Aeschylus

PERSIANS

 

Translated by Ian Johnston,
Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia
2012


This translation, by Ian Johnston, of Vancouver Island University, has certain copyright provisions. Students, teachers, artists, researchers, and members of the general public may freely  download, edit, adapt, and distribute the translation without permission. Commercial publication, however, is not permitted without the consent of Ian Johnston. For a Rich Text Format version of this translation, please use this link: Persians [RTF]

 

This translation was originally published in 2012 by Richer Resources Publications and on the web. Minor correction and reformatting were made in 2017.


For a list of other translations and lectures by Ian Johnston, use these links: johnstonia and johnstoniatexts.

 

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE

 

In the following text, the numbers without brackets refer to the English text, and those in square brackets refer to the Greek text. Indented partial lines in the English text are included with the line above in the reckoning. Stage directions and endnotes have been provided by the translator.

 

 

HISTORICAL NOTE

 

Aeschylus (c.525 BC to c.456 BC) was one of the three great Greek tragic dramatists whose works have survived. Of his many plays, seven still remain. Aeschylus may have fought against the Persians at Marathon (490 BC), and he did so again at Salamis (480 BC). According to tradition, he died from being hit with a tortoise dropped by an eagle. After his death, the Athenians, as a mark of respect, permitted his works to be restaged in their annual competitions.

Aeschylus’ play Persians was first produced in 472 BC. It is commonly regarded as the oldest surviving play in our traditions.

Persian armies launched two famous invasions against the Greek mainland. The first (in 490 BC) was sponsored by Darius, king of Persia. It ended at the Battle of Marathon close to Athens with a Greek victory, in which the Athenians played the major role. The second Persian expedition (in 480 BC) was sponsored and led by Xerxes, son of Darius, who had succeeded his father as king, after Darius’ death.

A major reason for these invasions was to punish Athens for its assistance to Greek cities in Asia Minor and on some of the islands close by, an important part of the Persians’ sphere of influence. These cities had close ethnic links to the Greeks, especially to the Athenians, and resented Persian domination. Hence, they were a source of conflict within the Persian Empire.

 

PERSIANS

 

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

 

ATOSSA: queen of Persia, mother of Xerxes, wife of Darius.(1)
MESSENGER: a soldier with Xerxes’ army.
DARIUS: a ghost, father of Xerxes, once king of Persia.
XERXES: king of Persia, son of Darius and Atossa.
CHORUS: elder statesmen of Persia.

The action takes place in Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, in front of a large building.(2)

 

[The Chorus enters.]

CHORUS LEADER

We are here as trustworthy delegates
for all those Persians who have marched away
to the land of Greece. Thanks to our old age,
we are the guardians of the royal home,
so rich in gold, the men Xerxes himself,
our king, son of Darius, has chosen
to supervise his realm. But here inside,
my heart has for a long time been troubled
about our golden army’s journey home
and the king’s return. It senses trouble.                             10       [10]
For all the power born out of Asia
has gone, responding to our young king’s call,
and yet here in the Persians’ capital
no horseman has come back, no courier.
Streaming out of Susa and Agbatana
and the ancient parapets of Kissa,
our forces moved away, some on horseback,
some by ship, some on foot—a close-packed mass                     [20]
prepared for war—men like Artaphrenes,
Amistres, Astaspes, and Megabates,                                20
commanders of Persia’s warrior host,
all kings and yet all ruled by our Great King,
leaders of a vast army on the march,
experts in archery and horsemanship,
fearful to look at and terrible in war,
their spirits steeled for battle. With them there
is Artembares the charioteer,                                                      [30]
as well as Masistes, noble Imaeus
so deadly with his bow, Pharandaces,
and Sosthanes, who drives his horses on.                         30
The fertile mighty Nile sent others, too—
Sousiscanes, Egyptian-born Pegastagon,
Arsames, great king of sacred Memphis,
Ariomardos, who rules in ancient Thebes,
and from the marshes men who row the ships,
a frightening horde in countless numbers.

And with them goes a crowd of Lydians,                                     [40]
luxury loving men, whose force controls
all mainland tribes, warrior ranks sent out
with noble Arcteus and Mitrogathes,                                40
a royal command, and gold-rich Sardis—
huge throngs of chariots streaming out,
row after row of three- and four-horse teams,
a terrifying sight! And men who live
by sacred Tmolus now threaten to hurl                                        [50]
the yoke of slavery upon the Greeks—
Mardon and Tharybis, with thunderbolts
for spears, and Mysians armed with javelins.(3)

And Babylon, awash with gold, sends out
huge columns of men of different kinds,                             50
sailors on ships and other troops whose strength
relies on skill in fighting with the bow.
The sabre-bearing races also come
from all of Asia, following the king,
a fearful expedition on the march!
Warriors like these move out, the flower                                      [60]
of Persian lands, while all of Asia yearns.
Their nurturing mother now longs for them
and groans with fierce desire, as wives and children
count the days and shudder at the long delay.                   60

 

CHORUS

Obliterating cities as it moves,
our royal army has already marched
to neighbouring lands on the facing shore,
crossing the Hellespont, that narrow sea
which gets its name from Athamas’ child,
on a floating bridge tied down with cable                                     [70]
and throwing the yoke of a tight-knit road
across the neck of the sea.(4)

                                  Through every land
the fiery king of a massive Asian horde
drives on his men—a wondrous warrior pack—               70
in a double formation by land and sea,
with trust in his brave and stern commanders,
our golden born and godlike king.                                               [80]

                                 His dark eyes burn
with the glare of a snake aroused to kill.
Soldiers and sailors massing behind him,
he urges his Syrian chariot on,
leading his archers like a war god’s host
to fight against men renowned for their spears.

No man has the strength to repel this force,
this irresistible torrent of men,                                           80
or with a strong bulwark to hold in check
the overpowering surge of the sea.                                              [90]
For warriors fill our Persian ranks,
our invincible force of fearless men.

By decrees of the gods since earliest times,
Fate has ruled all and has always ordained
that Persians wage war, knocking down towers,
fighting in chariots, and demolishing cities.

By trusting their finely made cables and ships
our men have now learned how to gaze on the deep          90      [100]
when tempestuous storms from the howling winds
whip white surface waters across the broad sea.

But what mortal man can hope to evade
insidious deceit of the gods? What man
with nimble feet can leap above that snare?

For fair Delusion, with her welcoming smile,
spreads her nets wide and lures the man in.
There is no escape—that trap she sets
no man evades by springing back once more.

Such matters hang black thoughts around my heart           100
and tear at it with fear. Alas for them,
the soldiers of that mighty Persian force!
May our great city Sousa never hear
a cry like that or learn its men have died.

And Kissa’s city folk will then all chant                                        [120]
their own song in reply—Alas! That crowd
of women screaming out will tear apart
their splendid robes of linen.

                                             For all our men—
our horse and infantry—like swarms of bees,
have left with the lord who leads our army,                       110
crossing the cape the two continents share,                                  [130]
now Xerxes has yoked has them together.

Our marriage beds long for the absent men
and fill with tears, as Persian women grieve,
each one with a woman’s heartfelt yearning
for the fearless warrior she sent away.
Her man is gone, and now she sleeps alone.

 

HORUS LEADER

Come now, Persians, let us take our seats                                   [140]
within this ancient place. Let us reflect,
for at this time we need to turn our thoughts                      120
to wise and well-considered counsel
about what is happening with our king,
Xerxes, son of Darius. Have Persian archers
drawn their bows and won, or have the Greeks
with the power of their sharp spears prevailed?

 

[Atossa enters with attendants](5)

 

But look—the mother of our king approaches,
like light streaming from the eye of god.
I must prostrate myself before my queen,
and all of you must show her your respect—
salute her majesty with words of welcome.                       130

 

[The Chorus Leader prostrates himself and speaks to Atossa from his knees.]

 

Hail to you, O queen, most illustrious
of all deep-waisted Persian women—
Xerxes’ aged mother and wife of Darius,
once the consort of Persia’s god and now
the mother of their god—unless perhaps
the divinity they used to have of old
has now abandoned Persian warriors.

\

ATOSSA

That is why I have left my gold-decked home
and the royal bed I shared with Darius                                         [160]
and have come here. For worries rend my heart.              140
My friends, I will confide in you—I am afraid
that our vast wealth will quickly stir up dust
and with its foot cast down the great success
which—thanks to the assistance of some god—
king Darius achieved. And that is why
my mind is burdened with a double care,
which I find difficult to speak about.
The common folk do not respect great wealth
unless backed up with men, and though the poor
may have great strength, the light of their success              150
will never shine. Now, we have wealth enough,
but still I fear for what I hold to be
our finest treasure, true riches in the home,
the lord and master’s eye. Since that is so,                                   [170]
Persians, you old trustworthy counsellors,
advise me what to do, since all my hopes
for level-headed guidance rest on you.

 

CHORUS LEADER

You are our country’s queen—so rest assured
you do not need to ask us twice for help,
for anything that lies with our power                                 160
to say or do. You have summoned us here
as counsellors in this affair, and we
are well disposed to serve your interests.

 

ATOSSA

Many dreams keep visiting me at night—
all the time—ever since my son prepared
his army and set off, hoping to destroy
Ionian lands. But this past night
I had one more distinct than all the rest.
I will describe it to you. I seemed to see                                      [180]
two women dressed in very lovely clothes—                    170
one wore Persian robes, the other Dorian.(6)
They came in view—both of gigantic size,
much larger than the women of today,
and very beautiful. They were sisters,
of the same family line. One of them
lived in Hellenic lands, assigned by lot,
the other dwelt among barbarians.(7)
And as I watched, I seemed to see these two
begin to fight each other. Then my son,
once he learned of this, tried to hold them back                180
and calm them down. Around their necks he set                          [190]
a collar strap and yoked it to his chariot.
One sister carried her restraint with pride
and kept her mouth compliant in the reins.
The other one fought back—her hands tore at
the chariot harness and, freed from her restraint,
dragged it so hard she broke the yoke in two.
My son fell out headfirst, and Darius,
his father, who stood close by, was grieving.
Then Xerxes, when he saw his father there,                      190
shred the garments covering his body.
That was the dream I saw during the night.                                  [200]
When I got up, I went to wash my hands
in a flowing spring, and holding up a gift,
I stood beside an altar, intending
to offer sacrifice to those deities
who ward off evil, with those rituals
which are their due. But then I saw an eagle
swooping down for safety at the altar
of Apollo, and I was terrified.                                          200
My friends, as I stood there speechless, I saw
a hawk racing up behind, wings outspread.
Its talons clawed and ripped the eagle’s head.
The eagle did not fight but cowered down
and left its body open to attack.
Seeing this visions made me so afraid—                                      [210]
and hearing them you must be fearful, too.
For you know well that if my son succeeds
he will become a man men hold in awe,
but even if he fails, those in the city                                   210
cannot hold him accountable, for Xerxes,
if he gets safely back, still rules this land.

 

CHORUS LEADER

Lady mother, we do not wish our words
to make you fearful or offer you false hope.
But if what you have seen is ominous,
approach the gods with prayers, begging them
to avert the evil and bring about
what is of benefit to you, your sons,
the city, all your family and friends.
Then you must pour libations to the earth                          220
and to the dead, and with auspicious words                                 [220]
ask Darius, your husband, whom you say
you saw last night, to confer his blessing
from underneath the earth up to the light,
on you and on your son, and to hold down
what works against you and keep it buried
deep within the earth, hidden in the dark.
From what I understand of prophecy
and as a friend I give you this advice.
I sense that in these matters everything                              230
will turn out favourably for you.

 

ATOSSA

You are the first one who has offered me
an interpretation of the dreams I had,
and you have clearly shown in what you say
your kindness to my child and family.
May things all turn out well! When I return
back to the palace, I will carry out
those rituals for the gods and loved ones
underneath the earth, the way you have advised.
But, friends, there is one thing I wish to know.                  240        [230]
In what part of the world do people say
this city of Athens is located?

 

CHORUS LEADER

Far away from here, where our Lord the Sun
grows dim and sets.

 

ATOSSA

                                   And is it really true
my son desired to conquer such a place?

 

CHORUS LEADER

Yes, he did. For then all lands in Hellas
would be subject to our King.

 

ATOSSA

                                And these Greeks—
does their army consist of many men?

 

CHORUS LEADER

Their army has been strong enough before
to have done much damage to the Medes.(8)                    250

 

ATOSSA

Are their hands trained to fight with well-strung bows?

 

CHORUS LEADER

No, not at all—they arm themselves with shields
and fight in close with spears.

 

ATOSSA

                                                    What other things
do they possess? Do they have wealth at home—
all the money they need?

 

CHORUS LEADER

                                             They have a mine,
a fountain of silver—their country’s treasure.(9)                            [240]

 

ATOSSA

Who governs them? Who commands their army?

 

CHORUS LEADER

People say they are no man’s slaves or servants.

 

ATOSSA

Then how can they turn back a fierce attack
when warlike men invade?

 

CHORUS LEADER

                                Well, they managed                           260
to destroy that great and glorious force
which Darius had sent against them.

 

ATOSSA

For those whose sons have left, those words of yours
are ominous to think of.

 

CHORUS LEADER

                                                    It seems to me
you will soon know the truth of what’s gone on.
Why else would a Persian man be rushing here.
He must be bringing news of some event—
it’s clearly something good or bad.

 

[Enter the Messenger, in great haste. He falls prostrate before Atossa and delivers his first speeches from his knees]

 

MESSENGER

O you cities throughout all Asian lands,
O realm of Persia, haven of vast wealth,                            270      [250]
one blow has smashed your great prosperity—
the flower of Persia has been destroyed!
Our men have perished! Alas! It’s terrible
to be first to tell disastrous news,
and yet, you Persians, I must now provide
a full report of that catastrophe—
our whole barbarian army has been killed!

 

CHORUS

Such dreadful, dreadful news!
So cruel and unforeseen.
Alas! Alas! Weep now,                                                    280
you Persians, as you learn
of this calamity!

 

MESSENGER

Yes, weep, for all those men have been wiped out,                      [260]
while I look on this unexpected day
when I have come back home.

 

CHORUS

For older men, this life of ours
has been too long, it seems—
we have to learn about
this unanticipated grief.

 

MESSENGER

I was there—I did not hear what happened                      290
from other men—so, Persians, I can speak
directly of the evil things we faced.

 

CHORUS

Aaaiii! Our great host
with all its different weapons
set out from Asian lands in vain                                                    [270]
to the mighty land of Hellas!

 

MESSENGER

The corpses fill the shores of Salamis
and all the coasts nearby—our wretched dead.(10)

 

CHORUS

Alas! Such grief! You say
the bodies of the ones we love                                         300
are tossing in the surf,
being driven back and forth
and carried by the shifting waves.

 

MESSENGER

Our bows were no defence. Our men perished.
The entire force was overwhelmed at sea
when Ionian ships attacked our fleet.

 

CHORUS

Cry a sorrowful lament,                                                               [280]
a pitiful dirge for our dead,
those ill-starred Persian men!
The gods bring all this evil!                                               310
Aaaaiii! Aaaiii!
The army is now gone!

 

MESSENGER

That name Salamis—a hateful word,
the most offensive to my ears. Alas,
how I groan when I remember Athens!

 

CHORUS

Yes, Athens is hateful to her foes!
We well recall how Athens made
so many Persian women widows
by slaughtering their men.(11)

 

ATOSSA

I have kept quiet for a long time here,                               320       [290]
struck silent by the news of this defeat.
For this event is too calamitous
to talk or even ask about the pain.
Yet suffering is something mortal beings
must learn to bear when it comes from the gods.
So stand up now and speak. Give your report—
and even if you groan at this bad news,
describe the full extent of our defeat.
Who did not die? What about the leaders?
Which ones should we mourn? And of all those men         330
appointed to a sceptre-bearing post,
which ones have died and left a vacancy
among the ranks of our commanders?

 

[The Messenger stands up]

 

MESSENGER

Xerxes himself survived—he is alive
and sees the light of day.

 

ATOSSA

                                   What you have said
brings a great light of hope into my home,                                    [300]
a bright dawn after grim black drapes of night.

 

MESSENGER

But Artembares, who led ten thousand horse,
is being smashed against the cruel shores
of Salamis, and Dadaces, who led                                    340
a thousand men, was hit by a spear
and with an easy leap fell from his ship.
Tenagon, the finest of that ancient race
from Bactria, now moves around the isle
of Ajax, a coastline pounded by the sea.(12)
Lilaios, Arsames, and a third one,
Argestes are washed around that island,
a breeding place for doves, as they are thrown
against its rugged shore. Of all those men                                     [310]
living beside the springs of Egypt’s Nile,                           350
Pharnouchos fell, and three men from one ship,
Pheresseues and Adeues
and Arcteus. And Matallos from Chryse,
who ruled an army of ten thousand men,
as he died, stained his thick, dark, shaggy beard
and changed its colour with a blood-red dye.
Arabos the Magian perished there,
and so did Artabes from Bactria,
who led black horsemen thirty thousand strong
and now has settled deep in rocky ground,                       360
as well as Amistris and Amphistreus,                                           [320]
who held a deadly spear, and Ariomardus,
a noble man whose death makes Sardis grieve,
and Seisames from Mysia. Tharybis,
commander of two hundred fifty ships,
a handsome man, by birth a Lyrnaean,
now lies in miserable death—his luck
abandoned him. And Suennesis, too,
who ruled Cilicians and by himself
brought so much suffering to his enemies,                          370
for of courageous men he was the best,
fought valiantly and died. I have listed
these men by name, but we lost so many!
What I have told you mentions just a few.                                   [330]

 

ATOSSA

Alas! Alas! I have listened to your words,
the height of our misfortune—a disgrace
to Persia, cause enough for screams of grief.
But return to your report and tell me this—
What was the number of the Grecian fleet?
What made them confident enough                                   380
to risk a fight at sea with Persian ships?

 

MESSENGER

You can be sure that we barbarians
would have overwhelmed their fleet, if numbers
had been the only thing. For the Greeks had,
in total, three hundred ships. Ten of these                                    [340]
were chosen as a special group. But Xerxes—
I can confirm this—led a thousand ships,
two hundred and seven of which could sail
extremely fast. That’s how the numbers stood.
Surely you cannot think that when we fought                     390
we were outnumbered? No. Some deity
did not weigh the scales of fortune fairly
and destroyed our fleet. The gods protect
that city of the goddess Pallas.

 

ATOSSA

                                                 And so,
the city of Athens remains unscathed.(13)

 

MESSENGER

Yes. While its citizens are still alive
it has a fortress that will never fail.

 

ATOSSA

Tell me how the battle with the ships began.                                 [350]
Who was the first to fight? Was it the Greeks?
Or was my son happy to engage their fleet,                      400
given the huge number of his ships?

 

MESSENGER

My queen, a demon or evil spirit
appeared from somewhere and set in motion
everything that led to our complete collapse.
A man from the Athenian forces,
a Greek, came to Xerxes, your son, and said
that after night arrived and it grew dark
the Greeks would not remain where they were now,
but leap onto the benches in their ships
and, by moving stealthily here and there,                           410
would try to row away and save their lives.                                 [360]
Xerxes did not sense the Greek man’s cunning
or the envy of the gods.(14) So once he heard
what the man had said, he quickly issued
the following orders to his captains:

“When the sun’s rays no longer warm the earth
and darkness seizes regions of the sky,
draw up the ships into a triple line
and block the exits to the roaring sea.
With other vessels form a tight blockade                           420
around that isle of Ajax. If the Greeks
escape their evil fate and somehow find
a secret way to steal off in their ships,                                         [370]
my orders are that all will lose their heads.”

When Xerxes said these words, his heart and mind
were fully confident—he had no inkling
of what the gods had planned. His men obeyed.
Their spirits showed no lack of discipline,
as they prepared a meal and every sailor
lashed his oar in place against the thole pin.                       430
Once the sun’s light had disappeared and night
came creeping in, each master of his oar
and all the soldiers under arms went down
into the ships, and as the long boats sailed
to take up their assigned positions, row by row,
the men called out to cheer each other on.                                   [380]
So all night long the officers and crews
kept sailing back and forth on their patrol,
yet as night passed, the Greek force did not try
to slip away in secret. But when the day                            440
rode up with her white steeds and radiant light
seized all the earth, at first we heard a shout.
A resounding cry came from the Greeks—
it sounded like a song—and right away
the echo brought a clarion response
reverberating from the island rocks.                                             [390]
Then panic struck the whole barbarian fleet.
Our plan had failed, for at that point the Greeks
did not call out their solemn holy cry
as if they meant to flee. No. They sounded                       450
like men who meant to fight with courage
in their hearts. And when a trumpet pealed,
they all caught fire. Then, once the order came,
with one united sweep their foaming oars
struck the salty sea, and their fleet of ships
quickly came in sight, all clearly visible.
First of all, their well organized right wing
advanced in order. Then the entire force                                      [400]
moved up, and, as it did, we all could hear
a mighty cry:

                                 “You offspring of the Greeks,          460
come on! Free your native home! Free your wives,
your children, the temples of your father’s gods,
the burial places of your ancestors!
The time has come to fight for all of these!”

We responded with a confusing shout
from Persian tongues, but by now the crisis
left no time to delay. For right away,
the ships began to use their bronze-clad prows
to ram each other. In the first attack
a Greek ship completely smashed the bow                        470      [410]
on a Phoenician boat, and after that
both rival navies went at one another.
At first, the bulk of the Persian forces
held them back. But with so many vessels
confined inside a narrow space, our ships
could provide no help to other Persians.
Instead their bronze prows rammed their own fleet’s ships
and smashed the banks of oars. Meanwhile the Greeks
did not fail to seize this opportunity—
they formed a circle round us and attacked.                       480
Our ships’ hulls capsized, and the waves grew full
of shattered boats and slaughtered sailors,                                   [420]
so much so we could not glimpse the sea.
Beaches and rocks were crowded with the dead.
As all the ships left in our barbarian fleet
rushed off to escape in great confusion,
the Greeks kept butchering men in the sea,
hacking away at them with broken oars
and bits of wreckage, as if our sailors
were schools of mackerel or loads of fish.                         490
Groans and screams of pain filled the open sea,
until night’s shadowy eye concealed the scene.
But I could not describe the full extent                                         [430]
of the disaster to you, not even
if I spoke of it for ten entire days.
For you must understand that never before
has such an enormous multitude of men
all perished in a single day.

 

ATOSSA

                                                   Alas!
An immense sea of evil has engulfed
the Persians and our whole barbarian race!                        500

 

MESSENGER

But listen—there is more. I have not mentioned
half our troubles yet. For our men suffered
evils twice as heavy as the ones before.

 

ATOSSA

What troubles worse than what you have described
could have hurt our army? Speak! You talked of
some catastrophe. What could have happened
to sink our scale of evil even further?                                            [440]

 

MESSENGER

All those Persians in their prime of life,
the very finest spirits, whose noble birth
made them exceptional, the foremost men,                        510
who always had the trust of our Great King,
have met a most dishonourable fate
and died in shame.

 

ATOSSA

                           O my friends, this disaster
compounds my misery! What kind of fate
do you say killed these splendid men?

 

MESSENGER

There is an island in front of Salamis
a tiny place, but hazardous for ships.(15)
Dance-loving Pan lives there, close to the shore.
Xerxes had placed his finest warriors here,                                  [450]
so that, when our defeated enemies                                  520
moved from the ships and sought a refuge
on that island, his men could overwhelm
the Grecian force where it was vulnerable,
and they could save the lives of any friends
trapped in the sea within that narrow strait.
But Xerxes’ judgment of events was wrong.
For when some god gave glory to the Greeks
in the battle out at sea, that very day
they walled themselves in armour made of bronze,
leapt out of their ships, and formed a circle                       530
around the island, so that our soldiers
had nowhere to escape. Many of our men
were hit with stones thrown by enemy hands                                [460]
or died from falling arrows shot from bows.
At last in one concerted charge, the Greeks
attacked, hacking away at Persian limbs
until the lives of all those pitiful men
had been utterly destroyed. From high up
on a promontory right beside the sea
Xerxes watched. He had an excellent view                       540
of his entire army, and, as he looked
and witnessed the extent of this defeat,
he groaned, tore his robes, gave out a shrill cry,
and quickly issued orders to his troops,
who ran away confused. This defeat                                            [470]
and the other one I talked of earlier—
these are the disasters you must grieve.

 

ATOSSA

O hateful demon, how you have deceived
the Persians! That famous city Athens
has taken harsh revenge against my son—                        550
not satisfied with those barbarians
she killed at Marathon in years gone by.
By seeking retribution for those men,
my son has brought himself a multitude
of grief. What about the ships that got away?
Tell me where you left them. And do you have
a clear idea of where they might be now?

 

MESSENGER

Those in charge of our surviving ships                                          [480]
quickly fled away in great disorder,
on whatever course the winds might take them.                 560
The remnants of our army was destroyed
in lands of the Boeotians—some of them
near a refreshing spring where they had gone,
driven there by thirst. Others among us,
exhausted and short of breath, kept marching
into Phocean land—reaching Doris
and the Gulf of Malia, where Spercheios
pours his fresh waters on the plain. And then,
desperate for food, we kept moving on
to the Achaean plain, where we were welcomed               570
by Thessalians in their cities. But here,
most of our men died of thirst or hunger,                                     [490]
for we were suffering from both. From there,
we reached the place where the Magnesians live
and Macedonian land—the river Axios,
Bolbe’s reed-filled marsh, and Mount Pangaeon,
on Edonian ground.(16) But during the night
some spirit stirred up winter before its time.
The stream of the sacred river Strymon
was completely frozen, and all those men                          580
who had given the gods no thought till then
at that point offered up their solemn prayers
with supplications to both Earth and Heaven.
Once the army had finished calling out                                         [500]
its many invocations to the gods,
we moved on across the frozen river.
Some of us, those who left before the god
could scatter his rays, crossed the ice in safety,
but once the brilliant circle of the sun
with his hot beams had warmed the middle part                590
and melted it with fire, then men fell through,
stumbling against each other. And the man
who lost the breath of life most rapidly
was truly lucky. The ones who got across
saved themselves by moving on through Thrace,
though not without much pain and suffering.
Not many of those fugitives escaped                                            [510]
and reached their native land. Now is the time
our Persian city should lament its loss,
grieving for the most cherished youthful men                     600
in all our land. What I have said is true.
But I have left out many dreadful things
which a god has hurled down on the Persians.

 

[Exit Messenger]

 

CHORUS LEADER

O savage demon! With what heavy weight
your feet have stamped on all the Persian race!

 

ATOSSA

This overpowers me—the utter ruin
of our entire force! Those visions last night—
the ones I saw so clearly in my dreams—
how plainly they revealed these blows to me.
Your sense of them was far too trivial.                              610       [520]
But nonetheless, following your advice,
I will begin by praying to the gods,
and then I will return, bringing offerings
for the Earth and for the dead—a libation
from my home. I know I will be worshipping
after all that has already happened,
but I am hoping better things will come
to us in future. Given these events,
you men should demonstrate your loyalty
by offering me trustworthy counsel.                                   620
And if, while I am gone, my son arrives,
comfort him, accompany him back home,                                    [530]
so no misfortune comes to trouble him,
apart from those we have already faced.

 

[Exit Atossa]

 

CHORUS LEADER

O Zeus, king, now you have destroyed
the overconfident armed multitude
of the Persian army, shrouding
the cities of Susa and Agbatana
in gloom and overwhelming sorrow.
And many women share our grief,                                     630
ripping their veils with gentle hands,                                             [540]
soaking their bosoms drenched in tears.
With agonizing female cries
the wives of Persia yearn to see
those men they married only recently.
They leave their wedding beds,
the softly quilted joys of youth,
and howl with grief that has no end.
And I, in great distress, take on myself
the dreadful fate of those who are now gone.                    640

 

CHORUS

Now indeed all lands in Asia
mourn their absent men!
Xerxes marched them off to war, alas!                                        [550]
Xerxes, to our sorrow, killed our men!
Xerxes, in his folly, took them all
and set out with a seagoing fleet.
Why then did Darius, while he lived
and ruled our city’s archer armies,
remain unhurt and so well loved
by those who dwell in Susa?                                            650

Our troops on foot and sailors left
in the dark-eyed ships—alas!—                                                  [560]
and went away on linen wings.(17)
Then other ships destroyed them,
obliterating all with their assault
at the hands of Ionian sailors.
And as we hear, our king himself
escaped, but only just, through Thrace,
on frozen paths across the plains.

Lament for those who perished earlier,                             660
abandoned by necessity—alas!—
along Cychrean shores.(18) Such grief!                                        [570]
Scream out your sorrow, clench your teeth,
let cries of anguished mourning
climb the heights of heaven—alas!—
draw out your long and piteous moans.

They are torn by the deadly surf—alas!—
and gnawed by those voiceless children
of unpolluted seas—alas!
The grieving household mourns                                         670
its absent lord, and parents                                                          [580]
whose children now are dead
cry out against the heaven-sent pain,
while the old, in sorrow, hear
of those men’s agonies in full.

Now other men in Asian lands
no longer will abide by Persian laws,
no longer pay the Persians tribute,
under compulsion from our king.
No longer will they fall down prostrate                              680
on the ground and worship him.
For the power of our king is gone!                                               [590]

No more will people check their tongues,
for now they have the liberty
to speak their minds without restraint.
The yoke of force has been removed,
and on that isle where Ajax ruled,
the blood-soaked rocks, washed by the sea,
now hold the power of Persia.

 

[Enter Atossa, this time without an escort]

 

ATOSSA

My friends, whoever has experienced disaster                  690
understands that when a wave of trouble
breaks over mortal men, they are inclined                                    [600]
to be afraid of everything, and then,
when good fortune blows their way once more,
they start believing that this same good luck
will keep on blowing them success forever.
In my case, all things now look full of dread.
My eyes can see the gods are enemies,
and in my ears echoes a sound that brings
no note of joy. I am so overwhelmed                                700
by these disasters—they have made my mind
so anxious and afraid. And that is why
I come here from the palace once again
without my chariots, without that pomp
I used to have before, bringing offerings
for the father of my son, libations
to propitiate and appease the dead—                                          [610]
sweet white milk from an unblemished cow
and splendid honey, distilled from flowers
by the bees, with water from a virgin spring,                      710
and from their rustic mother earth I bring
this unmixed drink, the delightful produce
of the ancient vine, and this sweet-smelling fruit
from the plant whose leaves are always green,
the golden olive, with wreaths of flowers.
But you, my friends, should chant a choral song                           [620]
to summon up the spirit of Darius,
while I pour these libations to the dead
and make an offering for the earth to drink,
in honour of the gods who rule below.                              720

 

CHORUS LEADER

O royal lady, whom Persians all revere,
pour out your offerings to the earth beneath,
down to the chambers of the dead, while we
in song will beg those gods who guide
the dead down there to treat us kindly.

O you sacred gods of the world beneath,
Earth and Hermes, and you, O ruling king
of those who perish, send that man’s spirit                                   [630]
from down below up here into the light.(19)
For if he knows of any further help                                    730
in our misfortunes, of all mortal men
he is the only one who can advise us
how to bring that remedy to bear.

 

CHORUS

Our sacred, godlike king,
does he attend to me,
as my obscure barbarian voice
sends out these riddling, wretched cries.
I will bewail my dreadful sorrow.
Does he hear me down below?

But you, O Earth, and you others,                                     740       [640]
you powers beneath the earth,
release his splendid spirit
from your homes—the divine one
born in Susa, the Persians’ god.
Send him up here, that man whose like
was never laid to rest in Persian ground.

The man is loved, as is his tomb—
we love the virtue buried there.
O Aidoneus, Aidoneus,
who sends shades from the dead,                                      750      [650]
send Darius up here to us,
send back our godlike king.(20)

That ruler never lost our men
to ruinous death in war,
and Persians hailed him as divine
in his wise counsel, for, like a god,
when he led his army out to fight,
he planned things brilliantly. Alas!

O king, our old Great King,
approach us now, draw near.                                           760
Rise to the summit of your tomb,
lift up the saffron slipper on your foot,                                         [660]
reveal the royal ornaments
of your imperial crown,
and come to us, O father Darius,
who never caused us pain.

Come listen to our latest grief,
the sorrow felt throughout this land.
O king of Persia’s king, appear.
For over us the darkness spreads,                                    770
a Stygian gloom, since our young men
have just been utterly destroyed.(21)                                            [670]
So come to us, O father Darius,
who never caused us pain.

Aaaaiii! Aaaiii!
O you whose death was mourned
so bitterly among your friends,   
O great and powerful king,
[if you had been in full command
who in this land would now be grieving                             780
such twin calamitous defeats?](22)
Our three-tiered ships—now ships no more—
have been completely overwhelmed.                                            [680]
Our ships are ships no more!

 

[The Ghost of Darius appears]

 

DARIUS

You loyal men in whom I placed my trust,
you ancient Persians, once my youthful friends,
what troubles are now threatening the state?
The soil is beaten down and torn apart—
it groans in great distress. I see my wife
beside my tomb, and so I grow concerned.                                 790
I have received the offerings she made
with favour, while you men have been standing here,
close to my grave, chanting your laments,
as with loud cries to summon up the dead
you have been calling piteously for me.
But there is no easy path from down below.
Beneath the earth the gods are much more prone
to welcome bodies than to send them back.                                [690]
Still, I do have some authority down there,
and I have come. But you must not waste time,                 800
so I do not get blamed for my delay.
What new disaster weighs the Persians down?

 

CHORUS

That fear of you I had in earlier days
makes me too awestruck now to look at you,
and reverence inhibits what I say.

 

DARIUS

But since I have responded to your cries
and come up here from underneath the earth,
you must ignore the awe that I inspire
and speak. Tell me everything that has gone on.
But keep the details brief—no lengthy story.                     810

 

CHORUS

I am afraid to act on your request,                                               [700]
too full of fear to speak directly to you
and say things hard to tell to those one loves.

 

DARIUS

Since ancient reverence affects your minds,

 

[Turning toward Atossa]

 

will you, noble and venerable queen,
who shared my bed, hold back your tears and groans
and speak quite frankly to me? We all know
that mortal blows will fall on mortal men.
Many from the sea, many from the land
afflict all human beings, as their long lives                          820
keep stretching through the years.

 

ATOSSA

O you, whose happy fate made you surpass
all other men in your prosperity,
for as long as you gazed at the brilliant sun,                                  [710]
you lived a fortunate life men envied,
and Persians looked on you as on a god.
And now I envy you, for you have died
before you saw the depths of our misfortune.
O Darius, you will hear everything.
A few words tell it all—one might well say                         830
the Persian state is utterly destroyed.

 

DARIUS

How is this so? Has our country suffered
from some foul pestilence or civil strife?

 

ATOSSA

No, not at all. But somewhere close to Athens
all our forces have been overpowered.

 

DARIUS

What son of mine led our armies there? Speak.

 

ATOSSA

Impetuous Xerxes—he drained the men
from our whole mainland plain.

 

DARIUS

                         That reckless wretch!
Did he launch this foolish expedition
by land or sea?

 

ATOSSA

                       By both. The double force                         840
proceeded on two fronts.                                                            [720]

 

DARIUS

                              How could the men,
a group of infantry that size, succeed
in moving past the Hellespont?

 

ATOSSA

                                                  Xerxes
used a clever scheme to yoke the river
and forge a way across.

 

DARIUS

                                He managed this?
He closed the mighty Bosporus?(23)

 

ATOSSA

                                                             He did.
Some spirit must have helped him with his plan.

 

DARIUS

Alas! Some mighty spirit came to him
and stopped him thinking clearly.

 

ATOSSA

Yes. And we can see the result of that,                             850
the enormous ruin his actions caused.

 

DARIUS

Why do you grieve for them? What happened?

 

ATOSSA

The destruction of our naval forces
led to the slaughter of our men on land.

 

DARIUS

And so the entire army came to grief,
butchered by the spear?

 

ATOSSA

                        Yes. And that is why
all of Susa mourns—the entire city                                               [730]
laments its missing men.

 

DARIUS

                                     Alas for the loss!
The help and defence of the army gone!

 

ATOSSA

All those troops from Bactria are now dead—                  860
not even an old man remains.

 

DARIUS

O wretched Xerxes! So many allies!
He has killed off all our youth!

 

ATOSSA

                                         The people say
he is now by himself, with few attendants.

 

DARIUS

How will this end? Do you have any hope
he could be rescued?

 

ATOSSA

                                  There is some good news—
he reached the bridge that links two continents.

 

DARIUS

He returned to Asia safely? Is that true?

 

ATOSSA

It is. We have had news confirming it
beyond all doubt.

 

DARIUS

                                            Alas! Those oracles              870
have quickly been proved true, and Zeus has let
their full prophetic weight fall on my son.
I had hoped the gods would somehow hold off                            [740]
fulfilling them for several years. But then,
when the man himself is in a hurry,
the god will take steps, too. It seems to me
a fountain of misfortunes has been found
for all the ones I love. It was my son
who, knowing nothing of these matters,
with his youthful rashness brought them on.                       880
He wished to check the sacred Hellespont
by tying it down with chains, just like a slave,
and that holy river, too, the Bosporus.
He built a roadway never seen before,
enclosing it with hammered manacles,
creating there a generous causeway
for his enormous force. Though a mortal man,
he sought to force his will on all the gods,
a foolish scheme, even on Poseidon.(24)
Why do that? Surely a sickness of the mind                       890      [750]
possessed my son? I fear that our great wealth,
amassed by my hard work, may well become
the spoils of anyone who marches here.

 

ATOSSA

Xerxes spent too much time with wicked men
and learned to be impulsive. They told him
how you had won great riches for your sons
by fighting with your spear, while he, in fear,
just used his spear at home and did not add
to the wealth his father left. Gibes like this,
which Xerxes often heard from evil men                            900
led him to organize this expedition
and launch an armed campaign against the Greeks.

 

DARIUS

And so he has achieved his mighty deed,
the greatest of them all, truly immense,
whose memory will never be erased—                                        [760]
he has removed from Susa all its citizens,
something no man has ever done before,
not since the time our sovereign Zeus proclaimed
one man should have the honour of being king
in all sheep-breeding Asia and should hold                        910
the sceptre of imperial command.
Medos was the first to lead its armies,
and then another man, his son, who had
a spirit guided by intelligence,
finished the work his father had begun.(25)
Third after him was Cyrus, a leader
favoured by the gods, for his rule brought peace
to all his friends. He added to his realm
the Lydian and Phrygian people                                                   [770]
and subdued all the Ionians by force.(26)                           920
The god felt no hostility towards him,
because his mind was wise. A son of Cyrus
was the fourth in charge of Persia’s armies,
and Mardos was the fifth, a man who shamed
his country and disgraced the ancient throne.
But noble Artaphrenes with the help
of comrades who undertook this duty
hatched a scheme and did away with Mardos
in his home. [Sixth in line was Maraphis,
and seventh Artaphrenes]. When my turn came,               930
I won the lot I wished for.(27) Many times
I led our mighty armies in campaigns,                                           [780]
and yet I never brought such great disaster
to our Persian state. But my son Xerxes,
who is still young, has immature ideas
and does not bear in mind what I advised.
For you whose old age matches mine know well
that none of us who have held ruling power
was ever seen to cause such great distress.

 

CHORUS LEADER

But then, lord Darius, these words of yours—                   940
what do they imply? What do you conclude?
After these events, what should we Persians do
to serve this land the best way possible?

 

DARIUS

You must not organize armed expeditions                                    [790]
against Hellenic lands, not even if
the Persian force is larger than before.
They have an ally—the very land itself.

 

CHORUS LEADER

What do you mean? In what way is the land
their ally?

 

DARIUS

                         Those armies which are very large
she kills with famine.

 

CHORUS LEADER

                                         Then we will raise                    950
some special soldiers and supply them well.

 

DARIUS

But that army which is still in Greece
will not get safely home.

 

CHORUS LEADER

                       What are you saying?
Will all our forces of barbarians
not make their way across the Hellespont
and out of Europe?

 

DARIUS

                              Not very many—
only a few of that huge multitude,                                                [800]
if, after those events we have been through,
we still place any trust in prophecies
the gods have made. For it is not the case                         960
that some will be fulfilled and others not.
If the oracles are true, then Xerxes,
convinced by empty hopes, will leave behind
a specially chosen portion of his army,
now stationed where the river Asopus
waters the plains and brings Boeotian lands
sweet nourishment. This is the place those men
remain to undergo their punishment,
the very worst disaster of them all,
a payment for their pride and godless thoughts.                 970
For when they first arrived in Greece, those men
did not display the slightest reverence
but broke in pieces images of gods                                             [810]
and burned their temples. They ravaged altars
demolished holy shrines, knocking them down
to their foundations, leaving scattered ruins.
And thus, given their acts were so profane,
the evils they must suffer are no less—
and others are in store. They have not plumbed
the depths of their disasters—more troubles                      980
will keep flowing yet. The mix of blood and gore
poured out by Dorian spears across the earth
of Plataea will be so great the dead,
the corpses heaped in piles, will still be there
when three generations have come and gone,
a silent witness to the eyes of men
that mortal human beings should not believe                                 [820]
that they are greater than they are.(28) For pride,
when it grows ripe, produces as its fruit
disastrous folly and a harvest crop                                    990
of countless tears. So when you look upon
the punishment for how these men behaved,
remember Greece and Athens. Do not let
any man despise the god he follows
and, in his lust for something else, squander
the great wealth he possesses. I tell you
Zeus does act to chastise arrogant men
whose thoughts are far too proud, and when he does
his hand is heavy. So now that Xerxes
has shown he lacks the prudence to think well,                 1000
you must teach him with sensible advice                                       [830]
to stop being so offensive to the gods
through his presumptuous daring. As for you,
dear lady, Xerxes’ venerable mother,
return back to the palace. Pick out there
some clothing fit for him, and then prepare
to meet your son. His grief at his misfortune
has torn to shreds the embroidered clothing
covering his body. Use soothing words
and gently calm him down, for I know this—                    1010
yours is the only voice he listens to.
As for me, I am returning to the earth,
to darkness down below. Farewell, old men,
despite these troubling times, you should each day                       [840]
discover reasons to rejoice, for riches
bring no profit whatsoever to the dead.

 

[The Ghost of Darius disappears]

 

CHORUS LEADER

To hear about the many troubles
we barbarians must face, the ones
already here and still more yet to come,
fills me with grief.

 

ATOSSA

                          O god, I am overwhelmed                       1020
with so much bitter sorrow! But one thing
more than all the others gnaws my heart—
the disgraceful appearance of my son,
the shameful clothing covering his limbs.
But I will go and get appropriate robes
and try to find my son. In this distress,                                         [850]
I will not abandon those most dear to me.

 

[Atossa exits]

 

CHORUS

Alas! How glorious and good the life
we loved here in our well-run city,
when our old sovereign ruled this land,                             1030
our all-sufficient and unconquered king,
who never brought us war or grief,
our mighty godlike Darius.

For first of all, we then displayed
our famous armies, and our traditions,                                         [860]
like towers in strength, ruled everything.
Our men returning from a war
faced no disasters—they reached
their prosperous homes unharmed.

Darius seized so many cities                                             1040
and never crossed the Halys stream
or even left his home—places like
the Thracian Acheloan towns
beside the Strymonian sea.(29)                                                    [870]

And cities on the mainland, too,
far from the sea, well fortified
with walls encircling them
obeyed him as their king,
and so did places on both shores
along the spacious Hellespont                                          1050
and in the deep bays of Propontis
and where the Pontus flows into the sea.(30)

And islands close to coastal headlands,
surrounded by the sea, right next to us,
like Lesbos, Samos, where olives grow,
and Chios, Paros, Naxos,
Mykonos, along with Andros, too,
adjacent to its neighbour Teos.

He ruled the wave-washed isles, as well,
which lie far out at sea—Lemnos,                                     1060
the home of Icarus, and Rhodes,
with Cnidus, too, and Cyprian cities—
Paphos and Soli and Salamis,
whose mother state has caused
our present cries of anguish.(31)

And wealthy crowded cities of those Greeks
descended from Ionian stock
he ruled with his shrewd mind,                                                     [900]
and under his command he had
enormous armies of warrior men—                                  1070
all nations were allied with him.
But now we must endure defeats
in wars inflicted by the gods.
We cannot doubt the truth of this,
for we have been destroyed in war,
by massive disaster on the sea.

 

[Enter Xerxes]

 

XERXES

O my situation now is desperate!
My luck has led me to a cruel fate                                               [910]
which I did not foresee! How savagely
a demon trampled on the Persian race.                             1080
What must I still endure in this distress?
As I look on these ancient citizens,
the strength in my limbs fails. O how I wish
a fatal doom from Zeus had buried me
with all those men who perished!

 

CHORUS LEADER

                                            Alas, my king,
for our brave force and the mighty honour
of Persia’s influence, those splendid men                                     [920]
whom fate has now cut down. The earth laments
her native youth, the soldiers Xerxes killed,
who filled all Hades with the Persian dead.                       1090
So many men—our country’s flowers—slain,
thousands perishing from enemy bows,
a close-packed multitude, all dead and gone.
Alas! Alas, for all our brave protectors!
O sovereign of the earth, all Asian lands
are now upon their knees, a dreadful sight,                                  [930]
so dreadful. . . .

 

XERXES

                You see me here, alas, a sad
and useless wretch who has become
an evil presence for my race
and for my native land.                                                     1100

 

CHORUS

For your return I will send out
in these harsh-sounding tones
a cry of ominous grief,
one full of tears, a shout
of Mariandynian sorrow.(32)                                                        [940]

 

XERXES

Then let your sad lament resound,
a harsh and plaintive cry.
For the god has turned against me.

 

CHORUS

Yes, I will sing my tearful chant
to honour the men who suffered so                                   1110
in that defeat at sea—a dirge
from those who mourn this land
and lament its slaughtered sons.
My doleful grief I voice once more.

 

XERXES

Ionian Ares with those ships of war                                             [950]
turned the tide of victory
and swept our troops away—
the Greek fleet razed the murky sea
and that fatal cliff onshore.

 

CHORUS

Aaaaiii! Cry out your sorrows,                                         1120
and learn the tale in full.
Where are they now, that multitude
of other friends so dear to us?
Where are the ones who stood by you—
Pharandaces, and Sousas, and Pelagon,
with Agabatas and Dotamas,
Psammis, and Sousiskanes,                                                         [960]
who came from Agbatana?

 

XERXES

I left them there. They perished,
tumbling out of their Tyrian ship                                        1030
by the coast of Salamis,
beaten against its rugged shore.

 

CHORUS

Aaaiii! Where is Pharnouchus, your friend,
and Ariomardus, that glorious man?
And lord Seualcus or Lilaios,
descended from a noble line,                                                       [970]
or Memphis, Tharybis, and Masistras,
or Hystaichmas and Artembares?
I am asking you about them, too.

 

XERXES

Alas! Alas! They caught a glimpse                                    1040
of ancient Athens, that hateful place!
Now all of them at one fell blow—
the pain of those poor wretches!—
lie gasping on the shore.

 

CHORUS

And did you really leave behind
Alpistos, son of Batanochus,
your ever loyal Persian eye
who tracked men by the thousands?                                            [980]
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .](33)
The sons of Sesames and Megabates,                              1050
with Parthos and the great Oibares—
did you abandon them, as well,
and leave them with the others?
Alas, alas, for those poor men!
You talk of catastrophic woes
among our noble Persians.

 

XERXES

What you say truly makes me yearn
for all my fine companions,
when you bring up the evil times,                                                  [990]
that hateful woe I cannot bear.                                         1160
From deep within, my grieving heart
howls out my pain and sorrow.

 

CHORUS

But there are other men we miss—
like Xanthes, who as commander
captained countless Mardian men,
as well as warlike Anchares,
and Diaixis, too, and Arsakes,
who led the cavalry,
and Agdadatas, Lythimnas,
and Tolmus, too, whose appetite                                      1170
could never get enough of war.
I am amazed they are not here                                                     [1000]
marching behind you in your train
with your wheel-drawn carriage tent.

 

XERXES

Those leaders of our forces are all dead.

 

CHORUS

They are gone? Alas! And with no glory!

 

XERXES

Aaaaiiii! The sorrow!

 

CHORUS

Alas! Alas, you spirits above,
you bring us such disaster,
so unforeseen and yet so clear to see,                               1180
as if the goddess of folly, Ate,
had glanced at us in this calamity.(34)

 

XERXES

We have been hit by blows,
smitten by unexpected blows of fate!

 

CHORUS

Yes, all too clearly stricken!

 

XERXES

New troubles, strange disasters!                                                 [1010]

 

CHORUS

It was bad luck for us we ran into
those ships and sailors from Ionia.
The Persian race, as we can see,
has had no luck in war.                                                     1190

 

XERXES

How can that be? Such a mighty force!
And I, a miserable wretch,
have now been beaten down!

 

CHORUS

And of our splendid Persian glory
what has not perished?

 

XERXES

                                       Do you see my robes—
what’s left of them?

 

CHORUS
                                     Yes, I see . . . I see them now.

 

XERXES

And my quiver here . . .                                                               [1020]

 

CHORUS

                                         What are you saying?
Is this what has been saved?

 

XERXES

                                 . . . this holder for my arrows?

 

CHORUS

So small a remnant from so many!

 

XERXES

We have lost all our protectors!                                       1200

 

CHORUS

Ionian troops are not afraid to fight.

 

XERXES

They are a warlike race. I witnessed there
what I did not expect—a great defeat.

 

CHORUS

You mean the way they beat your warships—
that massive fleet?

 

XERXES

                                When that disaster came,
I ripped my clothing.

 

CHORUS

                                     Alas! Alas!

 

XERXES

And there were even more catastrophes
to make one cry “Alas!”

 

CHORUS

                             Two and three times more!

 

XERXES

Crushing grief—but for our enemies great joy!

 

CHORUS

Our strength has been lopped off.                                     1210

 

XERXES

I am now naked—stripped of my attendants!

 

CHORUS

By deaths of friends who perished on the sea.

 

XERXES

Weep for that catastrophe! Let your tears fall.
Then return back to your homes.

 

CHORUS

                                        Alas, such grief!
Alas, for our distress!

 

XERXES

                                  Your cries of sorrow—
let them echo mine!                                                                     [1040]

 

CHORUS

An answering cry of anguished pain
from one grief to another.

 

XERXES

Cry out and link together our laments!

 

CHORUS

Aaaaiiii! Misfortunes hard to bear!                                   1220
For I too share your grief!

 

XERXES

For my sake beat your chests and groan!

 

CHORUS

My sorrow drenches me with tears!

 

XERXES

Shout out your cries to answer mine.

 

CHORUS

We will respond to you, my king.

 

XERXES

Now raise your voices high in your laments.                                 [1050]

 

CHORUS

Aaaaaiiiii! Once more
we mix our song of grief
with these dark blows of pain!

 

XERXES

Now beat your chests and as you do                                1230
howl out a Mysian strain!

 

CHORUS

                                Such grief! Such sorrow!

 

XERXES

And tear those white hairs on your chin!

 

CHORUS

With fists I clench my beard and moan!

 

XERXES

Let your shrill cries ring out!

 

CHORUS

                                        I will cry out!

 

XERXES

And with your fingers rip your flowing robes!                               [1060]

 

CHORUS

                                        The pain! The sorrow!

 

XERXES

Now tug your hair out as you cry
for our lost army!

 

CHORUS

                             With these fists
I clench my hair and moan!

 

XERXES

Let your eyes fill with tears.

 

CHORUS

                                   They do! They do!

 

XERXES

Shout out your cries to answer mine.

 

CHORUS

                                          Alas! Alas!                             1240

 

XERXES

And now, as you lament, go home.

 

CHORUS

Alas! Alas! Such grief to move                                                    [1070]
across our Persian land.

 

XERXES

Such grief throughout the city.

 

CHORUS

So much pain, so much distress!

 

XERXES

Tread softly as you wail your grief.

 

CHORUS

Alas! Alas! Such grief to move
across our Persian land.

 

XERXES

Aaaaiii! Alas, for those destroyed
in the flat bottomed boats—                                             1250
the power of those three-tiered galleys!

 

CHORUS

I will be your escort and attend on you
with mournful cries of sorrow.

 

[Xerxes and the Chorus exit]

 

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

(1) The name Atossa is not mentioned in the Greek manuscripts, but the name is well known. [Back to Text]

(2) It is not totally clear from the text whether the building is the royal palace or a special council building or something else entirely. [Back to Text]

(3) The mainland referred to is Asia Minor (as opposed to the islands). Many cities in this region, especially along the coast, were part of the Persian Empire but inhabited by Ionians, that is, by Greeks closely related to the Athenians. The Greek cities resented Persian rule and had rebelled against it in the past. The three- or four-horse teams mentioned refers to the number of horses who rode abreast. Lydia is a region in Asia Minor. Tmolus is a mountain near the Persian city of Sardis. The Mysians came from northern Asia Minor. Greek traditions stressed the enormous size of Xerxes’ forces. Herodotus’ (no doubt exaggerated) claim puts the number of soldiers and army followers at over three million. [Back to Text]

(4) One of the two narrow straits separating Asia from Europe was named after Helle, a daughter of Athamas, who fell from the sky and drowned in the water there. Xerxes led his immense army across this obstacle on a bridge made of boats. The boats were tied together with cables and chains, and then planks and earth were placed on top to make a roadway. A Persian fleet accompanied the army. [Back to Text]

(5) Atossa’s entry here is probably meant to be imperially splendid, with chariots and an impressive escort, in contrast to her entry later in the play. There is no sense that she enters from the building at the back. [Back to Text]

(6) The Dorians were an ethnic group within the Greek people (and frequent rivals of the Ionians). They were commonly associated with Sparta, the most important Dorian city. [Back to Text]

(7) Hellenic means Greek. The word barbarian, a term the Greeks used to refer to non-Greeks, is here a reference to Persia. [Back to Text]

(8) The terms Mede and Persian were, for the Greeks, synonymous. The Athenians were the most important element in the Greek force which had defeated Darius’ expeditionary army at Marathon ten years earlier (in 490 BC). Some editors believe that two lines are missing immediately before this passage, another question from Atossa and an answer from the Chorus. [Back to Text]

(9) Attica, the region around Athens, had very profitable silver mines. [Back to Text]

(10) Salamis is an island in the Saronic Gulf, close to Athens. It was famous for its sailors. Once Xerxes’ army entered Greece, it was at first successful, moving past Thermopylae down into central Greece and raising alarm in Athens and elsewhere. The Athenians, placing their faith in their formidable navy, abandoned the city and moved to Salamis with their fleet. [Back to Text]

(11) This reference to the battle of Marathon ten years before emphasizes the vital role played by the Athenians in the combined Greek force which defeated the army Darius has sent. [Back to Text]

(12) The name Ajax refers to the Greater Ajax, king of Salamis, who in the Iliad is the mightiest Greek warrior at Troy after Achilles. [Back to Text]

(13) Pallas is a reference to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens. The city of Athens had, in fact, been ravaged by the Persian army, which occupied the city, because the citizens had abandoned the town and gone to Salamis and Aegina. [Back to Text]

(14) The phrase envy of the gods refers to the belief that the gods were jealous of a mortal being’s success and punished him for it, especially when the display of his greatness became excessive.[Back to Text]

(15) The island was called Psytteleia. [Back to Text]

(16) After the battle the Persian land forces moved north, away from Salamis, to make their way back to Asia Minor. The places listed are more or less in geographical order. [Back to Text]

(17) Ships often had eyes painted on their prows to make them look like sea creatures. [Back to Text]

(18) The phrase Cychrean shores is a reference to Salamis. [Back to Text]

(19) The ruler of the underworld is Hades, brother of Zeus and Poseidon. The spirit the Chorus wishes to conjure up is, of course, Darius. [Back to Text]

(20) Aidoneus is an alternative name for Hades, god of the dead. [Back to Text]

(21) The word Stygian refers to the Styx, a major river in the underworld. [Back to Text]

(22) The precise meaning of these lines is not altogether clear. [Back to Text]

(23) The Hellespont (now called the Dardanelles) and the Bosporus are the two straits which separate Asia from Europe in Asia Minor. For Aeschylus both names refer to the westernmost strait (i.e., the Hellespont). At its narrowest point, this strait is about half a mile across. [Back to Text]

(24) Poseidon, a brother of Zeus and Hades, was god of the sea. [Back to Text]

(25) That is, he succeeded in bringing a large part of Asia under Persian rule. The Greek word Medos may not be a proper name but simply mean “a Mede.” [Back to Text]

(26) Lydia and Phrygia were areas in Asia Minor near the Mediterranean coast. The term Ionians here refers to the Greeks in Asia Minor and some adjacent islands. It does not include the Ionians elsewhere. [Back to Text]

(27) These lines refer to the traditional story that when the Persian nobles who conspired against Mardos succeeded, they drew lots to determine the imperial succession. In different accounts of this event, the names of the conspirators and the succeeding kings differ. Line 778 in the Greek is generally considered an interpolation (hence the square brackets). [Back to Text]

(28) Darius is here referring to the great land battle of Plataea, in Boeotia, where the Greek forces led by the Spartans, who were of Dorian descent, defeated the Persian land armies, after the naval battle of Salamis. [Back to Text]

(29) It is not entirely clear what places these phrases refer to, since the meaning of the Greek word Acheloan is disputed. The Halys River in Lydia, the longest river in Asia Minor, marked (for the Greeks) the western boundary of Persia. [Back to Text]

(30) The Propontis (now called the Sea of Marmora) is a large body of water between the Bosporus and the Hellespont. Pontus was normally the name of a region on the south shores of the Black Sea. Here is seems to apply to a river or rivers in the area. [Back to Text]

(31) Icarus, son of Daedalus, attempted to fly away from Crete on wings his father, Daedalus, had made. But when he flew too near the sun, the wax holding his feathers melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned. The Icarian Sea in the eastern Mediterranean was named after him. [Back to Text]

(32) The Mariandynians were a Thracian people, famous for their funeral laments. [Back to Text]

(33) The “eyes” of the Persian king were officials whose task was to keep him informed about what was going on among the king’s subjects. Some portion of the text is evidently missing after line 981 in the Greek. [Back to Text]

(34) Ate, the goddess of folly, caused people temporarily to lose all their judgment, so that they made decisions with disastrous consequences. [Back to Text]

 

 

A NOTE ON THE TRANSLATOR

 

Ian Johnston is an Emeritus Professor at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia. He is the author of The Ironies of War: An Introduction to Homer’s Iliad and of Essays and Arguments: A Handbook for Writing Student Essays. He also translated a number of works, including the following:


Aeschylus, Oresteia (Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides)
Aeschylus, Persians
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes
Aeschylus, Suppliant Women
Aristophanes, Birds
Aristophanes, Clouds
Aristophanes, Frogs
Aristophanes, Knights
Aristophanes, Lysistrata
Aristophanes, Peace
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Abridged)
Cuvier, Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Earth
Descartes, Discourse on Method
Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
Diderot, A Conversation Between D’Alembert and Diderot
Diderot, D’Alembert’s Dream
Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew
Euripides, Bacchae
Euripides, Electra
Euripides, Hippolytus
Euripides, Medea
Euripides, Orestes
Homer, Iliad (Complete and Abridged)
Homer, Odyssey (Complete and Abridged)
Kafka, Metamorphosis
Kafka, Selected Shorter Writings
Kant, Universal History of Nature and Theory of Heaven
Kant, On Perpetual Peace
Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy, Volume I
Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
Nietzsche, On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life
Ovid, Metamorphoses
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men [Second Discourse]
Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts [First Discourse]
Rousseau, Social Contract
Sophocles, Antigone
Sophocles, Ajax
Sophocles, Electra
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Sophocles, Philoctetes
Wedekind, Castle Wetterstein
Wedekind, Marquis of Keith.

 

Most of these translations have been published as books or audiobooks (or both)—by Richer Resources Publications, Broadview Press, Naxos, Audible, and others.

 

Ian Johnston maintains a web site where texts of these translations are freely available to students, teachers, artists, and the general public. The site includes a number of Ian Johnston’s lectures on these (and other) works, handbooks, curricular materials, and essays, all freely available.

The addresses where these texts are available are as follows:

 

https://records.viu.ca/~johnstoi/

 http://johnstoniatexts.x10host.com/index.html

For comments and questions, please contact Ian Johnston.