Theological approach to Aeschylus’ tragedy “Persians”

In this post we present and analyze selected excerpts from Aeschylus‘ tragedy, “Persians”.

As usual, our analysis is aided by the Liddell & Scott Lexicon.

aeschylus    Aeschylus

v. 72-74

Ancient Greek: πολυάνδρου δ᾽ Ἀσίας θούριος ἄρχων ἐπὶ πᾶσαν χθόνα ποιμανόριον θεῖον ἐλαύνει

English: The impetuous lord of populous Asia is driving his wondrous warrior-flock against the whole earth

[NovoScriptorium: The translation of the word “θεῖον” as “wondrous” is not accurate. Literally it means “divine” and in any case, wherever we may find it, it is related directly to the Divine. Hence, here Aeschylus somehow seems to relate the Persian/Pan-Asiatic expedition against Greece with the Divine Will, as a part of some Divine Plan]

v. 91-96

Ancient Greek: θεόθεν γὰρ κατὰ Μοῖρ᾽ ἐκράτησεν  τὸ παλαιόν, ἐπέσκηψε δὲ Πέρσαις πολέμους πυργοδαΐκτους διέπειν ἱππιοχάρμας τε κλόνους πόλεών τ᾽ ἀναστάσεις.

English: For by the will of the gods Fate hath held sway since ancient days, and hath enjoined upon the Persians the pursuit of war that levels ramparts low, the mellay of embattled steeds, and the storming of cities.

[NovoScriptorium: The word “θεόθεν” literally means “from god”. The word “μοῖρα” literally means “share/piece/slice”. Apparently, Aeschylus believes in the Divine Arrangement of things (who takes which “slice”) and also in Divine Intervention in History]

v. 103-111

Ancient Greek: δολόμητιν δ᾽ ἀπάταν θεοῦ τίς ἀνὴρ θνατὸς ἀλύξει; τίς ὁ κραιπνῷ ποδὶ πηδήματος εὐπετέος ἀνάσσων; φιλόφρων γὰρ ποτισαίνουσα τὸ πρῶτον παράγει βροτὸν εἰς ἄρκυας Ἄτα, τόθεν οὐκ ἔστιν ὑπὲρ θνατὸν ἀλύξαντα φυγεῖν.

English: Yet the insidious guile of God—what mortal man shall escape it? Who with agile foot can lightly leap from out its toils? For Delusion, with semblance of fair intent, lureth man astray into her snares, whence it is not possible for him scatheless to escape.

[NovoScriptorium: The word “Ἄτα/Ἄτη” is not accurately translated as ‘delusion’, or, at least, it is a misleading translation. The accurate translation of it is “brain confusion/mental abberation, agitated state of the soul and reckless momentum that originates from a delusion/error sent by the gods in order to punish -in most cases- someone who is guilty of audacity/insolence”. We also find the same word ‘personified’ as goddess “Ἄτα/Ἄτη”. The ‘goddess’ of harm then she is, the first cause of any reckless act and its effects. It also can receive the meaning of “reckless guilt and sin” when we want to say that someone suffered something “because of Ἄτα/Ἄτη”.

What Aeschylus presents here is a standard belief among the ancient Greek Philosophers/Theologists: God will eventually allow the punishment of the sinful, audacious, insolent Man. And we insist on the word ‘allow’ as it is not Zeus himself that directly applies the punishment, but his ‘intermediate’, Ἄτα/Ἄτη. This detail has a deep theological meaning, as the Divine Being must be Perfect and therefore cannot be directly burdened with any  short of bad acts. Zeus was considered as  the Father of all, Men and gods. Hence, as a father, he loves his children and wants from them to become as good as possible. In order to achieve this, like any earthly father would do to educate his children, he will have to use punishment sometimes as an educational/paedagogical means. For those who are unrepentant/impenitent for their evil/wrong doings Zeus will even allow their total destruction. On top of that, there are also paradigms from Greek Mythology such as Ixion or Sisyphus, who are even punished for Eternity.

According to these beliefs, when someone has entered the ‘course of punishment’, it will be apparent in his behaviour; “brain confusion/mental abberation” and “audacity/insolence”.

We cannot resist the temptation to apply the above in our era. For decades now, the official Statistics present a steady increase in the numbers of people who suffer from ‘mental ilnesses’ or have ‘psychiatric problems’. A quick look around (well, first of all in our own mirror) affirms that sin, audacity and insolence also increase, hand in hand. Moreover, we remain arrogantly unrepentant/impenitent for all these. So, if the ancients were right, Humanity has surely entered the ‘course of punishment’]

v. 157-160

Ancient Greek: δ᾽ ὑμᾶς ἐρῶ μῦθον οὐδαμῶς ἐμαυτῆς οὖσ᾽ ἀδείμαντος, φίλοι, μὴ μέγας Πλοῦτος κονίσας οὖδας ἀντρέψῃ ποδὶ ὄλβον, ὃν Δαρεῖος ἦρεν οὐκ ἄνευ θεῶν τινός.

English: and unto you, my friends, will I make a disclosure, being in no wise free from an apprehension prompted by my own thoughts, lest our great wealth shall, in its headlong course, have overturned the prosperity which Darius raised on high not without the favour of some god.

[NovoScriptorium: The translation is not accurate enough. “μέγας Πλοῦτος” is the personification of ‘wealth’ as a god; “great (μέγας)” god “Πλοῦτος”. Indirectly, just from this, we can derive that wealth in life is ‘god-given’. And we are immediately ‘confirmed’ when just a line below we read that Darius raised his wealth ‘not without the favour of some god’. Understandably, being wealthy or not has ever been of “great” importance for Humans since the dawn of Time. And because being wealthy can surely make life better,  people, since very ancient epochs, have been considering wealth as “a divine gift”]

v. 197-200

Ancient Greek: ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἀνέστην καὶ χεροῖν καλλιρρόου ἔψαυσα πηγῆς, σὺν θυηπόλῳ χερὶ βωμὸν προσέστην, ἀποτρόποισι δαίμοσιν θέλουσα θῦσαι πέλανον, ὧν τέλη τάδε.

English: But when I had risen and dipped my hands in the clear-flowing water of a spring, I drew nigh unto an altar with incense in my hand, minded to make oblation of a sacrificial cake unto the divinities that avert evil, even unto those to whom these rites are due.

[NovoScriptorium: The translation is not accurate enough. The phrase “σὺν θυηπόλῳ χερὶ” means “holding in my hand those appropriate for the sacrifice” and does not refer to some ‘cake’. The Queen-Mother Atossa, who speaks here, says that she will have to offer “the divinities that avert evil” “πέλανον”; this is “every thick or semi-thick liquid, of various components” and also “a mixture made of flour, honey and oil offered to the gods”. As we have explained in previous articles, ‘δαίμων’ translates as ‘daemon’ and it means ‘wise’. Every entity belonging to the invisible Orders, good or evil, is certainly ‘wiser’ than Men. Hence, we can accept the translation ‘divinities’ in its general sense. On the other hand, as we will prove below, “Zeus” = “daemons”, and because of this equality the message here becomes that Zeus (the ‘code name’ of the Greeks for the Divine Being; of God) is the one who actually averts evil.

We learn here that in order to “avert evil” Men should call upon the Divine (Pray),  and that they should do this in a specific way (Offerings). It is not at all coincidental that the offerings here contain no blood. This practise -obviously in a different theological environment- is still followed among the Orthodox Christians, who offer similar cakes/breads/sweets (e.g. ἀρτοκλασία – artoklasia, for more read here)

Another interesting thing we notice in the above excerpt is that before going to the altar, Atossa washes her hands. In general, in order that a ‘sacrifice’ (an offering) may be accepted by the Divine, it was believed that people should pray while being as ‘clean’ as possible. This does not refer only to bodily cleanness, but mainly to the pureness of one’s soul/heart]

v. 212-215

Ancient Greek: θεοὺς δὲ προστροπαῖς ἱκνουμένη, εἴ τι φλαῦρον εἶδες, αἰτοῦ τῶνδ᾽ ἀποτροπὴν τελεῖν, τὰ δ᾽ ἀγάθ᾽ ἐκτελῆ γενέσθαι σοί τε καὶ τέκνοις σέθεν καὶ πόλει φίλοις τε πᾶσι.

English: But if it be aught inauspicious that thou hast seen, visit the gods with supplication and entreat them to turn aside the evil thereof, and that all good things may be fulfilled for thyself and thy children, for the realm and all thou holdest dear.

[NovoScriptorium: What we are told here is that “the gods” have both the power to avert evil and fulfill good things; what Man should do is call upon them for help. Apparently, we are told here of the great value of Praying and of the intervening nature of “the gods”. We put the word “gods” in brackets because Aeschylus himself, like Homer and all the Pre-Socratic Philosophers/Theologists, believed in One God (the “True/Actual Being”) but had to write their beliefs indirectly because of possible persecution]

v. 224-226

Ancient Greek: ταῦτα δ᾽, ὡς ἐφίεσαι, πάντ᾽ ἐφήσομεν θεοῖσι τοῖς τ᾽ ἔνερθε γῆς φίλοις, εὖτ᾽ ἂν εἰς οἴκους μόλωμεν.

English: All these rites, as thou dost enjoin, when I return to the palace, will I perform unto the gods and unto those dear to me beneath the earth.

[NovoScriptorium: Here we learn that Men should do ‘the appropriate’ for both ‘the gods’ and ‘the dead’. Well, as for the ‘gods’ part we believe that it has been adequately explained so far. As for the ‘dead’, this denotes a belief of the ancient Man that praying for his dead -in Hades, i.e. ‘the eternal place’, from the adjective “αΐδιος” meaning “eternal” – somehow ‘helps’ them. In conjunction with his prayers to the ‘gods’, of course, as they are the ones who can help both the living and the dead.

This practise -obviously in a different theological environment- is still followed among the Orthodox Christians, who offer both prayers and offerings for the dead. Please read here and here]

v. 287-288

Ancient Greek: ὅμως δ᾽ ἀνάγκη πημονὰς βροτοῖς φέρειν θεῶν διδόντων·

English: Nevertheless mortals needs must endure affliction when sent of Heaven.

[NovoScriptorium: The exact translation of the excerpt is “but it is necessary (ὅμως δ᾽ ἀνάγκη) for the mortals (βροτοῖς) to bear (φέρειν) the mishaps / misfortunes / adversities / reverses (πημονὰς) which the gods give (θεῶν διδόντων)”.

So, what is suggested here is the patient and humble acceptance of the Divine Will by Man. The ‘necessity’ for this is rather obvious; God, as a beloved Father, in his indescribable and mentally unreachable Justice, allows difficulties in order to help us become better or to bring us round from a possible sinful/evil state. He cannot be wrong; hence, there is really no alternative to Man but to accept His Will. The word ‘necessity’ (ἀνάγκη) denotes exacty this restriction]

v. 339-341

Ancient Greek: ἀλλ᾽ ὧδε δαίμων τις κατέφθειρε στρατόν, τάλαντα βρίσας οὐκ ἰσορρόπῳ τύχῃ. θεοὶ πόλιν σῴζουσι Παλλάδος θεᾶς.

English: No, it was some power divine that swayed down the scale of fortune with unequal weight and thus destroyed our host. The gods preserve the city of the goddess Pallas.

[NovoScriptorium: Again, “δαίμων” is translated here as “power divine”. What we learn from this excerpt is that the outcome of wars is divinely determined. Apparently, it was believed that a city must have a ‘patron-god or -goddess’. Aeschylus shares the same views with Homer on war; as Homer puts it, Zeus is the one who determines the outcome of wars. And it is in such terrible events that his power shows more and people practically recognize his aid, as his intervention is very obvious]

v. 396-399

Ancient Greek: Ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων, ἴτε, ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ᾽, ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τε πατρῴων ἕδη, θήκας τε προγόνων· νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.

English: “On, ye sons of Hellas ! Free your native land, free your children, your wives, the fanes of your fathers’ gods, and the tombs of your ancestors. Now you battle for your all.”

[NovoScriptorium: The correct translation is “sons of Hellenes” instead of “sons of Hellas”. Also, instead of “native land”, the exact translation is “fatherland”. For what did the ancients fought their defensive war? For their Fatherland; for their Families; for their religious beliefs; for their dead ancestors; for Freedom. Apparently, in their cosmotheory, all the above constitute an unbreakable unity. This excerpt is a solid proof of the importance Religion had back then; so important as to constitute a reason worthy for one to die for]

v. 435-436

Ancient Greek: Περσῶν ὅσοιπερ ἦσαν ἀκμαῖοι φύσιν, ψυχήν τ᾽ ἄριστοι κεὐγένειαν ἐκπρεπεῖς

English: What Persians were in their life’s prime, bravest in spirit, pre-eminent for noble birth

[NovoScriptorium: The translation is misleading; “ψυχή” means “soul/psyche” not “spirit”. The word “ἄριστος” means “eminent” / “excellent” but also may refer to one’s noble descent. It can also be used as “the bravest”. We have already discussed that Aeschylus (and all the ancient Greek Philosophers/Theologists) believed in the existence of the “soul / psyche”. What we notice here is a distinction between people who have “ἄριστη ψυχήν” and, obviously, those who don’t. One may wonder if this is determined by the ‘gods’ as every other thing. The answer is “NO“. The ancient Philosophers firmly believed in the value of Paideia (also spelled paedeia) as the crucial factor which shapes the soul of Man. No soul is ‘by definition’ evil or good. It can, though, and it must be shaped towards Good since Childhood. The Free Will of Man must be oriented towards becoming “ἄριστος”, a notion which includes many important Human values – but for this we will have an analytical article in the future]

v. 448-449

Ancient Greek: ὡς γὰρ θεὸς ναῶν ἔδωκε κῦδος Ἕλλησιν μάχης

English: For when some god had given the glory to the Hellenes in the battle on the sea

[NovoScriptorium: The translation is not “some god” but instead “god”. Again, what we see here is the strong belief that the outcome of a battle is determined by the Divine.

In v. 444 we learn that this god was Πάν (Pan). The name itself means “Everything”. The “god named Everything” gave the victory to the Greeks. Obviously, this clearly is just another idiom of the Divine Being, who is Everything]

v. 490-494

Ancient Greek: νυκτὶ δ᾽ ἐν ταύτῃ θεὸς χειμῶν᾽ ἄωρον ὦρσε, πήγνυσιν δὲ πᾶν ῥέεθρον ἁγνοῦ Στρυμόνος. θεοὺς δέ τις τὸ πρὶν νομίζων οὐδαμοῦ τότ᾽ ηὔχετο λιταῖσι, γαῖαν οὐρανόν τε προσκυνῶν. ἐπεὶ δὲ πολλὰ θεοκλυτῶν ἐπαύσατο στρατός, περᾷ κρυσταλλοπῆγα διὰ πόρον· χὤστις μὲν ἡμῶν πρὶν σκεδασθῆναι θεοῦ ἀκτῖνας ὡρμήθη, σεσωμένος κυρεῖ. φλέγων γὰρ αὐγαῖς λαμπρὸς ἡλίου κύκλος μέσον πόρον διῆκε, θερμαίνων φλογί·

English: But on that night the god roused winter before its time and froze the stream of sacred Strymon from shore to shore; and many a man who ere that had held the gods in no esteem, implored them then in supplication as he worshipped earth and heaven. But when our host had made an end of its fervent invocation of the gods, it ventured to pass across the ice-bound stream. And whosoever of us started on his way before the beams of the sun-god were dispersed abroad, found himself in safety; for the bright orb of the sun with its burning rays heated the mid-passage and pierced it with its flames.

[NovoScriptorium: What Aeschylus offers us here is an example of visible, practical, Divine Intervention. The Man who recognizes this Divine Intervention, when it happens,  becomes “γαῖαν οὐρανόν τε προσκυνῶν”, i.e. he kneels / kowtows before the Sky (Heaven) and the Earth. Hence, what he says here is that Man will become fearfully humble before the Divine in circumstances alike. Also, he attributes divinity to Creation (Sun, Sky, Earth). And, of course, he clearly states that Nature as a whole, with her various elements, obeys the Will of the Divine Being]

v. 508-511

Ancient Greek: πολλὰ δ᾽ ἐκλείπω λέγων κακῶν ἃ Πέρσαις ἐγκατέσκηψεν θεός.

ὦ δυσπόνητε δαῖμον, ὡς ἄγαν βαρὺς ποδοῖν ἐνήλου παντὶ Περσικῷ γένει.

English: Yet much remains untold of the ills launched by Heaven upon the Persians.

O unearthly power, source of our cruel distress, with what crushing weight hast thou sprung upon the whole Persian race!

[NovoScriptorium: Again, the word “θεός” is wrongly translated as “Heaven”, instead of “god”. Therefore, what we read here is that “god” brought all these ills to the Persians. Here again Aeschylus writes of visible, practical, Divine Intervention during the war.

The translation of “ὦ δυσπόνητε δαῖμον” is also misleading. The exact translation is “oh, daemon who brings on pains / toil” instead of “unearthly power”.

As it is obvious from the text, “θεός” = “δυσπόνητος δαίμων”. One could wonder here: is it possible for the Divine Being, the Absolute Good and Love, to do harm/bad? The answer is “NO”. We may recall here various acts of Human Justice that, even though they were indeed harsh, we all agree that they were just. The same, and in a much greater scale, is valid for the Divine Justice. The example Aeschylus uses is really enlighting; the punishment here concerns a whole nation, the Persians. Why are they punished? because they went on an unjust expedition, because they raised an unjust war. One more time in an ancient Greek text we discover the notion of ‘Collective Responsibility‘; it may have been only Xerxes and some of his counsellors that wanted this unjust war, but “the whole Persian genous” (“genous” instead of “race” is the exact translation) suffered the consequences. Well, this is actually a two-folded message, both theological and political: if the leaders of a polity go against the Divine Will (and injustice is definitely against the Divine Will) then all the polity may suffer unexpected pains / toil. It is crucial for a polity to be governed by virtuous, good people]

v. 516-521

Ancient Greek: ὅμως δ᾽, ἐπειδὴ τῇδ᾽ ἐκύρωσεν φάτις ὑμῶν, θεοῖς μὲν πρῶτον εὔξασθαι θέλω· ἔπειτα, γῇ τε καὶ φθιτοῖς δωρήματα, ἥξω λαβοῦσα πέλανον ἐξ οἴκων ἐμῶν – ἐπίσταμαι μὲν ὡς ἐπ᾽ ἐξειργασμένοις, ἀλλ᾽ ἐς τὸ λοιπὸν εἴ τι δὴ λῷον πέλοι.

English: Howbeit, since your explanation determined thus, first of all I am fain to offer prayers unto the gods, and then I will return after I have brought from the palace a sacrificial cake as a gift to Earth and the departed. I know indeed that it is for what is past recall, yet in the hope that something more auspicious may befall in days to come.

[NovoScriptorium: Prayers and offerings to the gods are presented as a priority. Well this is not a big surprise really. What is interesting in this excerpt is that it is Queen-Mother Atossa speaking, after learning about the total devastation of the Persian expedition against the Greeks. The theological lesson here appears to be that whatever disaster we may face, our relationship with the Divine must never stop. And this is for two reasons: first, to heal the wounds, to cure the illness and, second, to maintain hope for a better future that the Divine may bless]

v. 527-529

Ancient Greek: Ζεῦ βασιλεῦ, νῦν γὰρ Περσῶν τῶν μεγαλαύχων καὶ πολυάνδρων στρατιὰν ὀλέσας…

English: O sovereign Zeus, now indeed that thou hast destroyed the armament of the highvaunting and multitudinous Persians…

[NovoScriptorium: If there were ever any doubts as to what is the name of the god behind all these, here Aeschylus leaves us with no doubt at all: ZEUS (The ‘code name’ of the Divine Being as we have presented here). And why did he destroy the Persians for? The answer is in the word “μεγαλαύχων” that characterizes the Persians. The verb “μεγαλαυχώ” means “vaunt”. The noun “μεγαλαυχία” also means “arrogance” / “pride”. Therefore, together with all the other ancient Philosophers/Theologists, Aeschylus believes that the above mentioned qualities bring divine punishment. The theological lesson is obvious: Man must not allow himself to become arrogant / proud, but instead he should put every possible effort to remain humble in order to secure Divine Protection and Help instead of Divine Punishment]

v. 595-599

Ancient Greek: φίλοι, κακῶν μὲν ὅστις ἔμπειρος κυρεῖ, ἐπίσταται βροτοῖσιν ὡς, ὅταν κλύδων κακῶν ἐπέλθῃ, πάντα δειμαίνειν φίλον, ὅταν δ᾽ ὁ δαίμων εὐροῇ, πεποιθέναι τὸν αὐτὸν αἰὲν ἄνεμον οὐριεῖν τύχας.

English: My friends, whosoever has experience of misery knows that when a sea of troubles comes upon mortal men, they are wont to view all things with alarm; but when fortune flows with prosperous tide, to trust that the selfsame fortune will waft them success for aye.

[NovoScriptorium: The translation of “κακῶν” as “misery” is not accurate. The word “κακό” (singular form) rather means “hardship, evil, harm, disaster, ill”. Also, the translation of “δαίμων εὐροῇ” as “fortune flows” is way wrong. The phrase “δαίμων εὐροῇ” means “when the daemon provides good flow (of things)”, and as we have explained already, the word “daemon”, depending on the text, may equal to the word “divinity” or simply “god”. As we notice, again, Aeschylus speaks of one entity, one god, one daemon behind the “flow arrangement” of things. This excerpt offers us another  timeless message; when the mortals suffer “hardship, evil, harm, disaster, ill”, then their natural fear increases irrationally, and becomes a fear of everything; and when everything is going well, they live with the illusion that things are going to remain fine ‘for ever’. Aeschylus here remarkably describes the psychological behaviour of the “average Man” of all Time. Not coincidentally, the Philosophers attempted to cure people from this obvious wrong]

v. 625-627

Ancient Greek: ἀλλά, χθόνιοι δαίμονες ἁγνοί, Γῆ τε καὶ Ἑρμῆ, βασιλεῦ τ᾽ ἐνέρων, πέμψατ᾽ ἔνερθεν ψυχὴν ἐς φῶς·

English: Ye holy divinities of the nether world, Earth (Gê) and Hermes, and thou, Lord of the dead, send forth to the light the spirit from below;

[NovoScriptorium: The exact translation of “ψυχή” is “soul” (psyche) rather than “spirit”. Here Aeschylus describes an ‘invocation ceremony’ of Darius’ soul from the Underworld. He uses the Persian Chorus to inform us that the Persians believed in Hermes and , among other deities. It is important to note the belief in the existence of the soul and, moreover, to the ‘unique soul’, thus rejecting the various ‘reincarnation’ theories – Aeschylus surely follows Homer on this]

v. 631

Ancient Greek: …ἰσοδαίμων βασιλεὺς…

English: …godlike king…

v. 637-640

Ancient Greek: ἀλλὰ σύ μοι, Γᾶ τε καὶ ἄλλοι χθονίων ἁγεμόνες, δαίμονα μεγαυχῆ ἰόντ᾽ αἰνέσατ᾽ ἐκ δόμων, Περσᾶν Σουσιγενῆ θεόν·

English: O Earth, and ye other rulers of them that dwell in the nether world, vouchsafe, I implore, that the glorious spirit, the god of the Persians, whom Susa bore, may quit his abode.

v. 651-653

Ancient Greek: θεομήστωρ δ᾽ ἐκικλῄσκετο Πέρσαις, θεομήστωρ δ᾽ ἔσκεν, ἐπεὶ στρατὸν εὖ ποδούχει.

English: so he bore the name of divine counsellor to the Persians; and a divine counsellor he was, since he piloted aright his men-at-arms.

[NovoScriptorium: Aeschylus uses here the Persian Chorus to inform us that Darius, the former King of the Persians, was honoured as a deity. We have discussed multiple times in previous posts that this was a general practice among the ancient peoples. It was a very ancient custom to ‘deify’ benefactors, heroes or great leaders. Please note that the exact translation of the word “θεομήστωρ” is “one whose will is equal to the will of the gods”. In this part of the text, if there were ever any doubts, Aeschylus offers us the equality “δαίμων” = “θεός” very clearly, even though the translation does not help at all. A more accurate translation would be: “Oh Earth (Gê), you and the other chthonic lords, vouchsafe, I implore, send the proud daemon, the god of the Persians, whom Susa bore”. In v. 631 Darius is named “ἰσοδαίμων”, instead of “δαίμων” or “θεός”. The word literally means “equal to daemon”. It is also equal to the other word found in v. 78: “ἰσόθεος φώς”, i.e. “a man equal to god”. Obviously, these epithets are not an attempt to compare some dead (or alive) mortal with the Divine Being. In our opinion, it is simply a way to inform us, beyond any doubt, that the various honoured ‘gods’ were just mortals of the Past. The careful and persistent student of the ancient Greek texts learns to distinguish when a writer comments on the Theology of the Divine Being and when the names of the ‘gods’ are used to narrate old stories or even natural phenomena.

In v. 705 Aeschylus offers us another detail:

Ancient Greek: βίοτον εὐαίωνα Πέρσαις ὡς θεὸς διήγαγες

English: thou didst pass a life of felicity, in Persian eyes a god

A more accurate translation would be: “You lived a life of felicity/prosperity among the Persians like a god“. Darius was ‘like a god’ before eventually dying]

v. 718-719

Ancient Greek: ὧδ᾽ ἔχει· γνώμης δέ πού τις δαιμόνων ξυνήψατο.

φεῦ, μέγας τις ἦλθε δαίμων, ὥστε μὴ φρονεῖν καλῶς.

English: Even so. Some one of the powers divine, methinks, assisted him in his intent.

Alas! ‘Twas some mighty power that came upon him so that he lost his sober judgment.

[NovoScriptorium: We have already discussed some things about “Ἄτα/Ἄτη” and the whole procedure of punishment. The excerpt refers to this. Again, the word used is “daemon” not “mighty power” as in the translation]

v. 733-734

Ancient Greek: ἐς δὲ παῖδ᾽ ἐμὸν Ζεὺς ἀπέσκηψεν τελευτὴν θεσφάτων·

English: and ’tis my son upon whom Zeus hath caused the fulfilment of the oracles to descend.

[NovoScriptorium: What we learn here is that it is Zeus who fulfills (or not) the various oracles/prophecies]

v. 743-745

Ancient Greek: θνητὸς ὢν θεῶν τε πάντων ᾤετ᾽, οὐκ εὐβουλίᾳ, καὶ Ποσειδῶνος κρατήσειν· πῶς τάδ᾽ οὐ νόσος φρενῶν εἶχε παῖδ᾽ ἐμόν;

English: Mortal though he was, he thought in his folly that he would gain the mastery over all the gods, aye even over Poseidon. Must this not have been a distemper of the soul that possessed my son?

[NovoScriptorium: The translation of “νόσος φρενῶν” as “distemper of the soul” is wrong. The correct translation of “νόσος φρενῶν” is “insanity / mental illness / madness”. Therefore, what Aeschylus tells us in this excerpt is that Man must be insane / mad to stand against the Divine. Obviously, both atheism and anti-theism are condemned as “mental illness”. Aeschylus completely follows Homer on this]

v. 801-816

Ancient Greek: οὗ σφιν κακῶν ὕψιστ᾽ ἐπαμμένει παθεῖν, ὕβρεως ἄποινα κἀθέων φρονημάτων· οἳ γῆν μολόντες Ἑλλάδ᾽ οὐ θεῶν βρέτη ᾐδοῦντο συλᾶν οὐδὲ πιμπράναι νεώς·  βωμοὶ δ᾽ ἄιστοι, δαιμόνων θ᾽ ἱδρύματα πρόρριζα φύρδην ἐξανέστραπται βάθρων. τοιγὰρ κακῶς δράσαντες οὐκ ἐλάσσονα πάσχουσι, τὰ δὲ μέλλουσι, κοὐδέπω κακῶν κρηπὶς ὕπεστιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἔτ᾽ ἐκπιδύεται. τόσος γὰρ ἔσται πέλανος αἱματοσφαγὴς πρὸς γῇ Πλαταιῶν Δωρίδος λόγχης ὕπο· θῖνες νεκρῶν δὲ καὶ τριτοσπόρῳ γονῇ ἄφωνα σημανοῦσιν ὄμμασιν βροτῶν ὡς οὐχ ὑπέρφευ θνητὸν ὄντα χρὴ φρονεῖν. ὕβρις γὰρ ἐξανθοῦσ᾽ ἐκάρπωσεν στάχυν ἄτης, ὅθεν πάγκλαυτον ἐξαμᾷ θέρος.

English: Here it awaits them to suffer their crowning disaster in requital for their presumptuous pride and impious thoughts. For, on reaching the land of Hellas, restrained by no religious awe, they ravaged the images of the gods and gave their temples, to the flames. Altars have been destroyed, statues of the gods have been overthrown from their bases in utter ruin and confusion. Wherefore having evil wrought, evil they suffer in no less measure; and other evils are still in store: not yet has their woe reached its bottom, but it still wells forth. For so great shall be the mass of clotted gore spilled bythe Dorian lance upon Plataean soil that heaps of dead shall make known, even to the third generation, a voiceless record for the eyes of men that mortal man needs must not vaunt him overmuch. For presumptuous pride, when it has burgeoned, bears as its fruit a crop of calamity, whence it reaps a plenteous harvest of tears.

v. 821-822

Ancient Greek: Ζεύς τοι κολαστὴς τῶν ὑπερκόμπων ἄγαν φρονημάτων ἔπεστιν, εὔθυνος βαρύς.

English: Zeus, of a truth, is a chastiser of overweening pride and corrects with heavy hand.

[NovoScriptorium: The Persians suffered because of “ὕβρεως … κἀθέων φρονημάτων”. “ὕβρiς” (Hubris) means “pride, insolence, arrogance, impertinence, imprudence, salaciousness”. The other phrase “(κ = και = and) ἀθέων φρονημάτων” means “atheist beliefs/thoughts” (and not just “impious thoughts”). The Persians “ravaged the images of the gods and gave their temples, to the flames. Altars have been destroyed, statues of the gods have been overthrown from their bases in utter ruin and confusion”. This profanation and their overweening pride are strictly punished from above, by Zeus himself (by the highest Divine Justice). Quite interestingly, self-deification, pride, arrogance, atheism and profanation go hand in hand, as described by the ancient Greek texts. For more on Hubris please see here and here]

v. 979-981

Ancient Greek: ἰὼ ἰώ, δαίμονες,  ἔθεσθ᾽ ἄελπτον κακὸν διαπρέπον, οἷον δέδορκεν Ἄτα.

English: Alas, alas, ye powers divine, ye have wrought us ruin, all unexpected, unmistakable ruin like unto the glance of Calamity.

[NovoScriptorium: This refers to our previous discussion on “Ἄτα/Ἄτη” (and not “Calamity”) . Aeschylus writes here that the “daemons” (and, again, not “powers divine”) “have wrought” the Persians “ruin”. Just a few lines above we saw that “the heavy hand of Zeus” was their chastiser. The equality is quite obvious, one more time: “Zeus” = “daemons”, i.e. there is only one Entity, in Aeschylus’ Theology, that determines things. And again, he uses here the way of Homer to present his deeper beliefs]

(Source for the Ancient Greek text)

(Source for the English text: “Aeschylus Vol. I”, Loeb Classical Library)

zeus    Zeus

Research-Analysis for NovoScriptorium: Isidoros Aggelos

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