The Seven Against Thebes: Maidens’ Opening Chorus

An excerpt from Aeschylus’s play ‘The Seven Against Thebes’ (~467 B.C.)

CHORUS

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.

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