Suppliant Maidens and Other Plays HTML version

The surviving dramas of Aeschylus are seven in number, though he is believed to have
written nearly a hundred during his life of sixty-nine years, from 525 B.C. to 456 B.C.
That he fought at Marathon in 490, and at Salamis in 480 B.C. is a strongly accredited
tradition, rendered almost certain by the vivid references to both battles in his play of The
Persians, which was produced in 472. But his earliest extant play was, probably, not The
Persians but The Suppliant Maidens--a mythical drama, the fame of which has been
largely eclipsed by the historic interest of The Persians, and is undoubtedly the least
known and least regarded of the seven. Its topic--the flight of the daughters of Danaus
from Egypt to Argos, in order to escape from a forced bridal with their first-cousins, the
sons of Aegyptus--is legendary, and the lyric element predominates in the play as a
whole. We must keep ourselves reminded that the ancient Athenian custom of presenting
dramas in Trilogies- --that is, in three consecutive plays dealing with different stages of
one legend--was probably not uniform: it survives, for us, in one instance only, viz. the
Orestean Trilogy, comprising the Agamemnon, the Libation-Bearers, and the Eumenides,
or Furies. This Trilogy is the masterpiece of the Aeschylean Drama: the four remaining
plays of the poet, which are translated in this volume, are all fragments of lost Trilogies--
that is to say, the plays are complete as poems, but in regard to the poet's larger design
they are fragments; they once had predecessors, or sequels, of which only a few words, or
lines, or short paragraphs, survive. It is not certain, but seems probable, that the earliest of
these single completed plays is The Suppliant Maidens, and on that supposition it has
been placed first in the present volume. The maidens, accompanied by their father
Danaes, have fled from Egypt and arrived at Argos, to take sanctuary there and to avoid
capture by their pursuing kinsmen and suitors. In the course of the play, the pursuers' ship
arrives to reclaim the maidens for a forced wedlock in Egypt. The action of the drama
turns on the attitude of the king and people of Argos, in view of this intended abduction.
The king puts the question to the popular vote, and the demand of the suitors is
unanimously rejected: the play closes with thanks and gratitude on the part of the
fugitives, who, in lyrical strains of quiet beauty, seem to refer the whole question of their
marriage to the subsequent decision of the gods, and, in particular, of Aphrodite.
Of the second portion of the Trilogy we can only speak conjecturally. There is a passage
in the Prometheus Bound (ll. 860-69), in which we learn that the maidens were somehow
reclaimed by the suitors, and that all, except one, slew their bridegrooms on the wedding
night. There is a faint trace, among the Fragments of Aeschylus, of a play called
Thalamopoioi,--i.e. The Preparers of the Chamber,--which may well have referred to this
tragic scene. Its grim title will recall to all classical readers the magnificent, though
terrible, version of the legend, in the final stanzas of the eleventh poem in the third book
of Horace's Odes. The final play was probably called The Danaides, and described the
acquittal of the brides through some intervention of Aphrodite: a fragment of it survives,
in which the goddess appears to be pleading her special prerogative. The legends which