Hecuba was a queen in Greek mythology, the wife of King Priam of Troy during the Trojan War, with whom she had 19 children. These children included several major characters of Homer's Iliad such as the warriors Hector and Paris and the prophetess Cassandra.
Ancient sources vary as to the parentage of Hecuba. According to Homer, Hecuba was the daughter of King Dymas of Phrygia, but Euripides and Virgil write of her as the daughter of the Thracian king Cisseus. The mythographers Pseudo-Apollodorus and Hyginus leave open the question which of the two was her father, with Pseudo-Apollodorus adding a third alternate option: Hecuba's parents could as well be the river god Sangarius and Metope. Some versions from non-extant works are summarized by a scholiast on Euripides' Hecuba: according to those, she was a daughter of Dymas or Sangarius by the Naiad Euagora, or by Glaucippe the daughter of Xanthus (Scamander?); the possibility of her being a daughter of Cisseus is also discussed. A scholiast on Homer relates that Hecuba's parents were either Dymas and the nymph Eunoe or Cisseus and Telecleia; the latter option would make her a full sister of Theano, which is also noted by the scholiast on Euripides cited above.
According to Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars, the emperor Tiberius liked to annoy scholars with obscure questions, and one of his favorites was "Who was Hecuba's mother?"
Hecuba appears six times in the Iliad. In Book 6.326–96, she meets Hector upon his return to the polis and offers him the libation cup, instructing him to offer it to Zeus and to drink of it himself. Taking Hector's advice, she chooses a gown taken from Alexander's treasure to give as an offering to the goddess and leads the Trojan women to the temple of Athena to pray for help. In Book 22, she pleads with Hector not to fight Achilles, for fear of "never get[ting] to mourn you laid out on a bier." In Book 24.201–16, she is stricken with anxiety upon hearing of Priam's plan to retrieve Hector's body from Achilles' hut. Further along in the same episode, at 24.287–98, she offers Priam the libation cup and instructs him to pray to Zeus so that he may receive a favourable omen upon setting out towards the Achaean camp. Unlike in the first episode in which Hector refuses her offer of the cup, Priam accepts and is rewarded with the requested omen. Finally, she laments Hector's death in a well-known speech at 24.748–59.
Hecuba in other classical works
The Bibliotheca (Library) of Pseudo-Apollodorus states that Hecuba had a son named Troilus with the god Apollo. An oracle prophesied that Troy would not be defeated if Troilus reached the age of twenty alive, but he was killed by Achilles.
Hecuba is a main character in two plays by Euripides: The Trojan Women and Hecuba. The Trojan Women describes the aftermath of the fall of Troy, including Hecuba's enslavement by Odysseus. Hecuba also takes place just after the fall of Troy. Polydorus, the youngest son of Priam and Hecuba, is sent to King Polymestor for safekeeping, but when Troy falls, Polymestor murders Polydorus. Hecuba learns of this, and when Polymestor comes to the fallen city, Hecuba, by trickery, blinds him and kills his two sons.
A third story says that when she was given to Odysseus as a slave, she snarled and cursed at him, so the gods turned her into a dog, allowing her to escape.
In another tradition, Hecuba went mad upon seeing the corpses of her children Polydorus and Polyxena. Dante described this episode, which he derived from Italian sources:
E quando la fortuna volse in basso
l'altezza de' Troian che tutto ardiva,
sì che 'nsieme col regno il re fu casso,
Ecuba trista, misera e cattiva,
poscia che vide Polissena morta,
e del suo Polidoro in su la riva
del mar si fu la dolorosa accorta,
forsennata latrò sì come cane...
And when fortune overturned the pride
of the Trojans, who dared everything, so that
both the king and his kingdom were destroyed,
Poor wretched captured Hecuba,
after she saw her Polyxena dead
and found her Polydorus on the beach,
was driven mad by sorrow
and began barking like a dog...
—Inferno XXX: 13–20
Hecuba's children with Priam
Hecuba is frequently referenced in classical literature, and in many medieval, Renaissance, and modern works.