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 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.