Polyxena and the Modern Reader…

At its core, Polyxena is the story of a young woman, facing death by sacrifice and in fear of this, attempting to come to grips with her reality, and ultimately, through the power of love, accepting her fate.  Her struggle is as relevant today as when Troy fell during the Bronze Age.

Polyxena resonates with the modern reader.  She is not Wonder Woman; she is not the queen of a nation as Penthesileia; she is not the commander of an army as Antiope; she is not the ravishing, unsurpassed beauty as Helen; she is not endowed with extraordinary abilities as Cassandra.  She is a royal princess, a bright teenage girl, more contemplative than most, who suddenly has great responsibilities thrust upon her (as an envoy to the Amazons, getting them to fight for Troy) and finds herself immersed in the unrestrained violence that is war, trying her best to cope with the tragedies that come her way.

She has a contemporary outlook in many ways, possessed of an independent spirit that has her at odds with the other women at Troy.  It has already been mentioned that she is self-conscious about her love for Antiope.  She is also an early proponent of women’s rights, mostly alone and, sad to say, ineffective in this advocacy amid a patriarchal male-dominated society.  Even before coming to the Amazons, Polyxena reveals her leanings in that direction:

Certainly women had little power or influence in our world… and to hear that there were places were such conditions did not exist -or were even reversed- was a revelation.

Her stay with the Amazons has a lasting effect on her; when she returns to Troy, she has problems fitting back into her proscribed setting.

Penthesileia had involved me in her high-level command gatherings, where she discussed battle plans and strategies with me, even soliciting opinions from me….I thought, perhaps naively, that the mission I had undergone qualified me for at least a voice in the proceedings of our council, but apparently, I was wrong.  Ours was still very much a man’s world, and women were relegated to the backwaters of the major flow of events generated by the decisions and actions of men…My adjustment to my underappreciated role -commonly referred to as woman’s work: weaving, sewing, caring for children, punishing the servants, the afternoon chats- was difficult for me, and my nature rebelled against this, causing me to often regret that I ever came back to Troy.

She demonstrates this rebellion by wearing her Amazon clothes in her frequent rides on Zephyrus, the horse given her as a present by Antiope, an activity frowned upon by her mother.  For Polyxena, the rides are essential to her well-being.

These distractions from my daily routine were not seen as an option for me, but as a necessity.  Without them I would surely go mad.  So while I was willing to participate in the womanly assemblies, I knew full well that concession was not going to apply to my time spent with Zephyrus.

In one particular episode, Polyxena’s frustrations come to a head when she receives no support for her feminist views from the court ladies.  Helen had been punched in the face by Deiphobus, her husband after Paris, and accepts her ‘punishment’, despite Polyxena’s objections.

Was I wrong?  Even Helen herself had me thinking so.  What I knew for certain was that no Amazon would have ever stood for that….I said nothing more to Helen, feeling, in some measure, that she had negated my attempts in backing her.  So much for trying to stand up for solidarity behind womanhood.

These are modern day frustrations.  Polyxena clearly resonates with today’s readers in that respect.

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3 Responses to “Polyxena and the Modern Reader…”

  1. Cindy Says:

    One reason I liked your book is because Polyxena seemed to be something of a feminist. In other depictions of the Trojan War, the women seem helpless — and even back then, surely some women had to have spirit!

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