Andromache’s Final Word
By: Lauren Ziment
The Iliad centers around telling the stories of the men who go to battle, but what of their wives and loved ones? For the families of the losers, servitude and death lie ahead of them as a result of their husbands’/fathers’/brothers’ pride. The whole Trojan War began on the basis of Menelaus’s pride and desire for possession of Helen. For men in the Iliad, women are either objects of use to them or pawns at their disposal. When the men go off to war, their decisions and performance are dictating their family’s future. The women and children get no say in the situation and the men only consider their own feelings in making their decision. A counter-narrative to the Iliad could highlight the lack of agency that women have in wartime and how the decisions the men in their lives impact them. Contrary to the main narrative, a counter-narrative could give the space and the voice to these women to allow them to express themselves and their true feelings about the mens’ prioritization of pride and honor.
Andromache is characterized in the Iliad as being the ideal Greek wife to Hector. I was drawn to the scene in which Hector is saying goodbye to her and their son before he goes off to battle because we sort of see Andromache stand up for herself and ask Hector to not go off to die in battle, and instead to think of her and their son’s future. However, after asking Hector to stay, she is immediately rejected as Hector says that he could not face the Trojans if he backed away from the fight. Pride is a central theme in many Greek texts and is definitely a central theme in the Iliad. The heroic nature of battling for honor is something that was very heavily romanticized in the Iliad and in narratives about Ancient Greek society and as something that has fuelled the greek cycle of retribution. For Hector’s character, pride seems to be his most prominent driving motive, as it is what mainly fuels him to leave his family and join the war. After Hector has had his final word and made his decision to leave, Andromache is not given the space to refute his claims or further express her feelings. At this moment, I can imagine that Andromache would be very upset with Hector, however because she is his wife, she does not get to challenge his decision after it has been made. In addition, Hector makes his decision citing only his feelings in the matter, rather than taking into account how Andromache feels. For this scene, I wanted to highlight Andromache’s part in Hector’s decision and how him going off to battle and dying will impact her. For my counter-narrative, I wrote Andromache’s internal monologue following the original text excerpt that I have included. In the monologue, Andromache has the opportunity to express the feelings that societal constructs and gender roles at the time did unfortunately not allow her to express. To give her the space to express herself fully felt important to me, because she has always stuck to the mold of what a society expected of her. I was pretty pissed at Hector in this scene, so I can only imagine what Andromache could have been feeling…
“The Farewell of Hector to Andromache” by Karl Friedrich Deckler
Excerpt from the Iliad:
Book 6, line 407-465
“Inhuman one, your strength will destroy you, and you take no pity
on the child and young one, or on me who have no future, who will soon be
bereft of you; the Achaeans will soon kill you,
the whole of them rushing in attack. And for me it would be better
with you lost to go down beneath the earth; for no other
comfort will there be hereafter, when you meet your fate,
but grief. I have no father or lady mother;
it was godlike Achilles who slew my father,
when he sacked the well-established town of the Cilicians,
high-gated Thebes, and killed Eëtion;
yet he did not strip his body, for in his heart he thought it shameful,
but he cremated him with his decorated war-gear,
and heaped a burial mound over. And around it elms were grown
by nymphs of the mountains, daughters of Zeus who wields the aegis.
And they who were my seven brothers in our halls,
they all on a single day entered the house of Hades;
all of them swift-footed godlike Achilles slew
as they watched over their shambling cattle and white sheep.
And my mother, who was queen under wooded Plakos,
when he led her here with the rest of his plunder,
he set her free again, accepting untold ransom;
and, in the hall of her father, Artemis who showers arrows struck her down.
Hector, so you are father to me, and honored mother,
and my brother, and you are my strong husband.
So have pity now and stay here by the ramparts,
do not make your child fatherless, your wife a widow.
Station your men by the wild fig tree, where the city is
easiest to scale and the walls can be overrun.
Three times they came there and tested it, the best men
with the two Aiantes and illustrious Idomeneus,
and with the sons of Atreus and Tydeus’ daring son;
perhaps some seer, well skilled, told them of it,
or it was their own spirit that urged and compelled them.”
And great Hector of the shimmering helm answered her:
“Surely, all these things concern me too, my wife; but greatly
I would dread what they would think, the Trojans and the Trojan women with their trailing robes, if like a coward I should shirk away from fighting.
My spirit does not allow me, for I have learned to be brave
Always and to fight among the front rank of Trojans,
Winning great glory for my father, and for me.”
“But I know this well in my mind and in my heart;
there will some time be a day when holy Ilion is destroyed,
and Priam and the people of Priam of the fine ash-spear;
But it is not the coming suffering of the Trojans that so much distresses me,
nor of Hecuba herself, nor of lord Priam,
nor of my many and brave brothers who
will fall in dust at the hands of enemy men,
so much as distress for you, when some bronze-armored Achaean
leads you off in tears, taking away your day of freedom.
And in Argos you will work the loom for another woman,
and carry water from the spring of Messeïs or Hypereia
time and again under compulsion, and necessity will lie harsh upon you.
And one day someone seeing you shedding tears may say:
‘This is the wife of Hector, who used to be best of the horse-breaking Trojans
in waging battle, at that time when men fought round Ilion.’
So one day someone may speak; and for you the pain will be new again,
bereft of such a husband to ward off the day of slavery.
But may the heaped earth cover me dead before I ever hear you cry as you are dragged away.”
Andromache’s internal monologue…
Had you not heard me when I said that I need you to stay.
So much loss have I endured,
And for what? A man’s pride?
Have you no greater love in life than your honor?
Have I not been anything but the perfect wife for you?
Bore for you a son and cared for you,
You are the center of my world.
Everything I have done has been in service to you
And yet when I make the single request that you prioritize your family for once and not go off to die, I do not even get the time of day from you.
If not for me, do you not love your son?
If you go off to war and die,
Who will be here to protect us?
I have lost my father and everyone else I love dearly, so why must it now be you?
You say that you are doing this to protect us, to protect me,
But yet your first mention is of what others shall think if you do not join the fight.
As you are about to walk away and take with you my whole life, why must you think of your honor?
Such a prideful man you are.
If you truly cared to protect myself and our child, you would stay.
Take us somewhere else, take us somewhere where we can stay together and remain a family.
Saying goodbye right now feels like the end, and you know it is.
Your choice of an honorable death in war is one of a selfish nature.
What do you think would happen to us then?
You think that going off to war and dying is going to do us any good?
Your choice means risking your son’s life and enslaving me to a lifetime of servitude.
And yet with the final word, you walk away and leave us here naked.
The sad thing is I expected nothing less.
My future has been tied to yours since the beginning.
I had no choice but to serve you, to fulfill the expectations that were set upon me.
Become a subservient wife, bear a son, serve you.
I followed the steps.
But yet here I stand left by you with my fate sitting to be determined in the battlefield.
However, it would be foolish of me to think that you were fighting for me,
Because we all know that it has always been for you.
Everything has always been for you.