The Political Theorizing of Aeschylus's Persians

Interpretation 43 (3):383-402 (2017)
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Aeschylus’ Persians dramatically represents the Athenian victory at Salamis from the perspective of the Persian royal court at Susa. Although the play is in some sense a patriotic celebration of the Athenian victory and its democracy, nonetheless in both form and function it is a tragedy that generates sympathy for the suffering of its main character, Xerxes. Although scholars have argued whether the play is primarily patriotic or tragic, I argue that the play purposively provides both patriotic and tragic elements in such a fashion as to invite its audience to reflect on the ramifications of Persia’s failed empire for Athens’ own nascent Delian League, which even in 472 was showing imperialistic tendencies. I argue that Aeschylus’ political theory in Persians is aporetic in the sense that its careful balance between patriotism and anti-imperialism generates an impasse which members of the play’s audience are thus given the occasion to puzzle over.
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Archival date: 2021-04-08
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