24 Counter-storytelling: Andromache’s Attendant

by Kate Finster

I wanted to reimagine a scene from the Iliad from the perspective of someone who served the heroes. I found myself wondering about the people in the Achaean camp who washed laundry, cooked meals, ran messages, and performed the daily tasks to keep the army running with no fanfare or godlike recognition. Throughout the poem, there are references to “attendants” and other servants who silently witness the events that occur and serve the main characters by performing whatever task they request. Whether they are soldiers who protect Achilles’s tent, or ladies-in-waiting for Helen, they are largely silent observers to the action of the poem, disposable to the whims of the gods and the few powerful humans. In my mind, these figures (you can’t even really call them characters) would have an invaluable perspective on the everyday exhaustion of constant war, and how that violence would weigh on the people who put their bodies at risk to serve those belonging to a higher social class. This question of expendability connects to Fanon’s discussion of violence and colonization, especially regarding the distinction between the colonized, the colonial intellectuals, and the colonial bourgeoisie. The Achaean generals and heroes act as the colonial bourgeoisie, claiming land and imposing their power and force onto the Trojan land and city residents.

While race is not explicitly mentioned when describing the central characters’ “attendants,” domestic work has largely been performed by subaltern characters, people of a lower socioeconomic status or different racial background than those they serve. Historically, women’s work has been particularly undervalued and performed widely by women of color, who care for and raise the privileged woman’s child as if it were her own. In the Iliad, I can picture Andromache’s nurses and attendants as women of different racial and economic status, who provide for themselves and their families by working as quiet, compliant, mothers-by-proxy. This childcare structure has endured throughout changing cultures and historical eras and its contemporary form has deviated little from the example described in the Iliad.

Here, in Book 6, a very heartwarming exchange between Hector and Andromache is witnessed entirely by her attendant, whose role is to hold and hand off a child that does not belong to her. I’ve restructured the scene to reflect her point of view.

Original text from Alexander’s Iliad translation (edited for clarity/brevity):

Book 6, line 369: 

“When he arrived at the Scaean gates, having crossed the great city,

there where he intended to pass through to the plain,

there his worthy wife came to meet him, running,

Andromache, daughter of great-hearted Eëtion—

Eëtion, who once lived below wooded Plakos,

in Thebes below Mount Plakos, ruling the Cilician men;

his daughter was held as wife by bronze-armored Hector.

She met him then, and her attendant came with her,

the child held against her breast, tender-hearted, just a baby, 400

the cherished only child of Hector, beautiful like a star,

whom Hector used to call Scamandrios, but all others

Astyanax, lord of the city; for his father alone protected Ilion.

And looking at his child in silence, Hector smiled,

but Andromache came and stood close to him shedding tears

and clung to him with her hand and spoke to him and said his name:

“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 410

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. 420

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. 430

So have pity now and stay here by the ramparts,

do not make your child fatherless, your wife a widow…”

And great Hector of the shimmering helm answered

her: 440

“…But it is not the coming suffering of the Trojans that so much distresses

me, 450

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 460

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 over dead

before I ever hear your cry as you are dragged away.”

So speaking, shining Hector reached out for his son;

but the child turned away, back to the breast of his fair-belted nurse,

crying, frightened at the sight of his own father,

struck with terror seeing the bronze helmet and crest of horsehair,

nodding dreadfully, as he thought, from the topmost of the

helmet. 470

They burst out laughing, his dear father and lady mother.

At once shining Hector lifted the helmet from his head,

and placed it, gleaming, on the earth;

then he rocked his beloved son in his arms and kissed him,

and prayed aloud to Zeus and to the other gods:

“Zeus, and you other gods, grant now that this child too,

my son, will become, even as I am, conspicuous among Trojans,

likewise skilled in courage, and rule Ilion in strength.

And one day may someone say of him, ‘this man is far better than his father’

as he returns from war, and may he bear back bloodstained spoils of

armor, 480

having killed an enemy man, and his mother’s heart rejoice.”

So speaking he placed in the hands of his beloved wife

his son; and she took him to her perfumed breast,

laughing as she cried. And her husband took pity, watching,

and with his hand he caressed her and spoke to her and said her name:

“Foolish one, do not, I beg you, distress your heart too much.

No man against fate will hurl me to Hades;

for no man, I think, escapes destiny,

not the cowardly, nor the brave, once he is born.

But go to the house and tend to your work, 490

to your loom and distaff, and direct your handmaids

to ply their work; war is the concern of men,

all men, and me most of all, who live in Ilion.”


Counter-storytelling narrative (from perspective of Andromache’s Attendant):

From the Scaean gates we ran, having crossed holy Ilion,

To meet Andromache’s husband, Hector, son of Priam.

Andromache, daughter of great-hearted Eëtion quickened her pace,

seeing his bronze armor nearing,

As Scamandrios, or Astyanax, lord of the city and only child of Hector,

Smiled in my arms, just an infant but beautiful as a star.

Following Andromache, I looked up to see great Hector gazing at his only child,

Who laughed in my arms, playing with my hair.

As Andromache clung to his side, tears falling, she spoke of his inhumanity

To consider continuing to fight, while her and his son linger fitfully;

Waiting for news of his death and Achaean victory in battle.

As she spoke of Achilles besting her father, Eëtion of the Cilicians,

cremating him within his armor,

I stared at little Scamandrios, who continued to giggle.

He had no idea of the power he held, as heir to Hector,

who would soon be battling godlike Achilles, who had killed

Andromache’s seven brothers and parents.

Andromache lamented the death of her family to her husband,

while I thought of my brothers, killed by Achaeans in their first battle,

and my own mother, who died of exhaustion in our mountain village’s halls

after a harsh harvest season.

The gods had willed it so, and no one had ever lamented or grieved my loss,

but, Andromache was born royal, and was therefore unaccustomed

to such natural hardships of life and death. I considered providing counsel to her—

perhaps she forgot all women lose their husbands,

heroes though they may not be—

their burial mounds are not celebrated, their loss is felt every day, but spoken of rarely.

Hector of shimmering helm interrupted my thoughts, reaching for his son,

who spent more waking hours in my arms and care than either of his parents’;

holding the child out to him, I felt his tiny body contort in fear,

away from his own father.

Indeed, great Hector was a bronzed shining sight, with a helmet adorned with animal hair,

If heroes had not surrounded me daily during my years serving Troy,

I too would have buckled and bowed in both fear and respect.

I averted my eyes downward, as Scamandrios gripped my arms,

tiny fingers curling into my shoulders, fearing his parents’ anger,

for which he had little cause, as inevitably it would be directed towards myself.

To my surprise, looking up, I heard both belting laughs,

as mother and father turned to each other with wide smiles,

and I recalled the warm humanity of parenthood.

How amusing it must be to see your child clinging to a strange woman!

I then recalled, with a wistfulness,

that they had no reason to feel intimidated by our bond,

as no matter what, the gulf between noblewoman and attendant

Remains wide as the Aegean.

As their laughter continued, I fixed a doting smile on my face, directing my gaze downward,

caring for the infant as I was invariably intended to.


Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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