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The Persians


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The Persians is the second and only surviving part of a now otherwise lost trilogy that won the first prize at the dramatic competitions in Athens’ City Dionysia festival in 472 BCE. It takes place in Susa, which at the time was one of the capitals of the Persian Empire, and opens with a chorus of old men, who are soon joined by the Queen Mother, Atossa, as they await news of her son King Xerxes' expedition against the Greeks.

Part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World set.

This book has 43 pages in the PDF version, and was originally written c. 472 B.C. This translation by E. D. A. Morshead was published in 1908 .

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Excerpt from 'The Persians'

Away unto the Grecian land
Hath passed the Persian armament:
We, by the monarch’s high command,
We are the warders true who stand,
Chosen, for honour and descent,
To watch the wealth of him who went—
Guards of the gold, and faithful styled
By Xerxes, great Darius’ child!

But the king went nor comes again—
And for that host, we saw depart
Arrayed in gold, my boding heart
Aches with a pulse of anxious pain,
Presageful for its youthful king!
No scout, no steed, no battle-car
Comes speeding hitherward, to bring
News to our city from afar!
Erewhile they went, away, away,
From Susa, from Ecbatana,
From Kissa’s timeworn fortress grey,
Passing to ravage and to war—
Some upon steeds, on galleys some,
Some in close files, they passed from home,
All upon warlike errand bent—
Amistres, Artaphernes went,
Astaspes, Megabazes high,
Lords of the Persian chivalry,
Marshals who serve the great king’s word
Chieftains of all the mighty horde!
Horsemen and bowmen streamed away,
Grim in their aspect, fixed to slay,
And resolute to face the fray!
With troops of horse, careering fast,
Masistes, Artembáres passed:
Imaeus too, the bowman brave,
Sosthánes, Pharandákes, drave—
And others the all-nursing wave
Of Nilus to the battle gave;
Came Susiskánes, warrior wild,
And Pegastágon, Egypt’s child:
Thee, brave Arsámes! from afar
Did holy Memphis launch to war;
And Ariomardus, high in fame,
From Thebes the immemorial came,
And oarsmen skilled from Nilus’ fen,
A countless crowd of warlike men:
And next, the dainty Lydians went—
Soft rulers of a continent—
Mitragathes and Arcteus bold
In twin command their ranks controlled,
And Sardis town, that teems with gold,
Sent forth its squadrons to the war—
Horse upon horse, and car on car,
Double and triple teams, they rolled,
In onset awful to behold.
From Tmolus’ sacred hill there came
The native hordes to join the fray,
And upon Hellas’ neck to lay
The yoke of slavery and shame;
Mardon and Tharubis were there,
Bright anvils for the foemen’s spear!
The Mysian dart-men sped to war,
And the long crowd that onward rolled
From Babylon enriched with gold—
Captains of ships and archers skilled
To speed the shaft, and those who wield
The scimitar;—the eastern band
Who, by the great king’s high command,
Swept to subdue the western land!

Gone are they, gone—ah, welladay!
The flower and pride of our array;
And all the Eastland, from whose breast
Came forth her bravest and her best,
Craves longingly with boding dread—
Parents for sons, and brides new-wed
For absent lords, and, day by day,
Shudder with dread at their delay!

Ere now they have passed o’er the sea, the manifold host of the king—
They have gone forth to sack and to burn; ashore on the Westland they spring!
With cordage and rope they have bridged the sea-way of Helle, to pass
O’er the strait that is named by thy name, O daughter of Athamas!
They have anchored their ships in the current, they have bridled the neck of the sea.

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