White Pillars

THE SUPPLIANTS

by Aeschylus

"The Greeks took no easy problems. They put on the stage a world of unspeakable anguish, of matricide and fratricide and patricide, and then they refused to blink. They looked into the abyss of human life and human nature with open eyes and understood that the thing to do is to feel life as it is, in all its anguish as well as its aspirations, its missed opportunities and its savored beauties, never to falsify it, never to pretty it up; but rather to look at it bravely, unflinchingly."

–Charles L. Mee, A Nearly Normal Life: A Memoir

Big Love is an amalgamation of Aeschylus’s, The Suppliants, and a myriad of Mee’s own personal ingenuity, borrowed text, and other ideas from a number of authors, playwrights, theorists, with much of the play borrowing much from Aeschylus’ 470 BC drama. The Suppliants is one of the oldest surviving dramas in the Western World. Experts say the piece was presented as the first part of a three-part trilogy that expanded on The Suppliants. The plays lost were “The Songs of Aegyptus” and the “The Daughters of Danaus”. Also lost, is the trilogy’s satyr play, “Amymone”, which humorously depicts the seduction of Poseidon by one of the Suppliant sisters.

 

KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SUPPLIANTS AND BIG LOVE

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ADDITIONAL DETAILS

The Suppliants derives from an even older legend, called the “Legend of Io”. The legend and The Suppliants tell of 50 Egyptian sisters, known as “The Danaids” who have escaped the horrid fate of marrying their cousins against their will. The sisters flee to Argos with their father Danaus’ assistance and seek protection from the King, Pelasgus, who agrees to protect the sisters from their cousins. The Suppliants differs from many traditional surviving Greek dramas of this time period as the “Chorus of the Daughters of Danaus” serve as the chorus and also the protagonist. The lines are given to the chorus dominate the majority of the piece. Furthermore, Aeschylus’ pieces offer conflicts around gender, love, sexuality, relationships, and hopeful resolutions; opposed to exposing the life of one main protagonist and their tragic flaw. Even thousands of years ago, the ideals centering around sexuality, women, their rights, and their empowerment, were bubbling at the surface. Mee allows these bubbles to overflow and spill out onto the floor, in more ways than one. 

 

The Suppliants is extremely similar to Big Love, however, there are some key differences in both the context and conclusion of the story. Unlike Danaus in Aeschylus’ play, the father in Big Love does not make an appearance, nor does he help his daughters. The most prominent difference between the pieces concerns the idea of love and what it means for contemporary- as opposed to ancient Greek - society. The need for love was not a prerequisite for marriage in the Greek world of Aeschylus. Women’s wishes and desires were perhaps less of a concern in the patriarchal world of the fifth century Athens then they are today. Our continued concern for women’s sexual agency and for women’s rights generally are some of the reasons that Aeschylus’s piece still resonates so greatly today. Furthermore, Mee connects personally to Greek literature and its ability to highlight every aspect of life, no matter how troubling it may be.

 

The legend is extremely similar to Big Love without certain modern implications such as being an “American”, but Big Love does make several unique diversions from the original tale. The chart points out specific areas in which Mee has taken, transformed, and tossed Aeschylus’s original piece.

For a critical view on The Suppliants vs. Big Love please click below to view the following article:

 

Charles Mee's Intertextual and Intercultural Inscriptions: The Suppliants Vs Big Love by Dr Savas Patsalidis of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.