The Suppliants by Aeschylus

The Suppliants

By Aeschylus 

Written ca. 463 B.C.E

Translated by E. D. A. Morshead

‘The Suppliants’ tells the story of fifty maidens escaping with their father from their fifty cousins who wish to be their suitors.

Dramatis Personae 

DANAUS
THE KING OF ARGOS
HERALD OF AEGYPTUS
CHORUS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF DANAUS
Attendants

Scene

A sacred precinct near the shore in Argos. Several statues of the gods can be seen, as well as a large altar. As the play opens, DANAUS, and his fifty daughters, the maidens who compose the CHORUS, enter. Their costumes have an oriental richness about them not characteristic of the strictly Greek. They carry also the wands of suppliants. The CHORUS is singing.

CHORUS

Zeus! Lord and guard of suppliant hands 
Look down benign on us who crave 
Thine aid-whom winds and waters drave 
From where, through drifting shifting sands, 
Pours Nilus to the wave. 
From where the green land, god-possest, 
Closes and fronts the Syrian waste, 
We flee as exiles, yet unbanned 
By murder’s sentence from our land; 
But-since Aegyptus had decreed 
His sons should wed his brother’s seed,- 
Ourselves we tore from bonds abhorred, 
From wedlock not of heart but hand, 
Nor brooked to call a kinsman lord! 

And Danaus, our sire and guide, 
The king of counsel, pond’ring well 
The dice of fortune as they fell, 
Out of two griefs the kindlier chose, 
And bade us fly, with him beside, 
Heedless what winds or waves arose, 
And o’er the wide sea waters haste, 
Until to Argos’ shore at last 
Our wandering pinnace came- 
Argos, the immemorial home 
Of her from whom we boast to come- 
Io, the ox-horned maiden, whom, 
After long wandering, woe, and scathe, 
Zeus with a touch, a mystic breath, 
Made mother of our name. 
Therefore, of all the lands of earth, 
On this most gladly step we forth, 
And in our hands aloft we bear- 
Sole weapon for a suppliant’s wear- 
The olive-shoot, with wool enwound! 
City, and land, and waters wan 
Of Inachus, and gods most high, 
And ye who, deep beneath the ground, 
Bring vengeance weird on mortal man, 
Powers of the grave, on you we cry! 
And unto Zeus the Saviour, guard 
Of mortals’ holy purity! 
Receive ye us-keep watch and ward 
Above the suppliant maiden band! 
Chaste be the heart of this your land 
Towards the weak! but, ere the throng, 
The wanton swarm, from Egypt sprung, 
Leap forth upon the silted shore, 
Thrust back their swift-rowed bark again, 
Repel them, urge them to the main! 
And there, ‘mid storm and lightning’s shine, 
And scudding drift and thunder’s roar, 
Deep death be theirs, in stormy brine! 
Before they foully grasp and win 
Us, maiden-children of their kin, 
And climb the couch by law denied, 
And wrong each weak reluctant bride.

strophe 1

And now on her I call, 
Mine ancestress, who far on Egypt’s shore 
A young cow’s semblance wore,- 
A maiden once, by Hera’s malice changed! 
And then on him withal, 
Who, as amid the flowers the grazing creature ranged, 
Was in her by a breath of Zeus conceived; 
And, as the hour of birth drew nigh, 
By fate fulfilled, unto the light he came;- 
And Epaphus for name, 
Born from the touch of Zeus, the child received

antistrophe 1

On him, on him I cry, 
And him for patron hold- 
While in this grassy vale I stand, 
Where lo roamed of old! 
And here, recounting all her toil and pain, 
Signs will I show to those who rule the land 
That I am child of hers; and all shall understand, 
Hearing the doubtful tale of the dim past made plain.

strophe 2

And, ere the end shall be, 
Each man the truth of what I tell shall see. 
And if there dwell hard by 
One skilled to read from bird-notes augury, 
That man, when through his ears shall thrill our tearful wail, 
Shall deem he hears the voice, the plaintive tale 
Of her, the piteous spouse of Tereus, lord of guile- 
Whom the hawk harries yet, the mourning nightingale.

antistrophe 2

She, from her happy home and fair streams scared away, 
Wails wild and sad for haunts beloved erewhile. 
Yea, and for Itylus-ah, well-a-day! 
Slain by her own, his mother’s hand, 
Maddened by lustful wrong, the deed by Tereus planned!

strophe 3

Like her I wail and wail, in soft lonian tones, 
And as she wastes, even so 
Wastes my soft cheek, once ripe with Nilus’ suns, 
And all my heart dissolves in utter woe. 
Sad flowers of grief I cull, 
Fleeing from kinsmen’s love unmerciful- 
Yea, from the clutching hands, the wanton crowd, 
I sped across the waves, from Egypt’s land of cloud.

antistrophe 3

Gods of the ancient cradle of my race, 
Hear me, just gods! With righteous grace 
On me, on me look down! 
Grant not to youth its heart’s unchaste desire, 
But, swiftly spurning lust’s unholy fire, 
Bless only love and willing wedlock’s crown! 
The war-worn fliers from the battle’s wrack 
Find refuge at the hallowed altar-side, 
The sanctuary divine,- 
Ye gods! such refuge unto me provide- 
Such sanctuary be mine!

strophe 4

Though the deep will of Zeus be hard to track, 
Yet doth it flame and glance, 
A beacon in the dark, ‘mid clouds of chance 
That wrap mankind.

antistrophe 4

Yea, though the counsel fall, undone it shall not lie, 
Whate’er be shaped and fixed within Zeus’ ruling mind- 
Dark as a solemn grove, with sombre leafage shaded, 
His paths of purpose wind, 
A marvel to man’s eye.

strophe 5

Smitten by him, from towering hopes degraded, 
Mortals lie low and still.- 
Tireless and effortless, works forth its will 
The arm divine! 
God from His holy seat, in calm of unarmed power, 
Brings forth the deed, at its appointed hour!

antistrophe 5

Let Him look down on mortal wantonness! 
Lo! how the youthful stock of Belus’ line 
Craves for me, uncontrolled- 
With greed and madness bold- 
Urged on by passion’s shunless stress- 
And, cheated, learns too late the prey has ‘scaped their hold!

strophe 6

Ah, listen, listen to my grievous tale, 
My sorrow’s words, my shrill and tearful cries! 
Ah woe, ah woe! 
Loud with lament the accents rise, 
And from my living lips my own sad dirges flow!

refrain 1

O Apian land of hill and dale, 
Thou kennest yet, O land, this faltered foreign wail- 
Have mercy, hear my prayer! 
Lo, how again, again, rend and tear 
My woven raiment, and from off my hair 
Cast the Sidonian veil!

antistrophe 6

Ah, but if fortune smile, if death be driven away, 
Vowed rites, with eager haste, we to the gods will pay! 
Alas, alas again! 
O whither drift the waves? and who shall loose the pain?

refrain 1

O Apian land of hill and dale, 
Thou kennest yet, O land, this faltered foreign wail 
Have mercy, hear my prayer! 
Lo, how again, again, I rend and tear 
My woven raiment, and from off my hair 
Cast the Sidonian veil!

strophe 7

The wafting oar, the bark with woven sail, 
From which the sea foamed back, 
Sped me, unharmed of storms, along the breeze’s track- 
Be it unblamed of me! 
But ah, the end, the end of my emprise! 
May He, the Father, with all-seeing eyes, 
Grant me that end to see!

refrain 2

Grant that henceforth unstained as heretofore 
I may escape the forced embrace 
Of those proud children of the race 
That sacred Io bore.

antistrophe 7

And thou, O maiden-goddess chaste and pure- 
Queen of the inner fane- 
Look of thy grace on me, O Artemis, 
Thy willing suppliant-thine, thine it is;, 
Who from the lustful onslaught fled secure, 
To grant that I too without stain 
The shelter of thy purity may gain!

refrain 2

Grant that henceforth unstained as heretofore 
I may escape the forced embrace 
Of those proud children of the race 
That sacred Io bore!

strophe 8

Yet if this may not be, 
We, the dark race sun-smitten, we 
Will speed with suppliant wands 
To Zeus who rules below, with hospitable hands 
Who welcomes all the dead from all the lands: 
Yea, by our own hands strangled, we will go, 
Spurned by Olympian gods, unto the gods below!

refrain 3

Zeus, hear and save! 
The searching, poisonous hate, that Io vexed and drave, 
Was of a goddess: well I know 
The bitter ire, the wrathful woe 
Of Hera, queen of heaven- 
A storm, a storm her breath, whereby we yet are driven!

antistrophe 8

Bethink thee, what dispraise 
Of Zeus himself mankind will raise, 
If now he turn his face averted from our cries! 
If now, dishonoured and alone, 
The ox-horned maiden’s race shall be undone, 
Children of Epaphus, his own begotten son- 
Zeus, listen from on high!-to thee our prayers arise.

refrain 3

Zeus, hear and save! 
The searching poisonous hate, that lo vexed and drave, 
Was of a goddess: well I know 
The bitter ire, the wrathful woe 
Of Hera, queen of heaven- 
A storm, a storm her breath, whereby we yet are driven!

After the CHORUS has finished its song and dance, DANAUS comes forward.
The Suppliants by Aeschylus