<h3>Excerpt</h3> <div><div> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p>THE PERSIANS: INTRODUCTION</p> <br> <p><i>The Play: Date and Composition</i></p> <p>Aeschylus' <i>Persians</i> is the earliest surviving Greek tragedy. It was first performed in 472 BCE, as part of a tetralogy made up of plays on quite different themes. We know the titles of the other three plays, though the plays themselves have been lost except for fragments: <i>Phineus, Glaucus of Potniae</i>, and the satyr-drama <i>Prometheus Fire-Kindler</i>. All three were on mythological subjects, and it appears they had little in common. So in this particular year Aeschylus followed the pattern that was more usual with other tragedians, including Sophocles and Euripides, of composing four quite separate plays as his entry into the competition, rather than a tightly connected tetralogy like the <i>Oresteia</i>. The production won first prize.</p> <p>We are informed by ancient sources that the play was performed at least once in Sicily, a year or two after its first performance in Athens, at the request of the ruler of Syracuse, Hieron. We do not know whether Aeschylus rewrote the play for this performance or adapted it to take into account the Sicilians' victory over Eastern invaders (the Carthaginians), which occurred on almost the same date as the Athenian victory over the Persians at Salamis; and, if so, which version we possess today.</p> <br> <p><i>The Story</i></p> <p>The idea of basing a tragic drama on a recent historical event, rather than on traditional myth, may seem surprising to modern readers; but it was apparently not so unusual in the early decades of tragic competition in Athens. In fact Aeschylus' celebrated predecessor and rival, Phrynichus, had previously produced a tragedy, <i>The Phoenician Women</i>, on exactly this same theme; and an ancient scholar quotes the first line of Phrynichus' play to demonstrate that Aeschylus' whole play was heavily dependent on it.</p> <p>The momentous events of 480–479 BCE were of course well known to all Greeks; and the Athenians had played a central role in them. King Xerxes of Persia had led an enormous invading force of troops and ships into Greece. Athens had been evacuated and occupied by the invading forces, but in an amazing reversal, Athenian ships had crushingly defeated the Persian navy and thereby ruined the Persian strategy of a combined land and sea operation to take over the rest of the mainland. Xerxes himself had watched the crucial sea battle off the island of Salamis, just a few miles from the city of Athens. Afterward, a considerable contingent of the Persian forces, including Xerxes, returned home, leaving a large army to continue the campaign on land. The next spring (479) this army was in turn resoundingly defeated by Greek forces led by the Spartans, at the battle of Plataea. Thus the Persians had for a second time in a decade been repelled (the first time had been Darius' much smaller assault, defeated by Athenian infantry at Marathon in 490), and the independence of Athens and other Greek city states had been preserved.</p> <p>These events immediately acquired a status in the Greek national consciousness comparable to the capture of Troy, or the exploits of Theseus and Heracles—eminently suitable material for tragic drama. At the same time, it would hardly be appropriate for a living Greek man to be made the central focus of a tragedy: instead, Aeschylus followed the example of Phrynichus and set his play in the Persian court, with the main focus on the royal family. Nonetheless, this tragedy concentrating on the disastrous turnaround of the Persian king's fortunes was obviously at the same time a celebration of Athenian success in particular and of Greek discipline and values in general.</p> <p>The action of Aeschylus' play takes place in front of the tomb of King Darius at the palace in Sousa, Persia's capital city. The chorus of Persian elders (a body of senior advisers to the royal family) begins by anxiously discussing the status of the expedition that left to invade Greece several months earlier, led by King Xerxes himself. Then the queen (not named in the play, though we know from Herodotus and from Persian documents that this is Atossa, widow of Darius and mother of Xerxes) arrives to talk with them, and tells them of an ominous dream she has had. A messenger arrives, announcing the catastrophic defeat at Salamis and narrating in detail the loss of Persian lives and ships, including the painful and costly march of retreat through northern Greece. The queen and chorus are devastated, but also relieved to learn that Xerxes is safe and returning home, though his clothing is in shreds (from mourning) and his spirit broken. The chorus, at the queen's suggestion, now conjures up the dead spirit of King Darius, Xerxes' father, from his tomb. Darius expresses disapproval and disappointment at his son's failure, and goes on to predict the impending defeat at Plataea. After Darius' ghost returns to the underworld, and the queen also departs to prepare to greet her son, Xerxes himself arrives, and the final scene consists of a long lyric lament, sung in antiphonal exchange between the chorus and their king.</p> <p>Aeschylus' play is the earliest extant account of the events of the Persian Wars: the much more extensive and detailed narrative of Herodotus in his <i>Histories</i> was not composed until some forty years later. But the play was never intended to accurately represent historical reality. Although it has plenty of oriental coloring (costumes, exotic wailing and dancing, self-abasement of the chorus in the presence of royalty), for the most part the Persians speak like Greeks and observe largely Greek customs and religion. The resounding lists of foreign names are colorful but not very authentic. The scale of the massacre of Persian troops on land that is described as the culmination of the slaughter at Salamis (lines 441–71) seems to be greatly exaggerated. The references to Darius' unblemished military record are somewhat fanciful, and Xerxes' entry on foot in the final scene, with torn clothing and minimal retinue, suggests a degree of catastrophe and humiliation far removed from the actual Persian experience. Instead of historical authenticity, Aeschylus sought and achieved brilliant dramatic impact, especially through such striking effects as the queen's dream, the apparition of the ghost of old king Darius, the pathos of Persian loss and bewilderment, and the elaborate incantations and lamentations of the chorus.</p> <p>After Aeschylus' <i>Persians</i>, we do not hear of any further stagings of tragedies depicting recent historical events in the fifth-century Athenian theater. Certainly neither Sophocles nor Euripides ever wrote such a play. We do not know why this change of fashion occurred. By contrast, in the Roman theater, historical dramas constituted a flourishing genre, with <i>Octavia</i> (attributed, wrongly, to Seneca) a sole surviving example.</p> <br> <p><i>Transmission and Reception</i></p> <p>Beyond the play's reperformance in Sicily, <i>The Persians</i> continued to be well known in Athens throughout the fifth century, and Herodotus must have known the play, though he makes little obvious use of Aeschylus' particular themes or language. At the end of the century, the exotic flavor of Aeschylus' music and choreography in the play is mentioned approvingly in Aristophanes' <i>Frogs</i>, and the innovative musician and poet Timotheus drew extensively from it in his own <i>Persians</i> (of which a substantial fragment survives on papyrus). In the Hellenistic period, the Jewish playwright Ezekiel likewise adapted episodes from Aeschylus' play for his <i>Exodus (Exagogê)</i>. But for the most part, it was Herodotus' account of Xerxes' invasion and the Persian royal court that was best known and most influential for later writers and composers.</p> <p>In general, Aeschylus' plays were much less widely read in ancient schools or for pleasure than the plays of Sophocles or (especially) Euripides. Most of them gradually ceased to be copied and faded into oblivion. When the time came to make a selected edition of seven Aeschylean plays (at some point in the Roman period, perhaps for school use), <i>The Persians</i> was included, doubt[ less because of its ever-topical subject matt er—the defeat of an Eastern threat and the humiliation of an overly ambitious ruler. The play survived into the Byzantine and Renaissance eras and, along with <i>The Seven against Thebes</i> and <i>Prometheus Bound</i>, made its way into the triad of Aeschylean plays that were copied frequently from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. As a result, some of the manuscripts of the play contain quite extensive marginal comments (scholia).</p> <p>Since the Renaissance, plays and operas loosely based on <i>The Persians</i> have been fairly common, though Herodotus and the late antique <i>Alexander Romance</i> have generally been much more influential. A number of operas titled <i>Xerxes</i> were composed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: most bear little resemblance to Aeschylus' play. Much closer to Aeschylus' tragic vision are T. Maurice's <i>Fall of the Mogul</i> (1806) and Percy Bysshe Shelley's <i>Hellas</i> (1821), written during the period when Greece was fighting for independence against the Ottoman Empire.</p> <p>Since the 1920s <i>The Persians</i> has been performed in all parts of the world. Oft en the political allegory has been overt, with Xerxes suggesting a Nazi or Soviet or domestic dictator, or implying a warning to the contemporary US as an overreaching imperialist power. Sometimes "Eastern" music and performance style has been incorporated in imaginative ways. Notable productions include those of Dimitri Rondiris for the Greek National Theater (1939, 1958, 1967), Karolos Koun with the Theatro Technis (1965– 67), Mattias Braun (1960s), the Berliner Ensemble (1961, 1972, 1983), Peter Sellars (1993), and Ellen McLaughlin (1995).</p> <p>Both in adapting and in interpreting this tragedy, theater practitioners and critics have been divided as to whether Aeschylus was aiming to flatter the Athenians by celebrating their military and cultural superiority over the luxurious, feminized "other" of the East, or was sympathetically exploring the disastrous effects on any community of an unnecessary war caused by an impetuous and overly ambitious leader. The truth is doubtless that he was doing both.</p> <br> <p>THE PERSIANS</p> <p><i>Characters</i> CHORUS of Persian elders</p> <p>QUEEN of Persia (Atossa), widow of Darius, and mother of Xerxes</p> <p>PERSIAN MESSENGER</p> <p>GHOST OF DARIUS</p> <p>XERXES, king of Persia</p> <br> <p><i>Scene: The palace of Xerxes at Sousa; in the foreground the tomb of Darius.</p> <p>(Enter Chorus from the side.)</i></p> <br> <p>CHORUS <i>[chanting] Of the Persians gone to the land of Greece here are the trusted: as protectors of treasure and of golden thrones. We were chosen by Xerxes— emperor and king, son of Darius— in accord with age, guards of the country. For the king's return with his many-manned troops doom is the feeling in my heart convulsed, as it faces the future. For all Asia is gone, its strength and its youth: and the women lament for their men.° To the city of Persians neither herald nor horseman returns. And some have left Agbatana and some Sousa and ancient Cissa, both on horse and on ship and on foot displaying legions of battle: Artaphrenes, Megabates, Astaspes, Amistres, leaders of Persians, kings who are slaves of the greatest of kings, guarding the legions they rush, both as bowman and knight, with their temper resolved, fearful in aspect, dreadful in battle; and exultant in horses Artembares, and Masistres, and the brave archer Imaeus, and Pharandakas, and the driver of horses Sousthenes. And others were sent by the nourishing Nile: Egyptian-born Sousiscanes, Pegastagon, great Arsames ruler of sacred Memphis; and Ariomardus governing ancient Thebes; and those who dwelling by marshes are rowers of ships, skillful and countless. And the Lydians soft who inhabit the coast follow commanders and kings: Metrogathes and brave Arcteus, and golden Sardis sent many charioteers, with horses by twos and by threes, fearful the sight to behold. And the neighbors of Tmolus— they threaten to yoke in servitude Hellas; and the Mysian lancers, Thary bis, Mardon, anvils of battle; and golden Babylon pours forth her crowds— borne by their ships— who in drawing the bow rely on their boldness. And the tribes from all Asia who carry the saber follow beneath the awesome parade of their king. Thus of the Persian land of her men the flower is gone, nursed by the earth, and all Asia laments, consumed by longing; and parents and wives counting the days tremble at lengthening time.</p> <p>[singing]</i></p> <p>STROPHE A</p> <p><i>The destroyer of cities now, that kingly army, has gone over the strait to the land on linen-bound pontoons; tightly was clamped the Way of Helle, Athamas' daughter, as the neck of the sea was yoked.</i></p> <p>ANTISTROPHE A</p> <p><i>And the furious leader drives the herd of populous Asia, wonderful over the earth. And admirals stern and rough marshals of men he trusts: gold his descent from Perseus, he is the equal of god.</i></p> <p>STROPHE B</p> <p><i>In his eyes lazuli flashing like a snake's murderous glances, with his mariners, warriors, many, and his Syrian chariot driving, hard on the glorious spearmen the archer Ares he leads.</i></p> <p>ANTISTROPHE B</p> <p><i>To the great torrent of heroes there is none worthily equal, who resist, by defenses secured, the unconquerable billows of ocean: Persians are never defeated, the people tempered and brave.</i></p> <p>STROPHE C</p> <p><i>For divine fate has long prevailed,° enjoining Persians to wage wars which destroy towers and ramparts, along with glad tumult of horsemen, and cities overthrown.</i></p> <p>ANTISTROPHE C</p> <p><i>Later, when the vast ocean was foaming, whitened by the boisterous winds, they learned, trusting to cables and to pontoons which convey men, to cross the sacred sea.</i></p> <p>EPODE</p> <p><i>Deceitful deception of god— what mortal man shall avoid it? With nimbleness, deft ness, and speed whose leaping foot shall escape it? Benign and coaxing at first it leads us astray into nets which no mortal is able to slip, whose doom we never can flee.</i></p> <p>STROPHE D</p> <p><i>Thus clothed in black my heart is torn, fearful for those Persian arms: lest the city hear, alas! that reft of men is Sousa;</i></p> <p>ANTISTROPHE D</p> <p><i>and lest the city of Cissa shall, with crowds of women crying, sing antiphonal, alas! and rend their garb of mourning.</i></p> <p>STROPHE E</p> <p><i>All the horse and infantry, like a swarm of bees have gone with the captain of the host, who joined the headlands of either land, crossing the yoke of the sea.</i></p> <p>ANTISTROPHE E</p> <p><i>Beds with longing fill with tears, Persian wives in soft ness weep each her bold warrior husband 135 dispatched with gentle love and grief, as they're left alone in the yoke.</p> <p>[chanting again]</p> <p>But come, Persians, let us in this ancient palace sit, and deep and wisely found our thoughts: How does King Xerxes fare, Darius' son? How fare his people? Has arrows' hail or strength of spear conquered? But look, she comes, a light whose splendor equals the eyes of gods, the mother of our king: I kneel. Now all must address and salute her. (Enter the Queen from the palace, with attendants.)</i></p> <p>CHORUS LEADER <i>[now speaking]</i></p> <p>O most majestic Queen of Persians, in ample folds adorned, hail, aged mother of Xerxes! Consort of Darius, hail! Consort of the god of Persians, mother of a god you are, unless the fortune of our army brings us now a change.</p> <p>QUEEN</p> <p>Leaving my gold-clad palace, marriage chamber of Darius and of myself, 160 his queen, I've come. Care quite grates my heart; I fear, my friends, though not fearful for myself, lest great wealth's gallop trip prosperity— exalted by Darius and some god— in its own dust. But, unexpectedly, that dread has doubled: sums of cowardly wealth do court contempt, and indigence quenches ambition's flame, even if there's strength. Though wealth we have unstinted, yet I fear for my precious eye, Xerxes, whose presence here I count the palace's eye. So things stand thus. Advise my reason, Persians, old sureties: all my gains with your counsel lie.</p> <p>CHORUS LEADER</p> <p>O Queen of Persia, be assured that never twice do you have to tell us word or deed which our willing strength can guide; for we are loyal, whom you call your counselors.</p> <p>QUEEN</p> <p>With frequent, constant, and nocturnal dreams I have lived, ever since my son, gathering his army, departed, his will to pillage Greece; but never a more vivid presence came than yesternight's. Into my vision it seemed two women came, one decked out in Persian robes, the other in Dorian, both of them flawless and impressive, excelling in beauty any who live today. Sisters they were, and inheriting their father's land, one received Greece, the other Asia to dwell. Then strife arises between them, or so I dreamed; and my son, observing this, tries to check and soothe them; he yokes them to a chariot, bridles their necks: and one, so arrayed, towers proud, her mouth obedient to reins; but the other stamps, annoyed, and rends apart her trappings with her hands; unbridled, seizes the chariot and snaps its yoke in two. My son falls; his father, Darius, pitying, stands by his side—but at his sight Xerxes tears his robes. Thus in the night these visions I dreamed: but when, arisen, I touched the springs' fair-flowing waters, approached the altar, wishing to offer sacrifice religiously to guardian deities, whose rites these are, then to Phoebus' hearth I saw an eagle fleeing. Dumb in dread I stood: a falcon swooped upon him, its wings in flight, its claws plucked at his head: he did no more than cower, hare-like. Those were my terrors to see, and yours to hear. My son, should he succeed, would be admired; but if he fails, Persia cannot hold him to account. Whichever comes, safe returned, sovereign he shall still rule.</p> </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <div><blockquote><hr noshade size="1"><font size="-2">Excerpted from <b>AESCHYLUS I</b> by <b>David Grene</b>. Copyright © 2013 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.<br/>All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br/>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.</font><hr noshade size="1"></blockquote></div>