Aeschylus’ ‘The Persians’ deals with the community’s response to the crushing defeat of the Persian army by the Greeks. The dead blame it all on hubris.
Before the Council-Hall of the Persian Kings at Susa. The tomb of Darius the Great is visible. The time is 480 B.C., shortly after the battle of Salamis. The play opens with the CHORUS OF PERSIAN ELDERS singing its first choral lyric.
While o’er the fields of Greece the embattled troops
Of Persia march with delegated sway,
We o’er their rich and gold-abounding seats
Hold faithful our firm guard; to this high charge
Xerxes, our royal lord, the imperial son
Of great Darius, chose our honour’d age.
But for the king’s return, and his arm’d host
Blazing with gold, my soul presaging ill
Swells in my tortured breast: for all her force
Hath Asia sent, and for her youth I sigh.
Nor messenger arrives, nor horseman spurs
With tidings to this seat of Persia’s kings.
The gates of Susa and Ecbatana
Pour’d forth their martial trains; and Cissia sees
Her ancient towers forsaken, while her youth,
Some on the bounding steed, the tall bark some
Ascending, some with painful march on foot,
Haste on, to arrange the deep’ning files of war.
Amistres, Artaphernes, and the might
Of great Astaspes, Megabazes bold,
Chieftains of Persia, kings, that, to the power
Of the great king obedient, march with these
Leading their martial thousands; their proud steeds
Prance under them; steel bows and shafts their arms,
Dreadful to see, and terrible in fight,
Deliberate valour breathing in their souls.
Artembares, that in his fiery horse
Delights; Masistress; and Imaeus bold,
Bending with manly strength his stubborn bow;
Pharandaces, and Sosthanes, that drives
With military pomp his rapid steeds.
Others the vast prolific Nile hath sent;
Pegastagon, that from Aegyptus draws
His high birth; Susiscanes; and the chief
That reigns o’er sacred Memphis, great Arsames;
And Ariomardus, that o’er ancient Thebes
Bears the supreme dominion; and with these,
Drawn from their watery marshes, numbers train’d
To the stout oar. Next these the Lycian troops,
Soft sons of luxury; and those that dwell
Amid the inland forests, from the sea
Far distant; these Metragathes commands,
And virtuous Arceus, royal chiefs, that shine
In burnish’d gold, and many a whirling car
Drawn by six generous steeds from Sardis lead,
A glorious and a dreadful spectacle.
And from the foot of Tmolus, sacred mount,
Eager to bind on Greece the servile yoke,
Mardon and Tharybis the massy spear
Grasp with unwearied vigour; the light lance
The Mysians shake. A mingled multitude
Swept from her wide dominions skill’d to draw
The unerring bow, in ships Euphrates sends
From golden Babylon. With falchions arm’d
From all the extent of Asia move the hosts
Obedient to their monarch’s stern command.
Thus march’d the flower of Persia, whose loved youth
The world of Asia nourish’d, and with sighs
Laments their absence; many an anxious look
Their wives, their parents send, count the slow days,
And tremble at the long-protracted time.
Already o’er the adverse strand
In arms the monarch’s martial squadrons spread;
The threat’ning ruin shakes the land,
And each tall city bows its tower’d head.
Bark bound to bark, their wondrous way
They bridge across the indignant sea;
The narrow Hellespont’s vex’d waves disdain,
His proud neck taught to wear the chain.
Now has the peopled Asia’s warlike lord,
By land, by sea, with foot, with horse,
Resistless in his rapid course,
O’er all their realms his warring thousands pour’d;
Now his intrepid chiefs surveys,
And glitt’ring like a god his radiant state displays.
Fierce as the dragon scaled in gold
Through the deep files he darts his glowing eye;
And pleased their order to behold,
His gorgeous standard blazing to the sky,
Rolls onward his Assyrian car,
Directs the thunder of the war,
Bids the wing’d arrows’ iron storm advance
Against the slow and cumbrous lance.
What shall withstand the torrent of his sway
When dreadful o’er the yielding shores
The impetuous tide of battle roars,
And sweeps the weak opposing mounds away?
So Persia, with resistless might,
Rolls her unnumber’d hosts of heroes to the fight.
For when misfortune’s fraudful hand
Prepares to pour the vengeance of the sky,
What mortal shall her force withstand?
What rapid speed the impending fury fly?
Gentle at first with flatt’ring smiles
She spreads her soft enchanting wiles,
So to her toils allures her destined prey,
Whence man ne’er breaks unhurt away.
For thus from ancient times the Fates ordain
That Persia’s sons should greatly dare,
Unequall’d in the works of war;
Shake with their thund’ring steeds the ensanguined plain,
Dreadful the hostile walls surround,
And lay their rampired towers in ruins on the ground.
The Persians By Aeschylus