45.The Suppliant Women, by Euripides (423 BC)

Its going to be at least another week before I get my hands on a copy of The Knights, so I’ll jump over it for now and post the next title on my list : The Suppliant Women by Euripides.

Plot : Back to the battlefield outside the city walls of Thebes, where Aeschylus’ play Seven against Thebes was set. The bodies of the seven defeated generals lie unburied without honours, and King Adrastus of Argos, who committed the defeated armies to Polyneices’ cause, has come with the mothers of the dead to beg King Theseus of Athens to intercede and force Creon of Thebes to return the bodies. (Remember Creon also refused to allow the burial of Polyneices in Sophocles’ Antigone).  Theseus at first refuses to act, but his mother Aethra convinces him. Creon refuses, leading to a skirmish between the Thebans and Athenians.

The Athenian forces are victorious but do not press home their attack inside the Theban city walls, merely retrieving the bodies for proper burial and cremation back in Athens.  The goddess Athena appear at the end to urge Theseus to extract a vow from the Argive king Adrastus to maintain friendship and support Athens in the future.

My copy was the Penguin edition Orestes and other plays by Euripides, translated by Philip Vestacott (ISBN 0140442596)

My thoughts : While this play did not stand out personally for me above other Euripidean  tragedies, it was notable for its arguments for different systems of rule, and depiction of democracy, even if it seems unlikely that a herald would speak so bluntly to the King of Athens

“The city that I come from lives under command of one man, not a rabble. None there has the power by loud-mouthed talk to twist the city this way or that for private profit…..”     Theban Herald

“A state has no worse enemy than an absolute king. Under such a ruler there is no common law. One man holds the whole law in his own grasp …. when laws are written down, both poor and rich possess their equal right … the humble man’s just cause defeats the great.

Further, the people,  vested with authority,  values its young men as the city’s great resource. An absolute king regards them as his enemies, the best of them, and those he thinks intelligent, he kills off, being afraid of rivals to his throne  … mown down like fresh stalks in spring? “      Theseus, page 207-208

Again the graphic battle scenes as the Athenians inflict defeat on the Thebans are memorable, as is Evadne’s suicidal leap onto her husband’s funeral pyre. And while Athena’s arrival and advice is politically relevant to the war weary audience of the time, it is now a fairly anticlimactic ending for modern readers.

Favourite lines/passages

“Though I see Thebes now proud in success, my trust is, at the next throw she will find the dice fall otherwise.  The gods stretch greatness in the dust”                            Aethra, page 204

“O wretched race of mortals! Why must men get spears and spill each other’s blood? Stop! Lay this rage to rest ; live quiet with quiet neighbours, and preserve your towns. Life is a brief affair such as it is ; we should seek to pass through it gently, not in stress and strain”                                                                                                Adrastus, page 223

Personal rating : 5

Also in that year : In 423 BC, the plague in Athens ends, but the war with the Peloponnesians continues.

Next: Depending on supply it will be back to #44 Aristophanes’ The Knights, or forward again with #46 Aristophanes’ The Clouds.



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