Hecuba (//; also Hecabe, Hécube; Ancient Greek: Ἑκάβη Hekábē, pronounced [hekábɛ͜ɛ]) was a queen in Greek mythology, the wife of King Priam of Troy during the Trojan War, She had 19 children, who included major characters of Homer's Iliad such as the warriors Hector and Paris and the prophetess Cassandra. Two of them, Hector and Troilus are said to have been born as a result of Hecuba's having made love with the god Apollo.
Ancient sources vary as to the parentage of Hecuba. According to Homer, Hecuba was the daughter of King Dymas of Phrygia, but Euripides and Virgil write of her as the daughter of the Thracian king Cisseus. The mythographers Pseudo-Apollodorus and Hyginus leave open the question which of the two was her father, with Pseudo-Apollodorus adding a third alternative option: Hecuba's parents could as well be the river god Sangarius and Metope. Some versions from non-extant works are summarized by a scholiast on Euripides' Hecuba: according to those, she was a daughter of Dymas or Sangarius by the Naiad Euagora, or by Glaucippe the daughter of Xanthus (Scamander?); the possibility of her being a daughter of Cisseus is also discussed. A scholiast on Homer relates that Hecuba's parents were either Dymas and the nymph Eunoe or Cisseus and Telecleia; the latter option would make her a full sister of Theano, which is also noted by the scholiast on Euripides cited above.
Hecuba in the Iliad
Hecuba appears six times in the Iliad. In Book 6.326–96, she meets Hector upon his return to the polis and offers him the libation cup, instructing him to offer it to Zeus and to drink of it himself. Taking Hector's advice, she chooses a gown taken from Alexander's treasure to give as an offering to the goddess and leads the Trojan women to the temple of Athena to pray for help. In Book 22, she pleads with Hector not to fight Achilles, expressing her premonition of "never get[ting] to mourn you laid out on a bier." In Book 24.201–16, she is stricken with anxiety upon hearing of Priam's plan to retrieve Hector's body from Achilles' hut. Further along in the same episode, at 24.287–98, she offers Priam the libation cup and instructs him to pray to Zeus so that he may receive a favourable omen upon setting out towards the Achaean camp. Unlike in the first episode in which Hector refuses her offer of the cup, Priam accepts and is rewarded with the requested omen. Finally, she laments Hector's death in a well-known speech at 24.748–59.
Hecuba in other classical works
The Bibliotheca (Library) of Pseudo-Apollodorus states that Hecuba had a son named Troilus with the god Apollo. An oracle prophesied that Troy would not be defeated if Troilus reached the age of 20 alive. Troilus is killed by Achilles.
Hecuba is a main character in two plays by Euripides: The Trojan Women and Hecuba. The Trojan Women describes the aftermath of the fall of Troy, including Hecuba's enslavement by Odysseus. Hecuba also takes place just after the fall of Troy. Polydorus, the youngest son of Priam and Hecuba, is sent to King Polymestor for safekeeping, but when Troy falls, Polymestor murders Polydorus. Hecuba learns of this, and when Polymestor comes to the fallen city, Hecuba, by trickery, blinds him and kills his two sons.
Another story says that when she was given to Odysseus as a slave, she snarled and cursed at him, so the gods turned her into a dog, allowing her to escape.
- —Inferno XXX: 13–20
Hecuba's children with Priam
In popular culture
Hecuba is frequently referenced in classical literature, and in many medieval, Renaissance, and modern works. Among the works which are about Hecuba are:
- Hecuba and The Trojan Women, plays by Euripides
- The Trojan War Will Not Take Place, play by Jean Giraudoux
- King Priam, novel by David Park
- Cortege of Eagles (1967), ballet by Martha Graham
- Trojan Barbie (2006), play by Christine Evans
- The House of Hades (2013), novel by Rick Riordan
- Troy: Fall of a City (2018) a miniseries in which Hecuba is portrayed by Frances O'Connor
- Bluey, (2020), episode 2, season 2 Hammerbarn, Hecuba features as Bingo's gnome husband.
Hecuba is also referenced in other works:
- Hamlet, play by William Shakespeare. In Act 2, scene 2, the character Hamlet marvels at the skill of an actor he has just watched perform the role of Hecuba with convincing grief as she witnesses Priam's death: "What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, / That he should weep for her?" Hamlet criticizes himself for grieving his father less authentically than the actor does on behalf of the imaginary Hecuba and Priam.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition: "Hecuba"
- Stesichorus, Fr. 108; Tzetzes, On Lycophron; Porphyry in his Omissions states that Ibycus, Alexander, Euphorion and Lycophron all made Hector the son of Apollo
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 12. 5 & E3. 32
- Frazer's note 21 on Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3. 12. 5. In: Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.
- Iliad, 16. 715
- Euripides, Hecuba, 3
- Virgil, Aeneid 7. 320; 10. 705,
- Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, 3. 12. 5
- Hyginus, Fabulae, 91, 111, 249
- Scholia on Euripides, Hecuba, 3
- Scholia on Iliad, 16. 718, referring to Pherecydes and Athenion for the two versions respectively
- Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Chapter 2 (Tiberius), paragraph 72
- Homer, The Iliad. Book 22, line 86
- Stesichorus, Fr.109
- Cecil Maurice Bowra, Greek Lyric Poetry from Alcman to Simonides, Volume 1
- "Hecuba", Washington State University
- "Hamlet: the play within the play". The British Library. Retrieved 2019-11-22.
- Virgil, Aeneid III.19–68
- Homer, Iliad XIV.717–718
- Solinus, De vita Caesarum X.22
- Lactantius, Divinae institutions I.22
- Pomponius Mela, De chorographia II.26
- Ovid, Metamorphoses XIII.423–450, 481–571
- Euripides, Trojan Women
- Euripides, Hecuba
- Tsotakou-Karveli. Lexicon of Greek Mythology. Athens: Sokoli, 1990.
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- Encyclopedia Americana. 1920. .