Hecuba
(Hecabe)

Hecuba was married to Priam, king of Troy.

There is some dispute as to her parentage, some say her father was Dymas, king of Phrygia. Other say that her father was Cisseus, king of Thrace. Still others say that she was the daughter of the Sangarius River.

According to Euripides, Hecuba bore Priam 50 children. Apollodorous lowers the number of offspring to 14 (Bell, 220).

Her daughters were Creusa, Laodice, Polyxena, and Cassandra.

Her sons were Hector, Paris (Alexander), Deiphobus, Helenus, Pammon, Polites, Antiphus, Hipponous, Polydorus, and Troilus.

When she was with child, she dreamed "she gave birth to a firebrand that set the whole city on fire" (Bell, 220). Seers determined that the son would bring ruination to Troy.

When the son, Paris, was born, he was exposed by the royal shepherd, Agelaus, on Mount Ida.

Agelaus returned five days later, however, and found Paris still alive. The old shepherd took Paris in and raised the boy as if he were his own son.

Some stories say that Priam and Hecuba kept Paris' birth a secret, and that Priam received news that a child born on that day would be the downfall of Troy. As a result, Priam ordered the execution of his sister, Cilla, and her son, Munippus, for Cilla gave birth to Munippus on the same day that Paris was born (Bell, 221).

In the Troades, Hecuba compares herself to Cassandra. She blames the fall of Troy on Paris, and therefore states "by my torches you are burning."

(33) quidquid adversi accidit,
quaecumque Phoebas ore lymphato furens
credi deo vetante praedixit mala,
prior Hecuba vidi gravida nec tacui metus
et vana vates ante Cassandram fui.
Non cautus ignes Ithacus aut Ithaci comes
nocturnus in vos sparsit aut fallax Sinon.
Meus ignis iste est, facibus ardetis meis.
Whatever misfortune occurs, and whatever harms the priestess of Apollo (Cassandra), raving, prophesied, the god (Apollo) prohibiting her to be believed, Hecuba, weighed with child (Paris), previously saw, nor did I keep my fear silent and before Cassandra I was the empty prophetess. Neither the cautious Ithacan (Odysseus) nor the nocturnal companion of the Ithacan (Diomedes) has scattered fire among you, nor the false Sinon. That fire is mine, by my torches you are burning.

When Paris left Troy to find Helen, Hecuba and Cassandra both tried to convince him to stay. But, once Helen was inside Trojan walls, Hecuba, along with Priam, is said to have defended Helen,. Her defense of Helen, however, may have been the result of national pride instead of any personal feelings toward Helen.

From the walls of Troy, Hecuba watched as the war raged on and many of her sons were killed.

When the war was drawing to a close, Hecuba caught sight of Priam struggling into his armor. Hecuba persuaded Priam to stay with her and their daughters at the altar. Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus) slew both Polites and Priam in plain sight of Hecuba.

In the Aeneid, Aeneas tells Dido of Priam and Hecuba's fates in the fall of Troy.

(II.506) Forsitan et Priami fuerint quae fata requiras.

Urbis uti captae casum convulsaque vidit
limina tectorum et medium in penetralibus hostem,
arma diu senior desueta trementibus aevo
circumdat nequiquam umeris, et inutile ferrum
cingitur, ac densos fertur moriturus in hostes.

Aedibus in mediis nudoque sub aetheris axe
ingens ara fuit iuxtaque veterrima laurus,
incumbens arae atque umbra complex Penates.
Hic Hecuba et natae nequiquam altaria circum,
praecipites atra ceu tempestate columbae,
condensae et divum amplexae simulacra sedebant.

Ipsum autem sumptis Priamum iuvenalibus armis
ut vidit, "Quae mens tam dira, miserrime coniunx,
impulit his cingi telis? Aut quo ruis?" inquit;
"Non tali auxilio nec defensoribus istis
tempus eget; non, si ipse meus nunc adforet Hector.
Huc tandem concede; haec ara tuebitur omnes,
aut moriere simul." Sic ore effata recepit
ad sese et sacra longaevum in sede locavit.

Perhaps you (Dido) may ask what the fates were for Priam.

When he saw the ruin of his captive city and the shattered thresholds of his homes and the enemy in the middle of his innermost rooms, for a long time he, older in respect to age, binds on his trembling shoulders the unused armor in vain, and he girds on the useless iron, and about to die he is carried into the dense enemy.

A huge altar was in the middle of the palace complex below the open vault of the sky. Nearby, a very ancient laurel tree, overhanging the altar and shadows, has embraced the Penates. Here Hecuba and her daughters in vain [huddle] around the high gloomy altar, just as doves headlong in a black storm, and they were sitting and embracing the images of the deities.

Hecuba, however, sees Priam himself with the assumed arms of youth, "What mind so dire, most wretched husband, impels you to be girded with these weapons? Or where are you rushing?" she asked; "The time lacks for such help or these defenders; not even if my Hector himself were hear. Come hither finally; this altar will protect all, or you will die at the same time." Thus having spoken with her mouth she received the old one to herself and placed him on the sacred seat.

After the war, Hecuba was given to Odysseus.

Robert Bell writes of Hecuba's encounter with Polymestor after the fall of Troy:

The body of Polydorus washed up on the shore of the plain of Troy near the tents of the captive women. Still a boy at the start of the war, Polydorus had been sent to his half-sister Iliona, who had married Polymestor, king of the Chersonese. Polymestor had received part of the Trojan treasury to be held in trust for Polydorus. When Polymestor saw the way things were going, he decided to appropriate the treasure for himself and killed Polydorus, throwing the body into the sea. Hecuba quickly sent a message to Polymestor, who was unaware of her discovery, telling him she knew where more treasure was hidden and that he should recover it for her son. When Polymestor arrived with his two sons, Hecuba's companions murdered the boys while Hecuba tore out the eyes of Polymestor. (Bell, 222).

There are different variations as to the death of Hecuba. Some say she was stoned to death by Greeks angry with her for killing Polymestor, others say that she jumped overboard off of Odysseus' ship. One possible end, which Robert Bell calls "symbolic of her total descent" is that she was turned into a dog as she fled from Polymestor's companions (222).

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