Aeschylus’ play: Xerxes in Susa ‘The Persians’ (480 BCE): A Structural Analysis

Assignment 1: Write a structural analysis on Aeschylus’ Persians’.

Aeschylus’ play, ‘The Persians’ (480 BCE), involves a narrative of six acts.  The main theme is the interpreting of an historic event, the defeat of the Persians, in terms of Greek religious ideas, highlighted by the idea that Xerxes’ pride caused him to ignore prophecy and suffer the outcome.

Opening scene: the royal palace of Xerxes in Susa.

Act 1

The chorus of Persian elders enter:

  • Anxious for the Persians army to return, the chorus laments Xerxes impetuous act of waging war by land and sea, thus breaking the decree of the gods to Persia to only seek fame and wealth on land.
  • Deluded proud mortals and the inescapability of the debt they must pay for their pride.

Act 2

Queen Atossa enters, attended, in a chariot:

  • Atossa, plagued by sinister dreams and evil omens seeks council from the elders.
  • The chorus suggest she pray to Darius for favour from the dead.

Act 3

A messenger enters:

  • The messenger’s eyewitness account confirms the elders and Atossa’s worst fears: Persia’s fleet and army are no more.
  • The chorus grieve.
  • Atossa reminds them all of their mortality and the god’s capriciousness.
  • The messenger assures Atossa that Xerxes her son together with a handful lives.

Atossa, her attendants and the messenger exit.

Act 4

The chorus laments and confesses to Zeus of Persia’s pride.

Act 5

Atossa re-enters, alone, bearing propitiatory gifts and libation.

  • Atossa announces the gifts are in honour of the underworld gods and to call up Darius from the dead.
  • The queen requests the elder’s assistance.

Darius’ Ghost arises:

  • Darius questions why they have called upon him.
  • Atossa tells him the dreadful news of Persia’s defeat.
  • Darius blames the defeat on the fulfilment of old prophecies and the mortality and arrogance of humanity, of its pride and its greed.

The ghost of Darius exits.

  • The chorus and Atossa exchange laments.

Atossa exits.

Act 6

The chorus

  • Extols Darius’ reign
  • Laments over Persia’s defeat, albeit claiming it as the will of God.

Xerxes enters in tattered clothing attended by two soldiers.

  • Xerxes and the chorus lament the death of his army, blaming it on Fate.
  • The chorus returns these same sentiments to Xerxes, weeping and beating their breasts in grief and anguish.

The chorus and Xerxes exit.

Aeschylus play flows smoothly from beginning to end without wavering from its main theme of interpreting the Persian’s defeat in terms of Greek religious beliefs which connect the work together.  It clearly shows the impious deed of pride begets after its kind the old hubris that gives birth to a train of evil consequences.