antistrophe 2

Taught to behold with fearless eyes 
The whitening billows foam beneath the gale, 
They bid the naval forests rise, 
Mount the slight bark, unfurl the flying sail, 
And o’er the angry ocean bear 
To distant realms the storm of war. 
For this with many a sad and gloomy thought 
My tortured breast is fraught: 
Ah me! for Persia’s absent sons I sigh; 
For while in foreign fields they fight, 
Our towns exposed to wild affright 
An easy prey to the invader lie: 
Where, mighty Susa, where thy powers, 
To wield the warrior’s arms, and guard thy regal towers? 


Crush’d beneath the assailing foe 
Her golden head must Cissia bend; 
While her pale virgins, frantic with despair, 
Through all her streets awake the voice of wo; 
And flying with their bosoms bare, 
Their purfled stoles in anguish rend: 
For all her youth in martial pride, 
Like bees that, clust’ring round their king, 
Their dark imbodied squadrons bring, 
Attend their sceptred monarch’s side, 
And stretch across the watery way 
From shore to shore their long array. 
The Persian dames, with many a tender fear, 
In grief’s sad vigils keep the midnight hour; 
Shed on the widow’d couch the streaming tear, 
And the long absence of their loves deplore. 
Each lonely matron feels her pensive breast 
Throb with desire, with aching fondness glow, 
Since in bright arms her daring warrior dress’d 
Left her to languish in her love-lorn wo. 

Now, ye grave Persians, that your honour’d seats 
Hold in this ancient house, with prudent care 
And deep deliberation, so the state 
Requires, consult we, pond’ring the event 
Of this great war, which our imperial lord, 
The mighty Xerxes from Darius sprung, 
The stream of whose rich blood flows in our veins, 
Leads against Greece; whether his arrowy shower 
Shot from the strong-braced bow, or the huge spear 
High brandish’d, in the deathful field prevails. 
But see, the monarch’s mother: like the gods 
Her lustre blazes on our eyes: my queen, 
Prostrate I fall before her: all advance 
With reverence, and in duteous phrase address her,

ATOSSA enters with her retinue. The Elders do their obeisance to her.

Hail, queen, of Persia’s high-zoned dames supreme, 
Age-honour’d mother of the potent Xerxes, 
Imperial consort of Darius, hail! 
The wife, the mother of the Persians’ god, 
If yet our former glories fade not from us.


And therefore am I come, leaving my house 
That shines with gorgeous ornaments and gold, 
Where in past days Darius held with me 
His royal residence. With anxious care 
My heart is tortured: I will tell you, friends, 
My thoughts, not otherwise devoid of fear, 
Lest mighty wealth with haughty foot o’erturn 
And trample in the dust that happiness, 
Which, not unbless’d by Heaven, Darius raised. 
For this with double force unquiet thoughts 
Past utterance fill my soul; that neither wealth 
With all its golden stores, where men are wanting, 
Claims reverence; nor the light, that beams from power, 
Shines on the man whom wealth disdains to grace. 
The golden stores of wealth indeed are ours; 
But for the light (such in the house I deem 
The presence of its lord) there I have fears. 
Advise me then, you whose experienced age 
Supports the state of Persia: prudence guides 
Your councils, always kind and faithful to me.


Speak, royal lady, what thy will, assured 
We want no second bidding, where our power 
In word or deed waits on our zeal: our hearts 
In this with honest duty shall obey thee.


Oft, since my son hath march’d his mighty host 
Against the lonians, warring to subdue 
Their country, have my slumbers been disturb’d 
With dreams of dread portent; but most last night, 
With marks of plainest proof. I’ll tell thee then: 
Alethought two women stood before my eyes 
Gorgeously vested, one in Persian robes 
Adorn’d, the other in the Doric garb. 
With more than mortal majesty they moved, 
Of peerless beauty; sisters too they seem’d, 
Though distant each from each they chanced to dwell, 
In Greece the one, on the barbaric coast 
The other. ‘Twixt them soon dissension rose: 
My son then hasted to compose their strife, 
Soothed them to fair accord, beneath his car 
Yokes them, and reins their harness’d necks. The one, 
Exulting in her rich array, with pride 
Arching her stately neck, obey’d the reins; 
The other with indignant fury spurn’d 
The car, and dash’d it piecemeal, rent the reins, 
And tore the yoke asunder; down my son 
Fell from the seat, and instant at his side 
His father stands, Darius, at his fall 
Impress’d with pity: him when Xerxes saw, 
Glowing with grief and shame he rends his robes. 
This was the dreadful vision of the night. 
When I arose, in the sweet-flowing stream 
I bathed my hands, and on the incensed altars 
Presenting my oblations to the gods 
To avert these ills, an eagle I behold 
Fly to the altar of the sun; aghast 
I stood, my friends, and speechless; when a hawk 
With eager speed runs thither, furious cuffs 
The eagle with his wings, and with his talons 
Unplumes his head; meantime the imperial bird 
Cowers to the blows defenceless. Dreadful this 
To me that saw it, and to you that hear. 
My son, let conquest crown his arms, would shine 
With dazzling glory; but should Fortune frown, 
The state indeed presumes not to arraign 
His sovereignty; yet how, his honour lost, 
How shall he sway the sceptre of this land?


We would not, royal lady, sink thy soul 
With fear in the excess, nor raise it high 
With confidence. Go then, address the gods; 
If thou hast seen aught ill, entreat their power 
To avert that ill, and perfect ev’ry good 
To thee, thy sons, the state, and all thy friends. 
Then to the earth, and to the mighty dead 
Behooves thee pour libations; gently cal 
Him that was once thy husband, whom thou saw’st 
In visions of the night; entreat his shade 
From the deep realms beneath to send to light 
Triumph to thee and to thy son; whate’er 
Bears other import, to inwrap, to hide it 
Close in the covering earth’s profoundest gloom. 
This, in the presage of my thoughts that flow 
Benevolent to thee, have I proposed; 
And all, we trust, shall be successful to thee.

The Persians By Aeschylus