Catelyn Tully Stark and Hecuba, Queen of Troy
“What else but tears is now my hapless lot, whose country, children, husband, all are lost?” - Euripides, Troades (The Trojan Women)
Hecuba (Greek: Ἑκάβη, Hekabe) was the Queen of Troy at the time of its fall, the wife of King Priam. She herself was the daughter of the King of Phrygia, and so was in her own right a princess. Hecuba and Priam had nineteen children, among whom were Hector, Paris, Cassandra, Creusa (the wife of Aeneas), Polyxena (lover of Achilles), Troilus (of Shakespeare’s infamous Troilus and Cressida), and Polydorus.
By all accounts a loving and devoted mother, Hecuba was devastated when a prophecy dictated her newborn son would be the downfall of Troy. Unable to bring herself to kill the child, she gave the baby to Priam, who passed the burden off to a shepherd. The shepherd too was unable to kill the child, and carried him home in a backpack to raise as his own — hence the name “Paris”, which means “backpack” in Ancient Greek. As he grew, Paris’s noble birth became obvious to those around him, who were fascinated by his beauty, martial prowess, and intelligence, and he was eventually welcomed back to Troy despite the reservations of the priestess of Apollo. (Homer, who reports none of this backstory, depicts Paris as a simpering incompetent.)
Paris did in the end cause the downfall of Troy, taking Queen Helen of Sparta as his bride and sparking the Trojan War. Over the course of the war, nearly all of Hecuba’s children died, including all her sons save the youngest, Polydorus. At war’s end, Hecuba’s daughter Cassandra was given to Agamemnon as a concubine. Her daughter Polyxena was put to the sacrificial knife, but heroically told her mother she would rather die Trojan than become a slave. Hecuba then had to witness the murder of her infant grandson Astyanax, Hector and Andromache’s child, by the Greek forces.
Hecuba herself was taken as a personal slave by Odysseus. Before they left the ruined city, however, her son Polydorus was given to a Greek named Polymestor for fostering as a ward. Hecuba was grateful for this mercy… and was horrified when Polydorus’s dead body washed up soon afterward on the shore. Driven mad at the sight of her last son’s murdered body, she murdered Polymestor’s sons and clawed his eyes out with her fingernails. In the version told by Euripides in his play Hecuba, she manages to calm herself for a time and successfully defend herself at trial. Later antique accounts describe the gods transforming Hecuba into a large dog after her vengeance on Polymestor, and some writers report that in this form she became a familiar of the goddess Hecate.
Catelyn follows Hecuba’s general narrative arc, beginning as a wise and regal noblewoman devoted to her children and eventually losing them all (or so she believes) to a terrible war. Robb’s hasty marriage to Jeyne — which causes the downfall of House Stark — is roughly analogous, in this reading, to Paris’s decision to carry off Helen. After seeing the murder of what she believes to be her last son, Catelyn is driven to madness and transformed into a vengeful supernatural monster, as Hecuba was. She also shares Hecuba’s particular talent at speechcraft and negotiation.