*Athens. Powerful city-state of ancient Greece and capital of Attica, a province of east-central Greece. Athenian forces were prominent in defeating the Persians at Salamis and in other battles in a fifteen-year war.
*Persia. Country in western Asia that is now known as Iran. At the time of the play, Persia controlled a vast empire extending from India through Asia Minor to the Aegean Sea, solidified by Cyrus the Great and sustained by his son Darius, who ruled until 529 b.c.e.
*Susa. Capital of the Persian Empire in which the play is set. Darius built the city on an ancient fertile tract on the lower Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, a site now south of Dezfl in southwestern Iran. The ancient city had a strongly fortified citadel containing the treasury and the palace, consisting of self-contained units with successive rooms opening onto central courts. The city’s ruins were discovered in the nineteenth century. Xerxes’ father Darius, probably buried in Susa, had sought to reclaim a portion of his empire by invading Greece in 490 b.c.e. but was defeated by Athenian forces. Ten years later, Xerxes invaded Greece only to be defeated and forced to retreat, thus liberating Greek cities in Asia Minor. Queen Atossa, Xerxes’ mother, and a chorus of elders mourn her son’s defeat on his return.
*Salamis. Island off the coast of Attica in east-central Greece, whose capital was the city-state of Athens. The Bay of Salamis was the scene of the Greek naval victory over the Persian fleet in 490 b.c.e.
Aeschylus. The Persians. Translated by Janet Lembke and C. J. Herington. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. A happy collaboration between a practicing poet and a classical scholar. Lembke’s translation captures lyric qualities of this seemingly prosaic play, while Herington’s informative introduction provides an excellent orientation for the reader new to the drama of Aeschylus.
Gagarin, Michael. Aeschylean Drama. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Chapter 2 presents a detailed analysis of The Persians. Gagarin shows that presentation of political propaganda is not inconsistent with tragic practice. Also explores the moral theme of calamity brought on by excessive pride.
Podlecki, Anthony J. The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966. Chapter 2 still presents the most succinct introduction to the historical and political background. Podlecki has an excellent understanding of Themistocles, the Athenian general whose plan to encounter the Persians at Salamis saved the Greeks.
Spatz, Lois. Aeschylus. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Chapter 2 presents a detailed analysis of the historical and political significance of the play. Spatz is particularly good in her discussion of The Persians as simultaneously alien to Greek audiences and yet a paradigm for the human condition.
Winnington-Ingram, R. P. Studies in Aeschylus. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Chapter 1 offers an excellent discussion of the theological aspects of the play, concentrating on the figure of Zeus. Though not actually present in the play, Zeus is mentioned repeatedly as the cause of the Persian disaster.