Aeschylus’

“SUPPLIANT MAIDENS”

(ΙΚΕΤΙΔΕΣ) - 463-7BC

Aristophanes

‘Aeschylus’ - "Greek Dramas" (p41, 1900): Internet Archive Book Images

Translated by George Theodoridis © Copyright 2009, all rights reserved - Bacchicstage

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Dramatis Personae

Danaus

Chorus (of Danaus’ Fifty Daughters)

Pelasgus (King of Argos)

Attendant Women (Maids to the fifty daughters)

Attendant Soldiers

Day. A small, rocky hill.

Nearby statues and altars of various gods. One is of Poseidon (a trident is attached), another of Hermes, another of Apollo.

SL, a shore

SR, Argos

At the foot of the hill are Danaus and his daughters with their attendants.

They have just fled from Egypt, so they are very anxious and afraid.

In their hands they carry branches of olive, some of which are wound with white wool.

They will use some of these branches to adorn the statues and altars.

Chorus O, Zeus, protector of the suppliant!

Chorus O, Zeus, look upon this group of women with kindness!

Chorus O, Zeus, look kindly upon our ship!

Chorus We have sailed with it from the outer reaches of the Nile.

Chorus From the fine sands of its shores.

Chorus We have fled from that sacred land whose meadows touch the borders of Syria.

Chorus We have fled, not because we were banished by a public decree…

Chorus Not because we have spilled blood…

Chorus But because we refuse to enter into a sinful marriage with the sons of Aegyptus.

Chorus The banishment is our own decision.

Chorus We have escaped an abhorrent act.

Chorus Danaus, our father and our guide, weighed the two dire evils and chose the lesser of them.

Chorus He decided that we should hurry and sail far away, over the great waters to tie our ship to these here shores of Argos.

Chorus This place, we say with pride, is the birthplace of our race. A race that was born when Zeus caressed with his healing hand and with his breath, a cow, an animal frenzied by the stings of a gnat. That was Io, our mother.

Chorus What land is there, more kind than this to receive suppliants armed only with olive branches wound with wool? 19

Chorus O, city! O, land with your clear waters!

Chorus O, gods of the heavens above and of the world below, keepers of the most revered tombs!

Chorus And thirdly, you, Zeus, the saviour, protector of the homes of the pious!

Receive us with kindness! Receive this group of suppliant women with the caring spirit of the land.

Chorus But ah!

That whole crowd of the violent sons of Aegyptus!

Chorus Let them not set foot upon this marshy land but steer them and their swift ship back into the ocean!

Chorus Make their journey back toilsome!

Chorus Make them battle with winter’s violent waters and with thunder and lightning and dire tempests.

Chorus Drown them with a hurricane’s crushing blasts, lest they come to us, their cousins and take us to sinful beds, beds that the sacred law forbids.

Chorus And, now, dear son of Zeus, Epaphus, I call on you! 40

Son of the Lord Avenger, Zeus,

Come to me from beyond the sea!

Come, be my witness!

Come, Epaphus, born of a grazing cow,

Io, the mother of our race,

Io, caressed by Zeus’ lusty breath

And so Epaphus, the name you bare is proper: “born of a touch!”

And so the Fate you bare is now fulfilled.

I call upon Epaphus!

I call upon his mother, Io – his mother and the mother of our race!

Come, Epaphus and be my witness!

Chorus Here we are, in the grazing fields of our mother! 50

And I recall the pains she had suffered back then.

And I will show faultless proof of them all to the local folk.

Faultless and complete, so that they may believe what is unbelievable!

Proof, strange and unexpected will appear

And as I reach the end of my tale, the people will learn the truth.

Chorus And if any one of you folk can discern one bird’s call from another,

You might think our doleful lament sounds like the call of

Tereus’ melancholy wife, Metis, the nightingale, hunted by the hawk.

Chorus Hunted from her old haunts, she weeps in her new home, forlorn

And sings of her child’s death,

A prey to her own hand,

A hand moved by the pitiless wrath of a frenzied mother.

Chorus And so, I, too, seek comfort in the songs of grief. 69

Chorus And I sing in Ionian rhymes.

Chorus And I tear at my tender cheeks, coloured by the Nile.

Chorus And I tear at my innocent heart.

Chorus I gather bunches of misery, anxious to find a friend who’ll understand my flight from a misty land and offer us protection.

Chorus But you, gods of our race, hear me!

Chorus Hear me and look kindly upon my right for justice!

And if you can’t grand us our full rights to justice, then, since you hate arrogance, stand by us and help us with these hateful marriages.

Chorus Even for those who flee the destruction of war there is a haven, an altar where they may be saved by showing their reverence for the gods. 79

Chorus May Zeus grand us a safe end to this.

Chorus The will of Zeus is not easy to follow. The paths of his thoughts are many and dense and his wish may crash like clear lightning upon mortals through the most obscure darkness of their fate.

Chorus With great ease, Zeus smashes down men with evil, towering desires. The gods feel no toil in accomplishing their will. They sit on their holy throne, high in the Heavens and without moving from there, they do as they wish. 91

Chorus So, let Zeus now see this arrogance of man, how its roots are born again; an arrogance that shot out with a fervent desire and evil thoughts for our wedding. 104

Chorus A sharp and inescapable goad, a frenzied mind, pricked by maddened lust.

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Tears of black grief! 110

Chorus Tears of black pain!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus I sing my own bitter, grave-side song!

I sing it now, while I’m still alive!

I sing it alone!

Chorus Hills of Apia, land of the Argives, I beg for you kindness.

You understand my barbarian tongue.

Here! Look!

Before your very eyes, I tear this veil of Sidonian linen into shreds!

Chorus Again! 120

Here, look!

Before your very eyes, I tear this veil of Sidonian linen into shreds!

Chorus When the fear of death is not present and joy abounds among the mortals, the holy sacrifices to the gods are endless but –Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Perplexing pains!

Where will this wave of grief take me?

Chorus Hills of Apia, land of the Argives, I beg for you kindness. 128

You understand my barbarian tongue.

Here! Look!

Before your very eyes, I tear this veil of Sidonian linen into shreds!

Chorus Again!

Here, look!

Before your very eyes, I tear this veil of Sidonian linen into shreds!

Chorus The oar!

Chorus The wooden craft!

Chorus The windswept linen sails!

Chorus The salty breath of the wind!

Chorus The benevolent gods have given us a pleasant journey here.

Chorus I raise no complaints against any of the gods.

Chorus But, when the time is right, may the father of them all -

Chorus The god who sees all –

Chorus May he grant me a kind end to my pains. 140

Chorus Let Zeus grant that we -

Chorus We, the children of a pious mother –

Chorus A pious and great mother, Io -

Chorus Let Lord Zeus grant that we escape the sinful marriage of these men!

Chorus May we escape unmarried and unconquered, still pure.

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus And the virgin goddess, daughter of Zeus, Artemis!

Chorus I pray to her also! May she look after us!

Chorus The pure goddess! May she use all her might to help us in this unholy outrage!

Chorus She, a virgin, just like us.

Chorus Let Artemis grant that we - 150

Chorus We, the children of a pious mother –

Chorus A pious and great mother, Io -

Chorus Let Artemis grant that we escape the sinful marriage of these men!

Chorus May we escape unmarried and unconquered, still pure.

Chorus And if this prayer cannot be granted, then we, the women with the sun-blackened skin, will lower our beckoning branches to Zeus, the host of the dead, and beg him to take us –

Chorus Us, the suppliant women, into his chambers, in the world below. 160

Chorus Dead, a noose around our neck, hunted by all the gods of Olympus.

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Zeus, o, Zeus!

Chorus Some hatred the gods have for Io has turned them against us.

Chorus I see Hera’s hand in this, Zeus! Your own wife’s hand, the hand that rules all Heaven!

Chorus I see the whistling winds bringing the mighty tempests upon us!

Chorus And it will be Zeus who will be found to be the doer of the unjust act! 170

Chorus His child, the child he begot by the heifer’s daughter, he abandoned and turned his face away from our prayers.

Chorus He hears them, I know, even from his throne up high.

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Zeus, o, Zeus!

Chorus Some hatred the gods have for Io has turned them against us.

Chorus I see Hera’s hand in this, Zeus! Your own wife’s hand, the hand that rules all Heaven!

Chorus I see the whistling winds bringing the mighty tempests upon us!

Danaus My daughters!

You must be sensible!

You have come here, by the sea, under the trusty guidance of your sensible father and now, I, your father, must guide you further while we’re all here on land.

Hold my words deep inside your hearts.

He points towards Argos, SR.

FX: SOUND. Army approaching. Horses, chariots.

Look there! 180

I can see dust! Dust, the soundless messenger of an approaching army.

Listen! The axles of wheels! Hear them? They are not silent.

Look! Can you see the throng of soldiers? There they are! Armed with shields and swaying spears. Look there! The horses, the round chariots!

No doubt, the rulers of this land have heard about us and now they’re coming to see us with their own eyes.

Still, whether they’re headed here with good intent or harried forth with anger, it would be better, my daughters, if you all went to that sacred mount there, and sit there as suppliants to the gods.

An altar is stronger than a towering castle. It is an impenetrable shield. 190

Go then, daughters. Hurry! Walk there, reverently, with your ceremonial branches in your left hand, the wool wound around them, emblems that give joy to merciful Zeus.

Go and meet those Argive men there. Meet them as newcomers should meet local folk.

Let your words evoke tears and pity for your great needs. Explain in clear words why you have fled here, to their country, tell them that your hands have never spilled any blood and, most important of all, take care to speak calmly, respectfully. Let your eyes show modesty and thoughtfulness.

Speak when you’re spoken to and speak little. The men here are easily offended.

Take care to show obedience. You are foreigners, you are hunted and you are in great need. The weak must never speak too freely.

Chorus Father, your wise words fall upon wise ears and I will take note of them and remember them well. Let Zeus, the father of our ancestors, keep watch over us. 204

Danaus May his eye be gracious.

Chorus Let me sit by your side, father!

Danaus Do so quickly, daughter. Waste no time!

The Chorus arranges itself around the altars.

Chorus Prays

Zeus, have pity on our pains!

Chorus Protect us from destruction!

Danaus If he wills it, all will be well. Now pray to Apollo, your protector.

Chorus We call upon the saving rays of Apollo.

Danaus Apollo, too, a pure god, was once exiled from the Heavens!

Chorus You have suffered this and know our plight, Apollo. Have pity!

Danaus Indeed! May he have pity on us and be generous in his protection of us.

Chorus What other god must we call upon, father?

Danaus Ah! I can see a trident there. It’s the symbol of the god Poseidon.

Chorus He has taken good care of us on the sea. I pray he also take good care of us here, on land.

Danaus And there! There’s the altar of Hermes, the messenger, in his Greek form. 220

Chorus I pray his messages be good!

Danaus Respect all the gods in this common shrine!

Kneel and pray upon this sacred soil. Kneel and pray like frightened doves, hunted by an eagle. A bird, hunting a bird, polluter of families. A bird eating the flesh of birds!

The man who violates a woman, who rejects even her father’s injunctions, will be cursed for ever. Even Hades will not be a safe haven for him because, people say that even there, among the dead, Zeus delivers judgement upon evil deeds.

Remember this and speak to these men as I have told you, so that we may see a happy end to this difficulty.

FX: SOUND. CUT.

Enter the King of Argos (SR) with attendants.

King Examines the chorus closely 234

Foreigners!

Your clothes are not Greek. Foreign robes of finely woven fabric… covered in gems… nothing like ours!

Where are you all from? No women from Argos or the rest of Greece wears such clothes.

You must be brave, coming here unannounced like this, with no friends and no one to guide you!

Astonishing!

Ah! I see branches on the altars and by your sides. That tells me that you are suppliants and you seek protection from me but that’s all that a Greek can gather from that. I’ll have to make my own assumptions about everything else, unless you tell me in your own words the rest of your story.

Chorus You were correct about our clothes but tell me first, sir how am I to address you? Are you a common citizen, some shrine’s messenger, perhaps, or are you this city’s king?

King Speak freely. 249

I am Pelasgus, son of Palaechthon, and of the earth.

I am the king of this land whose people are rightly called after me: Pelasgians.

I rule over all the land West of the streams of river Strymon, as well as all the lands of the Perrhaebi, those beyond Mount Pindus, near the Paeonians and the Dodona mountain range, all the way down to the sea. I am the king of all that land.

As for this land right here, it’s called Apia, after Apis the wise doctor, Apollo’s son, who had come from the distant Naupaktos, to rid our land of man-eating monsters, earth’s offspring, offspring of age-old curses for age-old murders. Earth sprouted them all to satisfy her rage. Slithering serpents, Beasts that no one could approach. 260

Apis concocted deadly herbs and drugs with which he purged the whole of Argos from this evil. We rewarded Apis by keeping his memory alive in our prayers.

Now that you know all about us, tell us about your lineage and whatever else you want to tell us, though we have no love for endless tales.

Chorus Our tale is short and clear-cut, my lord. We are proud to say that our lineage is Argive. 274

Chorus We are Io’s blessed children! Io, the god-touched heifer!

Chorus And we have proof of this!

King That, I cannot believe!

You are no Argives. You look nothing at all like us.

More like natives of Libya. Only the Nile would bring forth such a stock as yours.

Or Cyprus. I see the work of a good Cyprian craftsman on your faces.

Or Indian women, nomads, who, I’m told, ride on camels, rather than horses like us and wonder about the lands neighbouring Ethiopia. If you were carrying a bow and arrow, I’d be guessing you were Amazons. Those virgins who eat human flesh.

You’ll need to tell me much more about yourselves to convince me that you are, truly, from Argive blood.

Chorus Is it known here that once upon a time, Io kept the keys of Hera’s shrine? 291

King Certainly. The story has been told widely for many years.

Chorus And does the story also talk of how Zeus slept with a mortal woman?

King Indeed and this… exchange of embraces was made known to Hera.

Chorus So, how did this royal feud end?

King Hera, the protector of Argos had transformed Io into a cow.

Chorus And Zeus? Did not Zeus go near this horned beast afterwards? 300

King That’s how the tale goes.

They say that Zeus changed himself into a bull, eager to mate her.

Chorus How did Zeus’ mighty wife respond to this outrage?

King She had sent an all seeing guard to her, to keep a constant watch over her.

Chorus An all-seeing guard? Who was that?

King Argos, son of Earth. Hermes killed him later.

Chorus What else did Hera do against the poor, unfortunate cow?

King She brought around a gad fly.

A fly that stings cattle and keeps them constantly moving.

Chorus Oestrus. That’s what the people who live near the Nile call that fly.

King Well then, that oestrus fly drove her out of this land. Many miles from here.

Chorus Your story and ours are identical! 310

King In fact, she ended up in Kanovos and then in Memphis.

Chorus Quite so; and then, Zeus came down and touched the maddened cow with his hand and she gave birth to a child.

King And who is it who claims to be the child of that cow?

Chorus The child was named Epaphus, “Child of the Touch.”

King Who came after Epaphus?

Chorus Libya, who’s nourished from the harvest of an immense land.

King Who after Libya?

Chorus After Libya came Belos, who had two children. He was my father’s father.

King And what is your wise father’s name? 320

Chorus Danaus. He has a brother who has fifty sons.

King And, tell me, what’s his name? Your uncle’s I mean.

Chorus Aegyptus.

Now that you know the long history of our generation, please tell us the story of the Argives.

King It seems it’s true. You have some old and distant connection with our land, Argos.

Tell me though, what misfortune made you leave the home of your ancestors?

Chorus King of the Pelasgians, the misfortunes that fall upon mortals are birds of many feathers.

Chorus None are alike!

Chorus Who could have guessed!

Chorus Who could have hoped!

Chorus Who could have believed that, fleeing from that marriage of horror, we’d find a safe haven here –

Chorus -in our old home, Argos!

King So, then. You have the branches of the suppliant and you are gathered here, around the altars of our gods. Tell me what it is you want from me.

Chorus Don’t let the sons of Aegyptus make us slaves of their bed.

King Is that because you hate them or because you think it to be a sin?

Chorus What woman would ever willingly marry a cousin?

King The woman who would want to enhance the power of her family.

Chorus A cousin is easily married but is easily divorced.

King Well then, I have a duty to help you and I shall do so. Tell me how. 340

Chorus Our request is that you do not hand us back to the sons of Aegyptus.

King That is a serious request you are asking.

You’re asking me to go to war!

Chorus Yes, but Justice protects the just!

King That would be true if Justice was with you from the start.

Chorus Respect the garlanded altars of the city, my King!

King The sight of these shrines covered with wreaths like that, makes me tremble with awe.

Chorus Zeus the protector of the suppliant has an implacable temper!

Chorus King of the Pelasgians, son of Palaechthon, accept us!

Chorus Hear us!

Chorus Look at the state we’re in!

Chorus A cow, hunted down by a wolf…

Chorus …running backwards and forwards, all the way to the edge of a precipice…

Chorus …a terrified cow, who sees her shepherd and trusting in him, bellows her plea to be saved.

King I can see the freshly cut branches shading the altars of the gods. The branches of suppliants.

And I can see all the gods nodding assent to your request. It is the request of fellow Argive who are born elsewhere.

Still, I hope the granting of this request of yours, to find a haven in our city, does not bring with it any trouble. No unpredictable war will be waged against us while we’re unprepared. Argos can do without such troubles.

Chorus Let the justice of our flight be recognised by Zeus’ daughter – 359

Chorus Themis, the protector of the suppliants.

Chorus And you, wise, old King, learn this from me, a young woman:

Those who respect the pleas of suppliants are richly rewarded by the gods.

Chorus Gods grant them their every wish, gladly and in full!

King Shakes his head

No, no! It will not be just my own house you’ll be staying but in the house of all of the citizens of this city. Theirs will be the fate that will be marred if your act is seen by the gods as a pollution. It is they who will carry the burden of its cure.

I, alone, can promise you nothing until I first talk the matter over with them.

Chorus My Lord! You are Argos! You are its people! 370

Chorus Your authority is absolute!

Chorus Over the city’s altar and over its hearth!

Chorus Your vote alone, your throne alone, can determine the outcome of every matter!

Chorus You can protect yourself from every pollution.

King Pollution!

Let pollution fall upon my enemies!

But I just don’t know how to help you without causing some harm… still, not to help you would be disrespectful, unwise… I am tormented by doubt.

My very soul is afraid.

To help you or not to help you? What will fate bring in either case?

Chorus Think of Zeus! 381

Think of the god who looks down from the heavens and protects those mortals in need.

Chorus Mortals who are met by neighbours, deaf to their just pleas.

Chorus The great wrath of Zeus, the protector of the suppliant, awaits the mortal who will not see the sorrow in the tears of the unfortunate.

King Still, if the sons of Aegyptus are your next of kin, then, according to your laws there, they have legal authority over you, so how could anyone try to fight them on your behalf?

Chorus Never! 392

Chorus We will never be under the legal authority of these men!

Chorus I’d rather be hunted all over the place, the stars guiding my paths, than submit to this sinful marriage!

Chorus My Lord, respect Justice!

Chorus Respect the sacred!

King Not an easy thing to judge this. Don’t make me judge it.

I’ve told you before: I might be the King but I will not be the judge of this without first talking with my people. I don’t want some citizen of Argos to come to me afterwards, after some dire consequence and tell me, “It was your fault! You’ve destroyed our city because you chose to honour strangers more than your own people!”

Chorus Zeus, our father in blood and equally the father of the men, is a fair judge and his scale always swings evenly between both our sides. 402

Chorus He can see both, the good and the bad and gives each their due.

Chorus So, my Lord, why are you afraid to do what is just?

King If we are to get to the bottom of this without causing any unwanted mischief to the State then we must act like good sea divers, with a clear mind and a cloudless vision.

I’ll have no mischief done to Argos nor its citizens.

I want no enemy to take from my hands what I have now. I will have no enemy force me to hand you over to them.

You are my suppliants and have sought refuge at the altars of our gods. If I were to surrender you to these men, Vengeance would strike us and Vengeance destroys us all, throughout our lives, on Earth and still throughout our days in Hades. Vengeance never releases his victims.

So we had better think well about our safe exit out of this dilemma.

Chorus Care for us, my Lord!

Chorus Help us, protect us, give us justice.

Chorus Don’t abandon this poor woman, hunted across long distances by god-hated men! 420

Chorus Don’t be the one who will watch me being torn away from the thrones of all these gods.

Chorus You, my Lord! You are the solitary ruler of all these lands.

Chorus Recognise the outrage done by these men and guard yourself from the anger of these gods.

Chorus Could you endure the sight of your suppliant being dragged away, unjustly, from these statues of the gods, like a horse is dragged away by the straps on its forehead?

Chorus Dragged away by godless hands, tugging at my finely woven robes. 430

Chorus And remember the rules of Zeus, my Lord. Whatever you decide now, your children, your household, will receive the consequences of that decision.

King I have decided!

This is where all my thoughts lead me: I am forced to wage a war one way or another. Either with the gods or with those men.

This fact is as firmly fixed as the planks of a ship’s hull are fixed by its ropes and readied for nailing. These things will not end without the touch of great pain. 440

One may have his wealth stolen from his home but Zeus, its protector, will replace it for him. It is the same with one’s words. Improper words may stir up anger and pain, but a sweet word will be their cure.

But let no blood of family be spilled and to avoid that we need to make many sacrifices, many sacrifices of many animals, to many gods.

I know not how to judge this conflict, I am no prophet and it’s best that way but I do hope that the issue turns out well, even if it’s against my thinking. 450

Chorus And now, my Lord, listen to the last of my pleas:

King Go on, then. Tell me. I am listening.

Chorus Ribbons and girdles hold my robes tightly around my body.

King Such garments are proper for women, yes…

Chorus These garments, my Lord are very useful…

King Useful? What do you mean?

Chorus If you will not promise us…

King What? Of what use can your ribbons and girdles be then?

Chorus Useful in adorning these statues with new offerings!

King Talk more clearly. You’re talking in riddles!

Chorus Threateningly

If you will not promise us safety, I will hang myself from these statues!

King Shocked

Ah! Zeus Almighty!

Hang yourself? No!

Your words stab at my heart!

Chorus You’ve asked for clear speech and I gave it. Now you understand me!

King Yes! Yes, I understand!

Horrible difficulties to wrestle with from every side.

Ah! It’s like a torrential river! A flood of evil is washing me away. It rushes me into an unfathomable abyss, an ocean of misery. I see no harbour anywhere. I see no haven of escape. 470

If, on one hand, I don’t pay the debt you demand, the pollution of the act you threaten to commit –suicide- will be inescapable. On the other hand, if I were to stand before the walls of my city and wage war against your cousins, the sons of Aegyptus –what a bitter sacrifice that would be! To spill the blood of men upon our soil, for the sake of women!

Ah, but then again, the anger of Zeus is mighty and he protects the suppliant. I must respect him.

To Danaus 480

Old man, father of these women, quickly pick up all these branches and take them to the other altars of our city so that the Argives can see that you are here as suppliants and that you obey my words. The people usually blame their ruler when anything goes wrong.

Perhaps, if they see you carrying these branches they might feel pity for you and sympathise with your plight against the arrogance of these men. Everyone sympathises with the persecuted.

Danaus It is a great thing for us to have found such a revered protector of strangers. 490

Let me now have some local guides to take me safely through the streets of the city and show me where the altars and the shrines of the gods are located.

The Nile does not raise men similar in looks to those of Inahos and we must be careful not to be too confident. A friend may kill a friend through ignorance.

King To some of his attendants 500

You men, go with him. This stranger speaks well.

Take him to the city’s altars and to our holy places but there’s no need for you to talk too much with those you meet in the street. This seafarer is here to pray to our gods.

Danaus is helped by his daughters to gather all the branches. That done, he and the guides exit SR.

Chorus Danaus has done as you said. He is gone to the city but what will I do now?

What safety can you provide for me?

Danaus Put your suppliants branches down.

Chorus They obey

There! We have obeyed your order.

King Now go over to that hill there.

Chorus But it is not a sanctuary. Anyone can step onto that ground.

How could I be safe there?

King Oh, no, don’t worry! 510

We won’t leave you to the mercy of flesh-eating birds of prey!

Chorus What of all the other animals? Those men who we fear more than wild snakes?

King Speak no ill words, since no ill words were spoken to you!

Chorus Does it surprise you that I speak ill words when I am so afraid?

King Fear in women, always comes in excess!

Chorus Well, then, calm our fear with words and deeds, my Lord!

King Your father won’t be long.

I’ve got to go and call my people to a meeting, now. I’ll need to speak to them about you, make them your friends; and then have a word with your father, explain to him how to speak to them.

You, stay here and pray to the gods. Ask them that they grant you whatever you wish. 520

Right! I’m off to get all this done and I hope Fate brings all this to a happy conclusion.

Exit King and entourage

Chorus Praying

Oh, King of Kings!

Chorus Zeus, most blessed god in the heavens.

Chorus The mightiest of the mighty.

Chorus Zeus, the happiest of the happy.

Listen to our plea!

Chorus Protect these women, Zeus!

Protect your god-loving children from the abhorrent lust of these god-hated men!

Drown them all!

Chorus Sink their ship! 530

With its black prow!

Sink it in the dark sea!

Chorus Look kindly upon these women’s prayer!

Look kindly upon our ancient house!

Remember the joy of the woman you loved,

Our mother of old!

Chorus Remember again the beautiful tale about Io, the woman caressed by your lusty breath!

We are of your race, Zeus!

Your children, Zeus!

Born here, on this land and now returning to it.

Chorus We have returned to our mother’s old footprints.

Io, our mother!

Chorus This is her meadow, full of flowers, where she grazed, 540

Where she was watched.

Chorus Where she was stung by that gadfly –

Chorus Where she was crazed

And from where she fled in frenzy!

Travelled through the lands of many races

Cut through the narrow surging straights

Chorus To the shores across the waves,

Chorus As Fate had declared.

Chorus Across to Asia!

Through Phrygia, rich in flocks!

Through Mysia, the city belonging to Teuthras,

Chorus Through the meadows of Lydia 550

Across the bordering mountains of the Cilicians

And the Pamphylians,

Across the rushing waters of rivers and

The lush soils of Aphrodite’s fertile, wheat-nurturing land.

Chorus Stung by the goad of the winged shepherd, oestrus, she fled again,

Through the nourishing grounds of Zeus

Chorus Through the snow-fed valleys that are beaten by Typho’s wild wrath, 560

Through the waters of the Nile

Waters untouched by any disease!

Chorus Maddened by her dishonourable pain!

Turned into a frenzied Maenad by Hera’s tormenting sting!

Chorus And all those people in all those lands who saw her were seized by a cold terror that shook their hearts.

Chorus What abominable sight was this? 570

A strange beast!

A beast half woman!

A beast half cow!

Chorus And, finally, they asked:

“Who cured her? Who cured the poor unfortunate goad-stung Io?

Chorus It was Zeus. Lord of the heavens over many centuries!

He came to her aid. He performed the miracle!

His almighty, soothing hand touched Io.

His divine breath cured her anguish.

She stoped. She rested.

The tears of shame fell from her sad eyes.

Chorus They speak truly those who say that the child she bore by Zeus’ sperm was immaculate. 580

Chorus Immaculate and fully blessed for many, long ages.

And the whole earth echoed loudly with the words,

“This mighty child is truly the child of Zeus himself!

Zeus, the very spring of life!

Who else but Zeus could put an end to Hera’s cruel punishment?

No, all must admit what’s true: these are the deeds of Zeus!

Epaphos was his son and this race is the race of Epaphos!”

Chorus Who then? 590

Of all the gods who perform deeds of protection, which of them is it that reason says I should call for help?

Who else but our father, our Lord?

With his own mighty hand he planted us!

With his own mighty hand he has nurtured our race!

Chorus Zeus, of the endless wisdom!

Zeus, whose breath gives life and prosperity to all things.

Chorus His throne is his alone and it rests below that of no other.

His rule is his own and it is lesser to that of no other.

No other being can claim his respect.

His deeds are accomplished the very moment he utters them.

The very moment his mind conceives them.

Enter Danaus

Danaus Courage, courage, my daughters! 600

The Argives have passed decrees in our favour! Their word is powerful!

Chorus Father! Old man! Most beloved of all messengers!

Tell us!

Chorus What was the decision of the people?

Chorus How did the votes go?

Danaus The vote of the Argive people was unequivocal!

One voice! It made my aged heart young again.

The whole assembly raised its right arm and made this holy decision. The air was made thick with all those raised hands, confirming their resolution.

It is now a law: We are to settle and build our homes here, in this land, as free citizens, who no one –local or foreigner- can either abduct or rob. Further, if for some reason, force is used against us, then that citizen who refuses to come to our aid, will be considered to have dishonoured the state and, by a vote of the people, he shall be exiled. 609

The king of the Pelasgians have persuaded them to pass this law by reminding them that Zeus, protector of the suppliant, would unleash upon them an even thicker anger.

The pollution, he told them, would be doubly bad, first because we are suppliants and second because we are not only of the same race but we are also foreigners.

The horror that the Argives would then have to deal with, he told them, would be like a beast of terror that has a gluttonous need to graze upon destruction.

The moment the Argives heard their king’s speech they raised their hands to vote with him. 621

“Let things be done as you say!” They all shouted all by themselves and without the use of a herald.

But it was Zeus who brought the proper resolution to the problem.

Chorus Let us then send our blessings to the Argives!

Chorus Blessings sent for blessings received!

Chorus May the wishes uttered from the mouths of these strangers be heard by Zeus, their protector.

Chorus To the statues of the gods 630

Gods, children of Zeus!

Chorus Pouring some libations onto an altar

We pour our holy libations to you!

Grant what we wish for our Argive relatives!

Chorus Never allow the fires of Ares, the god of war, burn down this city of the Pelasgians!

Ares who rejoices in the shouts of wild battle and is the harvester of mortals in distant fields.

Chorus These Argives took pity on us! 640

They took pity upon this hunted flock and voted in our favour,

Respecting us as suppliants of Zeus.

Chorus Nor did they reject the plight of women to vote in favour of men.

But they considered the vengeance of Zeus’ sleepless eye that looks over us from above.

A vengeance unconquerable!

Chorus What house could disobey his will?

What roof could carry his heavy vengeance?

It will fall upon it like the pollution of an evil bird!

Chorus They respect those of the same blood, suppliants of holy Zeus. 651

Their altars are pure and so the gods will bless them.

Chorus Takes a branch and puts it in front of her face

Let my words of prayer, my words of gratitude for the city, flow from my lips through the shadows of these suppliants’ branches!

Chorus May famine never empty this city of its folk, nor the blood of civil unrest stain its soil. 661

Chorus May the bloom of its youth never be cut, nor Aphrodite’s lover, Ares, the destroyer of men, ever pluck its flower.

Chorus May every holy shrine always be crowded by revered men.

May the altars of this city be lit with the plentiful flames of glory.

Chorus May the city be ruled well, respecting above all else, the ancient and righteous laws of Zeus, the protector of strangers. 670

May the line of the city’s rulers be honourable!

Chorus May Artemis of the swift arrows look over its women while they give birth.

Chorus Let no sword fall into Ares’ hand,

Bringer of grief and tears,

Lover of the war cry,

The god who hates the sounds of the lute and the joy of the dance.

Chorus And let no man-murdering disaster destroy this city. 681

Let the dire swarm of diseases fall upon lands far from Argos

And let the healer, Apollo, take good care of the Argive youth.

Chorus Oh, Zeus! Make fertile this land!

Make every season rich in harvest.

Gods bless the Argive herds! Make them plentiful!

Gods bless everything on this land!

Chorus Let the reverent bards sing sacred hymns of thanks at the altars! 695

Let the pure lips of virgins accompany the music of the lyres!

Chorus May the public council that rules this State, pass wise laws that protect the rights of all its citizens.

May they grant just rights and due process to the strangers at their gate before they wield their swords and suffer the harm of war.

Chorus And let them honour the gods that keep this city safe, 704

Upholding the sacred ceremonies passed on from their parents,

With branches of laurel held high and with oxen slaughtered.

Danaus walks over to the highest spot on the stage and looks into the distance, towards the shore, SL

Chorus Reverence to parents is a law, a duty, listed third in the Statutes of Justice which we must all obey.

Danaus Well said, my daughters! 710

Your prayers are wise and righteous.

But – but now, my daughters, don’t be frightened by the sudden and dreadful news I’m about to tell you.

From here, from this spot where the suppliant gods have their altars, I can see a ship and, judging from her sails and her side-guards, her prow, with its eyes that scan the horizon ahead for any enemies, her guiding radar at the stern… it’s obvious, she’s an Egyptian vessel. She has all the markings of one.

The women rush around him to see for themselves

And I can see the men aboard her. White clothes, dark limbs. 720

Ah! Now here are her accompanying vessels! There they are. In full view now!

She’s furled her sails now and the oars have taken over.

Now she speeds along towards our shore.

My daughters, stay calm. Think of these gods. Control your emotions.

Face the fact rationally. I’ll go and bring some armed men who’ll speak on our behalf.

I’ll be back very soon.

Those Egyptians might send some herald or some other men to try and grab you, claim you as their prize and try to take you away from here but don’t listen to them. Stand firm. Don’t be afraid of them.

But if I’m late getting back with the help, don’t forget the grounds you’re standing on. 730

Courage, my daughters!

When the day comes when all the gods decide, all crimes against their laws will be punished justly.

Chorus Father, I’m afraid!

Chorus The ship is flying as if it had wings!

Chorus We have little time, father!

Chorus Father, I’m afraid all the trouble we went through to sail all the way here, has come to nothing!

Chorus Father, I’m dying with fear!

Danaus Fear not, my daughters, the Argives have decided to defend you, to fight for you!

Of this I’m certain, so, courage!

Chorus The whole race of Aegyptus is steeped in evil! 741

Madmen! Belligerent! Bloody! War mongers!

You know that’s the truth, father!

Chorus Look at their ships!

Look at the heavy timber, their black prows!

They have sailed all the way here with a great army of dark men and with an even greater anger!

Father, they have found us!

Danaus Yes but here they will find men whose muscles are shaped hard and darkened by the mid-day sun.

Danaus is making to leave

Chorus No, father! Don’t leave us here alone. Abandoned women can do nothing. I beg you! Women on their own have no strength, no courage!

Chorus These men are evil! 750

They have dreadful things in their mind!

Chorus Unholy things.

They care as little for altars and gods as do scavenging birds!

Danaus All this you say about them works in your favour, my daughters: They will raise the wrath of the gods as well as yours.

Chorus Father, no! These gods, and these tridents and these holy things will not keep them from attacking us.

Chorus Their heads are full of arrogant lust!

Madness!

Chorus Unholy rage!

Chorus Rabid dogs!

Chorus Deaf to the laws of the gods!

Danaus There’s a saying, my daughters: 760

Wolves are stronger than dogs and wheat is stronger than the fruit of the papyrus plant.

Chorus They have the madness of wild, untamed beasts, father.

We must hurry and prepare ourselves for them.

Danaus It’s not an easy and quick thing for a fleet to sail off and then again to stop and disembark on land.

It’s a time-consuming and dangerous job for the captain, to drop anchor and secure the ropes on the shore, particularly on a shore without a harbour and after the sun has sunk into the night.

The careful sailor knows the pitfalls of the night and worries deeply about them. He won’t let his army get off that ship unless he has secured all the moorings. 770

You, though, be very careful that your fear doesn’t make you forget your gods.

I’m off to call for help.

Argos, I’m sure will listen to me: an old man in body but with the heart and the tongue of a young man.

Exit Danaus SR

Chorus Oh, land of mountains!

How rightly people respect you!

What will become of us now?

Where in this Apian land can we go?

What dark cave is there for us to hide in?

Chorus Zeus! Make me a puff of smoke and bring me near you.

Chorus Or turn me into airy and invisible dust that I may fly with no wings! 780

Disappear, vanish!

Chorus But to escape this evil, we cannot and my darkened heart is beating fast with terror.

Chorus Father’s warning has seized my soul and the fear is killing me!

Chorus I’d rather die hanging from a noose than be touched by the hands of a man I hate. 790

Let Hades’ hands touch me, instead! Let him be my master!

Chorus If only I could find some place high up in the upper ether, to sit where the clouds of rain turn into snow, or a crag, a sheer rock, proud straight, untouched by human foot, solitary, a vulture’s hanging nest.

From there I would plunge into my certain death rather than be the victim of a heart-slaughtering marriage.

Chorus And if the wild dogs and the vultures of the valley feed and fatten on my dead flesh, then I’d be happy. Death leaves no room for suffering and tears, so let Death come soon and save me from my wedding bed.

Chorus Where else can I find escape from this marriage?

Chorus Scream!

Chorus Scream out a loud prayer!

Chorus Make it loud enough to touch the heavens!

Chorus Let the gods hear our prayer! Let the gods save us!

Chorus Zeus, come to us! Stop this terrible struggle! Save your suppliants! 810

Justice is within your sight.

Here it is, Look upon it, almighty Zeus!

Zeus, ruler of the land!

Chorus See Aegyptus’ sons!

See their foul minds!

See their reckless arrogance!

See how they chase us!

Chorus Violent lust and violent shouts drive them! 820

Violent hands want to take us!

Chorus Zeus! The scales of Justice are yours alone, to hold with your own hand!

Without you, Zeus, what could mortals ever bring to fruition?

They point into the distance SL with terror.

Chorus Ah!

Ah!

There he is!

There is the wild abductor!

Chorus There is the pirate!

Here on the land!

Chorus May the earth open up and swallow you before you get here!

Chorus Gods help us!

Chorus Gods help us!

Chorus My horror begins! 830

Savagery!

Chorus Ah!

Ah!

Chorus To the altars, girls!

Seek refuge at the altars!

To the gods!

Chorus The wild man seethes with rage both on the sea and on the land!

Chorus King of the land!

Chorus King of the Argives, save us!

Enter the Herald of the Egyptians and an armed bodyguard, swords drawn.

Herald You lot!

Quick! Off to the ship! Go on! Get down there quick!

Move it! Move your feet now!

Do you want me to tear out all your hair?

Dig bleeding holes into you with my sword? 840

Chop your heads off? Soak this soil here with your blood?

Go on and pox upon all of you!

Off to the ship, I said and make it quick!

Chorus I wish you and your heavy ship sunk to the bottom of the salty ocean on your way here! You and the godless arrogance of your masters!

Herald I’ll have you soaked in your own blood and drag you to the ships in no time if you don’t get away from those altars.

I don’t fear those who have no honour nor city!

Chorus Ah!

Chorus Never again!

Chorus Never again will I see the streams of the Nile –

Chorus Streams that nurture the blood of the our lusty men!

Chorus Streams that give flower to their youth and boil to their spirit. 860

Herald I’ll soon have you aboard our ships, woman, whether you want to or not!

Do you want us to use violence?

Chorus Ah!

No!

Chorus I hope violence destroys you!

The violence of wild and bitter seas!

Chorus I hope they find your corpse tumbling in the surging waves of the sandy shores of Sarpedon, swept by the frenzied winds from the East!

Chorus Ah!

Ah!

Herald Scream and screech and yell all you like! 872

Let all your wails be heard by all the gods but you won’t escape the Egyptian ships!

Go on! Yell! Yell out as bitterly as you can!

Chorus Ah!

Ah!

You spew out my misery like a rabid dog!

Chorus I hope the great Nile who is watching you bring you down from your brutal arrogance!

Herald Enough! Enough of your screeching! 882

I order you!

Get to those swift ships now!

Quickly!

All this screaming won’t save you from being dragged by your hair!

Chorus Father!

Chorus Father!

Chorus The sacred statues give us no help!

Chorus A spider!

A spider has trapped me in her web and dragging me, step by step to the sea!

Chorus A black dream!

A black dream!

Chorus Father!

Chorus Mother Earth!

Mother Earth, I beg you!

Stop his fierce yelling!

Chorus Zeus, our father!

Zeus, son of Earth!

Herald Advancing towards them 893

Understand this: I’m not afraid of these gods here!

They’re not the ones who raised me and brought me up to my old age!

Chorus Ah!

He charges towards me like a two-footed snake!

Herald grabs one by the waist

Chorus He holds me like a viper that’s bitten my foot!

Ah!

Chorus Ah!

Mother Earth!

Chorus Mother Earth

Stop his horrible yelling!

Chorus Zeus, our father! 900

Zeus, son of Earth!

Herald If you don’t get yourselves down to the ships, I’ll have these fine clothes of yours torn to shreds!

Herald gives a sign to his men who close in and try to tie the women up

Chorus Rulers of the city, elders, help! We are being tied up!

Herald Rulers?

Ha! Rest assured about that, you women! You’ll get plenty of rulers, all right! All of Aegyptus’ sons will be your rulers. You won’t be short of rulers in Egypt!

Chorus Help! Leaders of Argos, help! They are beating us!

She sees the King in the distance.

King, help! Help us!

Chorus They are dragging us away!

Herald You won’t do as I say? Well, then, it looks like I’ll have to drag you by your hair!

Enter the King with his own armed guard.

King To the Herald

Ey, you!

What sort of arrogance is this, that drives you the heart to dishonour the land of the Pelasgians?

Do you think you’ve come to a city run by women?

Such insults; and from a barbarian to Greeks!

Such dreadful behaviour also tells me that you’re bereft of any brains at all!

Herald What dreadful behaviour are you talking about?

King To begin with, you have no idea how a guest should behave.

Herald What do you mean? I have just found what I have lost and now I’m taking it back!

King To which of our leaders have you informed about this?

Herald To the Great Hermes! The god of lost things. 920

King You talk about gods but you show no respect for them!

Herald I respect only the gods of the Nile!

King And so you’re saying that our gods deserve no respect?

Herald Look! If no one objects here, I’m taking these women away!

King Do that and it will not be long before you suffer the consequences!

Herald You don’t seem to be too kind to your guests!

King He who shows disrespect to our gods is no guest of mine.

Herald Right! Well, then, I’ll go and tell Aegyptus’ sons what went on here.

King Go ahead. That will not frighten me in the least.

Herald I need to know who it is precisely that took their cousins away from me. As a herald I need to make an accurate report. How am I to explain that I went back empty-handed? 930

What am I to say to them? Not that Ares, the god of war, judges such cases according to the words of witnesses or the weight of coin or anything like that…

No, you’ll see the fall of many men first, the loss of much life before I do that!

King No point it telling you my name now. You and your whole crew will hear of it soon enough.

As for these women, here, I’ll need to be convinced by honest argument that they are willing and happy to go with you before I can let you take them. 940

But let me tell you this: the people of this city have voted unanimously that there will never be a surrender of these women to anyone who uses force.

The nail has been driven hard and fast upon this resolution. It cannot be shifted.

It’s not a resolution written on tablets or on sealed scrolls. What you’re hearing is the truth, as it is uttered by the mouths of free citizens.

Now get out of my sight immediately!

Herald It looks like we’re about to get ourselves into a brutal war! 950

Well then, may the men be victorious!

King Yes, well, you’ll find the men here are made of stronger stuff than those brought up on barley wine!

Exit Herald and his men

Now, you, women! Courage! Take your trusty servants and go to the city. It is fortified well with tall and sturdy towers with deep foundations.

There you will find plenty of well built houses to take you in. I also have some of my own. You can either stay together with other folk or even stay in a separate house, on your own, if you so prefer.

Choose whichever suits you best. 960

I and the citizens of Argos will protect you. They have made that resolution and they will now put it into effect. Waste no time waiting for better protectors.

Chorus Heaven-loved King of the Pelasgians!

I hope your generosity is rewarded with equal generosity but if you don’t mind, please send Danaus here, our brave father to advise us and tell us his views on this.

Chorus It would better if it were he and not we who worked out which are the safe neighbourhoods and where it would be best for us to stay. 970

Chorus The whole world is ready to treat badly those who speak with a foreign tongue.

Let’s hope it all turns out well for us and for the Argives.

Exit the King

Chorus To their servants

And you, dear companions, let’s avoid being accused by the Argives and sully our good name.

Chorus Come and stand by your mistress, the one to whom our father gave you as dowry.

Enter Danaus followed by guards, carrying spears.

Danaus My daughters, we owe prayers of thanks to the Argives! 980

We should offer sacrifices to the gods of Olympus and pour libations for their sake because they are truly our saviours. There is no doubt about that!

They have listened to me as I spoke to them and told them about the behaviour of your cousins towards you –blood relatives to blood relatives- and they became bitterly angry against them.

The citizens have given me this guard of spearmen to identify me as one with rank and honour and to protect me from hidden and unexpected death by spear something that would bring eternal suffering upon this land.

Since they’ve been so generous to us, let your hearts honour and respect them even more than they honour and respect me. 990

But now, on top of all the other guidance I gave you so far, let this also be written into your mind: Time will reveal the true nature of a foreign stranger. Scornful words are always at the forefront of everyone’s mind when it comes to strangers and they are easy to utter and easy for those evil words to stick. But I advise you to be careful. Do not shame me. You are in your youth now, an age that attracts and pleases the eyes of men.

Fruit that is ripe and ready for the picking is hard to protect: both, beasts and gods destroy it and why not? Beasts that fly and beasts that walk the earth, both destroy it.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, calls Eros to go to the fruit that drips honey, not to the fruit that is not ripe yet. The beautiful virgins drip sweetness and passion and Eros shoots his arrows through the eyes of the passer-by. 1011

Take care, then that we don’t suffer what we have tried so hard to avoid. Struggles across raging seas and distant lands.

See that we bring no shame upon us and thus make our enemies happy!

There are two sorts of accommodation available to us and both are free:

We may choose to occupy that offered by the king himself or that offered by the city. These are simple and good terms for us. Just make sure you obey your father’s wish and guard your honour better than your life. 1010

Chorus Let the gods of Olympus help us with everything else, father and don’t you worry about the bloom of our virginity. Unless the heavens have some other plan for us, we will not change our mind.

Chorus Come then, sisters, let us praise the blessed gods!

Chorus Let us give thanks to the lords of this city and the protectors of this land who live around the ancient streams of Erasinos.

Chorus And you, our companions, take up the tune and sing with us a song that will praise this city, the city of Pelasgians.

Chorus Let it not praise any more the floods of the Nile that charge towards the sea.

Chorus Praise only these gentle streams here, whose fertile waters flow pleasantly and nurture the children and the soil of this land.

Chorus And may pure Artemis look upon us, upon this group of women, with kindness and allow no forced Kytherean weddings to take place. 1030

Chorus May the gods bring destruction to our enemies.

Maid Our song of praise will not neglect to mention our Aphrodite.

Maid She’s is equal in power to Hera and both, together stand next to Zeus.

Maid She is loved and revered by mortals for her solemn rites and her curious ways.

Maid And by the side of the mother are Pothos and Peitho, Desire and Persuasion.

Maid No one says “no” to the charming Peitho.

Maid Harmonia has been given a small share of Aphrodite’s charms: all those whispering love words. 1040

Maid But I hold great fears for the fugitives! I see untamed torment and blood-drenched wars ahead.

Maid How is it that they’ve managed to follow us here, splicing the waters of the sea with such ease and speed?

Maid Let Fate’s word be realised.

Maid The will of Almighty Zeus is ineluctable.

Maid Marriage is the fate of many women before us, in the past; so it will be yours also. 1050

Chorus But let Zeus protect me from a marriage to the sons of Aegyptus.

Maid Perhaps that would be the best outcome

Chorus You are trying to change an unchangeable mind.

Maid No one can tell what Fate has in store for her.

Chorus How can I look into the fathomless depths of Zeus’ mind?

Maid Well then, make your words measured.

Chorus What are you trying to tell me by that?

Maid Be temperate in what you ask of the gods.

Chorus No!

Chorus No!

Chorus Zeus protect me from a hateful marriage with an enemy!

Chorus Zeus! You have put an end to the pain of Io by the touch of your healing hand!

Maid Zeus! Give these women victory!

Chorus Let me take the lesser of the two evils and I’ll call it bliss.

Maids Let Justice follow Justice, which was always my prayer to the gods.

Chorus There is our liberation!

Exit all


End of Aeschylus’ “SUPPLIANT MAIDENS”