"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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Pelasgus and the Greek story do not put emphasis on love, and the argument of the women wanting to be in love to marry does not hold any weight to the sister’s defenders or in Grecian society.
Love is the heart center (pun intended) of Big Love. It is the ideas of Love that sway Piero to original try to help and is the final resonating message at the end of the play, the love will triumph all.
There is a heavy religious/spiritual aspect to the chorus of women’s language as they consistently evoke Zeus and other gods to help them through their hardships and to protect them.
Although the sisters do not call on gods to defend and protect them, there is something highly spiritual and ritualistic about the explosions of physical intensities that the women experience; they are evoking Zeus in their very own way.
The women’s plan to murder their husbands on their wedding night is guided by their father, however, he full act of their plan does not come to fruition as Pelasgus steps in with his army to defend the women and Danaüs.
Thyona is the devisor of the master plan to murder each cousin on their wedding night as they plan to take the women to bed. The act comes to complete fruition (even earlier as the blood bath begins at the wedding) except for Lydia who chooses not to kill her counterpart after falling in “love”.
The King of Argos, Pelasgus has an extreme amount of power and has a vast army at his disposal. Pelasgus needs persuading as well, but he protects the women with more fervor.
Piero is not the King and his power and rank within is not clearly defined. It is said he has some “pull”, however, he does not have an army or the means to defend the sisters on the level in which Pelasgus could.
The women threated Pelasgus with ending their lives on his alter and for him to have to answer to Zeus if he does not help them.
Thyona threatens Piero similarly by saying the 50 sisters will hang themselves on his terrace.
The chorus of women claim their relation to the Argos people, through a series of connections drawing back to Zeus.
Lydia mimics this speech, however her connections tie their Greek ancestry to the Italians.
The women are a “chorus” of presumably 50 “women”- which would have been men. The women speak together, think together, and act together as a unit without discussion between sisters. There is a “leader” who speaks at different times, but she relays messages that all three women form Big Love might say.
The women are the main characters and have specific identities, personalities, and appearances. This connects back to the idea of a “chorus”; creating three characters with highly varying traits, acts like a 50 person chorus.
Danaüs tries to protect and help the daughters throughout The Suppliants and is a main character within the piece.
The daughter’s father is non-existent character, only alluded to for his lack of love and assistance in their plight.
Danaüs flees with the daughters from Egypt to Argos (Greece) and receive protection there form the King of Argos, Pelasgus.
The daughters flee alone, and leave Greece to seek asylum in Italy and receive initial protection from Piero, an important man in his town in Italy.
The father of the daughters, Danaüs, tries to break the contract but his brother will not.
Both fathers are agreed upon the contract and do nothing to stop the marriages.
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: