. Despair drives Hecuba to seek revenge for the death or her son and in parallel the suffering she experienced resultant of being dethroned.
The transformation of the figure of Polydorus moves the story along and acts as the driving force behind Hecuba seeking revenge on Polymestor, but this driving force behind Hecuba’s vengeance goes much deeper than solely the death of Polydorus. In the third agon, Polymestor states, “My fear was that if that child were left to be thy enemy, he would re-people Troy and settle it afresh”. This crystalizes the fact that Polydorus truly did represent everything Hecuba once was. In stating that Polydorus had the ability to start a revolution and take power, Polymestor solidifies Polydorus as the symbol of Hecuba’s loss because he held the ability to take back power for their family and give his mother the same status that was ripped from her when her rule came to an abrupt conclusion.
Though it seems as if Polydorus acts as a transforming figure in the text, the text proves otherwise in the final agon. Polydorus, as portrayed through the text, does not change from a symbol of hope to a symbol of Hecuba’s loss, rather he consistently symbolizes hope because he represents everything that Hecuba has lost. As made clear by Polymestor in his attempt to explain the reasoning behind Polydorus’ murder, Polydorus had the ability to start another revolution while he was still alive. Because of Polydorus’ potential to start another revolution, he remained a symbol of hope to Hecuba. Polydorus was the only person left who had the ability to restore Hecuba to her former glory and return to her the status that she had lost by retaking their kingdom and reinstating Hecuba. However, none of this can be accomplished in the wake of Polydorus’ murder. This causes Polydorus to become yet another symbol of everything that Hecuba once had and everything that she has lost since her life had become been plagued with tragedy.