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The Suppliants (also known as The Suppliant Women) 423 BC, is an ancient Greek play by Euripides.

Background

After Oedipus leaves Thebes, his sons fight for control of it. Polynices lays siege to Thebes against his brother Eteocles. Polynices has married the daughter of Adrastus, King of Argos. And so Polynices has on his side the Argive army, leaders of which help form the Seven Against Thebes. The invaders lose the battle, and both Polynices and Eteocles both die. Creon takes power of Thebes and decrees the invaders are not to be buried. The mothers of the dead seek someone to help reverse this, so their sons can be buried.

Story

The play begins with Adrastus and the Argive mothers seeking help from Aethra and her son Theseus within the Temple of Demeter. Theseus feels pity for them, and with the consent of the Athenian people decides to help. After its clear Creon will not give up the bodies, the Athenian army must take them by force. In the end, the dead are finally laid to rest.

The same story had been mentioned years earlier in book 9 of The History by Herodotus, in which the Athenians claimed the event as an example of their history of bravery.

Unburied Dead

Funeral rights are very important to people in ancient Greek literature. The Iliad contains scenes of people fighting over corpses, such as that of Patroclus. People are willing to fight and risk dying to obtain the bodies of the dead. The Suppliants takes this concept even farther, showing a whole city willing to wage war to retrieve the bodies of these strangers. The theme of not allowing the bodies of the dead to be buried occurs many times throughout ancient Greek literature. Examples include the body of Hector as portrayed in the Iliad, the body of Ajax as portrayed in the play Ajax by Sophocles, and the children of Niobe. For what happens to the body of Polynices, see the play Antigone by Sophocles.

Translations

  • Edward P. Coleridge, 1891 - prose: full text
  • Arthur S. Way, 1912 - verse
  • Frank Jones, 1958 - verse

Plays by Euripides

Ancient Greece

Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire

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