Shakespeare's Myths

Hecuba, also Heccuba, Hecube, Hecub, Eccuba



Hecuba, wife of King Priam of Troy, was the daughter either of Dymas, king of Phrygia (according to Homer) or of Cisseus, king of Thrace (according to Euripides and Virgil); the name of her mother is unknown. While pregnant with her son Paris, she dreamed that she gave birth to a firebrand that destroyed the city of Troy. The dream was prophetic, as Paris’ love for Helen incited the war that would leave Troy in flames. Hecuba lost her husband and her many children, and was given to Odysseus as a slave. Because of her extreme change in status, from queen of a powerful city to a childless widowed slave, she became a symbol of loss, grief, and the fickleness of Fortune. Literary portraits especially emphasize her maternity: in the Iliad Homer describes her as the mother of nineteen of Priam’s children, but in Hecuba, Euripides refers to her as a mother of fifty. Homer, Virgil, and Ovid identify her especially with grief and lament, as does Euripides in Trojan Women, but in Hecuba Euripides links her also with rage and violent revenge. Hecuba, which was influential throughout antiquity, the medieval period, and the early modern period, depicts her punishing Polymestor for the murder of her son Polydorus, by luring him to a tent in which her women killed his children and stabbed out his eyes. According to various legends, Hecuba subsequently either went mad, committed suicide by jumping into the Hellespont, was killed by angry Greeks, or was turned into a dog by the gods.


How to cite

Tanya Pollard.  “Hecuba.”  2015.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology 

 (2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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