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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX. 1876–79.

Greece: Salamis (Kolouri), the Island

The Battle of Salamis

By Æschylus (525–456 B.C.)

(From The Persians)
Translated by J. S. Blackie

SOME evil god, or an avenging spirit,

Began the fray. From the Athenian fleet

There came a Greek, and thus thy son bespoke:

“Soon as the gloom of night shall fall, the Greeks

No more will wait, but, rushing to their oars,

Each man will seek his safety where he may

By secret flight.” This Xerxes heard, but knew not

The guile of Greece, nor yet the jealous gods,

And to his captains straightway gave command

That, when the sun withdrew his burning beams,

And darkness filled the temple of the sky,

In triple lines their ships they should dispose,

Each wave-plashed outlet guarding, fencing round

The isle of Ajax surely. Should the Greeks

Deceive this guard, or with their ships escape

In secret flight, each captain with his head

Should pay for his remissness. These commands

With lofty heart, thy son gave forth, nor thought

What harm the gods were weaving. They obeyed.

Each man prepared his supper, and the sailors

Bound the blithe oar to its familiar block.

Then, when the sun his shining glory paled,

And night swooped down, each master of the oar,

Each marshaller of arms, embarked; and then

Line called on line to take its ordered place.

All night they cruised, and with a moving belt

Prisoned the frith, till day ’gan peep, and still

No stealthy Greek the expected flight essayed.

But when at length the snowy-steeded day

Burst o’er the main, all beautiful to see,

First from the Greeks a tuneful shout uprose,

Well omened, and, with replication loud,

Leaped the blithe echo from the rocky shore.

Fear seized the Persian host, no longer tricked

By vain opinion; not like wavering flight

Billowed the solemn pæan of the Greeks,

But like the shout of men to battle urging,

With lusty cheer. Then the fierce trumpet’s voice

Blazed o’er the main; and on the salt sea flood

Forthwith the oars with measured plash descended,

And all their lines, with dexterous speed displayed,

Stood with opposing front. The right wing first,

Then the whole fleet, bore down, and straight uprose

A mighty shout: “Sons of the Greeks, advance!

Your country free, your children free, your wives!

The altars of your native gods deliver,

And your ancestral tombs,—all ’s now at stake!”

A like salute from our whole line back rolled

In Persian speech. Nor more delay, but straight

Trireme on trireme, brazen beak on beak,

Dashed furious. A Greek ship led on the attack,

And from the prow of a Phœnician struck

The figure-head; and now the grapple closed

Of each ship with his adverse desperate.

At first the main line of the Persian fleet

Stood the harsh shock: but soon their multitude

Became their ruin: in the narrow frith

They might not use their strength, and, jammed together,

Their ships with brazen beaks did bite each other,

And shattered their own oars. Meanwhile the Greeks

Stroke after stroke dealt dexterous all around,

Till our ships showed their keels, and the blue sea

Was seen no more, with multitude of ships

And corpses covered. All the shores were strewn,

And the rough rocks, with dead: till, in the end,

Each ship in the barbaric host, that yet

Had oars, in most disordered flight rowed off.

As men that fish for tunnies, so the Greeks,

With broken booms, and fragments of the wreck,

Struck our snared men, and hacked them, that the sea

With wail and moaning was possessed around,

Till black-eyed Night shot darkness o’er the fray.

These ills thou nearest: to rehearse the whole,

Ten days were few; but this, my queen, believe,

No day yet shone on earth whose brightness looked

On such a tale of death.