A study of ‘The Sup­pli­ants’

The Western Star - - CLOSE TO HOME - Dr. Bernard Wills Dr. Bernard Wills is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of Hu­man­i­ties at Gren­fell Cam­pus.

Around 500 B.C.E. an an­cient play­wright named Aeschy­lus re­told a story that was an­cient in his own time: the story of the 50 daugh­ters of Danaus who fled to Greece seek­ing refuge from forced mar­riage to the sons of Ae­gyp­tus. To read this play now, cen­turies later, is to be as­ton­ished and hum­bled for it is our story, too.

This is be­cause it is a play about refugees and the prob­lem of wel­com­ing the stranger among us. Pe­las­gius, the king in the play, is faced with a ter­ri­ble dilemma. The daugh­ters of Danaus have come to him claim­ing the right of asylum. They do not wish to be mar­ried against their will even though the laws and cus­toms of their home­land may de­mand it. He im­me­di­ately senses the jus­tice of their cause yet his heart is trou­bled. Firstly, the daugh­ters look like “oth­ers.”

Their skin is dark and their dress out­landish. Nei­ther in ap­pear­ance nor cus­tom do they seem “Greek.” Will the cit­i­zens of his land ac­cept them as kith and kin?

Even worse, the sons of Ae­gyp­tus are hot on their heels threat­en­ing vi­o­lence.

Can he sac­ri­fice his own peo­ple in war for the sake of women who are not even na­tive in hue or Greek in man­ner?

Both Pe­las­gius and the peo­ple he rules de­cide they must. The rights of the stranger are hedged with the most pow­er­ful of reli­gious sanc­tions.

Zeus him­self, King of the Gods, may ap­pear in the form of a stranger and take note of how he is treated. The ques­tion we are con­fronted with to­day is whether our own moral stature can rise even to the level of the ar­chaic Greeks.

Pe­las­gius stakes the city it­self on the ques­tion of asylum.

We have noth­ing so grand at stake when faced with the claims of strangers from Syria or Hon­duras.

The other is dif­fer­ent. She changes the “look” of the com­mu­nity and brings po­ten­tial dan­ger. But there is one part of the play I would like to point to.

The 50 daugh­ters claim kin­ship with the Pe­las­gians on the ba­sis of an an­cient tale: the story of the love of Zeus for Io. The im­pli­ca­tion for us is clear: as hu­mans we have a love of story in com­mon. These sto­ries may be about for­got­ten kin­ship, as the story Aeschy­lus tells is, or they may be sto­ries of per­ceived vic­tim­iza­tion, ex­clu­sion and hate. That is up to us.

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