The Most Difficult Plays – n°17.
“Ah, it is a terrible task to be the first to deliver news of disaster. And yet, Persians, I must relate the entirety of the calamity ” The Messenger – The Persians l. 249
Lost in my epic and ancient imagination, I continue on my way.
Everyone has heard about the Battle of Salamis.
Everyone has heard of the terrible – and vile, cruel, nefarious – great Kings of Persia, and the names of Xerxes and Darius still ring in our memories – thanks to the wars with the Greek cities – Athens in particular.
Not for one second do I doubt that you know the fabulous story of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans who bravely held the Thermopylae pass as long as possible.
Nor do I doubt for a second that my favourite audience knows this story: there were 300 – the film – and there was Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. There was Spartan Total Warrior – the game too – Sparta … in short, the Spartans, of course when you are in the epic, you know and admire them.
What is less clear, often, is what happens next.
The Persians passed the Thermopylae pass. Xerxes won.
But his victory was not absolute.
He was not the King of Greece.
He needed more and better.
Opposite? … the Greek cities – who talk – who argue – who have difficulty in finding a leader.
It will be Themistocles.
Aeschylus will be one of the fighters.
Aeschylus and all those who will be the first to come and admire his pieces .
As a result, this tragedy will be quick on the historical facts. Why tell them? Everyone knows. And not only everyone knows them, but also – it is an unexpected victory that we are talking about – it is the victory of the little one against the monster.
Because, you see, the main & only subject of the Persians is the victory of Salamis – for the Greeks – the defeat for Xerxes.
It is 800 sails, 30,000 men who are about to break out over Greece.
Aeschylus says: 10 times thirty ships – for the Greeks – against a fleet of 1000 ships.
It doesn’t matter how accurate the figures are – historians are still debating the subject – but the proportion is terrifying: how to win against this immensity of sails?
It will be the tricks of the Greeks – their ability to bring the Persians to the naval terrain that suits them – that prevent the Persian fleet from deploying – and for us, epic tales that have the added bonus of being almost historical, almost true.
For the spectator to tremble and for the Persians to be tragic – Aeschylus had to take the place of the Enemies – and it is they who will learn the news.
The Action takes place in Susa – and the Choir is in charge of condemning Xerxes’ madness – dreams had announced the fall of Darius’ beautiful empire – the messenger will come to confirm it, before Xerxes himself, defeated, comes to deplore his misfortune.
And there Aeschylus obtains the tragedy – and doubles the pleasure of his contemporaries, who offer themselves in passing the luxury of pitying their enemies.
He makes Xerxes a tragic hero – he will be the hero of excess – of the hubris. He who is intoxicated with his power has not been able to see his downfall.
So I know, I know…. it’s a little rough to take the Persians out like that.
But that’s just it – the Persians are perhaps the “calling tragedy” par excellence: its whole subject is the epic battles of the most famous of all the Persian wars.
And then…. the tour in Virtual Reality in the palace of Xerxes… it will be worth the detour!
And … yes, may I? – the virtual tour in the heart of the battle, during the messenger’s story – so there – I’m already afraid of it.
Featured Image : Wilhelm von Kaulbach – Schlacht von Salamis – 1868