The Suppliants

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Princeton University Press, 1991 - Drama - 60 pages
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An extraordinary drama of flight and rescue arising from women's resistance to marriage, The Suppliants is surprising both for its exotic color and for its forceful enactment of the primal struggle between male and female, lust and terror, brutality and cunning. In his translation of this ancient Greek drama, Peter Burian introduces a new generation of readers to a powerful work of Aeschylus' later years. He conveys the strength and daring of Aeschylus' language in the idiom of our own time, while respecting what is essentially classical in this dramatist's art: the rigor of the formal constraint with which he compresses high emotion to the bursting point. The Suppliants, which is the first and only surviving part of a trilogy, does not conform to our expectations of Greek drama in that it has neither hero, nor downfall, nor tragic conclusion. Instead the play portrays unresolved conflicts of sexuality, love, and emotional maturity. These distinctly modern themes come alive in a translation that re-creates the psychological immediacy as well as the dramatic tension of this ancient work.

Originally published in 1991.

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About the author (1991)

Aeschylus was born at Eleusis of a noble family. He fought at the Battle of Marathon (490 b.c.), where a small Greek band heroically defeated the invading Persians. At the time of his death in Sicily, Athens was in its golden age. In all of his extant works, his intense love of Greece and Athens finds expression. Of the nearly 90 plays attributed to him, only 7 survive. These are The Persians (produced in 472 b.c.), Seven against Thebes (467 b.c.), The Oresteia (458 b.c.)---which includes Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides (or Furies) --- Suppliants (463 b.c.), and Prometheus Bound (c.460 b.c.). Six of the seven present mythological stories. The ornate language creates a mood of tragedy and reinforces the already stylized character of the Greek theater. Aeschylus called his prodigious output "dry scraps from Homer's banquet," because his plots and solemn language are derived from the epic poet. But a more accurate summation of Aeschylus would emphasize his grandeur of mind and spirit and the tragic dignity of his language. Because of his patriotism and belief in divine providence, there is a profound moral order to his plays. Characters such as Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Prometheus personify a great passion or principle. As individuals they conflict with divine will, but, ultimately, justice prevails. Aeschylus's introduction of the second actor made real theater possible, because the two could address each other and act several roles. His successors imitated his costumes, dances, spectacular effects, long descriptions, choral refrains, invocations, and dialogue. Swinburne's (see Vol. 1) enthusiasm for The Oresteia sums up all praises of Aeschylus; he called it simply "the greatest achievement of the human mind." Because of his great achievements, Aeschylus might be considered the "father of tragedy.

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