The Invocation of Darius in the Persae

Charles E. Muntz

Duke University

At Persae 633-680 there is a lengthy choral ode in which the Persian elders summon the spirit of their former king Darius. Since Darius is clearly dead, most of the work done on this passage has attempted to ascertain the exact form of the necromantic ritual used by the chorus. However, the question needs to be asked – did Aeschylus intend the audience to see this as necromancy at all?

A very close examination of the Greek, beginning when the Persian Queen first asks the chorus to summon Darius, reveals no clear sign of necromancy. Instead, the rites the Queen describes, consisting of hymns and libations, and the language she uses are highly ambiguous. The members of the chorus give no sign that they view the invocation as the raising of a dead man. This must be deliberate on the part of Aeschylus.

The choral ode itself starts out with language and forms that are typical of hymns and prayers, both those sung to heroes and those sung to divinities. However, it becomes increasingly clear that the chorus regards Darius as a god, not a hero, and that they have approached this enterprise as an invocation in the tradition and forms of the kletic hymn. This is what makes this passage so remarkable – Aeschylus has taken a common Greek ritual and twisted it into something decidedly un-Greek, the deification of a King.



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