Apr 1, 2021 in Literature

book The Suppliants by Aeschylus

Drama is a means to convey a variety of ideas that reflect different patterns of life. Stories described in drama relate to modern society that is a dynamic and divergent system. This system is regulated by law, political decisions, and international policies that are often described by modern writers who stress the importance of a political order in terms of maintaining a peaceful and productive social environment. In the past, similar questions were addressed in drama. For example, in his work The Suppliants, Aeschylus develops contemporary themes of a political protection, refugee status, international relationships, gender equality, and their implications. Thus, ancient Greek drama and its themes remain a question of present interest.



A discussion of ancient drama, its ideas, and their relation to the modern era requires a definition of the key notion. Thus, drama is a "verse or prose intended to portray life or character or to tell a story usually involving conflicts and emotions through action and dialogue" ("Drama"). The Suppliants by Aeschylus is an example of the drama that describes a story of the old times. However, the age of the text does not effect its significance. The connection of the story to the modern times may be found in, for instance, a political background. Barone, indicates that in his play, Aeschylus clearly describes such issues as immigration, the process of receiving protection, and gender-based violence. An interpretation of the plot helps to explore these themes.

Aeschylus describes a conflict between men and women that is based on legal obligations, traditions, and policy. The plot is simple and an accent is placed on emotions of the characters rather than on action. The main characters are fifty daughters of Danaus (chorus) who escape Egypt with their father in an effort to avoid imposed marriage proposals that were made by the unwanted candidates. The group of refugees seeks a political shelter in Argos that is said to be the land of ancestors. Upon their arrival, the women are met by Pelasgus, the king of Argos. The king is confronted with a difficulty, because he fills inclined to protect the daughters of Danaus but is afraid of the consequences that this action may entail. This conflict is a theme that reflects current legal and international situations with refugees.

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Themes Addressed in The Suppliants

The play explores modern issues in terms of a political significance and a parallel may be drawn between the story that was written in the past and the laws that apply in the present. Thus, The Suppliants involves legal and political systems that have great effects on decision of the characters and reflect actions taken by modern politicians in such situations. It should be noted that when the king of Argos was asked to help the sisters, he neither agreed to help nor denied his protection, saying "Therefore no pledge, no promise will I give, Ere counsel with the commonwealth be held" (Aeschylus). Such a maneuver was taken by the king to prevent possible complications. One of the reasons is that when fifty sisters left Egypt, the rules of their country were still in force. Thus, Pelasgus wanted to avoid a confrontation with sons of Egypt who officially had rights on the suppliants. Patsalidis describes the matter as "a seemingly simple refugee case, [that] turns out to be a very complicated ethical, political and military matter". The king understands that he may unintentionally start a war between the countries if he decides to protect the ladies, especially if they are guilty of committing a crime. Presently, when a refugee seeks protection of another country, similar question raises. Thus, drama, regardless of its age, continues to reflect political aspects of life in different interpretations.

Additionally, drama shapes the notion of citizenship and its benefits. For example, when the women leave their home town, they deprive themselves of privileges and become practically without rights. However, the men who were supposed to marry them have the power to force the women, regardless of their geographical location. To be on the run is a complicated situation that is believed to be "a fate worse than death, an idea beautifully dramatized by Aeschylus in The Suppliants". The women explain that "weak ye are, outcasts on stranger lands" (Aeschylus). This statement emphasizes the difficulties that an individual encounters when he or she is not protected by the government and does not have support of families and friends. A modern person that has no citizenship also suffers from different legal issues and is not able to work, vote, and get married among other things.

Drama also considers religious matters that may play a significant role in the modern times. In Greece, for example, actions that involved the gods were considered to be a serious deal and one never rejected invocations to the gods in advance. To ask for a shelter was partly a religious issue. Aeschylus writes about Zeus Hikesios being a protector of exiled people and those who were on the run. Thus, the women could count on support based on the notion that the god wants the refugees to be protected. In the twenty-first century people may also find help among those who share the same religious belief but such cases are rarely considered on the official level.

Moral aspects that are described in the work are also related to the present days. Thus, in the play the women hope to use the rule of hospitality (filoxenia) according to which the host and the visitor shared mutual sense of respect. This rule is compared toa general moral bond that predisposes the host to helping guests. Today, such a notion also exists in civilized countries around the world. However, it does not necessarily provide a person with a political shelter.

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It should be noted that the Danaids receive protection in the end. Several factors contribute to such a result. The women use four major arguments to improve their position. Firstly, they explain that the men that want to marry them are cruel. Therefore, a matter of gender rights is involved. Secondly, they believe in freedom of choice and think that it is not right to be given to a man as an object that has no will, but must obey, because "His sons should wed his brother's seed" (Aeschylus). Presently, women also suffer from marriages being arranged against their will, for example, in some Muslim countries. Thirdly, the matter of ancestry takes place when women indicate that they are descendants of the rulers of the land. Finally, they seek the protection of Zeus who entitles them to an asylum. Thus, receiving protection is described as a complicated matter. Similar approach is taken in the modern days.

People who want to receive protection of the United States have to follow a difficult procedure that includes several steps. Individuals must obtain a special referral that allows them to be considered by the officials. Additionally, they have to fill out an application and have an interview with an officer who represents the United States ("Refugees & Asylum"). Upon an approval, a person receives protection and help that include medical examination and financial support. It should be noted that the predicament described in the play implies that a certain holy connection is made between "the benefactor and the suppliant" and it is applicable during many years and generations. In the United States, however, the protection may be applied to family members, but the country leaves a right to change a decision. This difference shows a development of the system in the present.

There is a great number of people who need political and legal protection in the world. Thus, according to statistical data, approximately twenty million individuals were regarded as refugees in 2015. This is a great crisis that different countries have to address. The United States, for instance, is often asked to provide official protection due to various reasons that include religion, race, political problems, and others. It is worth mentioning that according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a refugee is someone who is not located in this country, "is of special humanitarian concern to the United States," proves that he or she is a victim and wants to avoid persecution. Thus, people may fear to be pressured based on religion, nationality, race, or by a social group ("Refugees & Asylum"). In case of the characters described by Aeschylus, women run to avoid becoming a part of a particular institution and a group of people who want to force their will. Therefore, the connection between drama and reality is strong and relevant.


Aeschylus is the author of the play The Suppliants that explores contemporary themes related to the notions of a political protection, refugee status, international relationships, and gender equality. The text is a vivid example of the significance that ancient Greek drama has in the present time. For example, the play helps to understand the subtleties of the process of political protection in the past and in the present. Furthermore, drama also discusses the issues of citizenship, religion, and moral bonds. Additionally, readers can relate to the story based on the current situation with refugees in the world.


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