Helen, you may remember, the wife of King Menelaus, was either kidnapped or ran off with Paris of Troy, I couldn't figure out which. The king gathers an army to go and retrieve her, they siege the city for ten years. Finally, there is a great battle where the armies two champions, Hector of Troy and Achilles of Greece fight, Hector is killed, Achilles drags his body around the battlefield behind his chariot, a wooden horse is filled with soldiers and snuck into the city, the gates are opened from the inside, the armies pour in and it's all over for Troy.
When nobody was looking I snuck a photo from the back of the theater;
because that's the kind of husband I am.
This is where The Trojan Women starts -- the city is conquered, all the men have been killed. The women are being divided up between the victors. Menelaus shows up, Helen has been rounded up with the other women and the king sentences her to death, for what I wasn't exactly sure, either because she'd run off with Paris or because he wasn't interested in used goods.
Key among the women is Andromache, the wife of Hector. She is told that she is to be given to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. She's resigned to her fate, to live with the son of the man who killed her husband. She realizes there is nothing she can do but care for her infant son, Astyanax. There is a deep, deep sense of powerlessness, among all the women, but it's really focused through Andromache.
Now enters Talthybius an ordinary foot soldier. His job is to get the women to the ships where they'll be taken back to Greece to begin their lives as slaves and concubines. He reluctantly tells Andromache that, he has been ordered to take her baby and throw it from the high walls of Troy. In the most poignant scene of the play, Andromache refuses and Talthybius tells her she can't refuse, she has absolutely no power, and almost as heartbreaking is Talthybius who also has no choice and no power. He is inevitability, the slow, grinding truth of what their lives are to be. If he doesn't kill Astyanax, some other foot soldier will come along and do it. All any of them can do is what they need to do to stay alive. He tries to convince Andromache that her son's death will be quick and painless. The baby won't know what's happening, but for a few confused seconds hurtling through the air -- which is a kinder fate than any of theirs. Talthybius takes the baby and flings it from the walls, all the while lamenting it as a despicable act. "A strange murder for brave men" he calls it in one translation.
He then locates Hector's shield, which is a great war prize, and somehow acquires it. He washes the blood off the baby's corpse, wraps it in sheets carries the baby back to Andromache on it's fathers shield. He digs a grave and tells the women it's over, it's time for the ships to leave. He is the metronome of the things that will happen. The central theme is this: you are a creature without claws or teeth. You are someone that things happen to, there is nothing that you can make happen, nothing.
As they walk away, the Greek army begins to set fire to Troy. They watch as their houses and the great city that they loved burns and collapses behind them.
The Trojan Women. Adam Altman as Talthybius, who is
not an evil man, but is bitterly tasked with evil deeds.
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