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"Riddles Of Death Thebes Never Knew"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The composition of Hellas was occasioned by the beginning of the revolt of the Greeks against Turkey. In country after country in southern Europe the native populations had shaken off the tyranny of foreign overlords. These revolutions had been a matter of intense interest to Shelley, and when in 1821 Greece also arose in a bid for freedom, he was so powerfully moved that he cast the events of the struggle into a drama. He worked, however, under the great disadvantage of not knowing how the conflict would come out. Like a Greek drama, Shelley's play has no on-stage action. The progress of the war up to the date of writing is given: although the Greeks had had scattered victories, the Turks had for the most part won the battles. In the play Mahmud, Sultan of Turkey, summons the ancient Jewish sage Ahasuerus; Mahmud wishes to learn the future, but Ahasuerus contends that the only reality is thought and that he cannot prophesy. He advises Mahmud to stop the war. The phantom of Mahomet II appears and prophesies ruin for Mahmud and his empire but will not tell when the ruin will be accomplished. As cries of "Victory" ring out, the chorus of Greek captive women chants of a rebirth of Greece, which will be great even though a subtler Sphinx whose riddle Oedipus solved on the outskirts of Thebes propounds new riddles for a modern world.

Oh, write no more the tale of Troy,
If earth Death's scroll must be!
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
Which dawns upon the free:
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
Another Athens shall arise,
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.