The University of Wisconsin Press

Classical Studies / Literature & Criticism / Drama

Aeschylus’s Suppliant Women
The Tragedy of Immigration
Geoffrey W. Bakewell

Wisconsin Studies in Classics
Patricia A. Rosenmeyer, Laura McClure, and Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, Series Editors

Politics, sex, and refugees in the ancient world

This book offers a provocative interpretation of a relatively neglected tragedy, Aeschylus’s Suppliant Women. Although the play’s subject is a venerable myth, it frames the flight of the daughters of Danaus from Egypt to Greece in starkly contemporary terms, emphasizing the encounter between newcomers and natives. Some scholars read Suppliant Women as modeling successful social integration, but Geoffrey W. Bakewell argues that the play demonstrates, above all, the difficulties and dangers noncitizens brought to the polis.

Bakewell’s approach is rigorously historical, situating Suppliant Women in the context of the unprecedented immigration that Athens experienced in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. The flow of foreigners to Attika increased under the Pisistratids but became a flood following liberation, Cleisthenes, and the Persian Wars. As Athenians of the classical era became increasingly aware of their own collective identity, they sought to define themselves and exclude others. They created a formal legal status to designate the free noncitizens living among them, calling them metics and calling their status metoikia. When Aeschylus dramatized the mythical flight of the Danaids from Egypt in his play Suppliant Women, he did so in light of his own time and place. Throughout the play, directly and indirectly, he casts the newcomers as metics and their stay in Greece as metoikia.

Bakewell maps the manifold anxieties that metics created in classical Athens, showing that although citizens benefited from the many immigrants in their midst, they also feared the effects of immigration in political, sexual, and economic realms. Bakewell finds metoikia was a deeply flawed solution to the problem of large-scale immigration. Aeschylus’s Argives accepted the Danaids as metics only under duress and as a temporary response to a crisis. Like the historical Athenians, they opted for metoikia because they lacked better alternatives.

Geoffrey W. Bakewell is professor of Greek and Roman studies and director of the Search for Values in Light of Western History and Religion Program at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.


“Bakewell's guidance through the interplay between Aeschylus' tragedy and Athens' history makes a persuasive case for using immigration, specifically metoikia, as a critical lens through which to examine this tragedy.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Besides being one of our oldest plays, Suppliant Women is the first depiction, in any genre, of what happens when women fleeing sexual violence in their home monarchy seek asylum in a nearby democracy. With his sensitivity to both philological and theatrical issues, his lovely clear style and sober, erudite judgment, Bakewell is an ideal guide through this uncannily resonant ‘tragedy of immigration.’”
—Jennifer Wise, University of Victoria

“Through a careful reading of one of the more obscure and problematic plays from the Greek canon, Geoffrey Bakewell has offered an insightful investigation into the status and theoretical meaning of the ‘metic’ in the life of ancient Athens. Simply a pleasure to read.”
—Arlene W. Saxonhouse, University of Michigan

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Of Related Interest:
A verse translation by David Mulroy, with introduction and notes
"This version is far superior to any translation of the Antigone known to me. For the modern reader, the Antigone is now a rich and rewarding play in English."—Robert J. Rabel, author of Plot and Point of View in the "Iliad"


August 2013
LC: 2012032674 PA
226 pp.   6 x 9  

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Paper $29.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-29174-7
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