Euripides’ The Suppliants explores the themes of grief, the inhumanity of war, the proper democratic model for government, justice, and civic duty. The Suppliants is less effective than Euripides’ other antiwar play, Triades (415 b.c.e.; The Trojan Women, 1782) because of a weaker blend of emotional and political themes and a weaker dramatic structure. The detached episodes within the play do not allow for complex developments within the characters of Theseus and Adrastus. Moreover, Theseus’s climactic victory over Creon’s army occurs very early in the play. The Suppliants ends without a true catharsis or a denouement that is emotionally satisfying. However, the play is blessed with eloquent speeches by Theseus and by the chorus of the wives of the slain chieftains who plead for the retrieval of the bodies of the dead soldiers.
The Suppliants is more political and didactic in nature than other Greek plays dealing with themes of supplication such as Aeschylus’s Chophoroi (458 b.c.e.; The Libation Bearers, 1777), Sophocles’ Antigon (441 b.c.e.; Antigone, 1729), and Euripides’ Trojan Women. Euripides in The Suppliants is motivated to show how the Athenians might avenge the loss of the Peloponnesian War against the Spartan confederacy.
The idea of supplication as practiced by the Greeks was to make humble petitions and prayers to the gods by pouring liquids, usually wine, over the graves of the dead. The chorus of Argive mothers cannot perform this sacred ritual without the corpses of their sons Amphiaraus, Capaneus, Eteocles, Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus, Tydeus, and Polynices. However, that Theseus needs to be persuaded on the grounds of justice and civic duty into helping the Argive women retrieve the bodies of the warriors does not allow for much character complexity or emotional subtlety. Aethra, Theseus’s mother, at first distressed by the women’s wailing and lamentation at the temple of Demeter, requests Theseus to either drive the suppliants from the land or free them from their grief by fighting Creon and stealing the bodies. “To mourn the dead/ brings honor to those who live,” the women plead to Theseus....
(The entire section is 971 words.)