The suppliant maidens, the Persians, the seven against Thebes, the Prometheus bound of Aeschylus online

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The surviving dramas of Aeschylus are seven in
number, though he is beHeved 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 Persiafis, 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 con-
secutive 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 Einuenides^ or Furies. This Trilogy is the master-
piece of the Aeschylean Drama : the four remaining
playsof 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 pre-
decessors, 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
Danaus, 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 conjectuially. There is a passage in the
Prometheus Bound (11. 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 accjuittal 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. II. I- 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 de\-eloped as in the Prometheus :


the inclination of youth to simpHcity, and even plati-
tude, 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 Seveji agai/ist Thebes
(467 B.C.). It is thought to be the second play of a Tri-
logy, 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 Thermopylae, Salamis and
Plataea. It is as though Shakespeare had com-
memorated, 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 Xer.xes, 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 admonir
tion 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 de-
scribes 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
Laiiis. Sophocles and Euripides give us ///^z> 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 lokaste :
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 lokaste, his own mother ! Not till four
children — two sons and two daughters — had been
born to them, was the secret of the lineage revealed,
lokaste 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 Se^'cn against TJiches : it opens
with an exhortation by Eteocles to his Cadmeans that
they should " quit them like men " against the on-
slaught 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
fiung to the dogs and birds. Against the latter
sentence Antiyone protests, and defies the decree ;


the Chorus, as is natural, are divided in their senti-

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 con-
test 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. Verrall's judgment
that " the story of Aeschylus may be, and in the out-
lines 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 Proinethciis Bound.
That it was the first of a Trilogy, and that the second
and third parts were called the Prometheus Freed,
and ProDietJieus the Fire-Bearer, respective!)-, is ac-
cepted : but the date of its performance is unknown.


The Prometheus Bound is conspicuous for its gigantic
and strictly superhuman plot. The Agameintion is
human, though legendary : the Prometheus presents
to us the gods of Olympus in days when mankind
crept like emmets upon the earth or dwelt in caves,
scorned by Zeus and the other powers of heaven,
and — till aided by Prometheus the Titan — wholly with-
out 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 of 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 sub-
marine 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 hippogrifif, and counsels
Prometheus to submit to Zeus. But the Titan, who
has hailed the sea-nymphs with all gentleness, receives
the advice of their sire 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, hterally in
the crack of doom. But before the end, the strange
half-human figure of lo, 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
await their doom. In this crash of the world, Pro-
metheus flings his final defiance against Zeus, and,
amid the lightnings and shattered rocks that are
overwhelming him and his companions, speaks his
last word, " // is utijust ! "

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 concei\ably have
found and reaHzed another and less intolerable
solution. The name Zetes, 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 Agamemuon, or in The Suppliant
Maidens (\\. 86-103) • '^"d 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 lo, every character in it is
an immortal being. It is not as a vaunt, but as a
fact, that Prometheus declares, as against Zeus
(1. 1053), that "Me at least He shall never give to

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 ProDietheiis
is full of persuasive grace, on this topic : to him, and
to Dr. V'errall 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.









Take thou this gift from out the grave of Time.

The urns of Greece lie shattered, and the cup

That for Athenian hps 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

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, —
/ too^ O child, I reached the coiiiDwii 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.


lo, the daughter of Inachus, King of Argos, was
beloved of Zeus. But Hera was jealous of that love,
and by her ill will was lo 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 lo
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 lo 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 King of Argos.

Herald of Aegyptus.

Chorus of the Daiighteis of Danaus.

Scene. — A sacred precinct near the gales of Argos : statues
and shrines of Zeus and other deities stand around.



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 Nikis 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 —
Id, the ox-horned maiden, whom,
After long wandering, woe, and scathe,
Zeus with a touch, a mystic breath,

l\Iade 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

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