Hecuba

Summary

Hecuba (Latin: Hecuba) or Ecabe is a character in Greek mythology who was queen of Troy, second wife of Priam and mother of most of his children.

Her genealogy was a matter of controversy in antiquity. Two traditions existed: one made her the daughter of Dimantheus, king of Phrygia; the other, that of Cisseus, king of Thrace and Telecleia. In the first case she was descended from the river Sangarius. A variant of this tradition made Sangarius not her great-grandfather but her father, who is said to have had her from the nymph Evagoras. Also attributed to her for mother was Xanthus” daughter Glaucippe. Dimante”s wife, on the other hand, was the nymph Eunoe and she had had another son, Asio. The tradition that links Hecuba to Dimanthes and Phrygia is that of the Iliad. Thracian origins are preferred by the Tragedians, particularly Euripides. In the sources that want Hecuba to be the daughter of Cisseus, she has two sisters, Theanus, wife of Antenor, and another whose name is unknown, much younger, wife of Ifidamantus, the last son of Theanus.

The genealogical problem posed by the figure of Hecuba was so complex that the emperor Tiberius, of easy irony, liked to propose it to the grammarians of his time.

Marriage to Priam

The Trojan king Priam first married Arisbe, daughter of the seer Merope, and she bore him a son named Aeschus, also a soothsayer. But when he was tired of her, he repudiated her, entrusting her to Hirtacus, who in turn begat with her two sons, Asio the Hirtacids, who later took part in the Trojan War.

Priam therefore took in second marriage Hecuba, who was then very young and with whom he had fallen deeply in love. She bore her husband nineteen of the fifty children Priam had in total, including Hector, Paris, Cassandra, Helenus, and the first Polydorus. Priam instituted polygamy so that he could also marry Laotoe, daughter of the king of the Leleges, who bore him two more sons (Lycaon and the second Polydorus), while all the others were begotten with concubines and slaves. But this is refuted by Euripides, who raised the number of sons to fifty and considered them all to have been begotten by Hecuba alone.

Apollodorus, on the other hand, speaks only of fourteen sons:

Four daughters then followed:

Then followed sons, and among them the prophetess Cassandra; the order would be this:

Marriage to Priam allowed Hecuba to join him in governing the city and the needs of their subjects. The queen, alternating between politics and the rearing and education of her children, proved to be an able woman, even capable of giving useful advice to her husband and her numerous offspring. During this period, Hecuba proved faithful to Priam in her marital duties, although some authors tell of her erotic adventures with the god Apollo. The deity, disappointed by the obstinate amorous rejection of one of Hecuba”s daughters, Cassandra, consoled herself with the queen with whom she lay for a night. From the union would be born Polydorus (who is elsewhere believed to be the son of Priam), and probably also Troilus, who, according to an oracle announced by Apollo himself, if he turned twenty would spare the city over which his parents ruled a sad end. Stesichorus also attributed the conception of the hero Hector to these secret loves.

Premonitions of Hecuba

Hecuba had numerous children from her marriage to Priam, some of whom, especially, proved prodigious because of gifts or benefits bestowed on them by the gods themselves. Several times the Trojan queen found herself the witness to these exceptional gifts, or even the intermediary between the deity and her offspring, through dreams, visions, or night terrors.

After the birth of her first-born son Hector, the queen found herself pregnant with a second child, and was now on the verge of giving birth to him. On the night of the birth, however, Hecuba dreamed that she was giving birth from her womb to a bundle of wood, filled with snakes; at the same time she saw a burning flashlight, which was also born from her womb, setting fire to the stronghold of Troy and the entire forest of Mount Ida. The queen woke up screaming from the horrendous vision, which frightened Priam, who immediately ordered the best soothsayers to be brought to court. The first to be consulted was his son Aeschus.

The tragic end

The figure of Hecuba takes a very prominent role in two of Euripides” tragedies, The Trojan Women and Hecuba. In the first Hecuba is destined as a slave to Odysseus and it falls to her to witness the death of her nephew Astianactes. In the second, a personal drama, the pride and love of a queen who sees her children perish one by one is extolled. The death of her son Polydorus at the hands of the Chersonesian king Polymestore is avenged by her by blinding Polymestore himself. Hecuba was inflamed with anger at the fall of Troy and the murder of its inhabitants and killed Helen, the granddaughter who was the fruit of Paris” intercourse with Helen.

Hecuba was destined as a slave to Odysseus and sailed to Chersonissus, Thrace, but she covered Odysseus and his crew with insults for their lack of speech and cruelty to the point that the soldiers put her to death. Her spirit took on the appearance of a hideous black bitch following Hecate, she plunged into the sea and swam to the Hellespont. She was buried in a place, which took the name “Cinossema” or “Tomb of the Bitch.” There would actually have existed near today”s Gallipoli (Turkey), on the strait of the Dardanelles, in ancient times a high pile of stones on the seashore, which served as a landmark for sailors. A later myth adds that Hecuba was placed by Zeus among the stars of the firmament, becoming the constellation Ursa Minor, so that with the North Star she orients mariners, as on Earth does the Cinossema.

According to another version, Hecuba found the body of little Polydorus on the beach, on which he had been pushed by the waves of the sea. The child had in fact been entrusted by Priam to King Polymnestor, but the man killed him in order to appropriate the gold intended for his education. Hecuba summoned Polyminnestore under the pretext that she had to reveal to him the location of a royal treasure hidden in the ashes of Troy. When the king hurriedly rushed with his two little sons to the queen”s presence, Hecuba drew a sword from her robes, killed the two children, and blinded Polymnestor by plunging her fingers hard into his eye sockets. The man, enraged by the betrayal, pleaded with Agamemnon to punish the woman, but the king of Mycenae took Hecuba”s side and reiterated that Polymnestor had been so punished for his greed. Polymnestor predicted in response the killing of Agamemnon and Cassandra.

The nobles of Chersoneso then raged furiously at Hecuba to avenge their king by hurling stones and darts at her, but she turned into a bitch called Mera and began running in circles barking and shattering stones with her teeth, to the point that everyone recoiled in fear.

Shakespeare”s Hecuba

In William Shakespeare”s tragedy Hamlet in Act II, Prince Hamlet, pondering his revenge, asks a company of actors to act out that moment in the taking of Troy when Pyrrhus savagely kills old King Priam. The actor, when describing the desperate Queen Hecuba, whitens and weeps hot tears. Hamlet is struck by this, thinking of his mother and reflecting that Hecuba is only an ancient, mythical character, yet she is able to arouse in a man so far removed from his era these strong emotions, so he exclaims, “And all for nothing!…. For Hecuba! What is Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, for him to weep so?”

Secondary sources

Sources

  1. Ecuba
  2. Hecuba
  3. ^ Si pronuncia Ècuba se si fa riferimento alla tradizione latina, Ecùba se invece si fa riferimento a quella greca, vedi http://www.sapere.it/enciclopedia/%C3%88cuba.html
  4. ^ Ferecide, citato dallo scolio ad Omero, Iliade XVI, 718 e dallo scolio di Euripide, Ecuba 32.
  5. ^ Ovidio, Metamorfosi, XI, 761.
  6. ^ Atenione, citato dallo scolio ad Omero.
  7. ^ Omero, Iliade XVI, 717-719.
  8. ^ Malalas, Chronography 5.106
  9. ^ Dares Phrygius, History of the Fall of Troy 12
  10. 1,0 1,1 1,2 1,3 1,4 «Гекуба» (Ρωσικά)
  11. 2,0 2,1 «Приам» (Ρωσικά)
  12. Phérécyde (préservé par une scholie de l’Iliade, XVI, 718) donne le nom de la mère, Eunoé, une nymphe.
  13. Robert Graves, Les Mythes grecs, Le Livre de Poche, 1967 (ISBN 978-2-253-13030-7), p.939 (158.o)
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