Oxford Theater Podcast Script: Big Love/ The Suppliant Maidens Character Motives



Host: Welcome to the first episode of the Oxford Theater podcast! I am your host Haley Williams. Today I will be discussing how character motives which are often reflections of human desire stay constant between The Suppliant Maidens by Aeschylus and it’s modern rewrite Big Love by Charles Mee despite their approximately 2,470 year old difference. Even though it may seem as though the situations individuals face today are vastly different from those of 470 BCE due to social and technological advancement, a close reading and comparison of the dialogue in The Suppliant Maidens and Big Love prove the same motivations for individual’s actions exist today as they did in ancient Greece. We will specifically take a look at an exchange between the Suppliant Maidens and the King of Argos and from Big Love the same exchange between the 3 women who portray the Suppliant Maidens and Piero who portrays the King of Argos. Let’s begin with the reading from The Suppliant Maidens performed by Ian Turner and Olivia Boyd, this scene is an exchange between the Maidens who are begging the King to take them in and shelter them as refugees from the wrath of the men they refused to marry back in their homeland and the King’s decision as to why he will or will not take them in.  



strophe 1


Yea, stern the wrath of Zeus, the suppliants’ lord.

Child of Palaichthon, royal chief

Of thy Pelasgians, hear!

Bow down thine heart to my relief-

A fugitive, a suppliant, swift with fear,

A creature whom the wild wolves chase

O’er toppling crags; in piteous case

Aloud, afar she lows,

Calling the herdsman’s trusty arm to save her from her foes!



Lo, with bowed heads beside our city shrines

Ye sit ‘neath shade of new-plucked olive-boughs.

Our distant kin’s resentment Heaven forefend!

Let not this hap, unhoped and unforeseen,

Bring war on us: for strife we covet not.



antistrophe 1


Justice, the daughter of right-dealing Zeus,

Justice, the queen of suppliants, look down,

That this our plight no ill may loose

Upon your town!

This word, even from the young, let age and wisdom learn:

If thou to suppliants show grace,

Thou shalt not lack Heaven’s grace in turn,

So long as virtue’s gifts on heavenly shrines have place.



Not at my private hearth ye sit and sue;

And if the city bear a common stain,

Be it the common toil to cleanse the same:

Therefore no pledge, no promise will I give,

Ere counsel with the commonwealth be held.



strophe 2


Nay, but the source of sway, the city’s self, art thou,

A power unjudged! thine, only thine,

To rule the right of hearth and shrine!

Before thy throne and sceptre all men bow!

Thou, in all causes lord, beware the curse divine!



May that curse fall upon mine enemies!

I cannot aid you without risk of scathe,

Nor scorn your prayers-unmerciful it were.

Perplexed, distraught I stand, and fear alike

The twofold chance, to do or not to do.



antistrophe 2


Have heed of him who looketh from on high,

The guard of woeful mortals, whosoe’er

Unto their fellows cry,

And find no pity, find no justice there.

Abiding in his wrath, the suppliants’ lord

Doth smite, unmoved by cries, unbent by prayerful word.



But if Aegyptus’ children grasp you here,

Claiming, their country’s right, to hold you theirs

As next of kin, who dares to counter this?

Plead ye your country’s laws, if plead ye may,

That upon you they lay no lawful hand.



strophe 3


Let me not fall, O nevermore,

A prey into the young men’s hand;

Rather than wed whom I abhor,

By pilot-stars I flee this land;

O king, take justice to thy side,

And with the righteous powers decide!



Hard is the cause-make me not judge thereof.

Already I have vowed it, to do nought

Save after counsel with my people ta’en,

King though I be; that ne’er in after time,

If ill fate chance, my people then may say-

In aid of strangers thou the State hast slain.



antistrophe 3


Zeus, lord of kinship, rules at will

The swaying balance, and surveys

Evil and good; to men of ill

Gives evil, and to good men praise,

And thou-since true those scales do sway-

Shalt thou from justice shrink away?



A deep, a saving counsel here there needs-

An eye that like a diver to the depth

Of dark perplexity can pass and see,

Undizzied, unconfused. First must we care

That to the State and to ourselves this thing

Shall bring no ruin; next, that wrangling hands

Shall grasp you not as prey, nor we ourselves

Betray you thus embracing sacred shrines,

Nor make the avenging all-destroying god,

Who not in hell itself sets dead men free,

A grievous inmate, an abiding bane.

-Spake I not right, of saving counsel’s need?



strophe 4


Yea, counsel take and stand to aid

At justice’ side and mine.

Betray not me, the timorous maid

Whom far beyond the brine

A godless violence cast forth forlorn.


antistrophe 4


O King, wilt thou behold-

Lord of this land, wilt thou behold me torn

From altars manifold?

Bethink thee of the young men’s wrath and lust,

Hold off their evil pride;


strophe 5


Steel not thyself to see the suppliant thrust

From hallowed statues’ side,

Haled by the frontlet on my forehead bound,

As steeds are led, and drawn

By hands that drag from shrine and altar-mound

My vesture’s fringed lawn.


antistrophe 5


Know thou that whether for Aegyptus’ race

Thou dost their wish fulfil,

Or for the gods and for each holy place-

Be thy choice good or ill,

Blow is with blow requited, grace with grace.

Such is Zeus’ righteous will.



Yea, I have pondered: from the sea of doubt

Here drives at length the bark of thought ashore;

Landward with screw and windlass haled, and firm,

Clamped to her props, she lies. The need is stern;

With men or gods a mighty strife we strive

Perforce, and either hap in grief concludes.

For, if a house be sacked, new wealth for old

Not hard it is to win-if Zeus the lord

Of treasure favour-more than quits the loss,

Enough to pile the store of wealth full high;

Or if a tongue shoot forth untimely speech,

Bitter and strong to goad a man to wrath,

Soft words there be to soothe that wrath away:

But what device shall make the war of kin

Bloodless? that woe, the blood of many beasts,

And victims manifold to many gods,

Alone can cure. Right glad I were to shun

This strife, and am more fain of ignorance

Than of the wisdom of a woe endured.

The gods send better than my soul foretells!



Of many cries for mercy, hear the end.



Say on, then, for it shall not ‘scape mine ear.



Girdles we have, and bands that bind our robes.



Even so; such things beseem a woman’s wear.



Know, then, with these a fair device there is-



Speak, then: what utterance doth this foretell?



Unless to us thou givest pledge secure



What can thy girdles’ craft achieve for thee?



Strange votive tablets shall these statues deck.



Mysterious thy resolve-avow it clear.



Swiftly to hang me on these sculptured gods!



Thy word is as a lash to urge my heart.



Thou seest truth, for I have cleared thine eyes.



Yea, and woes manifold, invincible,

A crowd of ills, sweep on me torrent-like.

My bark goes forth upon a sea of troubles

Unfathomed, ill to traverse, harbourless.

For if my deed shall match not your demand,

Dire, beyond shot of speech, shall be the bane

Your death’s pollution leaves unto this land.

Yet if against your kin, Aegyptus’ race,

Before our gates I front the doom of war,

Will not the city’s loss be sore? Shall men

For women’s sake incarnadine the ground?

But yet the wrath of Zeus, the suppliants’ lord,

I needs must fear: most awful unto man

The terror of his anger. Thou, old man,

The father of these maidens, gather up

Within your arms these wands of suppliance,

And lay them at the altars manifold

Of all our country’s gods, that all the town

Know, by this sign, that ye come here to sue.

Nor, in thy haste, do thou say aught of me.

Swift is this folk to censure those who rule;

But, if they see these signs of suppliance,

It well may chance that each will pity you,

And loathe the young men’s violent pursuit;

And thus a fairer favour you may find:

For, to the helpless, each man’s heart is kind.”


Host: In this scene, the women have begged the King for asylum, offering pleas for what is just, what the Gods would want, and what would appeal to the King’s ego, but ultimately what sways the King is the Leader’s threat that the maidens will take their own lives on the altars of the Gods that stand in the Kingdom casting a bad omen over the Kingdom and its inhabitants. The Suppliant Maidens’ threat to hang themselves is motivated by their need to escape oppression. They feel cornered and therefore are desperate enough to go great lengths to manipulate the situation they are in to assure their freedom from the men that seek to marry them. The King’s motivation to keep them out comes from his desire to protect his people and his pride. We will now listen to an excerpt from Big Love performed by the Oxford College 2017 cast of Big Love directed by Clark Lemons which depicts what is essentially the same scene from The Suppliant Maidens in a modern rendition.



You know, as it happens, I have some houseguests here for the weekend

and I would be delighted if you would all join us for dinner,

stay the night if you like

until you get your bearings

but really

as for the difficulties you find yourselves in

disagreeable as they are

and as much as I would like to help

this is not my business.



Whose business is it

if not yours?

You’re a human being.



And a relative.



A relative.



This is a crisis.



And yet…

You know, I am not the Red Cross.



And so?



So, to be frank,

I can’t take in every refugee who comes into my garden.



Why not?



Because the next thing I know I would have a refugee camp here in my home.

I’d have a house full of Kosovars and Ibo and Tootsies

boat people from China and godknows whatall.



That would be nice.



I don’t think I can open my doors to the whole world.



Look at you, you’re a rich person.



  1. Well, then,

what if I were to say, yes, I can do my part,

in fact, I’m not a bad person entirely,

some people think of me even as a generous person,

and I can help,

but why should I help you?

Shouldn’t I rather look around at the world and say:

no, not these people perhaps

but someone else has the greater claim on my attention.



But we are here.






We are here on your terrace.

Why do you look for someone else?

Look for someone else, too, if you want,

but we are here.



And yet I know nothing about this dispute.

I don’t know whether these fellows have some rights, too.

What shall I do if they come to me

and say you’ve abducted our women

give us our women

or we’ll shoot you?



Shoot you?



What do I know?

I don’t know what sort of fellows they are.

I should put myself, perhaps my life on the line—

knowing nothing—

and also the life of my nephew

my brother next door

my brother’s sons.


I put their lives on the line

for what?

to save you whom

I’ve never met before

I don’t know what this is about

why would I do this?



Because it’s right.



I understand it may be right,

but one doesn’t always go around doing what’s right.

I’ve never heard of such a thing.

The world is a complicated place.





It’s not that no one’s never said no to me,

but I don’t think I’ve ever asked a guy to save me

in a situation like this

and had him say no.



There is only one question to ask:

do we want to marry them or not?

No, we don’t.

Are you going to let them

drag us away from your house

and do whatever they want with us?


Think of it this way:

if you don’t take us in,

my sisters and I will hang ourselves here on your terrace:

fifty dead women hanging in front of your house.



Hang yourselves?



What choice do we have?





Shall we ask your mother what she thinks would be right?



You’re right.

Of course.

You’re right.

I beg your pardon.

Of course I’ll take you in.

I don’t know what I was thinking.



Thank you.



I beg your pardon, really.

I wasn’t quite absorbing what it was you were saying.

I’ll tell my mother

you will stay for dinner,

and then we’ll talk and see what’s to be done.

Please, make yourselves at home.

And if there’s anything at all you want, please ask.


[He leaves]


Host: This scene depicting the same conversation between the Maidens and the King of Argos in The Suppliant Maidens present the same motives that existed as before. The women are wanting to escape the oppression of marriage so they travel to Italy and ask for the help of a very wealthy, influential man presenting some of the same arguments of justice and the appeal to Piero’s ego. The man, Piero, like the King, is motivated by protecting his family and his pride. While some elements of religion have been minimized, they still permeate the script with Olympia’s reference to being “a relative” of Piero which is a reference to an earlier statement claiming they were relatives because they were all children of Zeus. None of the situations or motivations of these characters are seemingly uncommon or uncharacteristic of humans whether they lived in ancient Greece or 21st century Italy. The search for justice, escape from oppression, praise of power, protection of those of importance and our own self-portrayal are all timeless motives and desires of the human race since the creation of civilizations that were able to take time to think about themselves as individuals and their role in relationships past survival. The comparison of these theatrical pieces provide evidence to acknowledge these similarities, and to consider what the core motivations we as human beings experience, both for reference onstage and off. This is all for the Oxford Theater Podcast, thank you for tuning in, and remember to Live Life Passionately, Live Life Confidently, Live Life Creatively, and Live Life Dramatically.