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The Suppliants   

Before the temple of Demeter at Eleusis. On the steps of the great
altar is seated AETHRA. Around her, in the garb of suppliants, is
the CHORUS OF ARGIVE MOTHERS. ADRASTUS lies on the ground before the
altar, crushed in abject grief. The CHILDREN of the slain chieftains
stand nearby. Around the altar are the attendants of the

AETHRA O Demeter, guardian of this Eleusinian land, and ye servants
of the goddess who attend her fane, grant happiness to me and my son
Theseus, to the city of Athens and the country of Pittheus, wherein
my father reared me, Aethra, in a happy home, and gave me in marriage
to Aegeus, Pandion's son, according to the oracle of Loxias. This
prayer I make, when I behold these aged dames, who, leaving their
homes in Argos, now throw themselves with suppliant branches at my
knees in their awful trouble; for around the gates of Cadmus have
they lost their seven noble sons, whom on a day Adrastus, king of
Argos, led thither, eager to secure for exiled Polyneices, his son-in-law,
a share in the heritage of Oedipus; so now their mothers would bury
in the grave the dead, whom the spear hath slain, but the victors
prevent them and will not allow them to take up the corpses, spurning
Heaven's laws. Here lies Adrastus on the ground with streaming eye,
sharing with them the burden of their prayer to me, and bemoaning
the havoc of the sword and the sorry fate of the warriors whom he
led from their homes. And he doth urge me use entreaty, to persuade
my son to take up the dead and help to bury them, either by winning
words or force of arms, laying on my son and on Athens this task alone.
Now it chanced, that I had left my house and come to offer sacrifice
on behalf of the earth's crop at this shrine, where first the fruitful
corn showed its bristling shocks above the soil. And here at the holy
altars of the twain goddesses, Demeter and her daughter, I wait, holding
these sprays of foliage, a bond that bindeth not, in compassion for
these childless mothers, hoary with age, and from reverence for the
sacred fillets. To call Theseus hither is my herald to the city gone,
that he may rid the land of that which grieveth them, or loose these
my suppliant bonds, with pious observance of the gods' will; for such
as are discreet amongst women should in all cases invoke the aid of
CHORUS (chanting, strophe 1)
At thy knees I fall, aged dame, and my old lips beseech thee; arise,
rescue from the slain my children's bodies, whose limbs, by death
relaxed, are left a prey to savage mountain beasts,
(antistrophe 1)
Beholding the bitter tears which spring to my eyes and my old wrinkled
skin torn by my hands; for what can I do else? who never laid out
my children dead within my halls, nor now behold their tombs heaped
up with earth.
(strophe 2)
Thou too, honoured lady, once a son didst bear, crowning thy lord's
marriage with fond joy; then share, O share with me thy mother's feelings,
in such measure as my sad heart grieves for my own dead sons; and
persuade thy son, whose aid we implore, to go unto the river Ismenus,
there to place within my hapless arms the bodies of my children, slain
in their prime and left without a tomb.
(antistrophe 2)
Though not as piety enjoins, yet from sheer necessity I have come
to the fire-crowned altars of the gods, falling on my knees with instant
supplication, for my cause is just, and 'tis in thy power, blest as
thou art in thy children, to remove from me my woe; so in my sore
distress I do beseech thee of my misery place in my hands my son's
dead body, that I may throw my arms about his hapless limbs. (The
attendants of the goddess take up the lament., strophe 3)

Behold a rivalry in sorrow! woe takes up the tale of woe; hark! thy
servants beat their breasts. Come ye who join the mourners' wail,
come, O sympathetic band, to join the dance, which Hades honours;

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