The Persians by Aeschylus

The Persians
by Aeschylus
Written 472 B.C.E
Translated by Robert Potter

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.

Dramatis Personae 

ATOSSA, widow of Darius and mother of XERXES
MESSENGER
GHOST OF DARIUS
XERXES
CHORUS OF PERSIAN ELDERS, who compose the Persian Council of State

Scene

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.

CHORUS

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.

strophe 1

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.

antistrophe 1

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.

strophe 2

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