Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Xerxes, son of the late King Darius of Persia, is a man of overwhelming ambition who, eager to add more countries to his tremendous empire, leads a great army against the Greek states. During his absence, he leaves only the Persian elders to maintain authority in Susa, the capital. The old men wait apprehensively for some word of the invasion forces, and their fears grow as time passes and no message comes from Xerxes. They lament that the land has been emptied of the young men who marched valiantly to war, leaving their wives and mothers to wait anxiously for their return.
Atossa, widow of Darius and mother of Xerxes, is also filled with vague fears. One night she sees in a dream two tall, beautiful women, one in Persian dress and the other in Greek robes. When the women begin to quarrel, King Xerxes appears and yokes them to his chariot. The woman in Asian costume submits meekly enough, but the other breaks the reins and overturns the chariot, throwing young Xerxes to the ground. Then, in Atossa’s dream, Darius comes and, seeing his son on the ground, tears his robes with grief. Upon awakening, Atossa goes to pray for her son’s safety. While she is making a sacrifice before the altar, she sees an eagle pursued and plucked by a hawk. To her these visions seem to portend catastrophe for the Persians.
The elders, after hearing her story, advise Atossa to pray to the gods and to beg great Darius to intercede, from the realm of the dead, to...
(The entire section is 1050 words.)
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