The Suppliants (Aeschylus)
La Danaide Statue by Rodin
Herald of Aegyptus
|Setting||shore of Argos|
The Suppliants (Ancient Greek: Ἱκέτιδες, Hiketides; Latin Supplices), also called The Suppliant Maidens, or The Suppliant Women, is a play by Aeschylus. It was probably first performed sometime after 470 BC as the first play in a tetralogy, sometimes referred to as the Danaid Tetralogy, which probably included the lost plays The Egyptians (also called Aigyptioi), and The Daughters of Danaus (also called The Danaids or The Danaides), and the satyr play Amymone. It was long thought to be the earliest surviving play by Aeschylus due to the relatively anachronistic function of the chorus as the protagonist of the drama. However, evidence discovered in the mid-20th century shows it one of Aeschylus' last plays, definitely after The Persians and possibly after Seven Against Thebes.
Plot of The Suppliants
The Danaids form the chorus and serve as the protagonists. They flee a forced marriage to their Egyptian cousins. When the Danaides reach Argos, they entreat King Pelasgus to protect them. He refuses pending the decision of the Argive people, who decide in the favor of the Danaids. Danaus rejoices the outcome, and the Danaids praise the Greek gods. Almost immediately, a herald of the Egyptians comes to attempt to force the Danaids to return to their cousins for marriage. Pelasgus arrives, threatens the herald, and urges the Danaids to remain within the walls of Argos. The play ends with the Danaids retreating into the Argive walls, protected.
Lost plays of the tetralogy
The remaining plays of the tetralogy have been mostly lost. However, one significant passage from The Danaids has been preserved. This is a speech by the goddess of love Aphrodite praising the marriage between the sky (the groom) and the earth (the bride) from which rain comes, nourishing cattle, corn and fruits.
As the plot of the remaining plays has been generally reconstructed, following a war with the Aegyptids in which Pelasgus has been killed, Danaus becomes tyrant of Argos. The marriage is forced upon his daughters, but Danaus instructs them to murder their husbands on their wedding night. All do except for Hypermnestra, whose husband, Lynceus, flees. Danaus imprisons or threatens to kill Hypermnestra for her disobedience, but Lynceus reappears and kills Danaus; Lynceus becomes the new king of Argos, with Hypermnestra as his queen. Opinions differ as to the ending, although certainly Aphrodite was involved in the denouement. One opinion is that Lynceus now must decide how to punish the forty-nine homicidal Danaids, when Aphrodite appears in deus ex machina fashion and absolves them of the murders, as they were obeying their father; she then persuades them to abandon their celibate ways, and the trilogy closes with their marriages to forty-nine local Argive men. An alternative opinion is that Hypermnestra is put on trial for disobeying her father and Aphrodite successfully defends her similarly to Apollo's defense of Orestes in Oresteia. The trilogy was followed by the satyr play Amymone, which comically portrayed one of the Danaids' seduction by Poseidon.
George Thomson, expanding on D.S. Robertson, interpreted the tetralogy as a defence of the Athenian law requiring widows to marry a brother or cousin of their deceased husband in some circumstances in order to keep his property within the family. According to this interpretation, the Danaids' predicament of being forced into a marriage with their cousins would not have generated as much sympathy with the initial audience, which was accustomed to such marriages, as it might today. This is reflected in the question Pelasgus asks of the Danaids' in The Suppliants which echoes Athenian law on the subject: "If the sons of Aigyptos are your masters by the law of the land, claiming to be your next-of-kin, who would wish to oppose them?" Thomson speculates that as Oresteia ends by validating the contemporary Athenian law regarding trial for murder by the court of Areopagus, the Danaid plays may have ended by validating the contemporary Athenian law regarding marriage of next-of-kin when the husband dies without an heir. Thomson further suggests the possibility that as Oresteia's ending dramatizes the establishment of the court of Areopagus, the Danaid plays may have ended by dramatizing the establishment of the festival of the Thesmophoria, a festival reserved for woman which was based on the cult of Demeter which, according to Herodotus, was brought to Greece from Egypt by the Danaids.
- Diamantopoulos, A. (1957). "The Danaid Tetralogy of Aeschylus". The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 77: 220–229. JSTOR 629361.
- The 1952 publication of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2256 fr. 3 confirmed the existence of a trilogy, probably produced in 463. See Garvie 163-97, Friis Johansen/Whittle 1.23-25 and Sommerstein 141-52 for discussions of the trilogy's date, constituent plays and a hypothetical reconstruction of the plot.
- Thomson, G. (1973). Aeschylus and Athens (4th ed.). Lawrence & Wishart. pp. 285–295.
- Friis Johansen, H. and Whittle, E.W. Aeschylus: The Suppliants. 3 vols. Copenhagen, 1980.
- Garvie, A.F. Aeschylus' Supplices, Play and Trilogy. Cambridge, 1969.
- Sommerstein, Alan. Aeschylean Tragedy. Bari, 1996.
- E. D. A. Morshead, 1908 - verse: full text
- Walter George Headlam and C. E. S. Headlam, 1909 - prose
- Herbert Weir Smyth, 1922 - prose: full text
- G. M. Cookson, 1922 - verse
- S. G. Benardete, 1956 - verse
- Philip Vellacott, 1961 - verse
- Peter Burian, 1991 - verse
- George Theodoridis, 2009 -prose: full text
Related contemporary works
- A recent contemporary adaptation of this play is Charles Mee's "Big Love"