ATOSSA

This from too frequent converse with bad men 
The impetuous Xerxes learn’d; these caught his ear 
With thy great deeds, as winning for thy sons 
Vast riches with thy conquering spear, while he 
Tim’rous and slothful, never, save in sport, 
Lifted his lance, nor added to the wealth 
Won by his noble fathers. This reproach 
Oft by bad men repeated, urged his soul 
To attempt this war, and lead his troops to Greece.

GHOST OF DARIUS

Great deeds have they achieved, and memorable 
For ages: never hath this wasted state 
Suffer’d such ruin, since heaven’s awful king 
Gave to one lord Asia’s extended plains 
White with innumerous flocks, and to his hands 
Consign’d the imperial sceptre. Her brave hosts 
A Mede first led; the virtues of his son 
Fix’d firm the empire, for his temperate soul 
Breathed prudence. Cyrus next, by fortune graced, 
Adorn’d the throne, and bless’d his grateful friends 
With peace: he to his mighty monarchy 
Join’d Lydia, and the Phrygians; to his power 
Ionia bent reluctant; but the gods 
His son then wore the regal diadem. 
With victory his gentle virtues crown’d 
His son then wore the regal diadem. 
Next to disgrace his country, and to stain 
The splendid glories of this ancient throne, 
Rose Mardus: him, with righteous vengeance fired 
Artaphernes, and his confederate chiefs 
Crush’d in his palace: Maraphis assumed 
The sceptre: after him Artaphernes. 
Me next to this exalted eminence, 
Crowning my great ambition, Fortune raised. 
In many a glorious field my glittering spear 
Flamed in the van of Persia’s numerous hosts; 
But never wrought such ruin to the state. 
Xerxes, my son, in all the pride of youth 
Listens to youthful counsels, my commands 
No more remember’d; hence, my hoary friends, 
Not the whole line of Persia’s sceptred lords, 
You know it well, so wasted her brave sons.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS

Why this? To what fair end are these thy words 
Directed? Sovereign lord, instruct thy Persians 
How, mid this ruin, best to guide their state.

GHOST OF DARIUS

No more ‘gainst Greece lead your embattled hosts; 
Not though your deep’ning phalanx spreads the field 
Outnumb’ring theirs: their very earth fights for them.

LEADER

What may thy words import? How fight for them?

GHOST OF DARIUS

With famine it destroys your cumbrous train.

LEADER

Choice levies, prompt for action, will we send,

GHOST OF DARIUS

Those, in the fields of Greece that now remain, 
Shall not revisit safe the Persian shore.

LEADER

What! shall not all the host of Persia pass 
Again from Europe o’er the Hellespont?

GHOST OF DARIUS

Of all their numbers few, if aught avails 
The faith of heaven-sent oracles to him 
That weighs the past, in their accomplishment 
Not partial: hence he left, in faithless hope 
Confiding, his selected train of heroes. 
These have their station where Asopus flows 
Wat’ring the plain, whose grateful currents roll 
Diffusing plenty through Boeotia’s fields. 
There misery waits to crush them with the load 
Of heaviest ills, in vengeance for their proud 
And impious daring; for where’er they held 
Through Greece their march, they fear’d not to profane 
The statues of the gods; their hallow’d shrines 
Emblazed, o’erturn’d their altars, and in ruins, 
Rent from their firm foundations, to the ground 
Levell’d their temples; such their frantic deeds, 
Nor less their suff’rings; greater still await them; 
For Vengeance hath not wasted all her stores; 
The heap yet swells; for in Plataea’s plains 
Beneath the Doric spear the clotted mas 
Of carnage shall arise, that the high mounds, 
Piled o’er the dead, to late posterity 
Shall give this silent record to men’s eyes, 
That proud aspiring thoughts but ill beseem 
Weak mortals: for oppression, when it springs, 
Puts forth the blade of vengeance, and its fruit 
Yields a ripe harvest of repentant wo. 
Behold this vengeance, and remember Greece, 
Remember Athens: henceforth let not pride, 
Her present state disdaining, strive to grasp 
Another’s, and her treasured happiness 
Shed on the ground: such insolent attempts 
Awake the vengeance of offended Jove. 
But you, whose age demands more temperate thoughts, 
With words of well-placed counsel teach his youth 
To curb that pride, which from the gods calls down 
Destruction on his head.

To ATOSSA

And thou, whose age 
The miseries of thy Xerxes sink with sorrow, 
Go to thy house, thence choose the richest robe, 
And meet thy son; for through the rage of grief 
His gorgeous vestments from his royal limbs 
Are foully rent. With gentlest courtesy 
Soothe his affliction; for is duteous ear, 
I know, will listen to thy voice alone. 
Now to the realms of darkness I descend. 
My ancient friends, farewell, and mid these ills 
Each day in pleasures battle your drooping spirits, 
For treasured riches naught avail the dead.

The GHOST OF DARIUS vanishes into the tomb.
LEADER

These many present, many future ills 
Denounced on Persia, sink my soul with grief.

ATOSSA

Unhappy fortune, what a tide of ills 
Bursts o’er me! Chief this foul disgrace, which shows 
My son divested of his rich attire, 
His royal robes all rent, distracts my thoughts. 
But I will go, choose the most gorgeous vest, 
And liaste to meet my son. Ne’er in his woes 
Will I forsake whom my soul holds most dear.

ATOSSA departs as the CHORUS begins its song.
CHORUS

strophe 1

Ye powers that rule the skies, 
Memory recalls our great, our happy fate, 
Our well-appointed state, 
The scenes of glory opening to our eyes, 
When this vast empire o’er 
The good Darius, with each virtue bless’d 
That forms a monarch’s breast, 
Shielding his subjects with a father’s care 
Invincible in war, 
Extended like a god his awful power, 
Then spread our arms their glory wide, 
Guarding to peace her golden reign: 
Each tower’d city saw with pride 
Safe from the toils of war her homeward-marching train.

antistrophe 1

Nor Haly’s shallow strand 
He pass’d, nor from his palace moved his state; 
He spoke; his word was Fate. 
What strong-based cities could his might withstand? 
Not those that lift their heads 
Where to the sea the floods of Strymon pass, 
Leaving the huts of Thrace; 
Nor those, that far the extended ocean o’er 
Stand girt with many a tower; 
Nor where the Hellespont his broad wave spreads; 
Nor the firm bastions’ rampired might, 
Whose foot the deep Propontis laves; 
Nor those, that glorying in their height 
Frown o’er the Pontic sea, and shade his darken’d waves.

strophe 2

Each sea-girt isle around 
Bow’d to this monarch: humbled Lesbos bow’d; 
Paros, of its marble proud; 
Naxos with vines, with olives Samos crown’d: 
Him Myconos adored; 
Chios, the seat of beauty; Andros steep, 
That stretches o’er the deep 
To meet the wat’ry Tenos; him each bay 
Bound by the Icarian sea, 
Him Melos, Gnidus, Rhodes confess’d their lord; 
O’er Cyprus stretch’d his sceptred hand: 
Paphos and Solos own’d his power, 
And Salamis, whose hostile strand, 
The cause of all our wo, is red with Persian gore.

antistrophe 2

Ev’n the proud towns, that rear’d 
Sublime along the lonian coast their towers, 
Where wealth her treasures pours, 
Peopled from Greece, his prudent reign revered. 
With such unconquer’d might 
His hardy warriors shook the embattled fields, 
Heroes that Persia yields, 
And those from distant realms that took their way, 
And wedged in close array 
Beneath his glitt’ring banners claim’d the fight. 
But now these glories are no more: 
Farewell the big war’s plumed pride: 
The gods have crush’d this trophied power; 
Sunk are our vanquish’d arms beneath the indignant tide.

XERXES enters, with a few followers. His royal raiment is torn, The entire closing scene is sung or chanted.
XERXES

Ah me, how sudden have the storms of Fate, 
Beyond all thought, all apprehension, burst 
On my devoted head! O Fortune, Fortune! 
With what relentless fury hath thy hand 
Hurl’d desolation on the Persian race! 
Wo unsupportable! The torturing thought 
Of our lost youth comes rushing on my mind, 
And sinks me to the ground. O Jove, that 
Had died with those brave men that died in fight I

CHORUS

O thou afflicted monarch, once the lord 
Of marshall’d armies, of the lustre beam’d 
From glory’s ray o’er Persia, of her sons 
The pride, the grace, whom ruin now hath sunk 
In blood! The unpeopled land laments her youth 
By Xerxes led to slaughter, till the realms 
Of death are gorged with Persians; for the flower 
Of all the realm, thousands, whose dreadful bows 
With arrowy shower annoy’d the foe, are fall’n.

XERXES

Your fall, heroic youths, distracts my soul.

CHORUS

And Asia sinking on her knee, O king, 
Oppress’d, with griefs oppress’d, bends to the earth.

XERXES

And I, O wretched fortune, I was born 
To crush, to desolate my ruin’d country!

The Persians By Aeschylus