Pelasgus, the King of Argos, has just had a group of fifty sisters arrive at his shores together with their father Danaus. The sisters are escaping from forced marriage to their cousins, the fifty sons of Danaus’ twin brother Aegyptus (Bakewell 303). The sisters, together with their father, plead with the king to grant them permission to reside within his kingdom to escape the lecherous pursuit of their husbands-to-be and their band of captors, led by Herald of Egypt.
Matters at stake for Pelasgus
The first matter that is at stake for Pelasgus is his authority. Pelasgus’ kingdom is a sort of consultative monarchy and Pelasgus seems to draw his right to rule from making decisions that are arrived at consultatively, and are in the best interest of the people within the Argos kingdom. Therefore, although he feels compassion for the group of asylum seekers, he cannot make a unilateral decision because any opposition to such a decision within the ordinary people of the Kingdom might create discontent and thus challenge his authority.
His Kingdom is also at stake. Pelasgus realizes that there is a distinct possibility that were he to grant asylum to the group, their pursuers might very well wage war against his Kingdom in a bid to re-capture the group. Since he has not had the time to asses the strength and weaknesses of the pursuing band, the likelihood that his Kingdom could be overrun in the pretext of re-capturing the girls is eminent.
The band of captures is also in hot pursuit therefore, the decisions he is going to make are hurried, which may not augur well for his kingdom. As king, Pelasgus cannot also wholly trust the word of the asylum seekers, and he needs to consult, because the group may as well be spies sent by enemy Kingdoms. If he grants them asylum and they turn out to be spies or agent provocateurs of sorts, his kingdom is doomed.
Pelasgus’ Central Conflicts
Pelasgus’ first point of conflict is that hosting the desperate daughters might eventually bring him or his Kingdom to ruin. Pelasgus realizes that agreeing to host the daughters and their father within the borders of his Kingdom implies guaranteeing their safety from their pursuers.
Hosting them is a simple matter to him, but guaranteeing their safety is a completely different ball game and he feels he might be courting trouble in the whole matter. This creates a dilemma for him. Pelasgus also fears that were he to make a unilateral decision of hosting the desperate group, for whom he seems to feel genuine compassion, there is a small window of some elements in his Kingdom unhappy with his magnanimous act colluding with the pursuers by revealing the location and identity of the group, creating chaos in his Kingdom.
The second conflict involves Pelasgus’ reluctance to enjoin himself in what he perceives as a pure family matter. According to him, he views the group of girls together with their father as members of a different ‘race’, to imply a people whose kinship he does not share, thus would be reluctant to want to help. The girls are fleeing from marrying their cousins anyway, and according to him that qualifies as a family matter that if he were wise he would avoid immersing himself – or his Kingdom – into.
The King therefore wants to be convinced more concerning the risks associated with sheltering a part of a family that is fleeing from the other half of the family under pretences that he has no clue whether to believe or disregard. Ideally, the King feels like he has been ambushed and appointed a judge over family matters that he feels he would best stay away.
Pelasgus as a king is portrayed as having true compassion and sympathy for the group of asylum seekers. He is keen to help the sisters and their father, but a third conflict stirs within him; he realizes that he has to consult with the leadership of his Kingdom before arriving at binding decision on the fate of the group.
However, a furtive thought disturbs him concerning this matter – he realizes that since the decision that will be reached by the governing council will be binding, if the council arrives at a decision to reject the group’s desire for sheltering in the Argon Kingdom, his conscience will be unsettled (Garvie 86).
His conflict therefore arises from his apprehension in handing the fate of a people he genuinely feels compassion for, to a decision-making process that may not necessarily be favorable to the group ultimately. The outcome of a negative decision may create an unnecessary impasse in the activities of the Kingdom because he may overrule the decision of the governing council. The King clearly is in a state of dilemma.
Resolution of King Pelasgus’ Conflicts
Pelasgus conflicts eventually get resolved. Pelasgus does this by throwing the ball back on the court of Danaus, the father of the daughters. Pelasgus reasons that by having the father of the daughters plead the case at the various shrines in the Kingdom and directly at the leadership of the Kingdom, together with entreating the masses, the father stands a better chance of gaining a favorable decision from the governing council.
Pelasgus feels that the father is best able to show the agony that he would face if his asylum request were to be rejected. Pelasgus correctly reasons that the best person to plead the case would be the father. Pelasgus gives Danaus permission and tells Danaus to go forth to the Kingdom; the shrines, the public places, and to the leaders, and tell his story.
Pelasgus says that when the people of his Kingdom see his tired and unkempt appearance, perhaps they too will feel pity and grant him and his daughters their request. The King realizes that in this instant, even his word as the sovereign, cannot carry as much weight as the honest appeal of a father would. In the end, the citizens of Argos accede to the wishes of Danaus and his daughters – the suppliants – and grant them asylum, much to the rejoicing and appreciation of the suppliants.
However, the celebrations are short-lived because soon Herald of Egypt, the leader of the group pursuing the suppliants with the aim of returning them to Egypt, soon arrives on the shores of Argos Kingdom with the sole intent of rounding up Danaus and his daughters and returning them to Egypt for the forced marriages to their cousins. The ensuing chaos, with Herald of Egypt acting superior and giving orders for the group to board the ship quickly, attracts the attention of King Pelasgus.
Demonstrating characteristics that the resolution of his conflicts is accomplished, the King first begins to severely reprimand and caution the band of captors, stating that their lecherous pursuit is barbaric and uncouth behaviors and characteristics that his humane and compassionate citizenry will not tolerate. He further demonstrates that he has overcome his dilemmas by casting his lot with the suppliants, warning Herald of Egypt to touch them at his own peril.
Herald of Egypt, sensing the resolution in the King’s utterances, backs down and the King further tells the suppliants that they will be hosted in a fortified guesthouse near his dwelling, as guests of his Kingdom.
Bakewell, Geofrey. “Aeschylus’ Supplices 11-12: Danaus as Pessonomon.” Classical Quarterly 58.1 (2008): 303-307.
Garvie, Frank. Aeschylus’ Supplices, Play, and Trilogy. Cambridge, 1969.