Shakespeare's Myths

Servius. In Aeneidos (end of 4th century), II, 32; II, 499; II, 512; III, 6; V, 535; VII, 320; X, 705:

[Describes Hecuba’s lineage and role in Troy, noting disagreement as to whether her father was Cisseus or Dymantis; refers to the death of Polydorus at the hands of Polymester, and the latter's prophecy of Hecuba's fate, in Euripides’ play; comments on Virgil’s treatment of her legend]


First Mythographer of the Vatican (875-1075). III, 201, “On the Genealogies of Gods and Heroes”:

[Describes Hecuba’s parentage, marriage, and descendants]


Second Mythographer of the Vatican (11th century?). 225, “On Hecuba”; 253, “On Hecuba and Polymestor”:

[Prophecies that Priam’s son will lead to Troy’s destruction; Hecuba’s dream of firebrand while pregnant with Paris; Paris’s upbringing among shepherds, and eventual return to royal family. Hecuba’s mourning for Astyanax and Polyxena; discovery of Polymestor’s murder of Polydorus, and punishment of Polymestor by blinding him]


Third Mythographer of the Vatican (second half of the 12th century). IX. 8:

[Hecuba was changed into a barking dog because of her fury towards the Greeks after the murder of her son Polydorus]


Giovanni Boccaccio. Genealogia (1350-1374, 1472), I, x:

[Hecuba transformed into dog]


Charles Estienne.  Dictionarium (1553): “Hecuba”:

[Briefly summarizes Hecuba’s parentage, marriage, and experiences in the aftermath of Troy]


Gavin Douglas.  Eneados (1553) (STC 24797), II, viii:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 453-57]

A small wickat thar was, or entre derne,

A litle gett clepit a posterne,

On the bak halfe Priamus palice amast,

Amang bigginis stude desolait and wast;

Quhairat was wont alane Andromacha

To entir oft to Priame, and Hecuba,

And Astianax hir yong sone, with hir bring

Onto his grandschir Priamus the king.


[A small wicket there was, or a secret entry,

A little gate called a postern,

On the back side of Priam’s palace almost

Among buildings, stood desolate and waste

Whereat Andromache was wont alone [was wont: translates saepius]

To enter often to Priam and Hecuba

And to bring with her Astyanax her young son

Unto his grandsire, Priam the king.]


Gavin DouglasEneados (1553) (STC 24797), II, viii:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 500-02]

I saw my self thair Neoptolemus

Mak felloun slauchter, woude and furius,

And aithir bruder of Atrides alswa.

Eldmoder to ane hundredth thair saw I Hecuba,

And Priamus at the altair, quhair he stuide,

All our bysprent and sparkit full of bluide

Of sacrifice, quhame to he bet the fire


[I saw myself there Neoptolemus

Make dreadful slaughter, wood and furious.

And either brother of Atrides also.

Mother-in-law to one hundred, there saw I Hecuba

And Priamus at the altar, where he stood

All over besprinkled and sprinkled full of blood

Of sacrifice, which he added to the fire.]


Gavin DouglasEneados (1553) (STC 24797), II, ix:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 515-24]

Heccuba thidder, with hir childir, for beild

Ran all in vane, and about the altair swarmis,

Brasand the godlik ymage in thair armis,

As for the storme dowis flockis togidder ilkane.

Bot quhen scho saw quhat Priamus hes tane

His armour, so as thoch he had bene ying:

Quhat fulich thocht, my wretchit spous and king,

Movis thee now sic wapnis for to weild?

Quhidder haistis thou? quod scho of na sic beild

Haue we now mister, nor yit defendouris as thee

The tyme is nocht ganand, thairto, we se

In cais Hector war present heir, my sone,

He mycht nocht succour Troy, for it is wone.

Quhairfor, I pray the, sit doun and cum hiddir,

And lat this altair salf ws all togiddir,

Or than at anis all heir lat us de.


[Hecuba there, with her children, for shelter

Ran all in vain, and about the altar swarms

Embracing the godlike image, in their arms

As doves move in flocks before the storm, huddled together.

But when she saw that Priam had taken

His armor, as though he had been young:

What foolish thought, my wretched spouse and king,

Moves thee now to wield such weapons?

Whither hastes thou, quoth she; of none so bold 

Have we now need, nor yet defenders as thee as thee.

The time is not proper, there too we see

If Hector were present here, my son,

He might not succour Troy, for it is won

Wherefore I pray thee sit down, and come hither,

And let this altar save us altogether

Or then all at once here let us die.]


Gavin DouglasEneados (1553) (STC 24797), VII, vi:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, VII, 319-22: Juno brings down a curse on the court of Latinus to try and hinder Aeneas’ progress]

Bellona, goddes of batale, sall stand by,

To be convoyar of the marriage.

Nevir Heccuba, of Cisseus lynage,

Quhilk, bund with child, dremyt scho did furth bryng

A gleid of fyr, or hait brand lycht birnand,

Was deliuer of sic flambis, but fayle,

As thou sall beyr…


[Bellona goddess of battle shall stand by

To be conveyer of thy marriage.

Never Hecuba of Cisseus’ lineage

Who, when she was pregnant, dreamed she brought forth

A coal of fire, or hot brand light burning

Was delivered of such flames but fell

As you shall suffer…]


Gavin DouglasEneados (1553) (STC 24797), X, xii:

[Reworks Virgil, Aeneid, X, 704-06]

Quhen Heccuba, douchter of Cysseus,

Dremyt scho was gret, the story tellis thus,

With a fyre broind, and the self samyn nycht

Was delyver of Paris, the fey knycht,

Quhilk in his native cite mayd his end.


[When Hecuba, daughter of Cisseus,

Dreamed she was great [pregnant], the story tells thus,

With a fire brand, and the self same night

Was delivered of Paris the unfortunate knight

Who in his native city made his end.]


Vincenzo CartariImagini (1556), X, 2:

[Describes Hecuba’s actions after the Trojans retreated inside the walls of Troy, when she got her finest robe, and with her women brought it as an offering to Athena’s temple, to plead for divine favour]


Henry Howard, Earl of SurreyThe Aeneid (1557) (STC 24798), II, 643-47:

As in th’entry of slaughter furious

I saw Pyrrhus and either Atrides.

There Hecuba I saw with a hundred more

Of her sons’ wives, and Priam at the altar,

Sprinkling with blood his flame of sacrifice.


Henry Howard, Earl of SurreyThe Aeneid (1557) (STC 24798), II, 666-80:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 515-24]

Here Hecuba, with her young daughters all,

About the altar swarmèd were in vain,

Like doves, that flock together in the storm,

The statues of the gods embracing fast.

But when she saw Priam had taken there

His armure, like as though he had ben young:

What furious thought, my wretched spouse (quod she)

Did move thee now such weapons for to weld? [weld: wield]

Why hastest thou? This time doth not require

Such succour, ne yet such defenders now,

No, though Hector my son were here again.

Come hither: this altar shall save us all:

Or we shall die together. Thus she said.

Wherewith she drew him back to her, and set

The agèd man down in the holy seat.


Jasper Heywood, Troas (1559) (STC 22227a):

[Translation of Seneca’s Troades; Hecuba features in Acts One, Four, and Five.]


Natale ContiMythologia (1567), I, xiii, xviii; IV, ix; VI, xxiii; VII, xvi:

[I, xiii, “On Sacrificing to the Dead,” quotes Euripides’ Hecuba 535-37, in context of discussing sacrificial rites.

I, xviii, “On the Nature of Ancient Gods,” quotes Hecuba 232-33, on god as creator of misfortunes.

IV, ix, “On Fortune,” quotes Hecuba 488-91, on chance controlling all things.

VI, xxiii, “On Paris,” quotes Ovid’s Heroides 16.15-15, on Hecuba’s dream of a fire-brand while pregnant with Paris.

VII, xvi, “On Daedalus,” quotes Hecuba 836-38, on desire for powers of Daedalus.]


Arthur GoldingOvid’s Metamorphoses (1567) (STC 18956), XI, 873-80:

[Golding translates Ovid’s Metamorphoses, XI, 759-63: Aesacus is compared to his half-brother Hector]

                             And had he not in prime

Of lusty youth been tane away, his deeds perchance in time

Had purchased him as great a name as Hector, though that he

Of Dymant’s daughter Hecuba had fortune born to be.

For Aesacus reported is begotten to have been

By ’scape, in shady Ida on a maiden fair and sheene [sheene: beautiful]

Whose name was Alyxothoe, a poor man’s daughter that [Alyxothoe: Alexiroe, seduced by Priam]

With spade and mattock for himself and his a living gat.



Richard Stanyhurst.  The First Four Bookes of Virgil his Aeneis (1582) (STC 24806), II, p. 36:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 500-02]

There I saw in boucherie bathed

Fiery Neoptolemus, both brethren linked Atridans.   [Menelaus and Agamemnon, the two Atrides brothers]

And Hecuba old princess did I see, with number, an hundred

Law daughters: Priamus with blood defiled his own fire,

That with his own travailing to gods he settled on altars…


Richard Stanyhurst.  The First Four Bookes of Virgil his Aeneis (1582) (STC 24806), II, p. 36:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 515-24]

Now to this hold Hecuba, and her daughters mournful assembled [hold: place]

In vain for succour gripping their mystical idols.

Like doves in tempest clinging fast closely together.

When she saw Priamus youthlik’ surcharged in armour

She said: “What madness thee leads, unfortunate husband,

With these mails massive to be clog’d? now whither I pray thee? [clog’d: encumbered]

Our state eke and persons must not thus weakly be shielded.

No though my darling were present, couraged Hector!

Here pitch thy fortress: let trust be reposed in altar:

This shall us all succour, or we will jointly be murdered.

This said; her old husband in sacred seat she reposed.


Thomas Phaer and Thomas TwineAeneidos (1584) (STC 24802), II, 505-06; 520-30:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 500-02]

Neoptolemus myself I saw, with slaughters wood to rage,

And brethren twain, Atrides fierce, their furies none could ’suage

Queen Hecuba and her hundred daughter laws, and Priam there

With blood I saw defile the fires, him self to god did rear.


Thomas Phaer and Thomas TwineAeneidos (1584) (STC 24802), II, 520-30:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid, II, 515-24]

There Hecuba and her daughters all (poor souls) at the altar’s side

In heaps together affrayed them drew, lik de doves when doth betide

Some storm them headlong drive, and clipping fast their gods did hold.

But when she Priam thus beclad in arms of youth so bold

Espied: “what mind alas (quoth she), O woeful husband you

In harness dighte: and whither away with weapons run ye now? [dight: furnished]

Not men nor weapons us can save: this time doth axe to bear

No such defence, no not if Hector mine now present were.

Stand here by me, this altar us from slaughters all shall shield,

Or die together at once we shall. So said she, and ’gan to welde [welde: prevail upon]

Him agéd man, and in the sacred seat him set, and held.


Thomas Phaer and Thomas Twine. Aeneidos (1584) (STC 24802), X, 717-21:

[Translates Virgil, Aeneid X, 702-6. Battle between the army of Aeneas and the army of Mezentius: Virgil lists the Trojans killed by Mezentius and his men]

Evantes eke the Trojan borne, and Minas, match in yeares [Minas: Mimas, born the same day as Paris]

To Paris and companion his, Theano, whom the same [Theano: mother of Mimas]

Unto his sire Amicus bare, when noble Hecube dame

A burning brond sir Paris brought to light, he found a grave

Within Troy town, but Minas the Laurentum fields now have.


George Chapman. The Iliads (1611) (STC 13634), VI, “The Argument”, p. 83:

The Gods now leaving an indifferent field,

The Greeks prevail, the slaughtered Trojans yield;

Hector (by Hellenus’ advice) retires

In haste to Troy; and Hecuba desires

To pray Minerva, to remove from fight

The son of Tydeus, her affected knight… [son of Tydeus: Diomede]


George Chapman. The Iliads (1611) (STC 13634), VI, p. 89:

This said, grave Hecuba went home, and sent her maids about,

To bid the Matrons: she herself, descended, and searched out

(Within a place that breathed perfumes) the richest robe she had.


George Chapman. The Iliads (1611) (STC 13634), VI, p. 93:

[Hector to Andromache]

But neither Troy’s posterity so much my soul doth wound:

Priam, nor Hecuba herself, nor all my brothers’ woes ,

Who though so many, and so good, must all be food for foes,

As thy sad state; when some rude Greek, shall lead thee weeping hence;

These free days clouded; and a night, of captive violence

Loading thy temples: out of which, thine eyes must never see.


George Chapman. The Iliads (1611) (STC 13634), XXII, p. 300:

Thus wept the old king, and tore off his white hair; yet all these

Retir’d not Hector. Hecuba then fell upon her knees; [retire: dissuade, deter]

Stript nak’t her bosom, showed her breasts, and bad him reverence them,

And pity her: if ever she had quieted his exclaim,

He would cease hers, and take the town; not tempting the rude field,

When all had left it: think (said she) I gave thee life to yield

My life recomfort; thy rich wife shall have no rites of thee,

Nor do thee rites: our tears shall pay thy corse no obsequy,

Being ravished from us; Grecian dogs, nourished, with what I nursed.


George Chapman. The Iliads (1611) (STC 13634), XXIV, p. 331-32:

And straight his mule-drawn chariot came, to which they fast did bind

The trunk with gifts: and then came forth, with an afflicted mind,

Old Hecuba. In her right hand, a bowl of gold she bore,

With sweet wine crown’d; stood near, and said; Receive this, and implore

(With sacrificing it to Jove) thy safe return. I see

Thy mind likes still to go; though mine, dislikes it utterly.


George Chapman. The Iliads (1611) (STC 13634), XXIV, p. 340:

Thus wept she; and all the Ladies closed   [she: Andromache]

Her passion with a general shriek. Then Hecuba disposed

Her thoughts in like words: “O my son, of all mine, much most dear;

Dear, while thou liv’dst too, even to gods; and after death they were

Careful to save thee. Being best, thou most wert envied;

My other sons Achilles sold; but thee, he left not dead.

Imber and Samos, the false ports of Lemnos, entertain’d

Their persons; thine, no port but death; nor there, in rest remained

Thy violated corse; the tomb of his great friend was sphered   [friend: Patroclus]

With thy dragged person; yet from death, he was not therefore reared.

But (all his rage used) so the gods have tendered thy dead state;

Thou liest as living; sweet and fresh, as he that felt the fate

Of Phoebus’ holy shafts.” These words, the Queen used for her moan…


How to cite

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

(2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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