Who is Hecuba in The Iliad?

Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

'The Iliad' is the Ancient Greek epic poem by Homer detailing the final weeks of the Trojan War. This lesson will explore the character Hecuba and her role in the royal Trojan family.

The Iliad Background

There is much of Ancient Greek culture which survives today, but some of the best literary treasures are the works of Homer. In his epic poem, (a long, narrative poem which tells of the exploits of one main hero) The Iliad, Homer tells of the final weeks during The Trojan War. The Trojan War pitted most of the kings of Greece against Troy and lasted 10 years. There is so much to consider with this important story; for the sake of this lesson, we'll focus on the character Hecuba.

Hecuba's Background

Imagine the greatest war that has ever occurred in your country. Now imagine the most obvious cause of this war is the fault of your own son. Now you have an idea what Hecuba was feeling when she witnessed 1000 Greek ships heading towards her home. We'll get to the Trojan War and the events which take place during the story, but first let's explore the background of the woman Hecuba.

Hecuba, sometimes known as Hecabe, was the wife of King Priam making her queen of Troy. She was his second wife and mother to 19 of his children, including Hector and Paris, important characters in The Iliad.

Before the Trojan War

With that background in mind, there is one more story about Hecuba which is important to know before we get to her brief role in the events of The Iliad. While Hecuba was pregnant with Paris, she had a nightmare about giving birth to a torch and snakes. Prophets told her this dream meant her child would bring the destruction of Troy. Trying to prevent this from happening, Hecuba ordered some servants to kill her son after he was born.

Hecuba having her dream foretelling the destruction of Troy.
Hecuba

Instead of killing the child, the servants left young Paris on a mountainside where he was found and cared for by a shepherd. Years later, he returned home to his family. Eventually, the prophecy came true when Paris took Helen from Sparta and brought her to Troy, causing the rulers of Greece to come rescue her. This led to the siege and sacking of Troy.

Hecuba in The Iliad

Hecuba plays a larger role in the events prior to The Iliad than in the story itself. When she does appear in The Iliad, fearing for her city and for her children, she makes offerings to the gods (and begs her family to do the same) so that they, and all of Troy, will be protected.

In Hecuba's first appearance, she please with her son, Hector, to take the libation cup, make an offering to Zeus, then drink some himself. He refuses.

Next, she and several Trojan women she gathers, take a treasured gown as an offering to the goddess Athena, and pray to keep Troy safe.

Later, when Achilles, the strongest Greek warrior, demands to fight Hector, she begs her son not to fight. Just as before, he ignores her; this time his consequence is death.

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