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3.2 Queen of poison Hekabe


After the events of the Trojan War Queen Hecuba, together with her daughters and other female citizens from Troy, was taken as a spoil of war by victorious party to serve as a concubine and slaves. Hyginus, Virgil, Euripides and many others wrote stories about her life as a menial and other authors used her as an image of those conquered in a war. In Homer’s Iliad (Homer, Iliad, bk. 24, 189) she plays a role of passive participant as the rest of women, in the work of Seneca the Younger, (Seneca, Troades, 903) she is a mother that griefs for her children and blames herself for its destiny. David Gemmell’s version of this woman cannot be further from what she is in the literally works and plays of most of other authors because here she works as a spark that sets the wheel of destiny into motion by a long planning and intriguing for years preceding the first book. His queen Hekabe is not only an extremely strong character, but arguably even the strongest and the most cunning character in the entire series. It is not only how this character is written, but it is also done by the fact that queen Hekabe has a huge impact on the whole story without even leaving her deathbed in the King’s Joy, a summer palace above the city of Troy.

The iron will to see the wedding of her favourite son and the fulfilment of prophecy, which she was slowly arranging to come true for over twenty years, come true are the only things that are keeping her alive even though she is in a constant agony because of the sprawling vileness, which is most likely her expression for growing tumour, in her belly. Because of these circumstances, the author decided to use three different versions of Hekabe during the course of both books. The first one is Hekabe as an active queen of Troy from her early twenties, when she was dispatched from Thera to wed Priam, to her late forties or early fifties. During the course of the marriage Hekabe and Priam had four sons and at least three daughters, with oldest of her children being Hector and the youngest one Kassandra. Actual number of her daughters might be higher because Laodike stated that all of her other sisters, save Kreusa, are already wed (Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow, 378) but they are never named or even mentioned by name. Young Hekabe was told to not only be equal to Priam in power, which is by itself something highly unusual, but also willing to do literally anything for ensuring that power and for securing future for her kind. Prime example of this statement is destiny of Priam’s eldest son Troilus who was ten years older than Hector and was born before Hekabe and Priam met. After the unsuccessful attempt to overthrow his father Troilus was despite Hekabe’s wish exiled. Because Hekabe didn’t believe in second chances and preferred to prevent anything that would come from him again she ordered one of her agents to poison him while he was out of the city. In the second book she herself states that she had to seduce, befriend, bribe or kill many kings to insure Troy’s power (Shield of Thunder, 371). Even Odysseus, who doesn’t seem to fear anyone, stated that ‘She has always frightened me. ‘Strong woman. Beautiful as a winter morning and terrifying as a tempest.’ (Lord of the Silver Bow, 168) All of these actions show her not only as cold blooded, ruthless and cruel character but also as someone who was purposeful, always though one step ahead and was both respected and feared because of her ability to outwit, outplan, and outmaneuver the enemies of Troy. (Gemmell, Shield of Thunder, 362) For young Hekabe, there was simply no middle ground and everyone was either an ally of Troy or its enemy. This leads to the second version of the character which is dying queen. In this role Hekabe, being forced to stay in the bed outside of the city for the rest of her days, reflects her attitude towards some of her children. Same as her husband Priam she had very high standard when it came down to judging her sons. Their firstborn, Hector, was a god for them. Tall, muscular, natural authority that is able to ride all day and then immediately fight the whole night. With him as a model of how prince should look like and what he should do, every other of her kids was a disappointment for her when she was younger. Change of the mind was then most obvious when it came down to her youngest son Paris, who preferred books and scrolls over a sword and riding a horse. Paris, helping his mother whenever he could, is accepted by her as a kind spirit and she started to be grateful for the compassion he shows to her. Her other sons, Deiphobos and Polites, are not visiting and Hector is outside of city. The change of attitude is also apparent when it comes down to her youngest daughter Kassandra. She accepts that she is different and despite the fact that she can be perceived as crazy by the society, loves her with her whole heart. Only attitude that is not changed is towards Laodike who she despises. Laodike, trying to do anything for a little recognition, is shouted at and addressed as a fool, because Hekabe believes that she is not as smart as her other kids. The fact that she changed her attitude to some of her children does not however mean that she started to self-reflect. On contrary she believes that there are still people that have to be eliminated for welfare of Troy and she freely admits to Andromache that she is going to kill Odysseus, who was marked by Priam as an enemy of Troy, and Antiphones, who was involved in a plot to bring down Priam. There are also no regrets about actions she had done, including the fact that she had killed Andromache’s younger sister Paleste who she believed was the girl the prophecy talked about, because Hekabe simply believes that everything was for the greater good and the end justifies the means. Even when she is dying she is still told not to be a subservient queen and no one can imagine that some man would dominate her. When it comes to her third version it is something that she loathes. She waits as long as possible and until the pain is manageable she refuses to take opiates because although she tolerates that age and illness took one thing she was known for, her beauty, she refuses to give up on her self-esteem as a strong woman with the sharpest mind in Troy. After she finally takes the opiates she often has hallucinations, seeing sky in different colours instead of cloud flying Pegasus. Hekabe is later killed by Andromache, who is trying to save her friends from her.

As was mentioned in the previous paragraph, Hekabe was also known for her beauty. In the first book, the author states only that when she was young she had long dark hair and the rest of how the queen looks is left to the imagination of the reader. Shortly before her demise in the second book he states that ‘she has yellow skin stretched like thin papyrus on brittle bones’. It is safe to assume that this is due to the illness which caused her to most likely lose a lot of her weight and strength. How Hekabe looked earlier is hard to tell since her children look all completely different. For example Hector is told to be tall, wide shouldered and blonde, while Paris is his exact opposite of him with balding dark hair, small figure and round shoulders. Description of her daughters is similarly inconsistent and hence can’t be used for more detailed description of their mother. Only person that is said to resemble Hekabe is Hektor’s imminent Andromache. Problem with using Andromache is then that it is never said if the resemblance is both visual and in attitude, or if the similarities are only in Priam’s head since he is only one who mentioned it.

Andromache’s and Hekabe’s mutual relationship is warmer and more open than the queen’s towards her own children. Both the queen and the princess served as priestesses on Thera, both of them had a female lover on the isle they had to leave behind and they are also the only characters who refused to kneel in front of Priam, despite the fact that it could have cost them their lives. Her relationship with her husband is similar and though they have not seen each other, due to the fact that the king refused to visit his dying wife in her last days because he could not endure a look on her slow disappearance to afterlife, it is said to be full of love which was not a common thing for arranged marriage. Her death in the middle of second book has also a huge influence on other characters. Following Hekabe’s death Priam starts to mourn the loss and blames himself for not visiting the only woman he had ever loved when she needed him the most. Drinking wine for days to dull the emptiness he feels, he starts to be foolish, irresponsible and for the rest of the series he is never sober again which eventually leads to several emotional decisions he would never have made if he had his wife beside him, because she was told to be his best counsellor. On the funeral feast in her honour, Priam openly declares Odysseus the enemy of Troy which is something Hekabe would never allow him to do, since other cities allied with Odysseus were also forced to terminate their treaties of alliance with Troy and after that he openly declares a war with king Agamemnon and with his allies after they demand that the daughter of king of Sparta, which was conquered by Mykene earlier, come with them so Agamemnon’s brother Menelaos would have a well-founded claim to the throne by marrying her. From what was told about Hekabe it is clear that she would not be so impulsive and she would try to find a way to either keep some of the allies Priam had lost or eliminate the most dangerous ones with some kind of ruse. With her death Troy loses one of its most feared weapons and the fact that Agamemnon celebrates it as such leads the reader to the conclusion that she was not only feared but also respected her being a female.

Despite the fact that character dies in the middle of second book, it is safe to say that she has a huge impact on the whole story. If it would not be for her Andromache would not have been dispatched from Thera to wed to Hektor, there would be a strong possibility that Priam would be overthrown or later be still reasonable enough to defend Troy from attackers and not let some of his units die pointlessly. As a literary character the differences in all three versions of Hekabe are significant enough to mark her as a round character and to say that she is not only a strong woman compared to her gender in both books but a stronger personage than the majority of male characters used by the author.





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