The Suppliant Women

Definition

Theater

  • (Hiketides) A tragedy by Aeschylus. Once thoughtto be the oldest surviving Greek play, it has now been redated toabout 463 BC, making it less old than either The Persiansor Seven Against Thebes.

    The chorus of suppliant women, which speaks morethan half the lines, is the true protagonist of the work, which haslittle dramatic action and is noted for its lyrical poetry. The 50women, all daughters of Danaus, king of Egypt, have fled to Argos,the home of their ancestors, to escape marriage to their 50 cousins,the sons of Aegyptus. They beg the king of Argos for protection, placinghim in a grave dilemma: he knows he faces war with Egypt if he protectsthem and the wrath of Zeus if he does not. He asks the people of Argosto decide, and they welcome the fugitives. A herald comes ashore fromthe Egyptian fleet and begins to drag the suppliants violently fromthe altars where they have taken refuge but the king rescues them.The play ends with the Danaids imploring the gods for a favourableoutcome.

    The Suppliant Women was the first play in the Danaidtrilogy, the other parts of which are now lost. The Aegyptiiapparently portrayed a battle in which the king of Argos was killedand his city besieged by the Egyptians; in The Danaides thewomen are forced to wed their cousins but, on Danaus's advice, killthem on their wedding night. Only Hypermestra spares her husband,Lynceus; in time their descendants become the Argive kings.

    Another tragedy with the same title but a totally differentplot was written by Euripides.

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