17 Hecuba’s Plea

By: Valerie Jackman

Counter-narratives have the ability to not only amplify a character’s voice that has historically been silenced, but also fill in pieces of one’s story that has been oftentimes intentionally omitted in order to support the dominant narrative. In Book 22 (lines 90-108 in Fagles translation) of The Iliad, Hecuba’s plea to her son Hector to not return to his duel with Achilles outlines an attempt made by Hecuba to support her own counter-narrative and disapproval of the dominant narrative held at the time (of her son having an obligation to return based on his positionality in society):

“So the old man groaned

and seizing his gray hair tore it out by the roots

but he could not shake the fixed resolve of Hector.

And his mother wailed now, standing beside Priam,

weeping freely, loosing her robes with one hand

and holding out her bare breast with the other,

her words pouring forth in a flight of grief and tears:

“Hector, my child! Look – have some respect for this!

Pity your mother too, if I ever gave you the breast

to soothe your troubles, remember it now, dear boy —

beat back that savage man from safe inside the walls!

Don’t go forth, a champion pitted against him—

merciless, brutal man. If he hills you now,

how can I ever mourn you on your deathbed?—

dear branch in bloom, dear child I brought to birth!—

Neither I nor your wife, that warm, generous woman…

Now far beyond our reach, now by the Argive ships

the rushing dogs will tear you, bolt your flesh!””


By centering the relationship between her and her son and the role that she has played as a women and mother of Hector, Hecuba is attempting to fight back against the narrative that implies that women are subordinate to men and that because of Hector’s role as a man in society, he must put defending his status and honor above the needs and wishes of his family.

For this pressbook contribution, I wanted to highlight both the vulnerability and desperation present in Hecuba’s supplication towards Hector. I chose to do this in the form of a ‘diary entry’ of Hecuba’s. I thought that it would be interesting to hear Hecuba’s own internal dialogue when processing her son’s decision and her own decision to bare her breast and plea in the way that she did. I also, in the future, would like to tie this passage into the modern-day conceptions and stigmas surrounding birth and birthwork generally. I think that it would be really fascinating to relate this passage to a larger research study on the history and origins of midwifery and its ties to motherhood/parent-child relationships.

You will notice that the entry begins by talking about Hector and ends by addressing him directly. I was hoping that this shift in perspective could be representative of the unconditional love felt by parents. In addition, I was hoping to also touch on the process of grieving more broadly and what it means to grieve the loss of someone who chooses to leave you, whether that be a familial relationship, friendship, or romantic relationship, etc.

Hecuba’s Entry:

Whose arms would he find comfort in

other than my own,


the very arms that held a once fragile boy,

now an even weaker man


who would assure that he has no choice

until the sun took its final bow,


but we both know choice is a dagger

with two ends,


leaving both wounded unless left on the shelf

and not used at all


I bared my breast for you,

and I would time and time again


my son, whom I love,

if I had to, I would always choose you


for the moments when I cracked open

the moment my heart was no longer my own

and gave you a world, my world


is not

and will never be

lost on me.


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

Share This Book