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Aeschylus The Persians

A Tragedy (472 BC)

Recited by Durs Grünbein

New production

In German with English surtitles.

Co-production with the Schauspiel Frankfurt


  • 18 August 2018, 19:30


  • 20 August 2018, 19:30
  • 21 August 2018, 19:30
  • 23 August 2018, 19:30
  • 24 August 2018, 19:30
  • 25 August 2018, 19:30
  • 26 August 2018, 19:30
  • 27 August 2018, 19:30

Print programme (PDF)


Ulrich Rasche, Director and Sets
Toni Jessen, Jürgen Lehmann, Direction of the chorus and Assistant Stage Director
Ari Benjamin Meyers, Composition
Sara Schwartz, Costumes
Johan Delaere, Lighting
Bernhard Klein, Sound
Philip Bußmann, Video
Marion Tiedtke, Dramaturgy
Sabine Mäder, Sets collaborator
Nico van Wersch, Musical collaborator


Katja Bürkle, Valery Tscheplanowa, Chorus of the Persian Elders/Darius’ Ghost
Patrycia Ziolkowska, Atossa, the King's Mother
Max Bretschneider, David Campling, Torsten Flassig, Pascal Groß, Harald Horváth, Toni Jessen, Max Koch, Julian Benedikt Melcher, Sam Michelson, Johannes Nussbaum, Justus Pfankuch, Samuel Simon, Yannik Stöbener, Alexander Vaassen, Andreas Vögler, Messengers / Xerxes' Army / Xerxes
and others

Guillaume François, Arturas Miknaitis, Singers
Katelyn King, Marimba, Vibraphone
Thomsen Merkel, Bass
Špela Mastnak, Percussion
Maria del Mar Mendivil Colom, Viola
Nico van Wersch, Electronics


What unites victor and vanquished? The oldest tragedy that has come down to us, The Persians, provides us with an answer. When he fought against the Persians in the battle of Salamis in 480 bc, its author experienced in his own flesh and blood what it means to go off to war. What was the largest Asian army at the time, wealthy and technically equipped on a lavish scale, attacked the Greeks, who, with no strong allies and numerical inferiority, appeared to be easy prey. Not long before, this Asian army had conquered an Athens almost depopulated, had plundered the most important temple of the West, and destroyed it by fire. Certain of victory, the Persians entered the Strait of Salamis, where the Greeks massacred them in a surprise attack. After their defeat, most of the survivors among the Persian troops fell victim to outbreaks of disease, hunger or other adversities of nature as they made their way home. The scope of the disaster reminds us today of Napoleon’s Russian campaign or Hitler’s final struggle. In each instance a gigantic army – led blindly and with an exaggerated sense of self by a single head of state – went to war, although few returned, those few more marked by death than capable of going on living. The defeat of the Persians was tantamount to the obliteration of their army. The number of the dead – almost three hundred thousand – allows us to sense that an entire people was robbed of its future over generations.

Eight years after the event, Aeschylus captured this historic event in strong, richly concrete verse. This did not mean that as victor he was singing a hymn of praise to his native country; nor did he write an anti-war piece in the name of the vanquished; he composed something far more than a play based on history. Aeschylus used the war as an occasion to reflect on the place of humanity within a comprehensive order of culture and nature. What is reflected is the curse of unchecked autonomy by the character Xerxes, who stands for a whole generation. The young prince, who wants to surpass his father’s renown, heeds only those appealing to his false self-confidence; he is blinded by wealth and grows unmoored through his demand for total power, which brooks no contradiction and is not even daunted by the mighty force of the sea. So it is that two political systems confront one another in this war: Greece, matured through democracy, and authoritarian Persia. The dictator before whom a whole people goes down on bended knee returns home without royal garments. Dressed in rags, he is naked and defenceless like any other man; no rank and no right are left to raise him above others. The daemon of his fate has taught him humility.

The play begins with a nightmare suffered by Queen Atossa, who foresees the trauma of war that will mark future generations; not long thereafter, a messenger brings certainty. Thus it is that Aeschylus’s tragedy constitutes one long cry of pain about humans, who in the arrogance of ambition and hubris tear everything down around them. In the long run, the strength to survive resides in common lamentation. Xerxes integrates himself into the community of his fellow men and women through the grief he shares with them. When order is lost, political authority frittered away, a people nearly annihilated, then the only sound that can echo in this lament is the remnant of humanity on which a future can be built. A message relevant to both sides, the victors and the vanquished. This lament awakens compassion in us, the audience. Aeschylus’s play portrays human beings in their vulnerability, through the experience of pain, and only through it can a modern, humane state emerge.

Ulrich Rasche is numbered among the most significant directors of his generation. Through his impressive work with choruses and his stage designs, he blends space, movement, music and language in a unified dramatic presentation. His productions are like oratorios in which an archaic power emerges despite our highly technologized, secular world.

Marion Tiedtke, Translation: Vincent Kling