Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE PERSIANS (PERSAE): THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS, by AESCHYLUS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE PERSIANS (PERSAE): THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Some evil god, or an avenging spirit
Last Line: On such a tale of death.
Subject(s): Salamis (island), Greece

SOME evil god, or an avenging spirit,
Began the fray. From the Athenian fleet
There came a Greek, and thus thy son bespoke:
"Soon as the gloom of night shall fall, the Greeks
No more will wait, but, rushing to their oars,
Each man will seek his safety where he may
By secret flight." This Xerxes heard, but knew not
The guile of Greece, nor yet the jealous gods,
And to his captains straightway gave command
That, when the sun withdrew his burning beams,
And darkness filled the temple of the sky,
In triple lines their ships they should dispose,
Each wave-plashed outlet guarding, fencing round
The isle of Ajax surely. Should the Greeks
Deceive this guard, or with their ships escape
In secret flight, each captain with his head
Should pay for his remissness. There commands
With lofty heart, thy son gave forth, nor thought
What harm the gods were weaving. They obeyed.
Each man prepared his supper, and the sailors
Bound the blithe oar to its familiar block.
Then, when the sun his shining glory paled,
And night swooped down, each master of the oar,
Each marshaller of arms, embarked; and then
Line called on line to take its ordered place.
All night they cruised, and with a moving belt
Prisoned the frith, till day 'gan peep, and still
No stealthy Greek the expected flight essayed.
But when at length the snowy-steeded day
Burst o'er the main, all beautiful to see,
First from the Greeks a tuneful shout uprose,
Well omened, and, with replication loud,
Leaped the blithe echo from the rocky shore.
Fear seized the Persian host, no longer tricked
By vain opinion; not like wavering flight
Billowed the solemn paean of the Greeks,
But like the shout of men to battle urging,
With lusty cheer. Then the fierce trumpet's voice
Blazed o'er the main; and on the salt sea flood
Forthwith the oars with measured plash descended,
And all their lines, with dexterous speed displayed,
Stood with opposing front. The right wing first,
Then the whole fleet, bore down, and straight uprose
A mighty shout: "Sons of the Greeks, advance!
Your country free, your children free, your wives!
The altars of your native gods deliver,
And your ancestral tombs, -- all's now at stake!"
A like salute from our whole line back rolled
In Persian speech. Nor more delay, but straight
Trireme on trireme, brazen beak on beak,
Dashed furious. A Greek ship led on the attack,
And from the prow of a Phoenician struck
The figure-head; and now the grapple closed
Of each ship with his adverse desperate.
At first the main line of the Persian fleet
Stood the harsh shock: but soon their multitude
Became their ruin: in the narrow frith
They might not use their strength, and, jammed together,
Their ships with brazen beaks did bite each other,
And shattered their own oars. Meanwhile the Greeks
Stroke after stroke dealt dexterous all around,
Till our ships showed their keels, and the blue sea
Was seen no more, with multitude of ships
And corpses covered. All the shores were strewn,
And the rough rocks, with dead: till, in the end,
Each ship in the barbaric host, that yet
Had oars, in most disordered flight rowed off.
As men that fish for tunnies, so the Greeks,
With broken booms, and fragments of the wreck,
Struck our snared men, and hacked them, that the sea
With wail and moaning was possessed around,
Till black-eyed Night shot darkness o'er the fray.
These ills thou hearest: to rehearse the whole,
Ten days were few; but this, my queen, believe,
No day yet shone on earth whose brightness looked
On such a tale of death.

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