An excerpt from Aeschylus’s play ‘The Seven Against Thebes’ (~467 B.C.)
I wail in the stress of my terror, and shrill is my cry of de- spair. The foemen roll forth from their camp as a billow, and on- ward they bear! Their horsemen are swift in the forefront, the dust rises up to the sky, A signal, through speechless, of doom, a herald more clear than a cry! Hoof-trampled, the land of my love bears onward the din to mine ears. As a torrent descending a mountain, it thunders and echoes and nears! The doom is unloosened and cometh! O kings and O queens of high Heaven, Prevail that it fall not upon us! the sign for their onset is given - They stream to the walls from without, white-shielded and keen for the fray. They storm to the citadel gates - what god or what god- dess can stay The rush of their feet? to what shrine shall I bow me in terror and pray? O gods high-throned in bliss, we must crouch at the shrines in your home! Not here must we tarry and wail: shield clashes on shield as they come - And now, even now is the hour for robes and the chap- lets of prayer! Mine eyes feel the flash of the sword, the clang is instinct with the spear! Is thy hand set against us, O Ares, in ruin and wrath to o'erwhelm Thine own immemorial land, O god of the golden helm? Look down upon us, we beseech thee, on the land that thou lovest of old, And ye, O protecting gods, in pity your people behold! Yea, save us, the maidenly troop, from the doom and de- spair of the slave, For the crests of the foemen come onward, their rush is the rush of a wave Rolled on by the war-god's breath! almighty one, hear us and save From the grasp of the Argives' might! to the ramparts of Cadmus they crowd, And, clenched in the teeth of the steeds, the bits clink hor- ror aloud! And seven high chieftains of war, with spear and with panoply bold, Are set, by the law of the lot, to storm the seven gates of our hold! Be near and befriend us, O Pallas, the Zeus-born maiden of might! O lord of the steed and the sea, be thy trident uplifted to smite In eager desire of the fray, Poseidon! and Ares come down, In fatherly presence revealed, to rescue Harmonia's town! Thine too, Aphrodite, we are! thou art mother and queen of our race, To thee we cry out in our need, from thee let thy children have grace! Ye too, to scare back the foe, be your cry as a wolf's howl wild, Thou, O the wolf-lord, and thou, of she-wolf Leto the child! Woe and alack for the sound, for the rattle of cars to the wall, And the creak of the griding axles! O Hera, to thee is our call! Artemis, maiden beloved! the air is distraught with the spears, And whither doth destiny drive us, and where is the goal of our fears? The blast of the terrible stones on the ridge of our wall is not stayed, At the gates is the brazen clash of the bucklers - Apollo to our aid! Thou too, O daughter of Zeus, who guidest the wavering fray To the holy decision of fate, Athena! be with us to-day! Come down to the sevenfold gates and harry the foemen away! O gods and O sisters of gods, our bulwark and guard! we beseech That ye give not our war-worn hold to a rabble of alien speech! List to the call of the maidens, the hands held up for the right, Be near us, protect us, and show that the city is dear in your sight! Have heed for her sacrifice holy, and thought of her offer- ings take, Forget not her love and her worship, be near her and smite for her sake!
The Seven Against Thebes is a short play written by the classical Greek tragic poet Aeschylus. A continuation on the legend of Oedipus. Upon his death Oedipus places a curse upon his two sons Eteocles and Polynices stipulating that their inheritance will be divided by the sword. Eteocles expels his brother Polynices (“Killer of many”) from the town of Cadmus after which Polynices flees to Argos to recruit an army led by seven champions to invade the seven gates of Cadmus and retake the town.