Andromache

Marbled head of a veiled woman (500BCE) Metropolitan Museum of Art
Marbled head of a veiled woman (500BCE)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Andromache is a fascinating woman. Following her different bedfellows or husbands, we learn about her life. Andromache appears in many texts, among them the Iliad,  Euripides’ play Andromache, the Aeneid, and the French play Andromache written by Racine who offers another perspective about Andromache.

Her name means battle of a man, from ἀνδρός of a man and μάχη battle. How come, with such a strong name, she is so powerless and has no control over her life?

There are many posts about Andromache in the Forum. There was a Friday Café about lament, which defines her. She is famous for her lamenting.

Let’s start with the story of Andromache in the Iliad.

[395] Andromache, daughter of great Eëtion who ruled in Thebe under the wooded slopes of wooded Mount Plakos, and was king of the Cilicians. His daughter had married Hector of the bronze helmet

Later in the same scroll, Andromache is lamenting.

[405] and Andromache stood by him weeping and taking his hand in her own. 407 What’s gotten into you [Hector] —some kind of superhuman force [daimōn]? Your own power [menos] is going to make you perish [phthi-n-ein]. You are not showing pity, 408 not thinking of your disconnected [nēpiakhos] son, and not thinking of me, deprived as I am of good fortune. I will soon become a widow, 409 your widow, since you will soon be killed by the Achaeans.

[410] They will all rush at you. It would be better for me, 411 if I should lose you, to lie dead and be covered over by the earth, since there will no longer 412 be anything left to comfort me when you have met your fate. 413 I will have nothing but sorrows [akhos plural]

Iliad 6.395–399, 405–413, Sourcebook

She knows very well what is going to happen to her. And yet, she is powerless. She won’t be able to protect her son.

In Euripides’ Andromache, she is living with Achilles’ son, Neoptolemos (Pyrrhus in Virgil), not married and she is trying to protect the son, Molossos, she has had with him. Her situation is very complicated.

She is recounting her misfortunes at the beginning of the play.

Andromache
Glory of Asia, city of Thebe! It was from you that I, Andromache, once came dowered with golden luxury to the royal house of Priam, given to Hector as lawful wife for the bearing of his children. [5] In days gone by I was a woman to be envied, but now I am, if any woman ever was, the paragon of misery. I saw my husband Hector killed by the hand of Achilles and I beheld Astyanax, the son I bore my husband, [10] hurled from the high battlements once the Greeks had captured the land of Troy. I myself, a member of a house most free, became a slave and was brought to Greece, given as the choicest of the Trojan spoil [15] to the islander Neoptolemus as his prize of war. I live now in the lands that border on Phthia here and the city of Pharsalia, lands where the sea-goddess Thetis, far from the haunts of men and fleeing their company, dwelt as wife with Peleus. The people of Thessaly [20] call it Thetideion in honor of the goddess’s marriage. Here is where Achilles’ son made his home, and he lets Peleus rule over the land of Pharsalia, being unwilling to take the sceptre during the old man’s lifetime. In this house I have given birth to a manchild, [25] lying with Achilles’ son, my master

Formerly, though I was sunk in misfortune, the hope always drew me to him that if the child lived my family would find some kind of help and defense. But ever since Neoptolemus married Hermione, [30] spurning my bed since he was master and I a slave, I have been hounded with cruel ill-treatment by her. For she says that with secret poisons I make her childless and an object of hatred to her husband, and that I wish to take her place in the house, [35] casting her marriage-bed out by violent means. This bed I received unwillingly to begin with and now I have relinquished it. Great Zeus be my witness that it was against my will that I became sharer in this bed! But I cannot persuade her of this, and she wants to kill me. [40] Menelaus her father is acting as his daughter’s accomplice in this, and he is now in the house, having come from Sparta for this very purpose. In fear I have come and taken my seat at this shrine of Thetis near the house on the chance that it may save me from death. [45] For Peleus and Peleus’ offspring honor it as a monument to their marriage-tie with a Nereid. My only child have I sent secretly to another house, for fear that he may be killed. For his father is not beside me [50] to protect me, and for his son he does not exist, since he is away in the land of Delphi. There he is offering amends to Apollo for his madness—in which he went to Pytho and asked Phoebus for satisfaction for his father Achilles, whom the god had killed—on the chance that by begging remission of punishment for his previous sins [55] he might win the god’s favor for the future.
Euripides Andromache 1–55, translated by David Kovacs

She maybe cries too much because at some point, Peleus who is trying to save her and her son, tells her to stop complaining.

Andromache
[750] Old sir, may the gods grant blessing to you and to yours since you have saved this child and luckless me! But take care lest these men, crouching in ambush where the road is deserted, may take me off by force, seeing that you are old, I am weak, [755] and this boy a mere babe. Take this to heart so that we may not escape now only to be captured later!

Peleus
No cowardly woman-talk here, please! March on! Who will touch us? He shall smart for it that lays a hand on us! For by the gods’ grace I rule over [760] a throng of cavalry and many hoplites in Phthia. And I am still upright on my feet and no grey-beard, as you suppose. If I once look at that sort of man, I will send him flying, old man though I am. Even an old man, if he be brave, is more than a match for many young men. [765] What use is bodily vigor if one is a coward?

Euripides Andromache 750–765

At the end of the play, Thetis decides her fate. Andromache does not control her future.

Thetis
Peleus, because of the marriage-bed we once shared I, Thetis, have left the house of Nereus and come here. First I counsel you not to be too much cast down by your present misfortunes. [1235] For even I, who ought not to have born children to make me weep, since I am a goddess and have a god for my father, have lost the child I had from you, Achilles, swift of foot, whom I bore to be the noblest of the Greeks.

But listen, and I shall tell you why I have come. Take the son of Achilles, who lies here slain, [1240] to the altar of Delphi and there bury him, a reproach to the Delphians, so that his grave may proclaim that he was violently slain by the hand of Orestes. As for the captive woman, I mean Andromache, she must go to dwell in the land of Molossia [1245] and be married to Helenus, and with her must go her son,1 the last of the line of Aeacus. It is fated that his descendants in unbroken succession will rule over Molossia and live their lives in prosperity. For, old sir, it was not to be [1250] that your race and mine should be so laid waste, nor that of Troy, for Troy too is in the gods’ care although it fell by the will of Pallas Athena. As for yourself, in order that you may feel gratitude for your marriage to me, [1255] I shall set you free from mortal woe and make you a god, deathless and exempt from decay. And then you shall dwell with me in the house of Nereus, god with goddess, for all time to come. From there, walking dry-shod out of the deep [1260] you will see your beloved son and mine, Achilles, dwelling in his island home on the strand of Leuke in the Sea Inhospitable. But go to the god-built city of Delphi with the body of this man, and when you have buried him in earth, [1265] go to the hollow cave on the ancient promontory of Sepias and sit. Wait there until I come from the sea with a chorus of fifty Nereids to escort you. You must carry out the course that fate prescribes, for this is the will of Zeus. [1270] Cease from your grieving for the dead. For this is the judgement that stands over all mortals and death is their debt to pay.

Euripides Andromache 1233–1273  

She goes from one man to another, and next she will live with Hector’s brother, Helenus.

In the Aeneid, we find her living with Helenus, but still lamenting for Hector.

Giorgio de Chirico, Hector and Andromache, Bronze, Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris
Giorgio de Chirico, Hector and Andromache, Bronze, Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris

Here wondrous things were loudly blaz’d fame:
How Helenus reviv’d the Trojan name,
And reign’d in Greece; that Priam’s captive son
Succeeded Pyrrhus in his bed and throne;
And fair Andromache, restor’d by fate,
Once more was happy in a Trojan mate.
I leave my galleys riding in the port,
And long to see the new Dardanian court.
By chance, the mournful queen, before the gate,
Then solemniz’d her former husband’s fate.
Green altars, rais’d of turf, with gifts she crown’d,
And sacred priests in order stand around,
And thrice the name of hapless Hector sound.
The grove itself resembles Ida’s wood;
And Simois seem’d the well-dissembled flood.
But when at nearer distance she beheld
My shining armor and my Trojan shield,
Astonish’d at the sight, the vital heat
Forsakes her limbs; her veins no longer beat:
She faints, she falls, and scarce recov’ring strength,
Thus, with a falt’ring tongue, she speaks at length:
‘Are you alive, O goddess-born ?’ she said,
‘Or if a ghost, then where is Hector’s shade?’
At this, she cast a loud and frightful cry.
With broken words I made this brief reply:
‘All of me that remains appears in sight;
I live, if living be to loathe the light.
No phantom; but I drag a wretched life,
My fate resembling that of Hector’s wife.
What have you suffer’d since you lost your lord?
By what strange blessing are you now restor’d?
Still are you Hector’s? or is Hector fled,
And his remembrance lost in Pyrrhus’ bed?’
With eyes dejected, in a lowly tone,
After a modest pause she thus begun:
‘O only happy maid of Priam’s race,
Whom death deliver’d from the foes’ embrace!
Commanded on Achilles’ tomb to die,
Not forc’d, like us, to hard captivity,
Or in a haughty master’s arms to lie.
In Grecian ships unhappy we were borne,
Endur’d the victor’s lust, sustain’d the scorn:
Thus I submitted to the lawless pride
Of Pyrrhus, more a handmaid than a bride.
Cloy’d with possession, he forsook my bed,
And Helen’s lovely daughter sought to wed;
Then me to Trojan Helenus resign’d,
And his two slaves in equal marriage join’d;
Till young Orestes, pierc’d with deep despair,
And longing to redeem the promis’d fair,
Before Apollo’s altar slew the ravisher.
By Pyrrhus’ death the kingdom we regain’d:
At least one half with Helenus remain’d.
Our part, from Chaon, he Chaonia calls,
And names from Pergamus his rising walls.
But you, what fates have landed on our coast?
What gods have sent you, or what storms have toss’d?
Does young Ascanius life and health enjoy,
Sav’d from the ruins of unhappy Troy?

Virgil Aeneid 3.294–350, translated by John Dryden

Many centuries later, Racine wrote a play about Andromache. He got his inspiration from the Iliad, from Euripides’ play and from Virgil.

Racine himself explains in the second preface of his play why he decided to change the story of Andromache and her son, Astyanax.

Although my tragedy has the same title as his, the subject matter is entirely different. In Euripides, Andromache fears for the life of Molossus, a son she had borne Pyrrhus and whom Hermione wished to kill, together with his mother. Here, though, Molossus does not enter the picture. Andromache has had no other husband but Hector, and no other son but Astyanax. In depicting her so, I felt I was conforming to the idea that we have of this princess nowadays. Most of those who have heard of Andromache hardly know her other than as Hector’s widow and Astyanax’ mother. We do not believe she should love another husband or another son. And I doubt her tears would have made the impression they did on my audiences, had they been shed for a son other than the one she bore Hector.

Racine, Andromache, second preface, translated by Tim Chilcott

Racine shows a strong woman in charge of her destiny. At the end of the play, Andromache is a queen very much in control of her fate.

Pylades
My lord, we must set off. Leave this palace;
Or else decide never to try again.
Our Greeks still hold the gates for now
But mobs are seeking us – they’re strongly armed.
Andromache rules everyone who’s here.
She is their queen, and we are enemies.
Once she fought the king, but now she gives him
Every respect a faithful widow owes,
Commands he be revenged, and may on us
Wreak vengeance yet for Hector and for Troy.

Racine, Andromache, Act 5, Scene 5

You can find the text at Chilcot Literary Translations.

Has Andromache regained the power and the fame she had in the Iliad? Is she used by men or does she use men to obtain what she wants for her sons? Please Join me in the forum to continue the discussion.

Image credits

Photos: H. Emeriaud

Featured image: Detail from Jacques-Louis David Andromache mourning Hector (1783) Louvre, via Wikimedia Commons
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Hélène Emeriaud is a retired teacher. A Community TA for HeroesX in v3 and v4, she enjoys being a participant in Hour 25.