Dramas of Aeschylus (Swanwick)/Persians< Dramas of Aeschylus (Swanwick)
Chorus of Persian Elders.
Atossa, Mother of Xerxes.
Ghost of Darius.
[Scene.—Susa, before the Palace of the Persian kings. The Thymele arranged to represent the tomb of Darius. Enter a procession of Persian Elders forming the Chorus.]
This drama, founded upon the Persian War, and produced only seven years after its termination (B.C. 472), is invested with peculiar interest, not only as the earliest Æschylean drama which has come down to us, but also as our earliest extant Greek history, the first recorded recitation of Herodotus having taken place at the great Panathenæa at Athens (B.C. 446). It exhibits, moreover, the same principles of dramatic art, and the same conceptions respecting the divine government which characterise the purely imaginative productions of the "warrior-bard." For its full appreciation we must endeavour to realise the magnitude of the struggle which it commemorates, together with the momentous consequences to Hellas and to the world which resulted from the Hellenic victory.
About eighty years before the battle of Salamis (fought B.C. 480) the Persians had made their first appearance in history, when, under their leader, Cyrus, they overthrew the empire of the Medes (B.C. 559). Within this comparatively brief interval they had brought under subjection not only the native peoples of Asia, but also large areas of Europe and Africa. At the time of our drama their empire extended southward over Egypt to Cyrenaica, while to the north it comprised Maritime Thrace, Pæonea, and apparently Macedonia, as far as the borders of Thessaly, besides nearly all the islands of the Ægean, north of Krete and east of Eubœa. Their ambition expanded with their conquests, till, at length, they aspired to universal dominion. "The conquest of Greece was represented by Xerxes as carrying with it that of all Europe, so that the Persian empire would become coextensive with the Æther of Zeus, and the limits of the Sun's course."
The idea upon which this colossal empire was based was that of the despotic force of personal will, involving obligation of universal personal service, especially in war. During the expedition of Xerxes the tributaries of the Persian king were virtually slaves, working under the lash, and driven on to the charge in battle with the scourge. The profound humiliation of the subject peoples is forcibly depicted by the Chorus, in the ode wherein they lament the overthrow of the Persian power (v. 586).
Meanwhile, in the heart of Hellas, a new phase of political life had been developed; Athens had thrown off the yoke of her tyrants, the Pisistratids, and the world saw, for the first time, a state composed of free and equal citizens. The revolution of Kleisthenes had established the principles of free speech and equal law, while as yet this new-born liberty had not degenerated into licence. Adverting to the Athenian constitution at the time when the Persians made their attack on Hellas, Plato says, "Reverence was then our queen and mistress, and made us willing to live in obedience to the laws." The strength of patriotic sentiment generated by the new constitution inspired the amazing courage required in the Athenians to encounter the hitherto unconquered hosts of Persia; upon the plain of Marathon they triumphed, and their glorious victory arrested, for a time, the encroachments of the Persian king.
His son Xerxes undertook to avenge the disaster which had befallen the Persian arms: after enormous preparations, he set forth on his expedition, at the head of an army composed of forty-six different nations, each with its distinct national costume and local leaders, while eight other nations furnished the fleet. Well might the contemporary world be overawed by the spectacle of so prodigious an armament, and regard the cause of Hellenic independence as desperate.
The victory of Salamis shattered the power of the barbarians, and changed the destiny of the world.
"'Let there be light!' said Liberty,
And, like sunrise from the sea,
In celebration of the victory thus achieved by struggling and triumphant freedom, and in honour of the city of Pallas, which had won immortal glory at Salamis, Æschylus composed his drama of 'The Persians.' It has been justly remarked that "Æschylus is the prophet of Greek tragedy.""A single episode, a single generation, was insufficient for the display of the dependence of life upon life, and the moral infinitude of action which it was his design to exhibit. Thus he habitually composed groups of three connected plays, which gave full scope for the development of thought and work."
Unfortunately, we possess only the second member of the trilogy, which, consisting of three separate dramas, severally entitled, Phineus, The Persians, and Glaukos, appears to have been known among the ancients by the general name of 'The Persians.' To this trilogy was appended the Satyric drama of "Prometheus, the Fire-kindler." Though the second member of this trilogy is alone based upon history, while the first and third, together with the Satyric drama, draw their materials from mythological sources, it appears almost certain that these apparently incongruous elements constituted together one grand poetic whole; the leading idea giving unity to the detached dramas being the struggle between Asia and Europe, which, originating in the dim ages of mythology, had at length culminated in the triumph of Hellas over the non-Hellenic races. In the same manner Herodotus has based his history upon the notion of a primeval enmity subsisting between the Hellenes and the nations of the East. This apparent incongruity vanishes when we remember that the contemporaries of Æschylus cherished the firmest belief in the existence of their legendary heroes, whose protection and assistance were continually invoked, while their appearance on the scene of action, with superhuman stature and imposing mien, was hailed as an omen of victory. Æschylus has, moreover, in the second member of the trilogy, so treated the events of contemporary history as to bring them into harmony with the occurrences of the mythical past, invested, as it was, in the popular imagination, with a halo of glory and sublimity. This was rendered possible by the remoteness of Persia, which was selected as the scene of the drama; by the gorgeous splendour which surrounded Oriental life; by the vastness of the armies assembled under the sceptre of the great king, together with the strangeness of the barbaric physiognomy and costume. "These, exaggerated to still greater proportions in the popular imagination, produced an impression of dim and indefinite greatness, not unlike that in which the midst of time veiled the heroes of mythology."
Another feature of the Æschylean age is the importance attached to prophecy, which, as we learn from Herodotus, not unfrequently determined the judgments of men, both Greeks and Asiatics; which also we find employed by our poet as the most convenient link for connecting the separate members of his trilogies. Thus, in the Oresteia, the Agamemnon is connected with the Choephori through Cassandra's prophecy of the vengeance which was speedily to fall upon the guilty pair. If we turn now to the drama of 'The Persians,' we find the Ghost of Darius referring in the most emphatic manner to certain ancient oracles (v. 739), of which the calamities which had befallen the Persians were the recognised fulfilment. It has been remarked by Welcker that in this passage allusion is obviously made to something which had been brought before the minds of the spectators in the previous drama, and this hypothesis is confirmed by the prophetic character of Phineus, from whom the first member of the trilogy derives its name.
Phineus is represented in mythological story as one of the sons of Agēnor, the father of the beautiful Europa; and it is related of Agēnor by Ovid, and other classical writers, that he sent forth his sons in quest of their sister, whose abduction by Zeus was represented by Persian literati as the first act of the conflict between the Eastern and the Western world: this version of the Phineus legend would offer, as remarked by Gruppe, an obvious link of connection with the Persian war. There are other versions of the story which, notwithstanding some discrepancies as to the genealogy of Phineus, and the circumstances of his blindness, agree in investing him with the prophetic character, and in bringing him into connection with the Argonauts, the grand national adventurers of Hellas.
In the single extant fragment of the Æschylean Phineus reference appears to be made to the Harpies:
Καὶ ψευδόδειπνα πολλὰ μαργώσῃς γνάθου
ἐρρυσίαζον στόματος ἐν πρώτῃ χαρᾷ.
Phineus, according to the ancient legend, was delivered from the Harpies by the Boreades; and it is related by Apollonius (xi. 317) that, after his deliverance, he prophesied, and foretold to the Argonauts the successful issue of their enterprise. In accordance with the spirit of the age, which linked together the successive conflicts between Europe and Asia, the expedition of the Argonauts, with that of the Hellenes against Ilium, is associated, by Herodotus, with the Persian war: Æschylus would probably give greater scope to the prophecies of Phineus, and would thus have an opportunity of carrying back the imagination of the audience to the traditionary commencement of the great struggle which had recently been brought to so glorious a termination. Thus, according to Welcker, the mythological drama of Phineus would form a kind of prophetic prelude to the historical drama of 'The Persians.'
Reference has already been made to the tendency of Æschylus to group together a long series of events, having reference to some connecting principle. It might therefore excite surprise that, in treating so momentous a subject as the Persian war, he should have contented himself with celebrating the battle of Salamis alone, which, however glorious for Athens, left the fate of Hellas still undecided. This would be brought home with peculiar force to the Athenians who, only ten months after the retreat of Xerxes, had been obliged to migrate a second time to Salamis, while Athens became once more the head-quarters of their dreaded foe. The victory of Platæa, which insured the final deliverance of Hellas, would therefore be regarded as second in importance only to Salamis. Moreover, in the drama of 'The Persians,' the ghost of Darius alludes to the battle-field of Platæa on which the ruin of the Persian host was to be consummated, as the just punishment inflicted by Zeus upon their impiety and overweening thoughts.
This prophecy alone would suggest the probability of some reference being made to this important victory in the third member of the trilogy, the Glaukos Potnieus. According to popular tradition Glaukos was a fisherman, who became a marine demigod by eating of the divine life-giving herb sown by Kronos: one version of the legend represents him to have been one of the Argonauts, who, having fallen from his galley, suffered this transformation. The so-called grotto of Glaukos was situated near the little town of Authedon in Bœotia: this marine deity, accompanied by strange monsters of the sea, was accustomed, once a year, to visit the surrounding coasts and islands, and there to prophesy impending calamity. His approach was anticipated by the fishermen, by whom he was held in peculiar veneration, who also offered sacrifice and prayers to avert the threatened woe. It is mentioned by Pausanias (ix. 22, 6), that what Pindar and Æschylus heard from the dwellers at Anthedon concerning this marine deity had furnished materials to both poets, and had sufficed to Æschylus for the creation of a drama. According to Welcker, the extant fragments of this drama seem to indicate that Glaukos describes a voyage which he made from Anthedon to Sicily. Passing the promontory of Eubœa, the shore of Zeus Kenæus, and the tomb of the unhappy Lichas (frag. 27), he came to Rhegium (frag. 31, 189; Herm. p. 12), and arrived finally at Himera (frag. 28) in Sicily. In the neighbourhood of this city was fought the battle of Himera, on which occasion the Sicilian Hellenes repulsed the Carthaginian invaders, whose attack took place simultaneously with that of Xerxes upon Hellas. It is hardly to he supposed that Æschylus would introduce into his drama the name of Himera without commemorating a victory, which his contemporary, Pindar (Pyth. i. 152), represents as not inferior in importance to those of Salamis and Platæa, the circumstances of which also were peculiarly susceptible of poetic treatment. The Bœotian sea-god, moreover, would form the most appropriate herald of the Bœotian victory, and thus, in his third drama, Æschylus would have the opportunity of bringing the battles of Himera and Platæa into connection with that of Salamis, which formed the main feature in the Persian trilogy.
The plastic art of the Hellenes illustrates their tendency to regard the successive victories of Hellas over Oriental barbarism as phases of the great struggle between the higher and lower elements of civilization, which formed so prominent a feature in their mythology. Thus, in the temple of Hera, at Mycenæ (Paus. xi. 17, 3), and in that of Zeus at Agrigentum (Diod, xi. 82), the capture of Ilium was associated with the overthrow of the giants by the Olympian gods. Their recent splendid victories would doubtless be similarly regarded by them as the ultimate triumph of civilization over barbarism, brought about by the intervention of the higher powers. This conception has found artistic expression in the beautiful painting on tho so-called Darius vase, "on which the celestial deities are represented as consoling the terrified Hellas in face of the threatening purposes and preparations of the mighty king of Asia." Moreover, "out of the gigantic block of Persian marble at Rhamnus, three leagues from Marathon, which the Persians are said to have intended for a trophy, Phidias (also a prophet) created one of the most sublime of the Greek statues of the gods, that of Nemesis, whose stern form and gesture admonished the Greeks: 'Be not lifted up; to God alone belongs the glory!'"
It may be remarked, in conclusion, that this drama, by the profound humiliation of Xerxes, strikingly enforces the Hellenic principle that the supreme intelligence, which Æschylus invariably identifies with the will of Zeus, cannot suffer any inferior power, human or divine, to overpass its legitimate limits, and thus interfere with the harmonious working of the whole. At the same time the dignity of the Persian empire is vindicated by the description of the glorious and happy life which the Persians enjoyed under the rule of Darius, which had been forfeited by their impiety in acting in opposition to the divine decrees; moreover, by introducing the ghost of the mighty king, not only as the stern rebuker of his son's overweening pride, but also as deprecating in the most emphatic manner any subsequent invasion of Hellas, we see, in this early historical drama, an approach to the great principle of classical dramatic art, which finds its perfect fulfilment in the Oresteian trilogy, namely, the final re-establishment of harmony between the contending powers whose collision has formed the main action of the drama.
The Satyric drama, which invariably followed the trilogy, was a relic of the original dithyrambic chorus sung at the festival of Dionysos by groups of Satyrs who followed the chariot of the vintage-god; it was probably intended to relieve the serious impression produced by the tragedy, and to furnish amusement to the populace. It is doubtful whether these Satyric pieces were ever in such organic connection with the three dramas which they followed as to justify calling them a tetralogy; the significance of the "Prometheus," as the concluding member of 'The Persians,' must however be admitted. Welcker has shown that we must distinguish between "Prometheus the fire-bringer," and "Prometheus the fire-kindler;" the latter being the title of the Satyric drama in question, which he maintains had reference to the establishment of the Promethea, the torch-race, at Athens, an artisan festival of which Prometheus was regarded as the founder. The kindling of the sacred fire might well be hailed as the symbol not only of victory, but also of the brighter day which had just dawned for the Hellenic race; while the association of the poorer classes, by the introduction of their favourite festival, would impart to the drama a peculiarly popular character, and render it the appropriate expression of the national enthusiasm.
THE Faithful these, advisers old
Of Persians, gone to Hellas' strand,
Guards of these halls and plenteous gold
Here treasured, whom, as elders' meed,
Lord Xerxes, King, Darius' seed,
Chose wardens of the land.
But touching now the safe return
Of King and gold-trickt host,
My heart within me, doleful seer
Of mischief, harrow'd is by fear,—10
For all the martial strength is gone,
Nurtured in Asia,—and doth yearn
For our young hero; news is none;
Nor horseman reacheth yet nor post
Our Persia's central home.
But they forsaking Susa's walls,
Agbatana and Kissia's hold,
Right ancient, forth to battle sped,
Some borne on steeds, in galleys some,
Others in march, with measured tread,
War's serried ranks displayed. 20
Such were Amistres, Artaphren,
Astasp and Megabazes,—they,
Marshals of Persia, kings themselves,
But to the mighty King submiss,
Speed forth, o'erseers of vast array,
With arrow puissant, borne on steeds,
Fearful to sight and dread in fight,
Through their high-souled resolve.
And steed-exultant Artembar,
Masistres and Imaeus brave, 30
Puissant with bow; Pharandakes,
Sosthānes too, steed-driver;
Others Nile's vast, life-teeming wave
Sent to the war; Susiskănes,
And Pegastágon, Egypt-born,
Him too who sacred Memphis sways,
Mighty Arsámes; Ariomard,
Whose rule Ogygian Thebes obeys;
And rowers from the marshy shore,
Their barks who guide with sturdy car,
Well-skilled, a countless host. 40
And Lydians, a luxurious train,
Who the whole native people hold,
Of Asia's mainland; these the twain,
Metragathes and Arkteus brave,
Kingly commanders, lead to war,
Sent forth by Sardis rich in gold,
Mounted upon full many a car,
With steeds yoked three and four abreast,
Terrific to behold.
And dwellers sacred Tmolos near
Are pledged the slavish yoke to cast 50
On Hellas;—Mardon, Tharubis,
Dread anvils of the spear;
And Mysians skilled the dart to throw;
While Babylon, the golden, sends
Her motley throng, which sweeps along,
Some upon galleys borne, and those
Whose valour trusts the bow.
Thus 'neath the King's commandment dread
Each sabre-wielding race has sped
From Asia's every reign.
Such bloom of men from Persia's plain 60
Hath gone, and all the Asian earth,
Yearning for those whom from their birth
She fostered, groans amain;
While wives and parents count each day,
Still trembling at the long delay.
Already hath the royal host.
Spoiler of cities, gained the adverse coast;
O'er cordage-fastened raft the channel they
Of Athamantid Helle passed, 70
What time their many-bolted way
On the sea's neck, as servile yoke, they cast.
Thus the fierce king, who holds command
O'er populous Asia, drives through all the land,
In twofold armament, his flock divine,
Land troops, and these who stem the brine;
Strong in his stalwart captains, he
Of gold-born race the god-like progeny. 80
From eyes like deadly dragon's, flashing a lurid gleam,
With men and galleys countless, driving his Syrian car,
'Gainst spear-famed men he leadeth his arrow-puissant war.
And none of valour proven against the mighty stream 90
May stand, a living bulwark, and that fierce billow stem;
For Persia's host resistless is, and her stout-hearted men.
But ah! what mortal baffle may
A god's deep-plotted snare,—
Who may o'erleap with foot so light?
†Até at first, with semblance fair, 100
Into her toils allures her prey,
Whence no mere mortal wight
May break away.
In olden time by Heaven's decree
Fixed was the Persians' destiny;—
Tower-battering war was theirs by Fate,
The turmoil when steed-mounted foes
In shock of battle fiercely close,
And cities to make desolate. 110
Now have they learned firm gaze to cast
On the vext sea, what time the blast
Makes hoary its broad-furrowed plain.
Confide they now in naval craft,
Cables fine-wove, device to waft
Armies across the main.
Hence, swartly robed, my heart by fear
Is tortured, lest ere long the State—
Woe for the Persian army! hear 120
That Susa's mighty fort is desolate.
And Kissia's stronghold shall reply
Beat unto beat on doleful breast,
While crowds of women raise the cry,
Woe! woe! and rend their flaxen-tissued vest.
For all the troops that draw the rein,
And all who tread the dusty plain,
Like swarming bees, with him who led 130
Their martial host, abroad have sped,
The jutting boat-way crossing o'er,
Sea-washed, and common to each adverse shore.
And yearning love with many a tear
The couch bedeweth, lone and drear;
The wives of Persia, steeped in woe,
Lament, of their dear lords bereft,
For her fierce spouse against the foe 140
Each sent spear-armed, and mourns unmated left.
But Persian elders, come,
And seated in our ancient hall of state
Devise we counsel, with deep-thoughted care,
For great in sooth the need;—
How haply fares our king,
Xerxes, from him derived whose name we bear
On bending of the bow doth conquest wait?
Or hath the might 150
Of iron-headed spear-shaft won the day?
[Atossa is seen approaching in a royal chariot, attended by a numerous train.]
But lo, in brightness like the eyes of gods,
Comes forth a light—
The mother of my royal lord, my queen.
Do we obeisance, falling at her feet;
Yea, it behoves us all
With words of salutation her to greet.
[They prostrate themselves before her, touching the earth with their foreheads.]
Of Persia's deep-zoned daughters supreme in rank, O Queen,
Hoar mother of King Xerxes, spouse of Darius, hail!
Once consort, now the mother of Persia's god art thou,
Unless our ancient fortune abandons now the host. 160
Therefore I come forsaking our gold-tricked palace halls,
The common nuptial chamber, Darius' and mine own.
Me too at heart care rendeth: my thoughts to you I'll speak,
Being by no means fearless touching myself, O friends,
Lest mighty wealth retreating, o'erturn with foot of haste,
Fortune which great Darius not without Heav'n upreared.
Hence care, all words surpassing, twofold my bosom rends,
For small the honour yielded to wealth, if men be lost,
And light to strength proportioned, shines not where riches fail.
Our wealth may none disparage, but for our Eye we fear, 170
For I the master's presence esteem the eye of home.
Wherefore since Fate hath ordered that thus affairs should stand,
Be my advisors, Persians, mine aged, trusty, friends;
For all my hope of counsel is centred now in you.
Queen of this land, know surely, thou needest not to utter,
Or word or deed twice over, whate'er thy power commands;
For we to counsel summoned, devoted are to thee.
Ever have nightly visions manifold
Beset me, since, intent on ravaging
Ionia's soil, my son led forth his power. 180
But never saw I dream so manifest
As that of yesternight;—I'll tell it thee;—
Me thought two women came before my sight,
Richly apparelled, this in Persian robes
Was habited, and that in Dorian garb;
In height above their sex pre-eminent,
Faultless in beauty, sisters of one race.
As Fatherland the one by lot had gained
Hellas, the other the Barbaric land.
Between these twain, for so methought I saw, 190
Some feud arose, which learning, straight my son
Strove to appease and soothe; he to his car
Yoked them, and placed the collar on their necks.
Proudly the one exulted in this gear,
And kept her mouth submissive to the reins;
Restive the other was; she with her hands
The chariot-harness rends, then, without bit,
Whirls it along, snapping the yoke asunder.
Prone falls my son, and close at hand his sire,
Darius, pitying stands, whom when he sees, 200
The robes about his person Xerxes rends.
Such was, I say, my vision of the night.
When I arose and with my hands had touched
Fountain clear-flowing, I the altar neared
With sacrificial hand, wishing to pay
To the averting gods, to whom belong
Such rites, oblations; forthwith I behold
An eagle fleeing straight to Phœbos' hearth.
Speechless I stood through terror, friends; anon,
A kite I see borne forward on swift wing,
Tearing with talons fierce the eagle's head; 210
Meanwhile the eagle nothing did but cower,
His body tamely yielding to the foe.
Dreadful these portents are to me who saw
And you who hear: for well ye know, my son,
If victor, were a man with glory crowned,
Yet worsted, to the state gives no account,
And saved, he none the less this realm will sway.
Thee neither would we, mother, o'erfrighten by our words,
Nor yet too much encourage; but, prayerful, seek the gods;
If aught hast seen of evil, that pray them to avert,
But for thyself and children, the state, and all thy friends, 220
All good things to make perfect; next, meet it is to pour
To earth and to the Manes, libations; but thy spouse,
Darius, whom thou sayest in dream to have beheld,
Entreat to send up blessings, for thee and for thy son,
From neath the earth to daylight, while inauspicious things,
Held under earth in durance, may fade away in gloom,
Thus we, with mind presageful, counsel with kind intent,
Trustful that from these omens the issue fair will prove.
Well thou, the first expounder of these my dreams, hast given
An explanation friendly toward my son and house.
May the good find fulfilment? The rites which to the gods
And to our buried dear ones thou biddest, we will pay
Soon as we gain the palace. Meanwhile, I fain would know
Where on the earth stands Athens, as men report, my friends.
Far to the west, where waneth our sovereign lord, the sun.
What! hath my son then hankered this town to make his prey?
Ay, to our king all Hellas would then submissive prove.
Of men then in their army have they so vast array?
Of such sort was their army, it wrought the Medes great bale.
And what besides? Wealth have they sufficient in their homes?
A fount is theirs of silver; a treasure of their soil. 240
Is the bow-stretching arrow conspicuous in their hands?
Nay, lances for close fighting, and equipage of shield.
And who then is their shepherd? Who lords it o'er their host?
To no man are they vassals, nor yield they to command.
How then, if foe invade them, may they the shock sustain?
So that Darius' army, gallant and large, they quelled.
Dreadful thy words to parents whose sons to war are sped.
But soon, if I mistake not, thou the whole truth shalt learn,
For here a courier speedeth whose gait proclaimeth him
Persian, and he will bring us clear news of weal or woe. 250
O fencèd homes of all the Asian earth,
O soil of Persia, haven of vast wealth,
How by one stroke our full prosperity
Hath shatter'd been, and blighted Persia's flower.
Woeful his office first who heralds woe!
Yet all our sorrow must I needs unfold.—
Persians! the whole barbaric host is lost.
Chorus. Strophe I.
Grievous, O grievous woe, 260
Strange, dismal overthrow,
Weep, Persians, hearing of this dreadful blow.
Yonder our all is ruined utterly
Myself, past hope returning, view the light.
Chorus. Antistrophe I.
Oppressed by weight of years,
Too long our life appears,
When this unlooked-for woe assails our ears.
Present myself, not hearing others' words,
Persians! I can report what ills befel.
Chorus. Strophe II.
In vain, alas, in vain, 270
That many-nationed, diverse-weaponed band,
Against illustrious Hellas' land,
From Asia sped amain.
Corpses of men ill-fated choke the coasts
Of Salamis, and all the region near.
Chorus. Antistrophe II.
Woe for their end forlorn!
The bodies, thou dost say, of dear ones lost,
Full oft immersed, in death are tost,
By floating robes upborne.
Nothing our bows availed; but all our host 280
Perished, by shock o'ercome of naval prows.
Chorus. Strophe III.
Shriek out a bitter wail
For those in death laid low;
How have the gods in all things wrought us bale!
Woe for the perished army! woe!
O, Salamis, most hateful name to hear!
Athens, alas! remembering thee I groan.
Chorus. Antistrophe III.
O Athens, name of dread
To foes! For we recall
How many wives of Persia vainly wed, 290
By her are widows made, bereft of all.
Long have I silence kept, struck down by ills,
Wretched:—for so transcendent this mischance,
Our grief may be nor told nor questioned of.
Yet mortals needs must bear calamities
Sent by the gods; wherefore, our sum of loss
Unfolding, though thou groanest at our ills,
Yet in well-ordered narrative rehearse
Who hath from death escaped; whom must we wail
Of princely leaders that the truncheon held
Who now, by death has left his post unmanned. 300
Xerxes himself still lives and sees the light.
Great light, in sooth, thou speakest to my house,
And day clear shining, after murky night.
But Artembares, lord of myriad horse,
'Gainst the Sileni's rugged shores is dashed;
And Dadaces, the chiliarch, spear-struck,
Forth from his galley leapt with nimble bound.
And Tenagon, of Bactria's true stock
Bravest, the sea-lash'd isle of Ajax haunts.
Lilaios, Arsames, Argestes, these 310
Round the dove-nurturing island overpowered,
On the hard coast lay butting to and fro.
Neighbour to Egypt's Nile-springs, Arkteus too,
Adeues, Pheresseues, Pharnuchos,
All these together from one vessel fell.
Chrysian Matallos, captain of vast hosts,
Leader of thrice ten thousand sable horse,
In death his ruddy beard, bushy and thick,
With purple gore distaining, changed its hue.
The Magian Arabos, and Artames, 320
From Bactria, settler on a rugged soil,
There perished. Wielder of no idle spear,
Amphistreus, and the doughty Ariomard,
By Sardis mourned; Amistris, Seisames,
The Mysian;—of five times fifty ships
Commander, Tharybis, in Lyrna born,
A comely man, no mark for envy now,
Prone lies in death. Foremost in valour too,
Syennesis, Cilicia's host who led,
Whose single prowess wrought the foe most bale, 330
A glorious end hath found. I of such chiefs
Now make report; but mid the throng of ills
Which overwhelm us, I relate but few.
Woe! woe! The very crown of ills, I hear,
To Persians shame and matter for shrill wail;
But on thy track returning, tell me this,
How great the number of the Hellenès' fleet,
That they with Persia's armament should dare
Battle to join in shock of naval prows?
Had conquest waited upon numbers, queen,
Then Persia's ships were victor, for the fleet 340
Of Hellas counted but three hundred ships,
And other ten selected, in reserve.
But Xerxes, this I know, led fifty score,
While those for swiftness most pre-eminent
Two hundred were and seven: such the tale.
Seem we to thee the weaker in this battle?
Rather some power divine destroyed the host,
The scale depressing with unequal fortune.
Grods save the city of the goddess, Pallas.
Is then the Athenians' city still unsack'd? 350
Her sons surviving, she firm bulwark hath.
What the commencement of the sea-fight? Say.
Did the Hellenès first the onset lead,
Or did my son, proud of innumerous ships?
All our disaster, Queen! from spirit of ill
Or vengeful power, none knoweth whence, began.
For a Hellene from out the Athenian host
Came to thy son, to Xerxes, with this tale,
That when the gloom of dusky night set in,
The Hellenès would not stay, but, springing straight
On to the benches of their ships, would seek, 360
Some here, some there, safety by secret flight.
But he, when he had heard, perceiving not
The Hellenic guile, or envy of the gods,
To all his captains issues this command;
When with his beams the sun to scorch the earth
Should cease, and darkness hold the expanse of sky,
Their squadrons they should marshal in three lines,
Guarding the outlets and the billowy straits,
And others station around Aias' isle:— 370
For did the Hellenès 'scape a wretched fate,
Finding by stealth an outlet for their ships,
Stern was the warning,—every head should fall.
Such words he spake from mind infatuate,
For what impended from the gods he knew not.
And they, without disorder, but with minds
Obedient to command, their meal prepared,
And round true-fitting lock each mariner
Strapp'd well his oar. But when the sunlight waned
And night came on, each master of an oar 380
Went to his ship, and each one versed in arms;
Of the long galleys line still cheering line,
Forth sail they, as to each had been prescribed.
And through the live-long night the admirals,
With naval force entire, cruised to and fro.
Darkness advanced, yet not in secret flight
Ionia's host was minded to escape;
But when white-steeded Day, bright to behold,
Held the wide earth, from the Hellenès first,
Like joyous chant, rang out their battle-cry, 390
And forthwith Echo, from the island rocks,
Sent back responsive an inspiring shout.
On all the Persians, cheated in their hopes,
Fell terror; for by no means as in flight
Their solemn pæan did th' Hellenès sing,
But with stout courage speeding to the fray.
The trumpet's blare fired all their ranks, and straight,
With simultaneous dip of sounding oar,
They at the signal smote the surging brine,
And instant all conspicuous were to sight. 400
First the right wing, well marshall'd, took the lead:
Then their whole naval force in fair array
Bore down against us. All at once was heard
A mighty shout: "Sons of Hellenès, on,
Your country free, your children free, your wives,
The temples of your fathers' deities,
Your tombs ancestral; for your all ye fight."
And from our side clamour of Persian speech
In answer rose; no time was then for pause,
But instant galley against galley dashed 410
Her armature of brass. A ship of Hellas
Led the encounter, and from Punic barque
Sheared her high crest. Thereon as fortune led,
Ship drave on ship; at first the Persian host,
A mighty flood, made head; but soon their ships
Thronged in the strait, of mutual aid bereft,
Each against other dashed with brazen beak,
Crushing the oar-banks of their proper fleet;
While the Hellenès ships, not without skill,
Circling around them smote: dead hulks of ships 420
Floated keel-upwards, and, with wrecks o'erstrewn
And slaughtered men, lost was the sea from sight,
Ay, shores and reefs were crowded with the dead.
In flight disordered every ship was rowed,
Poor remnant of the Persian armament.
Then as men strike at tunnies, or a haul
Of captured fishes, the Hellenès, armed
With splint of oar, or fragment from the wreck,
Batter'd, and clave with dislocating blows.
Shrieks and loud wailing filled the ocean brine,
Till all 'neath eye of swarthy night was lost. 430
But all our losses, though for ten whole days
I told them over, could I not recount.
Of this be sure, that never in one day
Perished of men so vast a multitude.
Woe! Woe! Of ills a mighty sea hath burst
On Persia, and on all the Asian race.
Be thou assured, but half our loss thou knowest;
Upon them came calamity so vast
As twice to overweigh the ills yet told.
What Fortune could than this more hostile be? 440
Say, what this woe which came, as thou dost state,
Upon the host, charged with still heavier bale?
All Persia's sons, in fairest bloom of life,
Bravest of soul, pre-eminent by birth,
And to the king himself still first in trust,—
These died ignobly, by inglorious doom.
Ah wretched me, my friends, for deadly chance!
But say, what form of ruin these o'erwhelm'd?
An isle there is that fronteth Salamis,
Small, with bad anchorage, whose sea-washed beach 450
Dance-loving Pan doth haunt; thither the King
Sendeth these chiefs, that, when the worsted foe
Should in the isle seek safety, Persia's sons
Might slay the host of Hellas, easy prey,
And from the briny channels save their friends,
Ill-guessing the to-come: for when the god
The Hellenès crowned with glory of the fight,
On that same day, with shields of well-wrought brass
Fencing their bodies, from their ships they leapt,
And the whole isle encompassed; so our men
Knew not which way to turn; oft time by stones 460
Pelted from foeman's hand, while arrows keen,
Thick raining from the bow-string, smote them down;
Rushing at last with simultaneous shout,
The Hellenès hacked and carved the victims' limbs,
Till they, poor wretches, all of life were reaved.
But Xerxes groaned, seeing the depth of ills;
For on a lofty height, hard by the sea,
His seat he held, o'erlooking all the host.
His garments rending, a shrill cry he raised, 470
To his land troops forthwith dispatch'd command,
And sped in flight disordered. Thine it is
To wail this sorrow added to the first.
O hateful Demon, how thou hast belied
The hopes of Persians! Bitter punishment
'Gainst famous Athens hath my son devised;
Nor did the deaths suffice of Asia's host
Whom Marathon destroyed; for them my son
Thought to exact requital, but instead,
Upon himself hath drawn this host of ills.
But speak, the ships that have destruction 'scaped,— 480
Where didst thou leave them? This canst clearly tell?
Of the surviving ships the captains straight
Before the wind took flight in disarray.
But of the host the remnant met their death
In the Bœotian's land. Some pressed with thirst
Round sparkling fount, some breathless, spent by toil.
Thence crossed we over to the Phocian land,
To soil of Doris and the Melian gulf,
Whose plain Spercheios' stream with kindly draught
Waters; thereafter the Achaian soil, 490
And cities of Thessalians us received,
Straitened for food; there died the greater part
Of thirst and hunger, for both ills befel.
Magnesia and the Macedonian land
Traversed we then, far as to Axios' ford,
To Bolbe's marshy reed, and to the height
Of Mount Pangaios and the Edonian land;
But on that night, winter, out of due time,
Some god aroused, who Strymon's holy stream
Through its whole course congealed; then who before
The gods had held for nought, with fervent prayers 500
Invoked them now, bowing to earth and sky.
When from their frequent orisons the host
Had ceased, the stream's firm crystal straight they cross;
Then those among us who their march began,
Ere the god darted forth his rays, were saved;
For, flaming with his beams, the sun's bright orb
Pierced the mid river, warming with his blaze;
Then each on other fell, and blest was he
Whoever earliest snapt the breath of life.
But the poor remnant, they who safety found, 510
With toil and many a hardship crossing Thrace,
Rescued, arrive, not many, to a land
Of hearths domestic. Now let Susa groan,
Sore yearning for our country's much-loved youth.
True are these things, but many ills untold
I leave, which God upon the Persians hurled.
O baleful Demon! with what heavy weight
Thy feet have trampled on all Persia's race!
Ah, woe is me for ruin of the host!
Oh nightly vision manifest in dreams, 520
To me how surely didst thou ills portend!
[To the Chorus.]
But ye too lightly did interpret it.
Nathless, since your response did sanction this,
First, I desire to supplicate the gods;
Then, bringing from my house libations, gifts
To Earth and to the Manès, I will come;
Too late, I know, for evils past recall,
But more auspicious may the future prove!
Meanwhile 'tis meet that, touching these events,
Ye faithful counsel with the faithful hold. 530
My son, ere my return, should he arrive,
Console ye, and escort him to his home,
Lest to these ills some further ill accrue.
O sovereign Zeus, who Persia's host
Countless and boasting loud
Hast now destroyed,
Lo! Susa and Agbatana
By thee are wrapt in sorrow's murky shroud.
And many a maid her mantling vest
With tender hands now teareth; 540
While drenching tears bedew her breast,
The general grief that shareth.
And Persia's women, delicate in woe,
Longing their new-wed lords to see again,
Their bridal couch with dainty covers dight,
Abandon'd now, their tender youth's delight,
With sateless moan complain;
While I, in fitting strain,
Wail for the fates of those in death laid low.
For now all Asia moans, left desolate. 550
Xerxes led forth, woe! woe!
Xerxes hath all laid low!
Xerxes hath wrought malignant overthrow
To many a sea-borne raft.
Why did Darius rule unharmed the state,
Lord of the archers' craft,
Susa's beloved leader?
Landmen and seamen flax-winged galleys bare: 560
Galleys led forth; woe! woe!
Galleys wrought overthrow,
Galleys, by deadly crash of blue-faced prow,
But through Ionian hands.
The king hath 'scaped, we hear, by fortune rare,
Through Thracia's wide-spread lands;
Paths swept by storms of winter.
The first, alas! laid low, 570
Perforce unurned, woe! woe!
Around Kychreia's shores spray-drenchèd lie.
Pour the lament, uplift on high
To heaven deep notes of pain;
Raising the dismal cry,
Your voices strain.
By eddying currents torn,
Gnawed are their limbs, woe! woe!
By voiceless children of the unsullied deep. 580
Mourneth each dwelling, left forlorn;
Parents bereaved, and elders mourn
These heaven-sent griefs, and weep
Their sum of woe.
Already through all Asia's land
None owneth Persia's sway;
None, at their sovereign lord's command,
Henceforth will tribute pay:
Nor, falling prostrate, own his right 590
Them to enthrall; for kingly might
Hath passed away.
No more the tongue is guarded now
By mortals; from this hour,
Free are the throng to speak, I trow,
Since loosed the yoke of power;
And Aias' sea-encircled isle,
In blood-stained fields holds what erewhile
Was Persia's flower.
[Re-enter Atossa, without regal state, accompanied by Attendants bearing utensils for sacrifice.]
My friends, whoso is versed in sorrow, knows 600
That when on mortals comes a surge of ills,
Prone are they then to fear; but when the tide
Of fortune smoothly glides, fondly they trust
That the same fortune still will waft them on.
So now to me are all things full of fear;
Woes sent of Heaven are present to mine eyes;
Rings in mine ear a cry, no pæan strain:
Such terror from these evils scares my soul.
Wherefore without my cars and wonted pomp,
Once more I issue from my home, and bring 610
To my son's royal sire, libations kind,
Whate'er is soothing to the honoured dead.
White milk, sweet draught from heifer undefiled;
The flower-distiller's dew, translucent honey,
And crystal water drawn from virgin spring;
Here joyance too I bring of ancient vine,
Draught unadulterate from mother wild;
From pale green olive-tree, that while it lives
With constant leafage blooms, this odorous fruit;
And wreathed flowers, brood of all-teeming Earth. 620
But, O my friends, chant ye well-omened hymns
O'er these libations offered to the dead;
Darius' mighty ghost do ye invoke,
While I, these honours, which the earth shall drink,
Myself will send to deities below.
O royal lady, to whom Persians bow,
Do thou, to halls below, libations send,
While we in solemn lay
Those who escort the dead will pray
Beneath the earth their gracious aid to lend.
Dread Powers who dwell below, 630
Hermes and Earth and Thou,
Monarch of Hades, do ye now
His spirit to the light upsend;
For, if a cure for these dire ills he know,
Alone of mortals he may speak the end.
Me doth our blessèd, godlike monarch hear,
Pouring these varied doleful notes of woe,
Broken by sighs?
To him is my barbaric utterance clear,
Telling our wretched griefs in piercing cries? 640
Me doth he hear below?
But thou, O Earth, and ye dread powers of night,
Send from your sunless realms to upper air
A shade of might;
The monarch, Susa-born, the Persians' god,
Upsend ye,—Him whose equal Persia ne'er
Hath shrouded 'neath her sod.
Dear was the hero, dear his tomb,
For dear the manners it doth hide; 650
Aidoneus, thou, from nether gloom,
Éscort and guide,
Aidoneus, hear our prayer,—
†The king of Persians send, true king, to upper air.
For ne'er in war's disastrous game
Doom'd he his warriors to the grave;
No; godlike counsellor the name
His Persians gave;
Godlike in sooth was he,
†Since still his subject host he governed worthily.
Khan, ancient Khan! oh come, draw near,
Come to the topmost summit of this mound; 660
Lifting thy foot in saffron slipper dight,
The crest of thy tiara's kingly round
Giving to sight:
Appear, Darius, blameless sire, appear!
†O monarch, come, that thou may'st hear
Woes, strange, unheard of, by our monarch borne;
For o'er us now some Stygian gloom doth lour,
Since sunk in utter ruin lies forlorn
Our martial flower.
Appear Darius! blameless sire, appear!
O Thou in death by friends bewailèd sore, 670
†Why, king of kings, say why
Hath dire calamity,
Of blind infatuation born,
With stroke redoubled, whelm'd our land forlorn?
All her lost triremes we deplore,
No triremes now, alas, no, never more.
[The Ghost of Darius rises.]
O faithful of the faithful, ye whilome
My youth's compeers, elders of Persia, say
With what sore travail travaileth the state?
The land, breast-smitten and with furrowed cheek,
Moaneth, and I, beholding near my tomb 680
My consort, troubled am, but graciously
Her offrings I received; ye also stand
Lifting the dirge beside my sepulchre,
And, shouting loud with shade-evoking strains,
Piteously call me: but the upward path
Lies not too open; for the gods below
More ready are to seize than to let loose.
Yet, rank among them holding, I am come;
But haste, that time rebuke not my delay.
What this new ill that weighs the Persians down?
To look upon thee awes me; 690
To speak before thee awes me:
By ancient fear subdued.
But since from Hades I have come, by thy complaints persuaded,
Give to mine ear no long discourse, but tell thy tale concisely;
Laying aside thine awe of me, reveal the whole full quickly.
I tremble to obey thee,
Tremble to speak before thee
Things harsh for friends to hear.
Well, since thine ancient reverence thy spirit thus impedeth,
Hoar partner of my royal couch, do thou, much honoured lady, 700
These cries and lamentations leave, and somewhat tell distinctly.
That upon mortal men should come afflictions, is but human.
Many calamities by sea, many by land still happen
To mortals, if to wider scope their life should be extended.
O thou in happy fortune blest beyond the lot of mortals,
In envied glory, while thine eyes still gazed upon the sunlight,
Leading a life of happiness, a god unto the Persians.
Happy, in sooth, I deem thee now, dying before thou sawest
Our depth of ill. Thou in brief space the tale shall hear, Darius.
In utter ruin, so to speak, prostrate lies Persia's fortune. 710
How, prithee? Came contagion's blast or discord o'er the city?
By neither, but near Athens' walls hath our whole host been routed.
What son of mine an armament hath thither led? Inform me.
Impetuous Xerxes, all the life of wide-spread Asia draining.
By land or sea, unhappy man, made be this mad endeavour?
By both in sooth; a twofold front there was of twofold army.
But how could armament so vast on foot pass from the mainland?
O'er Hellè's strait he artful threw a bridge, and so found passage.
Thus hath he wrought, and so hemm'd in the Bosphoros' strong current!
So was it, yet some demon-power did haply aid his purpose. 720
Alas, some mighty demon came, and hath befool'd his judgment.
True, for the issue clearly shows what evil he accomplished.
And what hath been the fate of those o'er whom ye groan, lamenting?
The naval army, worsted, drew the land force to de- struction.
So utterly by hostile spear hath the whole army perished?
Ay, emptied of her warriors, moans all the town of Susa.
Woe for our levies vainly made, and many-nationed army!
Perished hath Bactria's martial strength, and not her elders only.
O hapless son, of our allies the youth how hath he ruined?
Alone, abandoned, so they say, Xerxes, with but few others— 730
How hath he met his end, and where? or is there hope of safety?
Was fain to reach the bridge that links two continents together.
And hath he to this mainland come in safety? Is this certain?
Ay, so prevaileth the report; in that is no dissension.
Alas! full speedily hath come the oracles' fulfilment,
Upon my son hath Zeus hurled down the end of the predictions;
I hoped it would be long indeed, ere Heaven these ills accomplished;
But when in haste man presses on, the god still keeps beside him.
A fount of ills for all my friends seems now to be discovered;
All this my son through ignorance hath wrought and youthful daring, 740
Who Hellè's sacred tide, forsooth, as it had been his vassal,
And Bosporos, the stream of god, did hope to curb with fetters;
The current fashioned he anew, and hammer-beaten shackles
Casting around, for mighty host achieved a mighty causeway.
Though mortal, all the gods he thought, infatuate, to master,
Ay, e'en Poseidon; was not this sheer frenesy of spirit
That held my son? In fear I am lest all the ample treasure
My toil amassed, become to men the spoil of the first comer.
Converse with evil-minded men hath taught impetuous Xerxes
Such lessons; for thy spear, they say, won for thy sons vast riches, 750
While he, through cowardice of soul, his spear at home still wieldeth,
Thus adding nothing to the wealth bequeathed him by his father.
Hearing from evil-minded men full often these reproaches,
This expedition did he plan and armament to Hellas.
Therefore by him hath ruin been achieved
Portentous, aye to be remembered, such
As ne'er before on Susa's city fell
To drain it utterly, since Sovereign Zeus
Ordained this honour, that one potentate
O'er all sheep-pasturing Asia sway should bear,
The sceptre wielding of command; for first 760
A Median led the host; another then,
His son, succeeding, the emprize achieved,
For reason swayed the rudder of his mind.
Third after him, Cyrus, god-favoured man,
Reigncd, and for all his friends established peace;
O'er Lydia's host and Phrygia spread his rule,
And all Ionia forcibly subdued,
For, such his wisdom, God was not his foe.
A son of Cyrus fourth the army ruled;
Fifth, Mardos governed, to his fatherland 770
An outrage, and to Persia's ancient throne;
And him, by stratagem, brave Artaphren,
In league with friendly chiefs whose work this was,
Slew in his palace. Next myself obtained
The lot I craved, and with a mighty host
Full many a warlike expedition led;
But ne'er on Susa brought I bale like this.
But Xerxes, young in years, is young of soul,
And my paternal charge remembers not.
For, be assured, ye my compeers in age, 780
Not all of us, of yore these powers who held,
Shall e'er be proven to have wrought such ills.
What then, O King Darius? What the goal
To which thine utterance tends? How in this strait
May we, thy Persians, fare hereafter best?
March ye no more against the Hellenès' land,
Not though the Median host outnumber theirs;
The soil itself to them is an ally.
How meanest thou? In what way their ally?
By famine slaying bloated armaments. 790
What if choice force we levy, well-equipped?
Not e'en the army which remains behind
In Hellas, will achieve a safe return.
How say'st thou? Doth not all the Asian host
Cross back from Europe over Hellè's strait?
Of many few, if it behoveth one,
Beholding things accomplished, to have faith
In god-sent oracles; for ne'er of these
Do some fulfilment find while others fail.
If this be so, persuaded by vain hopes,
A large and chosen force he leaves behind. 800
These linger where Asopos floods the plain,
Kind source of fatness to Bœotia's fields.
There them awaits to bear of ills the crown,
Just meed of insolence and godless thoughts.
For reaching Hellas, awe forbade them not
Statues of gods to spoil or shrines to fire.
Altars are swept away, and hallowed fanes,
Uprooted from their basement, ruined lie;
Hence, having evil wrought, evil themselves
Not less they suffer, and shall suffer more; 810
Not yet is reached the bottom of their woe,
But still it welleth up, a quenchless flood;
Such gouts of bloody slaughter shall there lie
Upon Platæa's soil from Dorian spear—
Yea, and to children's children, heaps of slain
Voiceless, shall record bear to eyes of men,
That thoughts too lofty suit not mortal man;
For bursting into blossom, Insolence
Its harvest-ear, Delusion, ripeneth,
And reaps most tearful crop. Beholding then,
Such the requital of these impious deeds,
Remember Athens, Hellas,—and let none 820
Disdaining present fortune, lusting still
For other, squander great prosperity.
For Zeus, chastiser of o'erweening thoughts,
Is aye at hand, an auditor severe.
Wherefore, with timely warning, counsel him,
Lacking in wisdom, that he henceforth cease
'Gainst Heaven to sin, with overweening pride.
But thou, O Xerxes' aged mother dear,
Enter thy home, and taking fit attire
Go meet thy son; for the embroidered robes, 830
Through grief of heart at these calamities,
Around his person all are torn to shreds;
Soothe him with kindly words, for well I wot,
Thy voice alone will he endure to hear.
But I to nether darkness now depart.
Farewell, ye elders; although ills surround,
Yet to your souls give joyance, day by day,
For to the dead no profit is in wealth.
[Ghost of Darius descends.]
Hearing of Persia's sorrows manifold,
Present and yet to come, sorely I grieved. 840
Fate unblest! How many grievous ills
Upon me fall, yet most this sorrow stings,
That of my son's dishonour I must hear,
His royal limbs in tatter'd garb arrayed.
But I will go, and taking from my home
Costly attire, meet, if I may, my son.
For ne'er will we our dearest fail in woe.
Chorus. Strophe I.
Noble and blest in sooth our city-ruling life,
What time our monarch hoar, 850
Resourceful, blameless, unsubdued in strife,
Godlike Darius ruled our country o'er.
As chiefs of glorious hosts were we displayed,
†Firm laws did all things guide,
While scathless and unworn, when war was laid,
†In triumph to their homes our warriors hied.
How many a town he took, yet seldom he 860
The Halys crossed, or from his hearth would roam;
The cities such of the Strymonian Sea,
The Achelôdès, near the Thracians' home.
And those tower-girded, distant from the coast,
Towns of the mainland, recognised his sway.
Those near Propontis' gulfs their site which boast, 870
Round Hellè's ample frith and Pontos' bay.
And islands of the main,
Fronting the headland that o'erlooks the sea,
Hard by this Asian plain;
Lesbos, and Samos crowned with olive-trees,
Mycŏnos, Paros, Naxos, Chios, these,
And Andros, joining Tenos neighbourly.
Ay, and each isle that lies
Midway between the mainlands he controlled;
Icăros' seat of old;
Rhode, Lemnos, Cnidos; Cyprian towns of fame, 880
Paphos and Soli, Salamis, dread name,
Whose mother-city wakes these doleful cries.
And to his will Ionia's towns he bent,
Well peopled by Hellenès, opulent;
And strength exhaustless his of mailed array,
Of allies too, a motley band;
But now, not dubiously, by God's own hand,
Smitten with mighty blow
Through naval overthrow, 890
Behold we former glories swept away.
[Enter Xerxes, with Attendants.]
Ah, wretched me, whom Fate
With most unlook'd-for blow
Hath smitten! With what hate
A God on Persia's race
Hath trampled! What dire woe
Is mine! Unhappy wight!
Loosed is my strength of thew,
These elders meeting face to face.
Would that, O Zeus, me too,
With the brave men laid low, 900
Death's doom had veiled in night.
Woe, king, for our brave army! Woe
For honours vast of Persia's reign,
Her warriors of renown,
Whom Fate hath now mown down!
Earth mourns her martial bloom,
Growth of her soil, by Xerxes slain,
Who crowds with Persians Hades' gloom.
†Full many chiefs, our country's flower,
Lords of the conquering bow,
Now tread the paths of doom, 910
For multitudinous the power
Of men by death laid low.
Woe for our trusty forces! woe!
For Asia's land, upon her knee,
In direful fall, O king! sinks direfully.
Xerxes. Strophe I.
Ah, miserable me,
Worthy of pity, wretched, born to be
To race and fatherland a direful ill.
And I, thy home-return to hail,
An evil-omened dirge will trill,
A voice well versed in pain;
Like Mariandyne mourner's strain, 920
A doleful, tear-fraught wail.
Xerxes. Antistrophe I.
Pour notes of doleful sound,
A voice of wailing, fraught with grief profound;
From me hath changeful Fortune turned away.
With groans I too will pay
Due honour to our city's bale—
Our sea-inflicted woes;
Yea, like the anguished throes
Of child-reft sire, shall sound my tear-fraught wail.
Xerxes. Strophe II.
Cry woe! search out the worst; woe, woe!
Where now the friendly band
Wont at thy side to stand?
Such was Pharandaces,
Susas, Pelagon, Psammis, Dotamas,
Such Agdabates, such Susiscanes,
Agbatana who left. Oh say
Where now be they? 940
Xerxes. Antistrophe II.
Death-stricken from a Tyrian galley thrown,
Yonder I left them prone;
Amid the billowy roar,
The rock-bound coast they beat on Salaminian shore.
Where thy Pharnuchos? Woe, on woe!
Brave Ariomard and he,
Warrior of high degree,
Lilaios and the king
Seualces; Memphis where and Tharybis,
Where are Masistras, and brave Artembar,
Ay, and Hystæchmas? Say, oh say, 950
Where now be they?
Xerxes. Strophe III.
Ah me! Alas! Woe! Woe!
They saw the city hoar,
Athenè's hated wall,
And with convulsive struggle, one and all,
Poor wretches, were laid gasping on the shore.
Him, thine all-trusty eye,
The hosts of Persia who told o'er 960
By ten times fifty score,
Alphistos, Batanochos' heir,
Sesames' son, who owed his birth
To Megabates, him didst leave,
Parthos and great Œbares there
Didst leave to die?
Unhappy men! ah me!
Persians of highest worth!
For them dire ills on ills I hear from thee,
And sighs of anguish heave.
Xerxes. . III
Ah me! Alas! Woe! Woe!
A thrill of tender pain
For my brave comrades' sake,
Telling of ills most hateful, thou dost wake. 970
Cries out my very heart, yea, cries amain.
We for another mourn,
Of Mardia's myriad host the head,
Diæxis and Arsaces, who
Afield our mounted forces led,
Kigdagatas and Lythimnas,
War-craving Tolmos—these, alas, 980
These mourn we too.
Sorrow astounds, ah me,
Sorrow astounds my mind
These chiefs on tented cars no more to see
Thy royal pomp behind.
Xerxes. Strophe IV.
For lost are they our host who led.
Lost amid the nameless dead.
Woe! Woe! Alas! Woe! Woe!
Woe! Woe! in sooth, for lo!
Ill so unlooked for and pre-eminent
As Atè ne'er beheld, the gods have sent.
Xerxes. Antistrophe IV.
Stricken are we by heaven-sent blow. 990
Stricken, in sooth, too plain our woe.
Fresh griefs, fresh griefs, ah me!
Meeting Ionian seamen, we
Have now, alas, encountered dire disgrace;
Unfortunate in war is Persia's race.
Xerxes. Strophe V.
Stricken, too true, with host so great.
Perished hath Persia's high estate.
Dost see this remnant of my warlike gear?
Yea, I behold. 1000
This also—arrows that should hold?
What sayest saved hath been?
Casket for missiles keen.
Small rest of ample store.
None left to aid us more.
Ionia's people flee not from the spear.
Xerxes. Antistrophe V.
Too warlike they! I've seen unlooked-for woe.
Wilt tell of flight and naval overthrow?
At this sad chance my robes I rent.
All me! Ah me! 1010
Worse than ah me! ay, worse!
Double, ay, threefold curse.
Joyful to foes, to us despair.
Maimed prowess we lament.
Naked of escort I, and bare.
Through the disasters of thy friends at sea.
Xerxes. Strophe VI.
Weep, weep our loss, and to the palace go.
Alas! Alas! Woe! Woe!
Responsive cries intone.
An ill bequest of ill to ill. 1020
Wail forth thy cadence shrill.
Woe! Woe! Alas! Woe! Woe!
Heavy, in sooth, the blow.
Which sorely I bemoan.
Xerxes. Antistrophe VI.
Ply, ply the stroke, lift for my sake your cries.
Woe-fraught, I weep amain.
Wail with responsive groan.
This care, my liege, I own.
Swell loud the doleful strain.
Woo! Woe! Alas! Woe! Woe! 1030
Mingled with many a blow!
Yea, black, and fraught with sighs.
Xerxes. Strophe VII.
Ay, beat thy breast, and raise the Mysian wail.
Pain, grievous pain!
And from thy chin pluck out the silver hair.
Woe-fraught, we pluck amain!
Rend with shrill cries the air.
Cries shall not fail.
Xerxes. Antistrophe VII.
With forceful hand tear thou thy bosom's stole. 1040
Pain, grievous pain!
Our host lamenting rend thy tresses too.
Woe-fraught, we rend amain!
Let tears thine eyes bedew.
Tears downward roll.
Wail forth responsive cries.
Alas! Alas! Woe! Woe!
Now with loud wailing to the palace wend.
Alas! with wailing Persia's land resounds.
Through Susa let your moans ascend.
I moan, yea, moan amain. 1050
Slowly advancing pour your sighs.
Alas! with wailing Persia's land resounds.
For those who perished in our triremes, woe!
Thee I'll escort with piteous notes of pain.
[Exeunt in solemn procession.
- The thymele was a raised platform in the centre of the orchestra, which served as resting-place for the Chorus when it took up a stationary position.—K. O. Müller.
- "Æschylus as a Religious Teacher."—Brook F. Westcott.
- The ancient Greek argument informs us that ἐπί Μένωνος τραγῳδῶν Αἰσχύλος ἐνίκα Φινεῖ, Πέρσαις, Γλαυκῷ Ποτνιεῖ, Προμηθεῖ. Fragments, however, exist of another Æschylean drama, entitled Glaukos Pontios, and various arguments are adduced by Welcker and Gruppe to prove that this drama, rather than the Glaukos Potnieus, formed the third member of the Persian trilogy. This view is supported by W. v. Humboldt, Schlegel, K. O. Müller, and other learned men. It seems, I confess, hard to understand why the error should have been made on several different occasions by several different writers. The principal reason for regarding Glaukos Potnieus as wrong seems to be the difficulty of discovering any link of connection between that legendary hero, the father of Bellerophontes, and the termination of the Persian war. In the text I have adopted the hypothesis of Welcker and Gruppe, and have given a brief epitome of their views respecting the Glaukos Pontios.
- "Æschylus."—Reginald S. .
- Apollonius; Argonauts (ii. v. 237); Gruppe.
- Gruppe refers to two paintings upon ancient Greek vases, where Phineus is represented surrounded by the Argonauts, with the Harpies driven away by the Boreades. In Ruskin's 'Queen of the Air' (p. 24), the reader will find an interesting exposition of the signification of the Harpies, and of the antagonism subsisting between them and the Boreades.
- Bunsen's 'God in History.' Translated by Miss Winkworth.
- Darius, about thirty-five years before, had caused a bridge to be thrown over the Thracian Bosphorus, and crossed it in his march to Scythia; but this bridge, though constructed by the Ionians, and by a Samian Greek, having had reference only to distant regions, seems to have been little known or little thought of among the Greeks generally, as we may infer from the fact that the poet Æschylus[9a] speaks as if he bad never heard of it, while the bridge of Xerxes was ever remembered both by Persians and by Greeks as a most imposing display of Asiatic omnipotence.
—Grote's History of Greece.
^9a. Pers. 731, 754, 873.
- An allusion is here made to the popular belief that the name of Persia was derived from Perseus, the son of Danae by Zeus, who visited her in a shower of gold.
- The sudden transition of the Chorus from unbounded confidence to gloomy foreboding is characteristic of the religious conception common alike to Greek and Persian in the Æschylean age, namely, that the gods cherished a jealous enmity towards vast power and overweening aspirations in men.
- The narrative of Atossa recalls the premonitory dream which, according to Herodotus, was sent by the gods to Xerxes and Artabanus prior to their expedition against Greece.
- Herodotus relates that Darius, on hearing of the burning of Sardis, inquired who the Athenians were.
- It is first in an emphatic passage of the poet Æschylus that we hear of the silver mines of Laurium, in Attica, and the valuable produce which they rendered to the state. We are told by Herodotus that there was in the Athenian treasury, at the time when Themistoklês made his proposition to enlarge the naval force, a great sum arising from the Laurian mines, out of which a distribution was on the point of being made among the citizens—ten Grote's History of Greece. When we remember that this navy was the salvation not only of Athens herself but of Greece also, we are not surprised that the poet should make such emphatic mention of "this fount of silver, this treasure of the soil." to each man. Themistoklês availed himself of this precious opportunity, and prevailed upon the people to forego the promised distribution for the purpose of obtaining an efficient navy,—
- πλαγκτοῖς ἐν διπλάκεσσιν. These words have given rise to a variety of interpretations. They have been supposed to refer to the ebbing and flowing surface of the tide; to the two opposite shores of the strait; to the twofold surface of land and sea; to fragments of wrecked ships, &c. The word δίπλαξ is however known in Homer as a double cloak (cloak with cape), and in the context most probably refers to the floating mantles of the slain.
- πάντᾳ. So Hermann for παντα, and he also adds θεοι, to complete both sense and metre, from a gloss in one MS.—Paley.
- The combined fleet which had now got together at Salamis consisted of 366 ships. . . .We may doubt, however, whether this total, borrowed from Herodotus, be not larger than that which actually fought a little afterwards at the battle of Salamis, and which Æschylus gives decidedly as consisting of 300 sail, in addition to ten prime and chosen ships. That great poet, himself one of the combatants, and speaking in a drama represented only seven years after the battle, is better authority on the point even than Herodotus.—Grote's History of Greece.
- The sufferings endured by the Athenians in consequence of the Persian occupation of Attica, when the temples of the Acropolis were pillaged, and all its buildings, sacred as well as profane, were consigned to the flames, were so recent and terrible, that any direct allusion to them would have jarred upon the feelings of a large portion of the audience. We cannot but admire the skill of the poet in evading the question which he attributes to the Persian queen.
- Allusion is here made to the desperate stratagem of Themistoklês, by which he thwarted the resolution of the Grecian leaders to remove the fleet to the Isthmus, a resolution which, if taken, would have involved the ruin of the Hellenic cause.
- In illustration of this command, reference may be made to the wrath of Xerxes when apprised of the destruction of the first bridge of boats thrown over the Hellespont, when he caused the heads of the chief engineers to be struck off.
- The phrase in the original probably means "each boatswain of a crew."
- A passage of some length has been lost from the original.
- λινόπτεροι. I have adopted the emendation proposed by Schütz.
- The original word is Βαλὴν, a Phœnician word, signifying Lord.
- στένει, κέκοπται, καὶ χαράσσεται πέδον.
Considerable diversity of opinion prevails as to the correct interpretation of this passage. When it is remembered, however, that κόπτομαι, med., means to beat the breast in grief, like Lat. plangere, it seems evident that χαράσσεται, taken in connection with στένει and κέκοπται, can refer only to the παρῄδων ἀμυγμός. I therefore conclude that by a bold image the poet ascribes to the very soil the horrors of frenzied mourning, with the modes of which the Greeks wore familiar.
- εκτος δε Μαραφις, εβδομας δ᾽ Αρταφρενες.
"The sixth was Maraphis, and the seventh Artaphrenes." As this line is almost universally regarded as spurious, I have thought it better to omit it from the context. It has been reasonably conjectured that a diligent reader had written out in verse the names of the seven conspirators, here called friendly chiefs, Maraphis and Artaphrenes being the two last names.
- ἐκπιδεύεται. The Greek word being wholly uncertain, I have adopted the emendation of Schütz, who is followed by Blomfield and Dindorf. My version slightly amplifies the original.
- Political metaphor, from the revision of the accounts by a public officer.
- The Halys (which has been identified with the modern Kizil Irmaq) was the ancient boundary of the Lydian and Persian monarchies. It was moreover a very dangerous river to overpass, being situated at the bottom of a deep rocky chasm, at least in a considerable part of its course. The celebrated oracle, "If Crœsos passes over the Halys, he shall destroy a great kingdom," adds significance to the poet's words.
By the hearth of the Great King we may understand Persepolis, or some other royal city of Persia, and may interpret the poet to mean that Darius, like a wise ruler, subdued many distant countries by the arms of his generals, without taking the field himself.
- The account given by Herodotus of the lamentations of the Persian host on occasion of the death of Masistius, general of the Persian cavalry at the brittle of Platæa, may be quoted as illustrating the prolonged wail which concludes the drama of the Persians. "The grief was violent and unbounded, manifested by wailings so loud as to echo over all Bœotia; while the hair of men, horses, and cattle was abundantly cut in token of mourning."—Grote's History of Greece.
- κερσάμενος. Blomfield says, with reference to this word, "Interpreters render it, 'having devastated.' But I have nowhere met κειρομαι in the middle voice, except to mean, shear the locks in sign of grief."
- Hermann admits the conjecture of Pauw and Heath, μυχίαν πλάκα—Paley.
- ψάλλε. I do not venture to give the literal translation, twang. It seems impossible to peruse the close of this drama without recognizing that the poet's aim was no longer tragedy. He evidently wishes to gratify his Athenian spectators by the grief of the Persians, which he holds up to contempt.
99. In Blomfield and Scholefield I read φιλόφρων γὰρ σαίνουσα τὸ πρῶτον, παράγει | βροτὸν εἰς ἀρκύστατα. It seems undeniable that ἀρκύστατα is rightly corrected to ἄρκυας Ἄτα, σαίνουσα agreeing with Ἄτα : also Hermann well changes σαίνουσα to ποτισαίνουσα, as metre seems to require. But Dindorf, in 3rd ed., strangely cuts it down into φιλόφρων γὰρ παρασαίνει | βροτὸν εἰς ἄρκυας Ἄτα : and the Oxford ed. of 1851 (perhaps by misprint) wholly omits εἰς ἄρκυας Ἄτα.
653. Δαρεῖον οἷον ἄνακτα Δαρειὰν. Schütz corrected οἷον into θεῖον. To me δαίμονα θεῖον, ἄνακτα Περσᾶν is plausible.
658. For εὖ ἐποδώκει, I suggest εὖ πεδῴκει. In Theocritus, μετοικῶ is transitive, cause to migrate. If you so interpret πεδῴκει, it means that Darius successfully superintended the systematic migrations (that is, changes of encampment) of his vast standing army.
664. καινά τε—νέα τε cannot be right. Perhaps κοινάλγη—νέα τε, which suits the metre.
671. The corrupt δυνατα seems to me to conceal the lost verb. The syntax of the sentence may have been something like this: τίς τάδε δεῖν᾽ ἑτιτήνατ᾽ ἑπ᾽ ἀρχᾷ | σᾷ διδύμαν δι᾽ ἄνοιαν ἁμάρτια; Who has inflicted on thy empire this dreadful penalty for double folly?
857. πύργινα conceals deep error.
861. The word lost may be ἄνδρας. Thus, ἄνδρας ἐς εὖ πράσσοντας ἆγον οἴκους.
920. For αἵδου, I want αἰνῷ, "dire harnesser of Persians."
921. Ἀγδαβάται. I accept unhesitatingly Blomfield's correction, Ἀθάνατοι, from Herodotus, vii. 83, which further convinces me that γὰρ φύστις ought to be χρυσῶτις, covered with gold lace.
942. I can only understand this to mean that (Asiatic) Greeks fighting for Xerxes, though aided by Tyrians, were defeated by (European) Greeks. "Greeks," says Xerxes, "were beaten by Greeks."