ATOSSA

Thy friendly judgment first hath placed these dreams 
In a fair light, confirming the event 
Benevolent to my son and to my house. 
May all the good be ratified! These rites 
Shall, at thy bidding, to the powers of heaven, 
And to the manes of our friends, be paid 
In order meet, when I return; meanwhile 
Indulge me, friends, who wish to be inform’d 
Where, in what clime, the towers of Athens rise.

LEADER

Far in the west, where sets the imperial sun.

ATOSSA

Yet my son will’d the conquest of this town.

LEADER

May Greece through all her states bend to his power!

ATOSSA

Send they embattled numbers to the field?

LEADER

A force that to the Medes hath wrought much wo.

ATOSSA

Have they sufficient treasures in their houses?

LEADER

Their rich earth yields a copious fount of silver.

ATOSSA

From the strong bow wing they the barbed shaft?

LEADER

They grasp the stout spear, and the massy shield.

ATOSSA

What monarch reigns, whose power commands their ranks?

LEADER

Slaves to no lord, they own no kingly power.

ATOSSA

How can they then resist the invading foe?

LEADER

As to spread havoc through the numerous host, 
That round Darius form’d their glitt’ring files.

ATOSSA

Thy words strike deep, and wound the parent’s breast 
Whose sons are march’d to such a dangerous field.

LEADER

But, if I judge aright, thou soon shalt hear 
Each circumstance; for this way, mark him, speeds 
A Persian messenger; he bears, be sure, 
Tidings of high import, or good or ill.

A MESSENGER enters.
MESSENGER

Wo to the towns through Asia’s peopled realms! 
Wo to the land of Persia, once the port 
Of boundless wealth, how is thy glorious state 
Vanish’d at once, and all thy spreading honours 
Fall’n, lost! Ah me! unhappy is his task 
That bears unhappy tidings: but constraint 
Compels me to relate this tale of wo. 
Persians, the whole barbaric host is fall’n.

CHORUS chanting

O horror, horror! What a baleful train 
Of recent ills! Ah, Persians, as he speaks 
Of ruin, let your tears stream to the earth.

MESSENGER

It is ev’n so, all ruin; and myself, 
Beyond all hope returning, view this light.

CHORUS chanting

How tedious and oppressive is the weight 
Of age, reserved to hear these hopeless ills!

MESSENGER

I speak not from report; but these mine eyes 
Beheld the ruin which my tongue would utter.

CHORUS chanting

Wo, wo is me! Then has the iron storm, 
That darken’d from the realms of Asia, pour’d 
In vain its arrowy shower on sacred Greece.

MESSENGER

In heaps the unhappy dead lie on the strand 
Of Salamis, and all the neighbouring shores.

CHORUS chanting

Unhappy friends, sunk, perish’d in the sea; 
Their bodies, mid the wreck of shatter’d ships, 
Mangled, and rolling on the encumber’d waves!

MESSENGER

Naught did their bows avail, but all the troops 
In the first conflict of the ships were lost.

CHORUS chanting

Raise the funereal cry, with dismal notes 
Wailing the wretched Persians. Oh, how ill 
They plann’d their measures, all their army perish’d!

MESSENGER

O Salamis, how hateful is thy name! 
And groans burst from me when I think of Athens.

CHORUS chanting

How dreadful to her foes! Call to remembrance 
How many Persian dames, wedded in vain, 
Hath Athens of their noble husbands widow’d?

ATOSSA

Astonied with these ills, my voice thus long 
Hath wanted utterance: griefs like these exceed 
The power of speech or question: yet ev’n such, 
Inflicted by the gods, must mortal man 
Constrain’d by hard necessity endure. 
But tell me all, without distraction tell me, 
All this calamity, though many a groan 
Burst from thy labouring heart. Who is not fallen? 
What leader must we wail? What sceptred chief 
Dying hath left his troops without a lord?

MESSENGER

Xerxes himself lives, and beholds the light.

ATOSSA

That word beams comfort on my house, a ray 
That brightens through the melancholy gloom.

MESSENGER

Artembares, the potent chief that led 
Ten thousand horse, lies slaughtered on the rocks 
Of rough Sileniae. The great Dadaces, 
Beneath whose standard march’d a thousand horse, 
Pierced by a spear, fell headlong from the ship. 
Tenagon, bravest of the Bactrians, lies 
Roll’d on the wave-worn beach of Ajax’ isle. 
Lilaeus, Arsames, Argestes, dash 
With violence in death against the rocks 
Where nest the silver doves. Arcteus, that dwelt 
Near to the fountains of the Egyptian Nile, 
Adeues, and Pheresba, and Pharnuchus 
Fell from one ship. Matallus, Chrysa’s chief, 
That led his dark’ning squadrons, thrice ten thousand, 
On jet-black steeds, with purple gore distain’d 
The yellow of his thick and shaggy beard. 
The Magian Arabus, and Artames 
From Bactra, mould’ring on the dreary shore 
Lie low. Amistris, and Amphistreus there 
Grasps his war-wear spear; there prostrate lies 
The illustrious Ariomardus; long his los 
Shall Sardis weep: thy Mysian Sisames, 
And Tharybis, that o’er the burden’d deep 
Led five times fifty vessels; Lerna gave 
The hero birth, and manly race adorn’d 
His pleasing form, but low in death he lies 
Unhappy in his fate. Syennesis, 
Cilicia’s warlike chief, who dared to front 
The foremost dangers, singly to the foes 
A terror, there too found a glorious death. 
These chieftains to my sad remembrance rise, 
Relating but a few of many ills.

ATOSSA

This is the height of ill, ah me! and shame 
To Persia, grief, and lamentation loud. 
But tell me this, afresh renew thy tale: 
What was the number of the Grecian fleet, 
That in fierce conflict their bold barks should dare 
Rush to encounter with the Persian hosts.

MESSENGER

Know then, in numbers the barbaric fleet 
Was far superior: in ten squadrons, each 
Of thirty ships, Greece plough’d the deep; of these 
One held a distant station. Xerxes led 
A thousand ships; their number well I know; 
Two hundred more, and seven, that swept the seas 
With speediest sail: this was their full amount. 
And in the engagement seem’d we not secure 
Of victory? But unequal fortune sunk 
Our scale in fight, discomfiting our host.

ATOSSA

The gods preserve the city of Minerva.

MESSENGER

The walls of Athens are impregnable, 
Their firmest bulwarks her heroic sons.

ATOSSA

Which navy first advanced to the attack? 
Who led to the onset, tell me; the bold Greeks, 
Or, glorying in his numerous fleet, my son?

MESSENGER

Our evil genius, lady, or some god 
Hostile to Persia, led to ev’ry ill. 
Forth from the troops of Athens came a Greek, 
And thus address’d thy son, the imperial Xerxes:- 
“Soon as the shades of night descend, the Grecians 
Shall quit their station; rushing to their oars 
They mean to separate, and in secret flight 
Seek safety.” At these words, the royal chief, 
Little conceiving of the wiles of Greece 
And gods averse, to all the naval leaders 
Gave his high charge:-“Soon as yon sun shall cease 
To dart his radiant beams, and dark’ning night 
Ascends the temple of the sky, arrange 
In three divisions your well-ordered ships, 
And guard each pass, each outlet of the seas: 
Others enring around this rocky isle 
Of Salamis. Should Greece escape her fate, 
And work her way by secret flight, your heads 
Shall answer the neglect.” This harsh command 
He gave, exulting in his mind, nor knew 
What Fate design’d. With martial discipline 
And prompt obedience, snatching a repast, 
Each mariner fix’d well his ready oar. 
Soon as the golden sun was set, and night 
Advanced, each train’d to ply the dashing oar, 
Assumed his seat; in arms each warrior stood, 
Troop cheering troop through all the ships of war. 
Each to the appointed station steers his course; 
And through the night his naval force each chief 
Fix’d to secure the passes. Night advanced, 
But not by secret flight did Greece attempt 
To escape. The morn, all beauteous to behold, 
Drawn by white steeds bounds o’er the enlighten’d earth; 
At once from ev’ry Greek with glad acclaim 
Burst forth the song of war, whose lofty notes 
The echo of the island rocks return’d, 
Spreading dismay through Persia’s hosts, thus fallen 
From their high hopes; no flight this solemn strain 
Portended, but deliberate valour bent 
On daring battle; while the trumpet’s sound 
Kindled the flames of war. But when their oars 
The paean ended, with impetuous force 
Dash’d the resounding surges, instant all 
Rush’d on in view: in orderly array 
The squadron on the right first led, behind 
Rode their whole fleet; and now distinct we heard 
From ev’ry part this voice of exhortation:- 
“Advance, ye sons of Greece, from thraldom save 
Your country, save your wives, your children save, 
The temples of your gods, the sacred tomb 
Where rest your honour’d ancestors; this day 
The common cause of all demands your valour.” 
Meantime from Persia’s hosts the deep’ning shout 
Answer’d their shout; no time for cold delay; 
But ship ‘gainst ship its brazen beak impell’d. 
First to the charge a Grecian galley rush’d; 
Ill the Phoenician bore the rough attack, 
Its sculptured prow all shatter’d. Each advanced 
Daring an opposite. The deep array 
Of Persia at the first sustain’d the encounter; 
But their throng’d numbers, in the narrow seas 
Confined, want room for action; and, deprived 
Of mutual aid, beaks clash with beaks, and each 
Breaks all the other’s oars: with skill disposed 
The Grecian navy circled them around 
With fierce assault; and rushing from its height 
The inverted vessel sinks: the sea no more 
Wears its accustomed aspect, with foul wrecks 
And blood disfigured; floating carcasses 
Roll on the rocky shores: the poor remains 
Of the barbaric armament to flight 
Ply every oar inglorious: onward rush 
The Greeks amid the ruins of the fleet, 
As through a shoal of fish caught in the net, 
Spreading destruction: the wide ocean o’er 
Wailings are heard, and loud laments, till night 
With darkness on her brow brought grateful truce. 
Should I recount each circumstance of wo, 
Ten times on my unfinished tale the sun 
Would set; for be assured that not one day 
Could close the ruin of so vast a host.

The Persians By Aeschylus