Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Greek Play Seminar: "The Suppliants"

Well, I read "The Suppliants" and I gotta say I wasn't a big fan. It's a very early play, where the Chorus was still the main character. All the characters are pretty sketchy and the plot, well, it's pretty weak.

The action starts with 50 girls and their dad turning up on the shore in Argos. They are fleeing their 50 male cousins, who are trying to force a mass marriage. The 50 girls are the Chorus, although I assume the Greeks didn't actually crowd 50 actors on the stage.

Anyway, so the girls are scared and pitiful and possibly a little seasick. They know their 50 cousins are pursuing them, so they pray to Zeus (who is always so helpful to young girls) and wave little olive branches. The girls are called the Danaids after their dad Danaus (he's there too) and they hope the king of Argos can help them out.

The Danaids are still really freaked. "From my living lips my own sad dirges flow!" they moan, vowing to kill themselves if forced to marry their cousins.

Dad doesn't try to calm them down -- instead he points out that an army is approaching and reads a little lecture to the girls on how to behave. The King of Argos strolls over, checks their identification and listens to their story. "I need to talk to my advisers," he says, stalling.

A real king doesn't need advisers, the girls say.

Well, I need to talk to them, the King snaps, sounding a little defensive.
"Yea, I have pondered: From the sea of doubt
Here drives at length the bark of thought ashore."

(That sounds like he's made up his mind -- a bark is a boat -- but he really hasn't. I guess the King just likes nautical images.)

If you don't help us, we'll hang ourselves on these statues of the gods, the girls cry.

"My bark goes forth upon a sea of troubles," the King says, sticking to his theme. But in the end he agrees to protect the girls from their cousins. He leaves to tell his city the joyous news that he's committed them to a war with Egyptians to protect a lot of strange girls.

The girls sing happily, but Dad stops the celebration quickly. The cousins' ship is approaching the coast, he says. Stay by the gods' shrine and I'll run after the King of Argos and he'll bring back an army.

"O father, leave us not forlorn!" they cry.

Don't worry, says Dad. It will take some time for the cousins to land. They're not great with the ropes.

So Dad leaves and the girls freak out again. A herald from the cousins arrive, and he's definitely an unpleasant fellow. Come along or I'll beat you all up, he says. The King, of Argos, however, arrives in the nick of time, chases off the herald and escorts the girls to his city. But the trouble has only started.

"Alas for the sorrow to come, the blood and the carnage of war," the girls sing.

The play ends here, but there are certainly woes ahead. This play was apparently part of a trilogy, with the rest lost. According the Wikepedia, the story continues with Argos fighting the cousins. The king of Argos is killed and the girl's dad becomes the tyrant of Argos. The marriage is still forced on the girls, but Dad tells them to murder their husband on their wedding nights. All the girls do that except for Hypermnestra, who refuses, and she and her husband kill Dad and they become rulers of Argos.

According to another myth, the remaining girls are punished for their crime of murder. In the Underworld, ruled by Hades, they must constantly bring water from a stream with jars full of holes.

The moral of the story? In Greek mythology, you're screwed no matter what you do.

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