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  • The Persians
  • Adapted by Heiner Müller
    from a translation by Peter Witzmann

    Translated by Peter Witzmann and Thomas Freeland (bio)


Scene: The Persian Royal Palace at Susa

CHORUS: The Persians, gone

Into the land of Hellas, named us trusted

And of their richly furnished and gold-laden

Estates guardians, in accord with our age

By Lord Xerxes himself, the King

Descended of Darius, chosen to watch

Over the land.

About the return of the King

And of the gold-laden army

With a fatal premonition

The mind too much torments itself.

For the total might

Of our Asian-born strength

Is gone forth. After the young

Manhood he calls

And neither messenger nor rider

Comes to the city of the Persians.

And they have left Susa and Agbatana

And the ancient precincts of Kission

Have they left

Some on horseback, others

On ships, on foot also on the march

The warriors forming columns,

Such as Amistres and also Artaphrenes

And Megabates and Astapes, [End Page 85]

Marshals of the Persian

Kings, the great King's servants

They hasten forth, overseers of great armies

Mighty with bow and on their horses

Terrible to behold, dreadful in battle

In the enduring renown of their soul.

And Artembares, a valiant horseman

And Masistres

And the mighty archer, noble Imaios

And Pharandakes

And the horse-driver Sosthames.

Others too has the great and many-feeding

Nile sent: Susiskanes

Pegaston, Egypt-born

And the one who rules over the holy place, Memphis

The great Arsames, and he who governs

Ancient Thebes, Ariomrdos

And the swamp-dwelling oarsmen of ships

Forceful and hordes innumerable

And the soft-living Lydian throngs

Follow, as far as they encompass the mainland-dwelling

People, whom Metrogathes

And Arkteus led forth, the noble one,

Kings, commanders

With two- and three-shafted harness

A terrible sight to see.

And the gold-wealthy Sardes, moving

On many wagons.

The inhabitants of holy Tmolos stand ready

To throw the yoke of slavery upon Hellas

Mardon, Tharybdis, tireless in spear-combat.

And the spear-throwing Mysians. And Babylon

Rich in gold, a motley column

She sends as a flock, moving by ship

And trusting in bow-tensing

Courage. The sword-bearing people of all

Asia follow

Among the masterful armies of the King.

Such a flower of the land of Persia

Follows the men.

All around the entire Asian earth

Nourished them and with a consuming

Longing sighs after them.

Parents and wives, counting the days

Nurse their fears on the dragging time. [End Page 86]

FIRST CHORAL STROPHE: The Persians have got there already,

The King's army

Has crossed to the neighboring land

On rafts bound together

Crossing the Hellespont, the many-nailed way

Thrown like a yoke over the neck of the sea.

The heedless master of teeming Asia

Drives his divine hordes of men

Over all the land from the two sides, trusting

In his stern commanders by sea and by land,

Of a golden race a godlike man.

SECOND CHORAL STROPHE: Darkly with his eyes darting

A murderous dragon's glance

Many-handed and with many ships

Driving the Syrian chariots

He leads on against the spear-famed

Men and Ares, mighty with his bow.

No one is proven so steadfast

To withstand such a flood of men

With firm control to check

The irresistible swell of the sea.

For the Persian army is invincible

And its people warlike at heart.

THIRD CHORAL STROPHE: Cunning deception of God—

What mortal man can escape it?

With quick foot in light spring?

Waving in friendship at first

He leads the mortal into blindness

Out of which no mortal can escape or flee.

For, ordained by God, Fate

Ruled from time immemorial, decreed to the Persians

Wars, tower-destroying

And clashes of charioteers

And cities' destruction.

They learned to endure the broad-pathed sea

Gray-foaming by violent gusts, the salty tide,

Trusting to their slenderly made

Cables and constructs,

Ferrying over their people.

FOURTH CHORAL STROPHE: My black-robed heart

Rends itself in fear...


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pp. 85-110
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