In the hands of an ironist like Euripides, the last days of queen Hekabe are a miserable sight. Above, you see the death of her daughter, Polyxena, to honor the grave of Achilles at Troy. Having lost all her children at once, she feeds her revenge on a target of convenience, and upon seeing that even then she cannot escape her fate, she casts herself into the sea. This poem, inspired by the 74th Psalm, comes before the news of her last child’s death, before she has abandoned all hope of redemption.
As Simone Weil points out in the Poem of Force, even a slave’s tears are not her own to shed for those she loves – she may weep only for her master’s sorrows, and no longer dare weep for her own. So even Hekabe’s prayer to Apollo is an act of outrageous defiance, for already she is a slave, and this she will not accept.
To what end, Apollo, are we cast off?
You rage against those under your protection.
Recognize our ancient heritage,
as people of your fiefdom, in your debt,
whose kingdom raised royal temples in your name.
Set foot upon the smoldering sanctum,
all looted and blood-smeared, altars defaced.
The Greeks have overrun your Ilium,
made mock-ups of portents, and scorned the gods.
Aegeans felled our princes and our priests,
summarily as woodsmen clear young pines.
Our graven images are ground to dust
in blows from spear hafts, maces, shields and slings.
These arsonists reduced your throne to ash,
and shat upon the altar at your feet.
They would erase Troy from the very Earth.
They scorched your groves and feasted on your kine.
Your oracles we did not heed in time.
The prophetess Cassandra is a slave,
and no one understands her either way.
How long, Sun God, will Greeks with their snide jokes
dismiss a queen and mother’s right to mourn?
What holds back your darts, seeing us butchered,
your silver bow at rest and not deployed?
The Furies are an older lot, but you
once prized our safety and our shining walls.
You smote the serpent Python in his cave,
as ancient and as fearsome as the Flood.
You pulverized the monster’s gaping jaws,
filleted his flesh for dolphins, mice and crows.
You severed stones between the laurel’s roots,
where springs gushed forth, and stilled them into pools.
Your chariot announces break of day,
and Night herself waits on your horses’ neighs.
You, the inventor of maps, drawings, laws,
medicine, learning – you gave men reason.
Justice demands you take heed of our plight,
their barbaric gesture, blood sacrifice.
Do no dare feed these dogs daughters of Troy,
the wrath of a mother will reckon this.
See to your city, take heed of our prayers,
for the Furies are moved, they scent clotted blood.
Turn not aside from an old woman’s needs,
for even a slave may pray on her knees.
Apollo, aid me if you will not be shamed,
for the Greeks mock our loss with funeral games.