The Suppliant Maidens by Aeschylus

I read The Suppliant Maidens as part of the Play On! challenge, picking it because Aeschylus is described as “the father of tragedy” and I thought I had more chance of understanding an ancient tragedy as opposed to an ancient comedy.  I haven’t read any comedy to compare this tragedy to (yet) – this is my foray into Ancient Greece but as far as understanding goes I had no problems with the plot and few with the language.

The man himself...
The man himself…

The play is the first of three that tell the story of the 50 daughters of Danus who flee Egypt and forced marriages to their cousins. They seek refuge in Argos, Greece, claiming to be descendants of Zeus and the Argians (?) promise to protect them, even when a Herald from their cousins comes to take them away, by force if need be.

As with all good trilogies, this is where the pay ends – on a cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it’s one I’ll never get to know the middle or end of as the remaining two plays are lost (there are scholarly reconstructions online of what might of happened but who knows if they are right?).

Although a play, because of the structure and length, I found I treated it much more as a play and ended up reading it out loud. I think this helped my understanding and enjoyment. At the of the day, this is a fairly classic story and it was easy to get drawn in and worry about whether the maidens would be safe.

The maidens make up the Chorus in what I have since discovered is the standard format for Greek plays; the other characters are Danus, King Argos and the Herald. The maidens fate is not a happy one, especially given the threats of the Herald (“Or e’er from hands of mine, Ye suffer torments worse and blow on blow) and I was left hoping King Argos would keep his word and protect them. This being a tragedy, I don’t hold out much hope.

When I started this play – even before I’d picked it up – I was nervous about reading it. I worried it would be hard going or hard to understand. It was neither, the opposite in fact (although I know I will have missed things, I read that this was a political statement for example on Greek widows being forced to marry their brother-in-laws). I’m now disappointed the remainder of this trilogy is lost but know I will be reading more Greek tragedies in the future…this was a great “taster” to a previously unknown world.

Emma

Play On!

Last year, I did an short course on Shakespeare and his world, reading 8 of his plays in an effort to understand how they reflected the times in which he lived and what was happening in his own life as well. I really enjoyed it. I loved reading Shakespeare at college but hadn’t read any since. In fact, I rarely read plays. After the course, I planned to read more – not just Shakespeare. I have failed miserably. So, to get me going on play reading again, I’m taking part in the Play On! challenge from Half Filled Attic.

Play-Challenge

It is pretty simple as far as challenges go, read a play and post a review each month for the next four months, the first three of which are themed:

January: Ancient Plays, including Greek and Roman plays
February: Renaissance Plays, including Shakespeare and his contemporaries
March: Post-Renaissance Plays, anything post Renaissance is allowed. Wilde and Shaw are very welcome
April: Freebie Plays, if you find any particular playwright interesting during the 3 months, feel free to read another of his/her plays. Or if you want to experiment with other genre or other playwright, you are in.

I’m quite excited about January as I haven’t really read anything “ancient”. I’ve picked Aeschylus (c.525 – 465 BC) who, according to Wikipedia is “the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays can still be read or performed [and] is often described as the father of tragedy”. I’m going to start with The Suppliants, which tells the story of the fifty daughters of Danaus who must flee to escape enforced marriages, and see how it goes. Has anyone out there read this or other Greek plays – have I picked well? Here’s hoping!

Emma x