'The Trojan Women' - by Vigilant , Westralian Worker, 16 February 1917, page 2

In this article Vigilant wrote in detail on Euripides’ play The Trojan Women. Fitzgerald noted that:

[This] piece is so far the only Australian reference to the wartime topicality of this play – seems to be the only suggestion that it was an anti-war play. [1]


The Trojan Women by Vigilant


Opposite the ever-famed Gallipoli, on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles, lies the Plain of Troy. Our fathers believed that Troy, or Ilion, was but a myth, a creature of the genius of Homer, or of unknown bards before him. To-day we know that the Mound of Troy covers the ruins of seven cities, built in succeeding ages, one on top of the other. The earliest town was, despite its aspect of solidity, inhabited by men of the stone age, who used tools and weapons little better than those of our Australian aborigines. Three of the seven cities were destroyed by fire, including the last, which, no doubt, was the city of refuge of the faithless Helen, wife of Menelaus, and her lover Paris. On the Plains of Troy was fought the ten years’ campaign, at the end of which the city fell through a stratagem – or a wonderful engine of war.

Fuit Illium” – “Troy was,” and her wretched daughters lie guarded before their huts, under the ruined wall. In the distance is the Greek camp, where the leaders have just thrown dice for the possession of the captives.

Such was the scene that formed in the mind of Euripides, the Greek, and inspired his mighty anti-war drama, “Trojan Women.”

The play opens with a dialogue between Pallas, who finally gave the victory to the Greeks, and Poseidon, the sea-god, protector of Troy. The goddess foretells woe to the victors. Thus runs her request to Poseidon:

“Do thou make wild the roads of the sea, and steep
With war of waves, and yawning of the deep,
Till dead men choke Euboea’s curling bay,
So Greece shall dread even in after day
My house, nor scorn the watchers of strange lands!”

Truly, a great phrase – “Nor scorn the watchers of strange lands” – an eternal curse upon the wagers of war of conquest resides in those syllables. We can see those mystic watchers materialise in Joan of Arc, and Boadicea.

Poseidon in his response, is no less magnificent:

“- How are ye blind,
Ye treaders down of cities, ye that cast
Temples to desolation and lay waste
Tombs, the untrodden sanctuaries where lie
The ancient dead; yourselves so soon to die!”

Daylight dawns hideous to the captive women. Hecuba, the Queen another of nineteen children, awakes and bemoans her fate:

“Who am I that I sit
Here at a Greek King’s door,
Yea, in the dust of it?
A slave that men drive before,
A woman that hath no home,
Weeping alone for her head;
A low and bruised head,
And the glory struck therefrom.”

But Cassandra, the prophetess, virgin Devotee to Apollo, has been treated kindly by her god. He has struck her with madness, and she can find it in her heart to rejoice that her lot has fallen to Agamemmon:

“Weepest thou, mother mine own?
Surely thy cheek is pale
With tears, tears that wail
For a land and a father dead.
But I go garlanded;
I am the Bride of Desire:
Therefore my torch is borne –
Lo, the lifting of the morn,
Lo, the leaping of the fire!”



But even so pitiful a relief is rare. The abyss of pathos is reached when the Greek herald announces to Andramache, widow of Hector, that he has come to fulfil the counsel of Odyasena - or to use his more familiar name, Ulysses. War hardened ruffian though the herald might be, he struggles with his tears when he demands from the window the infant son of the dead hero. This mite was condemned to be thrown down from the walls of Troy. Andramache had no tender tutelary god to strike her mad:

“... One horrible spring – deep, deep
Down. And they neck.. Ah God, so cometh sleep!
And none to pity thee!...
. . Kiss me, This one time;
Not ever again. Put up thine arms, and climb
About my neck; Now, kiss me, lips lips to lips ..”

To quote a few lines from the preface of the translator, Gilbert Murray, D Litt., Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford: “For some time before the ‘Troades’ was produced, Athena, now entirely in the hands of the War Party, had been engaged in an enterprise which was bitterly resented by the more humane minority. She had succeeded in compelling.. Melos to take up arms against her. . . had conquered. . the town, massacred the men, and sold the women and children into slavery. Melos fell in the autumn of 416 B.C. The ‘Troades’ was produced in the following spring. And while the gods of the prologue were prophesying destruction at sea for the sackers of Troy, the fleet of the sackers of Melos . . was actually preparing to set sail for its fatal enterprise against Sicily.”

Gilbert Murray continues: “Pity is a rebel passion. Its hand is against the strong, against the organised force of society, against conventional sanctious accepted gods. It is the Kingdom of Heaven within us, fighting against the brute powers of the world; ... It brings not peace, but sword.”

No doubt the readers interest will prompt questionings as to the effect of the play upon Athens. It is told in a few words. Euripides was the teller of a great truth. Before long “Almost all Athens rejoiced at his suffering,” and eventually he left the city, a voluntary exile, to while away the remainder of his life in a remote Macedonian retreat.

Still, these great truths must be told, be the penalty what it may. The teller, according to his fibre, will sink or swim – gradually accept the easy path that leads to the trackless wilderness of compromise, or stand unflinching to the end, his head “bloody but unbowed.

War to-day may have lost some – a few – of its more elemental barbarities, but, were Euripides with us today, would he write in a different strain? When we read of the chorus of world statesmen (!) who declare President Wilson’s plea for a League of Nations to be a vision of the dim, distant future, is it not time to set afoot a society of fool-killers? Statesmen of Europe, do you call them? Pah! A pack of war-wolves.

We go to war to secure future peace. Very well. But if we are sincere, let our talk be of the future peace, not of endless war. Let us cut out of our proposals anything calculated to disturb future peace. No matter how much our hearts are set upon it. Keep justice for ever in our eyes – stern justice for ever in our eyes – stern justice. If you will, but not justice vitiated by the temptation to fish out small advantages from this maelstrom. That is a temptation hard to resist, but if succumbed to, its moral effect is to place upon our own shoulders a blood-guilt equal to that of the original aggressors.



1.John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Victorian Socialist Party - General issues and background, n.d. JCPML00653/411