“Persians” by Aeschylus

Xerxes Lashing the Hellespont

Aeschylus’ dramatic account of the immediate aftermath of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece and disastrous defeat in the Battle of Salamis. Like Herodotus, Aeschylus depicts Xerxes I of Persia as a presumptuous figure, blinded by his inherited wealth and power, driven mad and punished by god for his hubris.

I wonder what the poets and historians would have said if Xerxes had succeeded in conquering Greece. He wasn’t the only one with an enormous ambition to rival the gods in glory and dominion over nature and the peoples of the world. Aren’t we all, to a certain degree?

The Ghost of the Past

As in Oresteia, Aeschylus adds depth and scope to his play by providing a historical and transcendent perspective. He conjures up the ghost of Xerxes’ father, King Darius, who contrasts his son’s folly with the prudence of the past kings, and prophesies future divine retribution upon his son.

Dickens might have used Aeschylus’ device in A Christmas Carol, except that he employed three ghosts instead of one. The difference thereof could be an indication of the difference in the conception of time between the ancient Greeks and Anglicans. For the Greeks, time, viewed from the perspective of the gods, is one — as past, present and future are all determined by the Fates; whereas for the Anglicans, they are separate, and the future can be altered by the individual concerned.

Quotes:

For Ruin begins by fawning on a man in a friendly way [as Cerberus does to those arriving at the gates of Hades], and leads him astray into her net, from which it is impossible for a mortal to escape and flee.

References:

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