Here we are with yet another Women's Wednesday! Last week we talked about Polixena and her sad fate: today we will be focusing on her very mother, Queen Hecuba of Troy.
That of Hecuba is a story full of sorrow. The second wife of King Priam of Troy, Hecuba bore many children: some say 19, others 14. These included several major characters from Homer's Iliad, such as Hector, Paris, the prophetess Cassandra, and Polixena. Much like many of her children proved to have some sort of gift, Hecuba herself often experienced premonitions, prophetic dreams, and ominous nightmares. While she was pregnant with Paris, for example, she dreamt about giving birth not to a baby but to a flaming torch covered in snakes and thus setting Troy on fire. Terrified by such a nightmare, the king and queen asked the prophets of the city to interpret the dream: it, of course, was a terrible omen that predicted that if the child lived, he would be responsible for the fall of Troy. Once he was born, Hecuba thus ordered for Paris to be killed; two servants, however, had pity of the child and abandoned him on a mountain, only for him to be found and raised by a shepherd. Years later, Paris returned to Troy and famously triggered the Trojan War by kidnapping Helen, wife of King Menelaus, from Sparta: the prophecy was thus fulfilled, and Hecuba herself had to witness the death of most of her children.
"Hecuba", illumination from the manuscript “Livre des femmes nobles et renommees”, ms. Français 598, f. 47v, 1403, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris.