translated by Kenneth McLeish
The haunting spectre of unburied corpses begins the action of Euripides' Suppliants. Aithra, mother of the king of Athens, Theseus, pleads with her son to exhort Thebes to release the bodies of the sons of Athens killed in Thebes, hired by Polyneikes to fight in the post-Oedipal era of Theban civil war. Theseus agrees to the request, but only after ascertaining that it is the democratic will of the people of Athens that he should make this plea to the Thebans.
The Thebans, for their part, refuse, mocking Athenian democratic principles along the way. A battle between the two cities erupts; this time, however, Theseus fights only to gain that which his mandate had sought: the return of the bodies for their holy rites.
In the play, as J. Michael Walton writes, 'the level of the debate quickly rises to a dual consideration of the anture of war and the relative values of differing poltical systems. This is not Theseus' squabble, as he is quick to point out. He is soon persuaded that it is his buisiness. The rights and wrongs of interferences into the behaviour of other countries on moral grounds is a debate which has proved open-ended. All the deliberations of the United Nations Security Council have resulted only in guidelines to which every example seems to offer special pleading.'
Suppliants forms the last episode in the saga of the house of Oedipus.