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FOUR PLAYS OF AESCHYLUS


THE SUPPLIANT MAIDENS

THE PERSIANS

THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES

THE PROMETHEUS BOUND

By Aeschylus


Translated Into English Verse By E.D.A. Morshead, MA.




INTRODUCTION

The surviving dramas of Aeschylus are seven in number, though he is
believed to have written nearly a hundred during his life of
sixty-nine years, from 525 B.C. to 456 B.C. That he fought at
Marathon in 490, and at Salamis in 480 B.C. is a strongly accredited
tradition, rendered almost certain by the vivid references to both
battles in his play of _The Persians_, which was produced in 472.
But his earliest extant play was, probably, not _The Persians_ but
_The Suppliant Maidens_ - a mythical drama, the fame of which has
been largely eclipsed by the historic interest of _The Persians_,
and is undoubtedly the least known and least regarded of the seven.
Its topic - the flight of the daughters of Danaus from Egypt to Argos,
in order to escape from a forced bridal with their first-cousins,
the sons of Aegyptus - is legendary, and the lyric element
predominates in the play as a whole. We must keep ourselves reminded
that the ancient Athenian custom of presenting dramas in
_Trilogies_ - that is, in three consecutive plays dealing with different stages
of one legend - was probably not uniform: it survives, for us, in one
instance only, viz. the Orestean Trilogy, comprising the _Agamemnon_,
the _Libation-Bearers_, and the _Eumenides_, or _Furies_. This
Trilogy is the masterpiece of the Aeschylean Drama: the four
remaining plays of the poet, which are translated in this volume, are
all fragments of lost Trilogies - that is to say, the plays are
complete as _poems_, but in regard to the poet's larger design they
are fragments; they once had predecessors, or sequels, of which only
a few words, or lines, or short paragraphs, survive. It is not
certain, but seems probable, that the earliest of these single
completed plays is _The Suppliant Maidens_, and on that supposition
it has been placed first in the present volume. The maidens,
accompanied by their father Danaes, have fled from Egypt and arrived
at Argos, to take sanctuary there and to avoid capture by their
pursuing kinsmen and suitors. In the course of the play, the
pursuers' ship arrives to reclaim the maidens for a forced wedlock
in Egypt. The action of the drama turns on the attitude of the king
and people of Argos, in view of this intended abduction. The king
puts the question to the popular vote, and the demand of the suitors
is unanimously rejected: the play closes with thanks and gratitude
on the part of the fugitives, who, in lyrical strains of quiet beauty,
seem to refer the whole question of their marriage to the subsequent
decision of the gods, and, in particular, of Aphrodite.

Of the second portion of the Trilogy we can only speak conjecturally.
There is a passage in the _Prometheus Bound_ (ll. 860-69), in which
we learn that the maidens were somehow reclaimed by the suitors, and
that all, except one, slew their bridegrooms on the wedding night.
There is a faint trace, among the Fragments of Aeschylus, of a play
called _Thalamopoioi_, - i.e. _The Preparers of the Chamber_, - which
may well have referred to this tragic scene. Its grim title will
recall to all classical readers the magnificent, though terrible,
version of the legend, in the final stanzas of the eleventh poem in
the third book of Horace's _Odes_. The final play was probably
called _The Danaides_, and described the acquittal of the brides
through some intervention of Aphrodite: a fragment of it survives,
in which the goddess appears to be pleading her special prerogative.
The legends which commit the daughters of Danaus to an eternal
penalty in Hades are, apparently, of later origin. Homer is silent
on any such penalty; and Pindar, Aeschylus' contemporary, actually
describes the once suppliant maidens as honourably enthroned
(_Pyth_. ix. 112: _Nem_. x. ll. 1-10). The Tartarean part of the
story is, in fact, post-Aeschylean.

_The Suppliant Maidens_ is full of charm, though the text of the
part which describes the arrival of the pursuers at Argos is full of
uncertainties. It remains a fine, though archaic, poem, with this
special claim on our interest, that it is, probably, the earliest
extant poetic drama. We see in it the _tendency_ to grandiose
language, not yet fully developed as in the _Prometheus_: the
inclination of youth to simplicity, and even platitude, in religious
and general speculation: and yet we recognize, as in the germ, the
profound theology of the _Agamemnon_, and a touch of the political
vein which appears more fully in the _Furies_. If the precedence in
time here ascribed to it is correct, the play is perhaps worth more
recognition than it has received from the countrymen of Shakespeare.

_The Persians_ has been placed second in this volume, as the
oldest play whose date is certainly known. It was brought out in 472
B.C., eight years after the sea-fight of Salamis which it
commemorates, and five years before the _Seven against Thebes_
(467 B.C.). It is thought to be the second play of a Trilogy,
standing between the _Phineus_ and the _Glaucus_. Phineus was a
legendary seer, of the Argonautic era - "Tiresias and Phineus,
prophets old" - and the play named after him may have contained a
prophecy of the great conflict which is actually described in
_The Persae_: the plot of the _Glaucus_ is unknown. In any case,
_The Persians_ was produced before the eyes of a generation which
had seen the struggles, West against East, at Marathon and Thermopylæ,
Salamis and Plataea. It is as though Shakespeare had commemorated,
through the lips of a Spanish survivor, in the ears of old
councillors of Philip the Second, the dispersal of the Armada.

Against the piteous want of manliness on the part of the returning
Xerxes, we may well set the grave and dignified patriotism of Atossa,
the Queen-mother of the Persian kingdom; the loyalty, in spite of
their bewilderment, of the aged men who form the Chorus; and, above
all, the royal phantom of Darius, evoked from the shadowland by the
libations of Atossa and by the appealing cries of the Chorus. The
latter, indeed, hardly dare to address the kingly ghost: but Atossa
bravely narrates to him the catastrophe, of which, in the lower world,
Darius has known nothing, though he realizes that disaster, soon or
late, is the lot of mortal power. As the tale is unrolled, a spirit
of prophecy possesses him, and he foretells the coming slaughter of
Plataea; then, with a last royal admonition that the defeated Xerxes
shall, on his return, be received with all ceremony and observance,
and with a characteristic warning to the aged men, that they must
take such pleasures as they may, in their waning years, he returns
to the shades. The play ends with the undignified reappearance of
Xerxes, and a melancholy procession into the palace of Susa. It was,
perhaps, inevitable that this close of the great drama should verge
on the farcical, and that the poltroonery of Xerxes should, in a
measure, obscure Aeschylus' generous portraiture of Atossa and Darius.
But his magnificent picture of the battle of Salamis is unequalled
in the poetic annals of naval war. No account of the flight of the
Armada, no record of Lepanto or Trafalgar, can be justly set beside
it. The Messenger might well, like Prospero, announce a tragedy by
one line -

Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.

Five years after _The Persians_, in 467 B. C., the play which we
call the _Seven against Thebes_ was presented at Athens. It bears
now a title which Aeschylus can hardly have given to it for, though
the scene of the drama overlooks the region where the city of Thebes
afterwards came into being, yet, in the play itself, Thebes is
_never_ mentioned. The scene of action is the Cadmea, or Citadel
of Cadmus, and we know that, in Aeschylus' lifetime, that citadel
was no longer a mere fastness, but had so grown outwards and
enlarged itself that a new name, Thebes, was applied to the
collective city. (All this has been made abundantly clear by Dr.
Verrall in his Introduction to the _Seven against Thebes_, to which
every reader of the play itself will naturally and most profitably
refer.) In the time of Aeschylus, Thebes was, of course, a notable
city, his great contemporary Pindar was a citizen of it. But the
Thebes of Aeschylus' date is one thing, the fortress represented in
Aeschylus' play is quite another, and is never, by him, called Thebes.
That the play received, and retains, the name, _The Seven against
Thebes_, is believed to be due to two lines of Aristophanes in his
_Frogs_ (406 B.C.), where he describes Aeschylus' play as
"the Seven against Thebes, a drama instinct with War, which any one
who beheld must have yearned to be a warrior." This is rather an
excellent _description_ of the play than the title of it, and could
not be its Aeschylean name, for the very sufficient reason that
Thebes is not mentioned in the play at all. Aeschylus, in fact, was
poetizing an earlier legend of the fortress of Cadmus. This being
premised, we may adopt, under protest as it were, the Aristophanic
name which has accrued to the play. It is the third part of a
Trilogy which might have been called, collectively, _The House of
Laius_. Sophocles and Euripides give us _their_ versions of the
legend, which we may epitomize, without, however, affirming that
they followed exactly the lines of Aeschylus Trilogy - they, for
instance, speak freely of _Thebes_. Laius, King of Thebes, married
Iokaste; he was warned by Apollo that if he had any children ruin
would befall his house. But a child was born, and, to avoid the
threatened catastrophe, without actually killing the child he
exposed it on Mount Cithaeron, that it should die. Some herdsmen
saved it and gave it over to the care of a neighbouring king and
queen, who reared it. Later on, learning that there was a doubt of
his parentage, this child, grown now to maturity, left his foster
parents and went to Delphi to consult the oracle, and received a
mysterious and terrible warning, that he was fated to slay his
father and wed his mother. To avoid this horror, he resolved never
to approach the home of his supposed parents. Meantime his real
father, Laius, on _his_ way to consult the god at Delphi, met his
unknown son returning from that shrine - a quarrel fell out, and the
younger man slew the elder. Followed by his evil destiny, he
wandered on, and found the now kingless Thebes in the grasp of the
Sphinx monster, over whom he triumphed, and was rewarded by the hand
of Iokaste, his own mother! Not till four children - two sons and two
daughters - had been born to them, was the secret of the lineage
revealed. Iokaste slew herself in horror, and the wretched king tore
out his eyes, that he might never again see the children of his awful
union. The two sons quarrelled over the succession, then agreed on a
compromise; then fell at variance again, and finally slew each other
in single combat. These two sons, according to one tradition, were
twins: but the more usual view is that the elder was called Eteocles,
the younger, Polynices.

To the point at which the internecine enmity between Eteocles and
Polynices arose, we have had to follow Sophocles and Euripides, the
first two parts of Aeschylus' Trilogy being lost. But the third part,
as we have said, survives under the name given to it by Aristophanes,
the _Seven against Thebes_: it opens with an exhortation by Eteocles
to his Cadmeans that they should "quit them like men" against the
onslaught of Polynices and his Argive allies: the Chorus is a bevy
of scared Cadmean maidens, to whom the very sound of war and tramp
of horsemen are new and terrific. It ends with the news of the death
of the two princes, and the lamentations of their two sisters,
Antigone and Ismene. The onslaught from without has been repulsed,
but the male line of the house of Laius is extinct. The Cadmeans
resolve that Eteocles shall be buried in honour, and Polynices flung
to the dogs and birds. Against the latter sentence Antigone protests,
and defies the decree: the Chorus, as is natural, are divided in
their sentiments.

It is interesting to note that, in combination with the _Laius_ and
the _Oedipus_, this play won the dramatic crown in 467 B.C. On the
other hand, so excellent a judge as Mr. Gilbert Murray thinks that
it is "perhaps among Aeschylus' plays the one that bears least the
stamp of commanding genius." Perhaps the daring, practically
atheistic, character of Eteocles; the battle-fever that burns and
thrills through the play; the pathetic terror of the Chorus - may
have given it favour, in Athenian eyes, as the work of a poet
who - though recently (468 B.C.) defeated in the dramatic contest by the
young Sophocles - was yet present to tell, not by mere report, the
tale of Marathon and Salamis. Or the preceding plays, the _Laius_
and the _Oedipus_, may have been of such high merit as to make up
for defects observable in the one that still survives. In any case,
we can hardly err in accepting Dr. Verral's judgment that "the story
of Aeschylus may be, and in the outlines probably is, the genuine
epic legend of the Cadmean war."

There remains one Aeschylean play, the most famous - unless we except
the _Agamemnon_ - in extant Greek literature, the _Prometheus Bound_.
That it was the first of a Trilogy, and that the second and third
parts were called the _Prometheus Freed_, and _Prometheus the
Fire-Bearer_, respectively, is accepted: but the date of its
performance is unknown.

The _Prometheus Bound_ is conspicuous for its gigantic and strictly
superhuman plot. The _Agamemnon_ is human, though legendary the
_Prometheus_ presents to us the gods of Olympus in the days when
mankind crept like emmets upon the earth or dwelt in caves, scorned
by Zeus and the other powers of heaven, and - still aided by
Prometheus the Titan - wholly without art or science, letters or
handicrafts. For his benevolence towards oppressed mankind,
Prometheus is condemned by Zeus to uncounted ages of pain and torment,
shackled and impaled in a lonely cleft of a Scythian precipice. The
play opens with this act of divine resentment enforced by the will
of Zeus and by the handicraft of Hephaestus, who is aided by two
demons, impersonating Strength and Violence. These agents if the ire
of Zeus disappear after the first scene, the rest of the play
represents Prometheus in the mighty solitude, but visited after a
while by a Chorus of sea nymphs who, from the distant depths of ocean,
have heard the clang of the demons' hammers, and arrive, in a winged
car, from the submarine palace of their father Oceanus. To them
Prometheus relates his penalty and its cause: viz., his over
tenderness to the luckless race of mankind. Oceanus himself follows
on a hippogriff, and counsels Prometheus to submit to Zeus. But the
Titan who has handled the sea nymphs with all gentleness, receives
the advice with scorn and contempt, and Oceanus retires. But the
courage which he lacks his daughters possess to the full; they
remain by Prometheus to the end, and share his fate, literally in
the crack of doom. But before the end, the strange half human figure
of Io, victim of the lust of Zeus and the jealousy of Hera, comes
wandering by, and tells Prometheus of her wrongs. He, by his divine
power, recounts to her not only the past but also the future of her
wanderings. Then, in a fresh access of frenzy, she drifts away into
the unknown world. Then Prometheus partly reveals to the sea maidens
his secret, and the mysterious cause of Zeus' hatred against him - a
cause which would avail to hurl the tyrant from his power. So deadly
is this secret, that Zeus will, in the lapse of ages, be forced to
reconcile himself with Prometheus, to escape dethronement. Finally,
Hermes, the messenger of Zeus, appears with fresh threats, that he
may extort the mystery from the Titan. But Prometheus is firm,
defying both the tyrant and his envoy, though already the lightning
is flashing, the thunder rolling, and sky and sea are mingling their
fury. Hermes can say no more; the sea nymphs resolutely refuse to
retire, and wait their doom. In this crash of the world, Prometheus
flings his final defiance against Zeus, and amid the lightnings and
shattered rocks that are overwhelming him and his companions, speaks
his last word, "_It is unjust_!"

Any spectacular representation of this finale must, it is clear,
have roused intense sympathy with the Titan and the nymphs alike. If,
however, the sequel-plays had survived to us, we might conceivably
have found and realized another and less intolerable solution. The
name _Zeus_, in Greek, like that of _God_, in English, comprises
very diverse views of divine personality. The Zeus in the _Prometheus_
has little but the name in common with the Zeus in the first chorus
of the _Agamemnon_, or in _The Suppliant Maidens_ (ll. 86-103): and
parallel reflections will give us much food for thought. But, in any
case, let us realize that the _Prometheus_ is not a human play: with
the possible exception of Io, every character in it is an immortal
being. It is not as a vaunt, but as a fact, that Prometheus declares,
as against Zeus (l. 1053), that "Me at least He shall never give to
death."

A stupendous theological drama of which two-thirds has been lost has
left an aching void, which now can never be filled, in our minds. No
reader of poetry needs to be reminded of the glorious attempt of
Shelley to work out a possible and worthy sequel to the _Prometheus_.
Who will not echo the words of Mr. Gilbert Murray, when he says that
"no piece of lost literature has been more ardently longed for than
the _Prometheus Freed_"?

But, at the end of a rather prolonged attempt to understand and
translate the surviving tragedies of Aeschylus, one feels inclined
to repeat the words used by a powerful critic about one of the
greatest of modern poets - "For man, it is a weary way to God, but a
wearier far to any demigod." We shall not discover the full sequel
of Aeschylus' mighty dramatic conception: we "know in part, and we
prophesy in part." The Introduction (pp. xvi.-xviii.) prefixed by
Mr. A. O. Prickard to his edition of the _Prometheus_ is full of
persuasive grace, on this topic: to him, and to Dr. Verrall of
Cambridge - _lucida sidera_ of help and encouragement in the study of
Aeschylus - the translator's thanks are due, and are gratefully and
affectionately rendered.

E. D. A. M.





CONTENTS

THE SUPPLIANT MAIDENS

THE PERSIANS

THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES

PROMETHEUS BOUND





THE SUPPLIANT MAIDENS




DEDICATION

Take thou this gift from out the grave of Time.
The urns of Greece lie shattered, and the cup
That for Athenian lips the Muses filled,
And flowery crowns that on Athenian hair
Hid the cicala, freedom's golden sign,
Dust in the dust have fallen. Calmly sad,
The marble dead upon Athenian tombs
Speak from their eyes "Farewell": and well have fared
They and the saddened friends, whose clasping hands
Win from the solemn stone eternity.
Yea, well they fared unto the evening god,
Passing beyond the limit of the world,
Where face to face the son his mother saw,
A living man a shadow, while she spake
Words that Odysseus and that Homer heard, -
_I too, O child, I reached the common doom,
The grave, the goal of fate, and passed away_.
- Such, Anticleia, as thy voice to him,
Across the dim gray gulf of death and time
Is that of Greece, a mother's to a child, -
Mother of each whose dreams are grave and fair -
Who sees the Naiad where the streams are bright
And in the sunny ripple of the sea
Cymodoce with floating golden hair:
And in the whisper of the waving oak
Hears still the Dryad's plaint, and, in the wind
That sighs through moonlit woodlands, knows the horn
Of Artemis, and silver shafts and bow.
Therefore if still around this broken vase,
Borne by rough hands, unworthy of their load,
Far from Cephisus and the wandering rills,
There cling a fragrance as of things once sweet,
Of honey from Hymettus' desert hill,
Take thou the gift and hold it close and dear;
For gifts that die have living memories -
Voices of unreturning days, that breathe
The spirit of a day that never dies.




ARGUMENT

Io, the daughter of Inachus, King of Argos, was beloved of Zeus. But
Hera was jealous of that love, and by her ill will was Io given over
to frenzy, and her body took the semblance of a heifer: and Argus, a
many-eyed herdsman, was set by Hera to watch Io whithersoever she
strayed. Yet, in despite of Argus, did Zeus draw nigh unto her in
the shape of a bull. And by the will of Zeus and the craft of Hermes
was Argus slain. Then Io was driven over far lands and seas by her
madness, and came at length to the land of Egypt. There was she
restored to herself by a touch of the hand of Zeus, and bare a child
called Epaphus. And from Epaphus sprang Libya, and from Libya, Belus;
and from Belus, Aegyptus and Danaus. And the sons of Aegyptus willed
to take the daughters of Danaus in marriage. But the maidens held
such wedlock in horror, and fled with their father over the sea to
Argos; and the king and citizens of Argos gave them shelter and
protection from their pursuers.



THE SUPPLIANT MAIDENS


DRAMATIS PERSONAE

DANAUS, THE KING OF ARGOS, HERALD OF AEGYPTUS.
_Chorus of the Daughters of Danaus. Attendants_.

_Scene. - A sacred precinct near the gates of Argos: statue and
shrines of Zeus and other deities stand around_.


CHORUS

ZEUS! Lord and guard of suppliant hands!
Look down benign on us who crave
Thine aid - whom winds and waters drave
From where, through drifting shifting sands,
Pours Nilus to the wave.
From where the green land, god-possest,
Closes and fronts the Syrian waste,
We flee as exiles, yet unbanned
By murder's sentence from our land;
But - since Aegyptus had decreed
His sons should wed his brother's seed, -
Ourselves we tore from bonds abhorred,
From wedlock not of heart but hand,
Nor brooked to call a kinsman lord!
And Danaus, our sire and guide,
The king of counsel, pond'ring well
The dice of fortune as they fell,
Out of two griefs the kindlier chose,
And bade us fly, with him beside,
Heedless what winds or waves arose,
And o'er the wide sea waters haste,
Until to Argos' shore at last
Our wandering pinnace came -
Argos, the immemorial home
Of her from whom we boast to come -
Io, the ox-horned maiden, whom,
After long wandering, woe, and scathe,
Zeus with a touch, a mystic breath,
Made mother of our name.
Therefore, of all the lands of earth,
On this most gladly step we forth,
And in our hands aloft we bear -
Sole weapon for a suppliant's wear -
The olive-shoot, with wool enwound!
City, and land, and waters wan
Of Inachus, and gods most high,
And ye who, deep beneath the ground,
Bring vengeance weird on mortal man,
Powers of the grave, on you we cry!
And unto Zeus the Saviour, guard
Of mortals' holy purity!
Receive ye us - keep watch and ward
Above the suppliant maiden band!
Chaste be the heart of this your land
Towards the weak! but, ere the throng,
The wanton swarm, from Egypt sprung,
Leap forth upon the silted shore,
Thrust back their swift-rowed bark again,
Repel them, urge them to the main!
And there, 'mid storm and lightning's shine,
And scudding drift and thunder's roar,
Deep death be theirs, in stormy brine!
Before they foully grasp and win
Us, maiden-children of their kin,
And climb the couch by law denied,
And wrong each weak reluctant bride.
And now on her I call,

Mine ancestress, who far on Egypt's shore
A young cow's semblance wore, -
A maiden once, by Hera's malice changed!
And then on him withal,
Who, as amid the flowers the grazing creature
ranged,
Was in her by a breath of Zeus conceived;
And, as the hour of birth drew nigh,
By fate fulfilled, unto the light he came;
And Epaphus for name,
Born from the touch of Zeus, the child received.
On him, on him I cry,
And him for patron hold -
While in this grassy vale I stand,
Where lo roamed of old!
And here, recounting all her toil and pain,
Signs will I show to those who rule the land
That I am child of hers; and all shall understand,


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