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.
Far in the west, where sets the imperial sun.
Yet my son will’d the conquest of this town.
May Greece through all her states bend to his power!
Send they embattled numbers to the field?
A force that to the Medes hath wrought much wo.
Have they sufficient treasures in their houses?
Their rich earth yields a copious fount of silver.
From the strong bow wing they the barbed shaft?
They grasp the stout spear, and the massy shield.
What monarch reigns, whose power commands their ranks?
Slaves to no lord, they own no kingly power.
How can they then resist the invading foe?
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.
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?
Xerxes himself lives, and beholds the light.
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.
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.
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.
The gods preserve the city of Minerva.
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