The Humanism of Aeschylus ─ Reading #1


The Persians (472 BCE)




ATOSSA, widow of Darius and mother of XERXES




CHORUS OF PERSIAN ELDERS, the Persian Council of State



Before the Council-Hall of the Persian Kings at Susa. The tomb of Darius the Great is visible.

The time is 480 BCE, shortly after the Persian defeat at the battle of Salamis.

The play opens with the CHORUS OF PERSIAN ELDERS singing its first choral lyric.



While o'er the fields of Greece the embattled troops

Of Persia march with delegated sway,

We o'er their rich and gold-abounding seats

Hold faithful our firm guard; to this high charge

Xerxes, our royal lord, the imperial son

Of great Darius, chose our honored age.

But for the king's return, and his armed host

Blazing with gold, my soul presaging ill

Swells in my tortured breast: for all her force

Hath Asia sent, and for her youth I sigh.

Nor messenger arrives, nor horseman spurs

With tidings to this seat of Persia's kings.

The gates of Susa and Ecbatana

Poured forth their martial trains; and Cissia sees

Her ancient towers forsaken, while her youth,

Some on the bounding steed, the tall bark some

Ascending, some with painful march on foot,

Haste on, to arrange the deepening files of war.

Amistres, Artaphernes, and the might

Of great Astaspes, Megabazes bold,

Chieftains of Persia, kings, that, to the power

Of the great king obedient, march with these

Leading their martial thousands; their proud steeds

Prance under them; steel bows and shafts their arms,

Dreadful to see, and terrible in fight,

Deliberate valor breathing in their souls.

Artembares, that in his fiery horse

Delights; Masistress; and Imaeus bold,

Bending with manly strength his stubborn bow;

Pharandaces, and Sosthanes, that drives

With military pomp his rapid steeds.

Others the vast prolific Nile hath sent;

Pegastagon, that from Aegyptus draws

His high birth; Susiscanes; and the chief

That reigns o'er sacred Memphis, great Arsames;

And Ariomardus, that o'er ancient Thebes

Bears the supreme dominion; and with these,

Drawn from their watery marshes, numbers trained

To the stout oar. Next these the Lycian troops,

Soft sons of luxury; and those that dwell

Amid the inland forests, from the sea

Far distant; these Metragathes commands,

And virtuous Arceus, royal chiefs, that shine

In burnished gold, and many a whirling car

Drawn by six generous steeds from Sardis lead,

A glorious and a dreadful spectacle.

And from the foot of Tumulus, sacred mount,

Eager to bind on Greece the servile yoke,

Mardon and Tharybis the massy spear

Grasp with unwearied vigor; the light lance

The Mysians shake. A mingled multitude

Swept from her wide dominions skilled to draw

The unerring bow, in ships Euphrates sends

From golden Babylon. With falchions armed

From all the extent of Asia move the hosts

Obedient to their monarch's stern command.

Thus marched the flower of Persia, whose loved youth

The world of Asia nourished, and with sighs

Laments their absence; many an anxious look

Their wives, their parents send, count the slow days,

And tremble at the long-protracted time.


[2] Strophe 1

Already o'er the adverse strand

In arms the monarch's martial squadrons spread;

The threatening ruin shakes the land,

And each tall city bows its towered head.

Bark bound to bark, their wondrous way

They bridge across the indignant sea;

The narrow Hellespont's vexed waves disdain,

His proud neck taught to wear the chain.

Now has the peopled Asia's warlike lord,

By land, by sea, with foot, with horse,

Resistless in his rapid course,

O'er all their realms his warring thousands poured;

Now his intrepid chiefs survey,

And glittering like a god his radiant state displays.


[3] Antistrophe 1

Fierce as the dragon scaled in gold

Through the deep files he darts his glowing eye;

And pleased their order to behold,

His gorgeous standard blazing to the sky,

Rolls onward his Assyrian car,

Directs the thunder of the war,

Bids the winged arrows' iron storm advance

Against the slow and cumbrous lance.

What shall withstand the torrent of his sway

When dreadful o'er the yielding shores

The impetuous tide of battle roars,

And sweeps the weak opposing mounds away?

So Persia, with resistless might,

Rolls her unnumbered hosts of heroes to the fight.


[4] Strophe 2

For when misfortune's fraudulent hand

Prepares to pour the vengeance of the sky,

What mortal shall her force withstand?

What rapid speed the impending fury fly?

Gentle at first with flattering smiles

She spreads her soft enchanting wiles,

So to her toils allures her destined prey,

Whence man ne'er breaks unhurt away.

For thus from ancient times the Fates ordain

That Persia's sons should greatly dare,

Unequalled in the works of war;

Shake with their thundering steeds the ensanguined plain,

Dreadful the hostile walls surround,

And lay their rampired towers in ruins on the ground.


[5] Antistrophe 2

Taught to behold with fearless eyes

The whitening billows foam beneath the gale,

They bid the naval forests rise,

Mount the slight bark, unfurl the flying sail,

And o'er the angry ocean bear

To distant realms the storm of war.

For this with many a sad and gloomy thought

My tortured breast is fraught:

Ah me! for Persia's absent sons I sigh;

For while in foreign fields they fight,

Our towns exposed to wild affright

An easy prey to the invader lies:

Where, mighty Susa, where thy powers,

To wield the warrior's arms, and guard thy regal towers?


[6] Epode

Crushed beneath the assailing foe

Her golden head must Cissia bend;

While her pale virgins, frantic with despair,

Through all her streets awake the voice of wo;

And flying with their bosoms bare,

Their purpled stoles in anguish rend:

For all her youth in martial pride,

Like bees that, clustering round their king,

Their dark imbodied squadrons bring,

Attend their sceptered monarch's side,

And stretch across the watery way

From shore to shore their long array.

The Persian dames, with many a tender fear,

In grief's sad vigils keep the midnight hour;

Shed on the widowed couch the streaming tear,

And the long absence of their loves deplore.

Each lonely matron feels her pensive breast

Throb with desire, with aching fondness glow,

Since in bright arms her daring warrior dressed

Left her to languish in her love-lorn woe.


Now, ye grave Persians, that your honored seats

Hold in this ancient house, with prudent care

And deep deliberation, so the state

Requires, consult we, pondering the event

Of this great war, which our imperial lord,

The mighty Xerxes from Darius sprung,

The stream of whose rich blood flows in our veins,

Leads against Greece; whether his arrowy shower

Shot from the strong-braced bow, or the huge spear

High brandished, in the deathful field prevails.

But see, the monarch's mother: like the gods

Her luster blazes on our eyes: my queen,

Prostrate I fall before her: all advance

With reverence, and in duteous phrase address her,

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



Hail, queen, of Persia's high-zoned dames supreme,

Age-honored mother of the potent Xerxes,

Imperial consort of Darius, hail!

The wife, the mother of the Persians' god,

If yet our former glories fade not from us.



And therefore am I come, leaving my house

That shines with gorgeous ornaments and gold,

Where in past days Darius held with me

His royal residence. With anxious care

My heart is tortured: I will tell you, friends,

My thoughts, not otherwise devoid of fear,

Lest mighty wealth with haughty foot overturn

And trample in the dust that happiness,

Which, not unblessed by Heaven, Darius raised.

For this with double force unquiet thoughts

Past utterance fill my soul; that neither wealth

With all its golden stores, where men are wanting,

Claims reverence; nor the light, that beams from power,

Shines on the man whom wealth disdains to grace.

The golden stores of wealth indeed are ours;

But for the light (such in the house I deem

The presence of its lord) there I have fears.

Advise me then, you whose experienced age

Supports the state of Persia: prudence guides

Your councils, always kind and faithful to me.



Speak, royal lady, what thy will, assured

We want no second bidding, where our power

In word or deed waits on our zeal: our hearts

In this with honest duty shall obey thee.



Oft, since my son hath marched his mighty host

Against the lonians, warring to subdue

Their country, have my slumbers been disturbed

With dreams of dread portent; but most last night,

With marks of plainest proof. I'll tell thee then:

Although two women stood before my eyes

Gorgeously vested, one in Persian robes

Adorned, the other in the Doric garb.

With more than mortal majesty they moved,

Of peerless beauty; sisters too they seemed,

Though distant each from each they chanced to dwell,

In Greece the one, on the barbaric coast

The other. 'Twixt them soon dissension rose:

My son then hasted to compose their strife,

Soothed them to fair accord, beneath his car

Yokes them and reins their harnessed necks. The one,

Exulting in her rich array, with pride

Arching her stately neck, obeyed the reins;

The other with indignant fury spurned

The car, and dashed it piecemeal, rent the reins,

And tore the yoke asunder; down my son

Fell from the seat, and instant at his side

His father stands, Darius, at his fall

Impressed with pity: him when Xerxes saw,

Glowing with grief and shame he rends his robes.

This was the dreadful vision of the night.

When I arose, in the sweet-flowing stream

I bathed my hands, and on the incensed altars

Presenting my oblations to the gods

To avert these ills, an eagle I behold

Fly to the altar of the sun; aghast

I stood, my friends, and speechless; when a hawk

With eager speed runs thither, furious cuffs

The eagle with his wings, and with his talons

Unplumes his head; meantime the imperial bird

Cowers to the blows defenseless. Dreadful this

To me that saw it, and to you that hear.

My son, let conquest crown his arms, would shine

With dazzling glory; but should Fortune frown,

The state indeed presumes not to arraign

His sovereignty; yet how, his honor lost,

How shall he sway the scepter of this land?



We would not, royal lady, sink thy soul

With fear in the excess, nor raise it high

With confidence. Go then, address the gods;

If thou hast seen aught ill, entreat their power

To avert that ill, and perfect every good

To thee, thy sons, the state, and all thy friends.

Then to the earth, and to the mighty dead

Behooves thee pour libations; gently call

Him that was once thy husband, whom thou saw

In visions of the night; entreat his shade

From the deep realms beneath to send to light

Triumph to thee and to thy son; whate'er

Bears other import, to enwrap, to hide it

Close in the covering earth's profoundest gloom.

This, in the presage of my thoughts that flow

Benevolent to thee, have I proposed;

And all, we trust, shall be successful to thee.



Thy friendly judgment first hath placed these dreams

In a fair light, confirming the event

Benevolent to my son and to my house.

May all the good be ratified! These rites

Shall, at thy bidding, to the powers of heaven,

And to the manes of our friends, be paid

In order meet, when I return; meanwhile

Indulge me, friends, who wish to be informed

Where, in what clime, the towers of Athens rise.



Far in the west, where sets the imperial sun.



Yet my son willed the conquest of this town.



May Greece through all her states bend to his power!



Send they embattled numbers to the field?



A force that to the Medes hath wrought much wo.



Have they sufficient treasures in their houses?



Their rich earth yields a copious fount of silver.



From the strong bow wing they the barbed shaft?



They grasp the stout spear, and the massy shield.



What monarch reigns, whose power commands their ranks?


Slaves to no lord, they own no kingly power.



How can they then resist the invading foe?



As to spread havoc through the numerous host,

That round Darius formed their glittering files.



Thy words strike deep, and wound the parent's breast

Whose sons are marched to such a dangerous field.



But, if I judge aright, thou soon shalt hear

Each circumstance; for this way, mark him, speeds

A Persian messenger; he bears, be sure,

Tidings of high import, or good or ill.





Woe to the towns through Asia's peopled realms!

Woe to the land of Persia, once the port

Of boundless wealth, how is thy glorious state

Vanished at once, and all thy spreading honors

Fallen, lost! Ah me! unhappy is his task

That bears unhappy tidings: but constraint

Compels me to relate this tale of wo.

Persians, the whole barbaric host is fallen.


[29] CHORUS chanting

O horror, horror! What a baleful train

Of recent ills! Ah, Persians, as he speaks

Of ruin, let your tears stream to the earth.



It is even so, all ruin; and myself,

Beyond all hope returning, view this light.


[31] CHORUS chanting

How tedious and oppressive is the weight

Of age, reserved to hear these hopeless ills!



I speak not from report; but these my eyes

Beheld the ruin which my tongue would utter.


[33] CHORUS chanting

Woe, woe is me! Then has the iron storm,

That darkened from the realms of Asia, poured

In vain its arrowy shower on sacred Greece.



In heaps the unhappy dead lie on the strand

Of Salamis, and all the neighboring shores.


[35] CHORUS chanting

Unhappy friends, sunk, perished in the sea;

Their bodies, mid the wreck of shattered ships,

Mangled, and rolling on the encumbered waves!




Naught did their bows avail, but all the troops

In the first conflict of the ships were lost.


[37] CHORUS chanting

Raise the funereal cry, with dismal notes

Wailing the wretched Persians. Oh, how ill

They planned their measures, all their army perished!



O Salamis, how hateful is thy name!

And groans burst from me when I think of Athens.


[39] CHORUS chanting

How dreadful to her foes! Call to remembrance

How many Persian dames, wedded in vain,

Has Athens of their noble husbands widowed?



Astonied with these ills, my voice thus long

Hath wanted utterance: griefs like these exceed

The power of speech or question: yet even such,

Inflicted by the gods, must mortal man

Constrained by hard necessity endure.

But tell me all, without distraction tell me,

All this calamity, though many a groan

Burst from thy laboring heart. Who is not fallen?

What leader must we wail? What sceptered chief

Dying hath left his troops without a lord?



Xerxes himself lives, and beholds the light.


That word beams comfort on my house, a ray

That brightens through the melancholy gloom.



Artembares, the potent chief that led

Ten thousand horse, lies slaughtered on the rocks

Of rough Sileniae. The great Dadaces,

Beneath whose standard marched a thousand horse,

Pierced by a spear, fell headlong from the ship.

Tenagon, bravest of the Bactrians, lies

Rolled on the wave-worn beach of Ajax' isle.

Lilaeus, Arsames, Argestes, dash

With violence in death against the rocks

Where nest the silver doves. Arcteus, that dwelt

Near to the fountains of the Egyptian Nile,

Adeues, and Pheresba, and Pharnuchus

Fell from one ship. Matallus, Chrysa's chief,

That led his darkening squadrons, thrice ten thousand,

On jet-black steeds, with purple gore distained

The yellow of his thick and shaggy beard.

The Magian Arabus, and Artames

From Bactra, moldering on the dreary shore

Lie low. Amistris, and Amphistreus there

Grasps his war-wear spear; there prostrate lies

The illustrious Ariomardus; long his los

Shall Sardis weep: thy Mysian Sisames,

And Tharybis, that over the burdened deep

Led five times fifty vessels; Lerna gave

The hero birth, and manly race adorned

His pleasing form, but low in death he lies

Unhappy in his fate. Syennesis,

Cilicia's warlike chief, who dared to front

The foremost dangers, singly to the foes

A terror there too found a glorious death.

These chieftains to my sad remembrance rise,

Relating but a few of many ills.



This is the height of ill, ah me! and shame

To Persia, grief, and lamentation loud.

But tell me this, afresh renew thy tale:

What was the number of the Grecian fleet,

That in fierce conflict their bold barks should dare

Rush to encounter with the Persian hosts?



Know then, in numbers the barbaric fleet

Was far superior: in ten squadrons, each

Of thirty ships, Greece ploughed the deep; of these

One held a distant station. Xerxes led

A thousand ships; their number well I know;

Two hundred more, and seven, that swept the seas

With speediest sail: this was their full amount.

And in the engagement seemed we not secure

Of victory? But unequal fortune sunk

Our scale in fight, discomfiting our host.



The gods preserve the city of Minerva.



The walls of Athens are impregnable,

Their firmest bulwarks her heroic sons.


Which navy first advanced to the attack?

Who led to the onset, tell me; the bold Greeks,

Or, glorying in his numerous fleet, my son?



Our evil genius, lady, or some god

Hostile to Persia, led to every ill.

Forth from the troops of Athens came a Greek,

And thus addressed thy son, the imperial Xerxes:

"Soon as the shades of night descend, the Grecians

Shall quit their station; rushing to their oars

They mean to separate, and in secret flight

Seek safety." At these words, the royal chief,

Little conceiving of the wiles of Greece

And gods averse, to all the naval leaders

Gave his high charge: "Soon as yon sun shall cease

To dart his radiant beams, and darkening night

Ascends the temple of the sky, arrange

In three divisions your well-ordered ships,

And guard each pass, each outlet of the seas:

Others enring around this rocky isle

Of Salamis. Should Greece escape her fate,

And work her way by secret flight, your heads

Shall answer the neglect." This harsh command

He gave, exulting in his mind, nor knew

What Fate designed. With martial discipline

And prompt obedience, snatching a repast,

Each mariner fixed well his ready oar.

Soon as the golden sun was set, and night

Advanced, each trained to ply the dashing oar,

Assumed his seat; in arms each warrior stood,

Troop cheering troop through all the ships of war.

Each to the appointed station steers his course;

And through the night his naval force each chief

Fixed to secure the passes. Night advanced,

But not by secret flight did Greece attempt

To escape. The morn, all beauteous to behold,

Drawn by white steeds bounds o'er the enlightened earth;

At once from every Greek with glad acclaim

Burst forth the song of war, whose lofty notes

The echo of the island rocks returned,

Spreading dismay through Persia's hosts, thus fallen

From their high hopes; no flight this solemn strain

Portended, but deliberate valor bent

On daring battle; while the trumpet's sound

Kindled the flames of war. But when their oars

The paean ended, with impetuous force

Dashed the resounding surges, instant all

Rushed on in view: in orderly array

The squadron on the right first led, behind

Rode their whole fleet; and now distinct we heard

From every part this voice of exhortation:

"Advance, ye sons of Greece, from slavery save

Your country, save your wives, your children save,

The temples of your gods, the sacred tomb

Where rest your honored ancestors; this day

The common cause of all demands your valor."

Meantime from Persia's hosts the deepening shout

Answered their shout; no time for cold delay;

But ship against ship its brazen beak impelled.

First to the charge a Grecian galley rushed;

Ill the Phoenician bore the rough attack,

Its sculptured prow all shattered. Each advanced

Daring an opposite. The deep array

Of Persia at the first sustained the encounter;

But their thronged numbers, in the narrow seas

Confined, want room for action; and, deprived

Of mutual aid, beaks clash with beaks, and each

Breaks all the other's oars: with skill disposed

The Grecian navy circled them around

With fierce assault; and rushing from its height

The inverted vessel sinks: the sea no more

Wears its accustomed aspect, with foul wrecks

And blood disfigured; floating carcasses

Roll on the rocky shores: the poor remains

Of the barbaric armament to flight

Ply every oar inglorious: onward rush

The Greeks amid the ruins of the fleet,

As through a shoal of fish caught in the net,

Spreading destruction: the wide ocean o'er

Wailings are heard, and loud laments, till night

With darkness on her brow brought grateful truce.

Should I recount each circumstance of wo,

Ten times on my unfinished tale the sun

Would set; for be assured that not one day

Could close the ruin of so vast a host.



Ah, what a boundless sea of woe hath burst

On Persia, and the whole barbaric race!



These are not half, not half our ills; on these

Came an assemblage of calamities,

That sunk us with a double weight of woe.


What fortune can be more unfriendly to us

Than this? Say on, what dread calamity

Sunk Persia's host with greater weight of wo.



Whoever of Persia's warriors glowed in prime

Of vigorous youth, or felt their generous souls

Expand with courage, or for noble birth

Shone with distinguished luster, or excelled

In firm and duteous loyalty, all these

Are fallen, ignobly, miserably fallen.



Alas, their ruthless fate, unhappy friends!

But in what manner, tell me, did they perish?



Full against Salamis an isle arises,

Of small circumference, to the anchored bark

Unfaithful; on the promontory's brow,

That overlooks the sea, Pan loves to lead

The dance: to this the monarch sends these chiefs,

That when the Grecians from their shattered ships

Should here seek shelter, these might hew them down

An easy conquest, and secure the strand

To their sea-wearied friends; ill judging what

The event: but when the favoring god to Greece

Gave the proud glory of this naval fight,

Instant in all their glittering arms they leaped

From their light ships, and all the island round

Encompassed, that our bravest stood dismayed;

While broken rocks, whirled with tempestuous force,

And storms of arrows crushed them; then the Greeks

Rush to the attack at once, and furious spread

The carnage, till each mangled Persian fell.

Deep were the groans of Xerxes when he saw

This havoc; for his seat, a lofty mound

Commanding the wide sea, overlooked his hosts.

With rueful cries he rent his royal robes,

And through his troops embattled on the shore

Gave signal of retreat; then started wild,

And fled disordered. To the former ills

These are fresh miseries to awake thy sighs.



Invidious Fortune, how thy baleful power

Hath sunk the hopes of Persia! Bitter fruit

My son hath tasted from his purposed vengeance

On Athens, famed for arms; the fatal field

Of Marathon, red with barbaric blood,

Sufficed not; that defeat he thought to avenge,

And pulled this hideous ruin on his head.

But tell me, if thou canst, where didst thou leave

The ships that happily escaped the wreck?



The poor remains of Persia's scattered fleet

Spread every sail for flight, as the wind drives,

In wild disorder; and on land no less

The ruined army; in Boeotia some,

With thirst oppressed, at Crene's cheerful rills

Were lost; forespent with breathless speed some pass

The fields of Phocis, some the Doric plain,

And near the gulf of Melia, the rich vale

Through which Sperchius rolls his friendly stream.

Achaea thence and the Thessalian state

Received our famished train; the greater part

Through thirst and hunger perished there, oppressed

At once by both: but we our painful steps

Held onwards to Magnesia, and the land

Of Macedonia, o'er the ford of Axius,

And Bolbe's grassy marshes, and the heights

Of steep Pangaeos, to the realms of Thrace.

That night, ere yet the season, breathing frost,

rushed winter, and with ice incrusted o'er

The flood of sacred Strymon: such as own'd

No god till now, awe-struck, with many a prayer

Adored the earth and sky. When now the troops

Had ceased their invocations to the gods,

O'er the stream's solid crystal, they began

Their march; and we, who took our early way,

Ere the sun darted his warm beams, passed safe:

But when this burning orb with fiery rays

Unbound the middle current, down they sunk

Each over other; happiest he who found

The speediest death: the poor remains, that 'escaped,

With pain through Thrace dragged on their toilsome march,

A feeble few, and reached their native soil;

That Persia sighs through all her states, and mourns

Her dearest youth. This is no feigned tale:

But many of the ills, that burst upon us

In dreadful vengeance, I refrain to utter.


The MESSENGER withdraws.



O Fortune, heavy with affliction's load,

How bath thy foot crushed all the Persian race!



Ah me, what sorrows for our ruined host

Oppress my soul! Ye visions of the night

Haunting my dreams, how plainly did you show

These ills! You set them in too fair a light.

Yet, since your bidding hath in this prevailed,

First to the gods wish I to pour my prayers,

Then to the mighty dead present my off 'rings,

Bringing libations from my house: too late,

I know, to change the past; yet for the future,

If haply better fortune may await it,

Behooves you, on this sad event, to guide

Your friends with faithful counsels. Should my son

Return ere I have finished, let your voice

Speak comfort to him; friendly to his house

Attend him, nor let sorrow rise on sorrows.


ATOSSA and her retinue go out.

CHORUS singing


[60] Strophe

Awful sovereign of the skies,

When now over Persia's numerous host

Thou bade the storm with ruin to rise,

All her proud vaunts of glory lost,

Ecbatana's imperial head

By thee was wrapped in sorrow's darkening shade;

Through Susa's palaces with loud lament,

By their soft hands their veils all rent,

The copious tear the virgins pour,

That trickles their bare bosoms o'er.

From her sweet couch up starts the widowed bride,

Her lord's loved image rushing on her soul,

Throws the rich ornaments of youth aside,

And gives her griefs to flow without control:

Her griefs not causeless; for the mighty slain

Our melting tears demand, and sorrow-softened strain.


[61] Antistrophe

Now her wailings wide despair

Pours these exhausted regions o'er:

Xerxes, ill-fated, led the war;

Xerxes, ill-fated, leads no more;

Xerxes sent forth the unwise command,

The crowded ships unpeopled all the land;

That land, o'er which Darius held his reign,

Courting the arts of peace, in vain,

O'er all his grateful realms adored,

The stately Susa's gentle lord.

Black o'er the waves his burdened vessels sweep,

For Greece elate the warlike squadrons fly;

Now crushed, and overwhelmed beneath the indignant deep

The shattered wrecks and lifeless heroes lie:

While, from the arms of Greece escaped, with toil

The unsheltered monarch roams o'er Thracia's dreary soil.


[62] Epode

The first in battle slain

By Cychrea's craggy shore

Through sad constraint, ah me! forsaken lie,

All pale and smeared with gore:

Raise high the mournful strain,

And let the voice of anguish pierce the sky:

Or roll beneath the roaring tide,

By monsters rent of touch abhorred;

While through the widowed mansion echoing wide

Sounds the deep groan, and wails its slaughtered lord:

Pale with his fears the helpless orphan there

Gives the full stream of plaintive grief to flow;

While age its hoary head in deep despair

Bends; listening to the shrieks of woe.

With sacred awe

The Persian law

No more shall Asia's realms revere;

To their lord's hand

At his command,

No more the exacted tribute bear.

Who now falls prostrate at the monarch's throne?

His regal greatness is no more.

Now no restraint the wanton tongue shall own,

Free from the golden curb of power;

For on the rocks, washed by the beating flood,

His awe commanding nobles lie in blood.


ATOSSA returns, clad in the garb of mourning; she carries offerings for the tomb of Darius.



Whoever, my friends, in the rough stream of life

Hath struggled with affliction, thence is taught

That, when the flood begins to swell, the heart

Fondly fears all things; when the favoring gale

Of Fortune smooths the current, it expands

With unsuspecting confidence, and deems

That gale shall always breathe. So to my eyes

All things now wear a formidable shape,

And threaten from the gods: my ears are pierced

With sounds far other than of song. Such ills

Dismay my sickening soul: hence from my house

Nor glittering car attends me, nor the train

Of wonted state, while I return, and bear

Libations soothing to the father's shade

In the son's cause; delicious milk, that foams

White from the sacred heifer; liquid honey,

Extract of flowers; and from its virgin fount

The running crystal; this pure draught, that flowed

From the ancient vine, of power to bathe the spirits

In joy; the yellow olive's fragrant fruit,

That glories in its leaves' unfading verdure;

With flowers of various hues, earth's fairest offspring

Enwreathed. But you, my friends, amid these rites

Raise high your solemn warbling, and invoke

Your lord, divine Darius; I meanwhile

Will pour these offerings to the infernal gods.


[64] CHORUS chanting

Yes, royal lady, Persia's honored grace,

To earth's dark chambers pour thy offerings: we

With choral hymns will supplicate the powers

That guide the dead, to be propitious to us.

And you, that over the realms of night extend

Your sacred sway, you mighty earth, and the

Hermes; thee chief, tremendous king, whose throne

Awes with supreme dominion, I adjure:

Send, from your gloomy regions, send his shade

Once more to visit this ethereal light;

That he alone, if aught of dread event

He sees yet threatening Persia, may disclose

To us poor mortals Fate's extreme decree.


Hears the honored godlike king?

These barbaric notes of woe,

Taught in descant sad to ring,

Hears he in the shades below?

Thou, O Earth, and you, that lead

Through your sable realms the dead,

Guide him as he takes his way,

And give him to the ethereal light of day!


Let the illustrious shade arise

Glorious in his radiant state,

More than blazed before our eyes,

Ere sad Susa mourned his fate.

Dear he lived, his tomb is dear,

Shrining virtues we revere:

Send then, monarch of the dead,

Such as Darius was, Darius' shade.


He in realm-unpeopling war

Wasted not his subjects' blood,

Godlike in his will to spare,

In his councils wise and good.

Rise then, sovereign lord, to light;

On this mound's sepulchral height

Lift thy sock in saffron died,

And rear thy rich tiara's regal pride!

Great and good, Darius, rise:

Lord of Persia's lord, appear:

Thus involved with thrilling cries

Come, our tale of sorrow, hear!

War her Stygian pennons spreads,

Brooding darkness o'er our heads;

For stretched along the dreary shore

The flower of Asia lies distained with gore.


Rise, Darius, awful power;

Long for thee our tears shall flow.

Why thy ruined empire over

Swells this double flood of woe?

Sweeping o'er the azure tide

Rode thy navy's gallant pride:

Navy now no more, for all

Beneath the whelming wave


While the CHORUS Sings, ATOSSA performs her ritual by the tomb.

As the song concludes the GHOST OF DARIUS appears from the tomb.



Ye faithful Persians, honored now in age,

Once the companions of my youth, what ills

Afflict the state? The firm earth groans, it opens,

Disclosing its vast deeps; and near my tomb

I see my wife: this shakes my troubled soul

With fearful apprehensions; yet her offerings

Pleased I receive. And you around my tomb

Chanting the lofty strain, whose solemn air

Draws forth the dead, with grief tempered notes

Mournfully call me: not with ease the way

Leads to this upper air; and the stern gods,

Prompt to admit, yield not a passage back

But with reluctance: much with them my power

Availing, with no tardy step I come.

Say then, with what new ill doth Persia groan?


[66] CHORUS chanting

My wonted awe overcomes me; in thy presence

I dare not raise my eyes, I dare not speak.



Since from the realms below, by thy sad strains

Adjured, I come, speak; let thy words be brief;

Say whence thy grief, tell me unawed by fear.

I dread to forge a flattering tale, I dread

To grieve thee with a harsh offensive truth.

Since fear hath chained his tongue, high-honored dame,

Once my imperial consort, check thy tears,

Speak your griefs and speak distinctly. Mortal man

Must bear his lot of woe; afflictions rise

Many from sea, many from land, if life

Be perhaps measured through a lengthened course.



O thou that graced with Fortune's choicest gifts

Surpassing mortals, while thine eye beheld

Yon sun's ethereal rays, lives like a god

Blessed amid thy Persians; blessed I deem thee now

In death, sunk in this abyss of ills,

Darius, hear at once our sum of wo;

Ruin through all her states hath crushed thy Persia.


By pestilence, or faction's furious storms?



Not so: near Athens perished all our troops.



Say, of my sons, which led the forces thither?



The impetuous Xerxes, thinning all the land.



By sea or land dared he this rash attempt?



By both: a double front the war presented.



A host so vast what march conducted over?



From shore to shore he bridged the Hellespont.



What! could he chain the mighty Bosphorus?



Even so, some god assisting his design.



Some god of power to cloud his better sense.


The event now shows what mischiefs he achieved.



What suffered they, for whom your sorrows flow?



His navy sunk spreads ruin through the camp.



Fell all his host beneath the slaughtering spear?



Susa, through all her streets, mourns her lost sons.



How vain the succor, the defense of arms?



In Bactra only age and grief are left.



Ah, what a train of warlike youth is lost!



Xerxes, astonished, desolate, alone



How will this end? Nay, pause not. Is he safe?



He fled over the bridge, that joined the adverse strands.


And reached this shore in safety? Is this true?



True are thy words, and not to be proved false.



With what a winged course the oracles

Haste their completion! With the lightning's speed

Zeus on my son hath hurled his threatened vengeance:

Yet I implored the gods that it might fall

In time's late process: but when rashness drives

Impetuous on, the scourge of Heaven upraised

Lashes the Fury forward; hence these ills

Pour headlong on my friends. Not weighing this,

My son, with all the fiery pride of youth,

Has quickened their arrival, while he hoped

To bind the sacred Hellespont, to hold

The raging Bosporus, like a slave, in chains,

And dared the adventurous passage, bridging firm

With links of solid iron his wondrous way,

To lead his numerous host; and swelled with thoughts

Presumptuous, doomed, vain mortal! that his power

Should rise above the gods, and Poseidon’s might.

And was riot this the frenzy of the soul?

But much I fear lest all my treasured wealth

Fall to some daring hand an easy prey.



This from too frequent converse with bad men

The impetuous Xerxes learned; these caught his ear

With thy great deeds, as winning for thy sons

Vast riches with thy conquering spear, while he

Timorous and slothful, never, save in sport,

Lifted his lance, nor added to the wealth

Won by his noble fathers. This reproach

Often repeated by bad men, urged his soul

To attempt this war and lead his troops to Greece.



Great deeds have they achieved, and memorable

For ages: never has this wasted state

Suffered such ruin, since heaven's awful king

Gave to one lord Asia's extended plains

White with innumerous flocks, and to his hands

Consigned the imperial scepter. Her brave hosts

A Mede first led; the virtues of his son

Fixed firm the empire, for his temperate soul

Breathed prudence. Cyrus next, by fortune graced,

Adorned the throne, and blessed his grateful friends

With peace: he to his mighty monarchy

Joined Lydia, and the Phrygians; to his power

Ionia bent reluctant; but the gods

His son then wore the regal diadem.

With victory his gentle virtues crowned

His son then wore the regal diadem.

Next to disgrace his country, and to stain

The splendid glories of this ancient throne,

Rose Mardus: him, with righteous vengeance fired

Artaphernes, and his confederate chiefs

Crushed in his palace: Maraphis assumed

The scepter: after him Artaphernes.

Me next to this exalted eminence,

Crowning my great ambition, Fortune raised.

In many a glorious field my glittering spear

Flamed in the van of Persia's numerous hosts;

But never wrought such ruin to the state.

Xerxes, my son, in all the pride of youth

Listens to youthful counsels, my commands

No more remembered; hence, my hoary friends,

Not the whole line of Persia's sceptered lords,

You know it well, so wasted her brave sons.



Why this? To what fair end are your words

Directed? Sovereign lord, instruct thy Persians

How, mid this ruin, best to guide their state.



No more against Greece lead your embattled hosts;

Not though your deepening phalanx spreads the field

Outnumbering theirs: their very earth fights for them.



What may thy words import? How fight for them?



With famine it destroys your cumbrous train.


[100] LEADER

Choice levies, prompt for action, will we send,



Those, in the fields of Greece that now remain,

Shall not revisit safe the Persian shore.


[102] LEADER

What! Shall not all the host of Persia pass

Again from Europe o'er the Hellespont?



Of all their numbers few, if aught avails

The faith of heaven-sent oracles to him

That weighs the past, in their accomplishment

Not biased: hence he left, in faithless hope

Confiding, his selected train of heroes.

These have their station where Asopus flows

Watering the plain, whose grateful currents roll

Diffusing plenty through Boeotia's fields.

There misery waits to crush them with the load

Of heaviest ills, in vengeance for their proud

And impious daring; for wherever they held

Through Greece their march, they feared not to profane

The statues of the gods; their hallowed shrines

Emblazed, over-turned their altars, and in ruins,

Rent from their firm foundations, to the ground

Levelled their temples; such their frantic deeds,

Nor less their sufferings; greater still await them;

For Vengeance has not wasted all her stores;

The heap yet swells; for in Plataea's plains

Beneath the Doric spear the clotted mass

Of carnage shall arise, that the high mounds,

Piled over the dead, to late posterity

Shall give this silent record to men's eyes,

That proud aspiring thoughts but ill beseem

Weak mortals: for oppression, when it springs,

Puts forth the blade of vengeance, and its fruit

Yields a ripe harvest of repentant woe.

Behold this vengeance, and remember Greece,

Remember Athens: henceforth let not pride,

Her present state disdaining, strive to grasp

Another's, and her treasured happiness

Shed on the ground: such insolent attempts

Awake the vengeance of offended Jove.

But you, whose age demands more temperate thoughts,

With words of well-placed counsel teach his youth

To curb that pride, which from the gods calls down

Destruction on his head.


[104] To ATOSSA

And thou, whose age

The miseries of thy Xerxes sink with sorrow,

Go to thy house, thence choose the richest robe,

And meet thy son; for through the rage of grief

His gorgeous vestments from his royal limbs

Are foully rent. With gentlest courtesy

Soothe his affliction; for is duteous ear,

I know, will listen to thy voice alone.

Now to the realms of darkness I descend.

My ancient friends, farewell, and mid these ills

Each day in pleasures battle your drooping spirits,

For treasured riches naught avail the dead.


The GHOST OF DARIUS vanishes into the tomb.


[105] LEADER

These many present, many future ills

Denounced on Persia, sink my soul with grief.



[106] ATOSSA

Unhappy fortune, what a tide of ills

Bursts over me! Chief this foul disgrace, which shows

My son divested of his rich attire,

His royal robes all rent, distracts my thoughts.

But I will go, choose the most gorgeous vest,

And least to meet my son. Never in his woes

Will I forsake whom my soul holds most dear.


ATOSSA departs as the CHORUS begins its song.


CHORUS [107] Strophe 1

Ye powers that rule the skies,

Memory recalls our great, our happy fate,

Our well-appointed state,

The scenes of glory opening to our eyes,

When this vast empire over

The good Darius, with each virtue blessed

That forms a monarch's breast,

Shielding his subjects with a father's care

Invincible in war,

Extended like a god his awful power,

Then spread our arms their glory wide,

Guarding to peace her golden reign:

Each towered city saw with pride

Safe from the toils of war her homeward-marching train.


[108] Antistrophe 1

Nor Haly's shallow strand

He passed, nor from his palace moved his state;

He spoke; his word was Fate.

What strong-based cities could his might withstand?

Not those that lift their heads

Where to the sea the floods of Strymon pass,

Leaving the huts of Thrace;

Nor those, that far the extended ocean o'er

Stand girt with many a tower;

Nor where the Hellespont his broad wave spreads;

Nor the firm bastions' rampired might,

Whose foot the deep Propontis laves;

Nor those, that glorying in their height

Frown o'er the Pontic sea and shade his darkened waves.


[109] Strophe 2

Each sea-girt isle around

Bowed to this monarch: humbled Lesbos bowed;

Paros, of its marble proud;

Naxos with vines, with olives Samos crowned:

Him Myconos adored;

Chios, the seat of beauty; Andros steep,

That stretches over the deep

To meet the watery Tenos; him each bay

Bound by the Icarian sea,

Him Melos, Gnidus, Rhodes confessed their lord;

Over Cyprus stretched his sceptered hand:

Paphos and Solos own'd his power,

And Salamis, whose hostile strand,

The cause of all our wo, is red with Persian gore.



Even the proud towns, that reared

Sublime along the lonian coast their towers,

Where wealth her treasures pours,

Peopled from Greece, his prudent reign revered.

With such unconquered might

His hardy warriors shook the embattled fields,

Heroes that Persia yields,

And those from distant realms that took their way,

And wedged in close array

Beneath his glittering banners claimed the fight.

But now these glories are no more:

Farewell the big war's plumed pride:

The gods have crushed this trophied power;

Sunk are our vanquished arms beneath the indignant tide.



XERXES enters, with a few followers. His royal raiment is torn.

The entire closing scene is sung or chanted.

[111] XERXES

Ah me, how sudden have the storms of Fate,

Beyond all thought, all apprehension, burst

On my devoted head! O Fortune, Fortune!

With what relentless fury hath thy hand

Hurled desolation on the Persian race!

Wo unsupportable! The torturing thought

Of our lost youth comes rushing on my mind,

And sinks me to the ground. O Jove, that

Had died with those brave men that died in fight I


[112] CHORUS

O thou afflicted monarch, once the lord

Of marshalled armies, of the luster beamed

From glory's ray over Persia, of her sons

The pride, the grace, whom ruin now hath sunk

In blood! The unpeopled land laments her youth

By Xerxes led to slaughter, till the realms

Of death are gorged with Persians; for the flower

Of all the realm, thousands, whose dreadful bows

With arrowy shower annoyed the foe, are fallen.


[113] XERXES

Your fall, heroic youths, distracts my soul.



And Asia sinking on her knee, O king,

Oppressed, with griefs oppressed, bends to the earth.


[115] XERXES

And I, O wretched fortune, I was born

To crush, to desolate my ruined country!


[116] CHORUS

I have no voice, no swelling harmony,

No descant, save these notes of woe,

Harsh, and responsive to the sullen sigh,

Rude strains, that unmelodious flow,

To welcome thy return.


[117] XERXES

Then bid them flow, bid the wild measures flow

Hollow, unmusical, the notes of grief;

They suit my fortune, and dejected state.


[118] CHORUS

Yes, at thy royal bidding shall the strain

Pour the deep sorrows of my soul;

The sufferings of my bleeding country plain,

And bid the mournful measures roll.

Again the voice of wild despair

With thrilling shrieks shall pierce the air;

For high the god of war his flaming crest

Raised, with the fleet of Greece surrounded,

The haughty arms of Greece with conquest blessed,

And Persia's withered force confounded,

Dashed on the dreary beach her heroes slain,

Or whelmed them in the darkened main.


[119] XERXES

To swell thy griefs, ask every circumstance.


[120] CHORUS

Where are thy valiant friends, thy chieftains where?

Pharnaces, Susas, and the might

Of Pelagon, and Dotamas? The spear

Of Agabates bold in fight?

Psammis in mailed cuirass dressed,

And Susiscanes' glittering crest?


[121] XERXES

Dashed from the Tyrian vessel on the rocks

Of Salamis they sunk, and smeared with gore

The heroes on the dreary strand are stretched.


[122] CHORUS

Where is Pharnuchus? Ariomardus where,

With every gentle virtue graced?

Lilaeus, that from chiefs renowned in war

His high-descended lineage traced?

Where rears Sebalces his crown-circled head:

Where Tharybis to battles bred,

Artembares, Hystaechmes bold,

Memphis, Masistress sheathed in gold?


[123] XERXES

Wretch that I am! These on the abhorred town

Ogygian Athens, rolled their glowing eyes

Indignant; but at once in the fierce shock

Of battle fell, dashed breathless on the ground.


[124] CHORUS

There does the son of Batanochus lie,

Through whose rich veins the unsullied blood

Of Susamus, down from the lineage high

Of noble Mygabatas flowed:

Alpistus, who with faithful care

Numbered the deepening files of war,

The monarch's eye; on the ensanguined plain

Low is the mighty warrior laid?

Is great Aebares among the heroes slain,

And Partheus numbered with the dead?-

Ah me! those bursting groans, deep-charged with wo,

The fate of Persia's princes show.


[125] XERXES

To my grieved memory thy mournful voice,

Tuned to the saddest notes of wo, recalls

My brave friends lost; and my rent heart returns

In dreadful symphony the sorrowing strain.



[126] CHORUS

Yet once more shall I ask thee, yet once more,

Where is the Mardian Xanthes' might,

The daring chief, that from the Pontic shore

Led his strong phalanx to the fight?

Anchares where, whose high-raised shield

Flamed foremost in the embattled field?

Where the high leaders of thy mail-clad horse,

Daixis and Arsaces where?

Where Cigdadatas and Lythimnas' force,

Waving untired his purple spear?


[127] XERXES

Entombed, I saw them in the earth entombed;

Nor did the rolling car with solemn state

Attend their rites: I followed: low they lie

(Ah me, the once great leaders of my host!

Low in the earth, without their honors lie.)


[128] CHORUS

O woe, woe, woe! Unutterable wo

The demons of revenge have spread;

And Ate from her drear abode below

Rises to view the horrid deed.


[129] XERXES

Dismay, and rout, and ruin, ills that wait

On man's afflicted fortune, sink us down.


[130] CHORUS

Dismay, and rout, and ruin on us wait,

And all the vengeful storms of Fate:

Ill flows on ill, on sorrows sorrows rise;

Misfortune leads her baleful train;

Before the Ionian squadrons Persia flies,

Or sinks ingulfed beneath the main.

Fallen, fallen is her imperial power,

And conquest on her banners waits no more.


[131] XERXES

At such a fall, such troops of heroes lost,

How can my soul but sink in deep despair!

Cease thy sad strain.


[132] CHORUS

Is all thy glory lost?


[133] XERXES

Do you see these poor remains of my torn robes?


[134] CHORUS

I see, I see.


[135] XERXES

And this ill-furnished quiver?


[136] CHORUS

Wherefore preserved?


[137] XERXES

To store my treasured arrows.


[138] CHORUS

Few, very few.


[139] XERXES

And few my friendly aids.


[140] CHORUS

I thought these Grecians shrunk appalled at arms.


[141] XERXES

No: they are bold and daring: these sad eyes

Beheld their violent and deathful deeds.


[142] CHORUS

The ruin, you say, of thy shattered fleet?


[143] XERXES

And in the anguish of my soul I rent

My royal robes.


[144] CHORUS

Woe, woe!


[145] XERXES

And more than woe.


[146] CHORUS

Redoubled, threefold woe!


[147] XERXES

Disgrace to me,

But triumph to the foe.


[148] CHORUS

Are all thy powers

In ruin crushed?


[149] XERXES

No satrap guards me now.


[150] CHORUS

Thy faithful friends sunk in the roaring main.


[151] XERXES

Weep, weep their loss, and lead me to my house;

Answer my grief with grief, an ill return

Of ills for ills. Yet once more raise that strain

Lamenting my misfortunes; beat thy breast,

Strike, heave the groan; awake the Mysian strain

To notes of loudest wo; rend thy rich robes,

Pluck up thy beard, tear off thy hoary locks,

And battle thine eyes in tears: thus through the streets

Solemn and slow with sorrow lead my steps;

Lead to my house, and wail the fate of Persia.


[152] CHORUS

Yes, once more at thy bidding shall the strain

Pour the deep sorrows of my soul;

The sufferings of my bleeding untry plain,

And bid the Mysian measures roll.

Again the voice of wild despair

With thrilling shrieks shall pierce the air;

For high the god of war his flaming crest

Raised, with the fleet of Greece surrounded,

The haughty arms of Greece with conquest blessed,

And Persia's withered force confounded,

Dashed on the dreary beach her heroes slain.,

Or whelmed them in the darkened main.