Euripides and St. Romanos the Melodist

In Euripides’ tragedy Hecuba, the Trojan princess Polyxena is sacrificed to the ghost of Achilles, by the Greeks. Hecuba and Polyxena talk about this in the light of Polyxena being married to the god Hades, and finally Hecuba speaks about her daughter as “a bride unwedded.” (In the accusative.)

Of course, the Akathist Hymn directly calls Mary “O bride unwedded.” (In the vocative case.) It was almost certainly a deliberate literary reference.

The Hecuba play seems to have been very popular with Christians, as providing a pagan example of a young virgin dying with bravery and dignity. And it seems that both writers describing the deaths of Christian martyrs (male and female), and the martyrs themselves, used Polyxena as a source of inspiration, and of a righteous pagan heroine.

The interesting thing is that St. Romanos, by turning Polyxena’s title into one of the Virgin Mary’s, points out the sacrificial and martyr-like dimensions of Mary’s life, even though Mary was not martyred and did not die a human sacrifice.

Mary willingly committed her entire life to God by saying (along with Jepththah’s virgin daughter) “Be it done to me according to your will,” Nor did Mary turn back when warned that swords would pierce her heart. She was a heroine, and her life was a testimony.

All that said… Euripides must have been very startled to have become regarded as one of the pagan pre-Christian prophet-poets, and part of the Holy Spirit’s Preparation for the Gospel. (Much like Virgil must have been.) He seems to have been very influential on Paul and some of the Evangelists, too – probably because studying his plays (in writing) was a standard part of Greek education.

There is a St. Polyxena who’s supposed to be from Spain, the sister of St. Xantippe and the sister-in-law of St. Probus. Her day is Sept. 23.

A full-cast reading of Euripides’ Hecuba in English translation, from Librivox. The play takes place at about the same time as The Trojan Women.

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Filed under Patristics, Saint Stories

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