Societal Attitudes Toward Metics in Fifth-Century Athens through the Lens of Aeschylus’s Suppliants and Euripides’ Children of Heracles

1§1 Fifth-century B.C.E. Athenians grouped themselves together based on citizenship. Metics, who were non-citizen resident aliens, found themselves excluded from many aspects of city life because they were not citizens. But how did Athenian citizens view the metics living among them? Aeschylus’ Suppliants reveals xenophobic attitudes toward metics among Athenians in the early fifth century B.C.E., certainly reinforced by the city’s triumph over the Persians and hegemony in the Aegean. In addition, Euripides’ Children of Heracles shows softened attitudes toward metics among Athenians as the Peloponnesian War began, most likely because the Spartans threatened Athenian power and Athens needed the help of metics to survive.

1§2 The word xenophobia does not appear in extant ancient Greek literature, although it is derived from Greek roots. According to Merriam Webster, xenophobia means a “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners.” The Oxford English Dictionary has xenophobia as “a deep antipathy to foreigners.”[1] The American Heritage Dictionary only contains the word xenophobe but defines it as “a person unduly fearful or contemptuous of strangers or foreigners.” All three definitions prove that the modern meaning of xenophobia combines both fear and hatred of foreigners. The Golden Dawn[2] party in modern-day Greece is xenophobic because its leaders fear that immigrants, especially Muslims, Albanians and Jews, will cause a systematic destruction of Greek society and values (Ellinas 2013:8). Golden Dawn leaders channel their fear of foreigners destroying their country into hatred toward those immigrants who pose a threat to them. The party sponsors soup kitchens where those wishing to be fed must show proof of Greek blood (Koronaiou 2013:336). Golden Dawn leaders showcase their hatred of immigrants by offering help to the needy but then deliberately excluding those not deemed Greek enough. The concept of “hatred of foreigners,” or μισοβάρβαρος, does appear once in extant Greek literature. In Plato’s dialogue Menexenus, Socrates says:

οὕτω δή τοι τό γε τῆς πόλεως γενναῖον καὶ ἐλεύθερον βέβαιόν τε καὶ ὑγιές ἐστιν καὶ φύσει μισοβάρβαρον, διὰ τὸ εἰλικρινῶς εἶναι Ἕλληνας καὶ ἀμιγεῖς βαρβάρων. οὐ γὰρ Πέλοπες οὐδὲ Κάδμοι οὐδὲ Αἴγυπτοί τε καὶ Δαναοὶ οὐδὲ ἄλλοι πολλοὶ φύσει μὲν βάρβαροι ὄντες, νόμῳ δὲ Ἕλληνες, συνοικοῦσιν ἡμῖν, ἀλλ᾽ αὐτοὶ Ἕλληνες, οὐ μειξοβάρβαροι οἰκοῦμεν, ὅθεν καθαρὸν τὸ μῖσος ἐντέτηκε τῇ πόλει τῆς ἀλλοτρίας φύσεως

So firmly-rooted and so sound is the noble and liberal character of our city, and endowed also with such a hatred of the barbarian, because we are pure-blooded Greeks, unadulterated by barbarian stock. For there cohabit with us none of the type of Pelops, or Cadmus, or Aegyptus or Danaus, and numerous others of the kind, who are naturally barbarians though nominally Greeks; but our people are pure Greeks and not a barbarian blend; whence it comes that our city is imbued with a whole-hearted hatred of alien races.[3]

Menexenus 245c–d

In his book titled The Ideology of the Athenian Metic, David Whitehead acknowledges that this passage is problematic in determining whether or not this hatred of barbarians was so virulent in classical Athens because the plot of the dialogue itself is especially perplexing and this passage is incongruous with the rest of the work (Whitehead 1977:113–114). But Plato’s reader would understand the idea of hatred of barbarians, which, as we see in the example of Golden Dawn, goes together with a fear of such foreigners. Though Plato was writing in the fourth century, the “dramatic date” of the Menexenus is in the fifth century B.C.E., as is often the case in Plato’s dialogues. Therefore, we can use the modern word xenophobia in the context of fifth-century Athens.

1§3 It is obvious that Greeks believed they were superior to barbarians by nature from passages such as the one above from Plato’s Menexenus and Aristotle’s discussion of the natural slave in Book I chapters iii to viii of the Politics. However, metics posed a particular problem. In fifth-century Athens, most metics were ethnically Greek (Miller 1997:84). M. Clerc examined the tombstones of fifth-century Athenian metics and found only Greeks (Whitehead 1977:110). However, regardless of their ethnic background, most metics could never become citizens.[4] Fifth-century Athenians could not justify suspicions of metics on the grounds of Greek superiority because most of them shared a similar background. The Old Oligarch makes this ethnic connection the most clear in the Constitution of the Athenians[5] when he says:

Τῶν δούλων δ’ αὖ καὶ τῶν μετοίκων πλείστη ἐστὶν Ἀθήνησιν ἀκολασία, καὶ οὔτε πατάξαι ἔξεστιν αὐτόθι οὔτε ὑπεκστήσεταί σοι ὁ δοῦλος. οὗ δ’ ἕνεκέν ἐστι τοῦτο ἐπιχώριον ἐγὼ φράσω. εἰ νόμος ἦν τὸν δοῦλον ὑπὸ τοῦ ἐλευθέρου τύπτεσθαι ἢ τὸν μέτοικον ἢ τὸν ἀπελεύθερον, πολλάκις ἂν οἰηθεὶς εἶναι τὸν Ἀθηναῖον δοῦλον ἐπάταξεν ἄν· ἐσθῆτά τε γὰρ οὐδὲν βελτίων ὁ δῆμος αὐτόθι ἢ οἱ δοῦλοι καὶ οἱ μέτοικοι καὶ τὰ εἴδη οὐδὲν βελτίους εἰσίν.

Now among the slaves and metics at Athens there is the greatest uncontrolled wantonness; you can’t hit them there, and a slave will not stand aside for you. I shall point out why this is their native practice: if it were customary for a slave (or metic or freedman) to be struck by one who is free, you would often hit an Athenian citizen by mistake on the assumption that he was a slave. For the people there are no better dressed than the slaves and metics, nor are they any more handsome.[6]

 Constitution of the Athenians 1.10

Because Athenian metics shared the same ethnic background as true Athenian citizens, they were not visibly distinct. Given these shared qualities, societal attitudes toward metics in fifth-century Athens are especially nuanced and worth exploring, as we will see through the lens of the Suppliants and the Children of Heracles.

Can we reliably extract the societal attitudes of fifth-century Athenians from tragedy?

2§1 In fifth-century Athens, tragic competitions took place as part of religious and civic festivals, and they were embedded in the religious and civic spheres. Dionysus was the patron god of theater, and these festivals were supposed to honor him (Longo 1999:15). Dionysus Eleuthereus, who sponsored the annual Great Dionysia in Athens, was the archetypal immigrant god. He had moved from Eleutherae in Boeotia to Athens and then began to bless his new city (Bakewell 1999:64).

2§2 In fifth-century Athens, religion was bound with government, and festivals had a political nature. Oddone Longo, in an essay on the relationship between theater and the polis, states that the civic nature of festivals was to celebrate the city and its ideology (Longo 1999:16). Tragic competitions went beyond a civic celebration and were often democratic propaganda. In an analysis of the Great Dionysia in Athens, Simon Goldhill has said the festival reflects the ideals of Athenian democracy and the polis system:

The festival of the Great Dionysia is in the full sense of the expression a civic occasion, a city festival. And it is an occasion to say something about the city, not only in the plays themselves. The Great Dionysia is a public occasion endowed with a special force of belief. This is fundamentally and essentially a festival of the democratic polis.

Goldhill 1999:114

The tragedies performed at the Dionysia “say something about the city” because the festival provided a forum for the playwrights to delve into contemporary issues, leaving the audience members with the responsibility to interpret the play’s message as they liked. Geoffrey Bakewell argues that the structure of Greek tragedies – a chorus with a few principal actors, no narrator, and action occurring off stage – left the audience to make up their own minds on political issues presented. He writes, “In short, each spectator had to think for himself, deciding what was wrong and what was right and what exactly had led to each play’s disaster” (Bakewell 2011:262). Playwrights took advantage of this structure to hold contemporary political discussions in the shape of mythical stories.

2§3 The tragedians of fifth-century Athens were not as historically conscious as writers are today, and they used contemporary analogy to contextualize ancient stories. Josiah Ober and Barry Strauss argue that the setting and time period of mythical stories did not influence how they were staged. They write, “If the characters were mythical, if the setting was usually out of Athens, if the dramatic date was ancient, nevertheless the rhetoric of politics in tragedy is largely the rhetoric of contemporary democratic Athens” (Ober and Strauss 1999:248). Bakewell asserts that the Athenian audience was well aware of the contemporary overtones in tragedy and approached the plays accordingly (Bakewell 2011:263). One aspect of the tragedians’ style that exposed their strategy was a reliance on real-world events. Bakewell writes, “Tragedy did two things simultaneously: It reinforced a strong sense of male citizen identity, and it depicted the real-world sufferings that all too often flowed from the exercise of power” (Bakewell 2011:263).

2§4 Political overtones are unambiguously present in other aspects of the Suppliants and the Children of Heracles. Peter Burian argues that Pelasgus’ insistence that his people decide what to do with the Danaids is an overt comparison of Pelasgus to a democratic Athenian statesman (Burian 1974:206). According to Burian, Pelasgus’s actions prove that Aeschylus had a political message in mind when he wrote the Suppliants (Burian 1974:209-210). In the Children of Heracles, Euripides makes a political statement by having Eurystheus’ herald criticize the Athenians for meddling in other people’s business (Children of Heracles 109–110; 139–152). Thalia Papadapoulou states definitively that this is an insinuation of Athens’s tendency to get involved in other states’ foreign affairs, “a policy criticized by her enemies and those states which wanted their autonomy, but defended by the Athenians as a manifestation of their power and often justified as an expression of altruism” (Papadapoulou 2005:153). The herald’s derisive comments could apply to Athens’s political state in the fifth century, as well as the actions of ancient Athens represented in the Children of Heracles.

2§5 Because of the communal, political and religious aspects of the tragic competitions, Alan Sommerstein considers tragedies to be “priceless historical documents” (Sommerstein 118). Tragedians wrote with the competition in mind and considered their audience as they composed. Sommerstein writes:

The plays were composed with a view to being successful in a competition, before a small panel of judges whose identity was not known at the time of composition but was known at the time of performance, and who thus, even if their actual voting was secret, in practice (as many remarks in comedy make clear) were very liable to be influenced by the attitude of the mass of the audience.

Sommerstein 2010:118

Playwrights who expressed views antithetical to those of the majority of their audience would most likely not progress very far in the competition. However, Goldhill does argue that the tragedians did not always parrot what the public wanted to hear. He writes, “Rather than simply reflecting the cultural values of a fifth-century audience … tragedy seems deliberately to make difficult the assumption of the values of the civic discourse” (Goldhill 1999:124). The composition of the Athenian audience for tragedy might help us interpret the ideas the playwright was trying to express.

2§6 According to Sommerstein, the demographics of the Athenian festival audience changed over the course of the fifth century. During the time of Aeschylus, the audience was mostly reflective of the city as a whole. Even though spectators had to pay to enter the festival, the fee was not out of reach for average citizens. Sommerstein writes:

In Aeschylus’ time, when the theatre audience may … have reflected fairly closely the current balance of political opinion in the population as a whole, there is likewise much to learn from plays whose own political standpoint is not, or not unambiguously, that which seems on our other evidence to have been currently most popular.

Sommerstein 2010:132

As the fifth century progressed, Athens’s population increased and the city gained power through the Delian League, which made the Dionysia in particular a more international event and drew more foreign attention to it (Sommerstein 2010:128). At the same time, Sommerstein asserts that the event became more expensive and began to draw more metics: “Metics, on the other hand, being mostly craftsmen or traders, and living overwhelmingly in the city and the Peiraeus, will in general have been much more cash‐oriented, and it is quite possible that the proportion of metics in the theatre audience was higher than in the free population of Attica as a whole” (Sommerstein 2010:123–124). By at least the 440s, Athens’s poor citizens were no longer proportionally represented at the Dionysia (Sommerstein 2010:127). Perhaps Euripides was influenced by the presence of more metics and foreign visitors in tragic audiences when he treated metics more softly in the Children of Heracles. However, the historical evidence will lend support to my argument that Athenians’ societal attitudes toward metics were changing.

2§7 The religious and political nature of the tragic competitions also influenced the demographics of the Athenian audience of the fifth century B.C.E. I agree with Goldhill’s assertion that it is “intolerably naïve” to think this audience was a homogenous body (Goldhill 1999:115). Society in fifth-century Athens was complex and nuanced by class and citizenship-status, and all of its members obviously did not share the same opinion. Based on the context of fifth-century tragic festivals and the make-up of their audience (even though it shifted throughout the fifth century), it seems clear that tragedians such as Aeschylus and Euripides must have kept societal attitudes in mind while writing and would have needed to conform to them somewhat to be as successful as they were. Sommerstein has asserted that despite the different audience make-up, fifth-century tragedians always wrote as Athenian citizens for Athenian citizens (Sommerstein 2010:121).

The Historical Context of the Fifth-Century Athenian Metic

3§1 It is impossible to know exactly when metic status developed in Athens, for no official decree survives. However, we can guess at an approximate beginning by looking at the city’s historical context. Before Solon became archon around 594 B.C.E.,[7] Whitehead posits that Athens had a culture of φιλοξενία, and strangers were accepted despite initial suspicion (Whitehead 1977:141).[8] The word πολιτεία, meaning “citizenship,” was not yet used in Athens then, but Solon made the concept more definite (Patterson 1981:15–21). He restricted citizenship to immigrants who were forced to flee their homes and those who came to Athens for a particular reason, which was fairly liberal compared to later measures (Whitehead 1977:141–142). After Solon, the Peisistratids, ruling from 546 to 510 B.C.E., offered citizenship to anyone who had enough money and influence to obtain it (Patterson 1981:23). The reforms of Cleisthenes during his archonship around 508 B.C.E. reorganized Athenian tribes and led to a large-scale enfranchisement (Patterson 1981:26). Whitehead refutes J.H. Oliver’s theory that Cleisthenes created the metic status. He argues instead that Cleisthenes laid out the “blueprint for metic status to be realized by later ad hoc legislation” (Whitehead 1977:151). While Cleisthenes did not establish a new legal status, he paved the way for its development. According to Diodorus, metic status as a legal designation must have been in place around 480 B.C.E. when Themistocles began building the Athenian fleet. Diodorus states that Themistocles convinced the δῆμος to exempt metics from taxes so more would come to Athens to help construct the fleet for use in the Persian War.[9] The Persian Wars brought great fame and power to the Athenians. They defeated the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.E. and essentially ended the Persian expedition in Greece at the Battle of Plataea in 479 B.C.E. These shows of strength led to Athenian hegemony in the Aegean in the decades following.[10]

3§2 Bakewell asserts that as Athens gained power, her citizens became aware of their collective identity: “Their ongoing attempts to define themselves resulted in the exclusion of others” (Bakewell 2011:264). Thus, metic status was increasingly defined as a way to separate resident aliens from the privileged citizen class, as Whitehead explains:

The exercise of their new powers entailed a process of increasing self-awareness on the part of the politai [citizens], a heightening realization of who they were and what they could do. The more this consciousness of power and identity clarified, the more necessary it seemed to recognize, define and control the men who stood nearest to them, and who had recently shown how easily the absence of such surveillance could blur the boundaries of status. It may be too soon to talk of citizen exclusiveness taking hold, but the days when Athens lay open to the wholesale absorption of alien elements were over, and the demos had to reach political maturity in the fifth century before it could turn again to the metoikoi and allow control to be tempered by participation.

Whitehead 1977:147

The concept of “citizen exclusiveness” emerged with Pericles’ citizenship law of 451 B.C.E., which restricted citizenship to those born from two Athenian citizens. The results of the law were that (1) people born to a citizen father but a non-citizen mother were no longer part of the citizen-body; (2) a female foreigner could no longer marry an Athenian citizen and see her sons be citizens; and (3) the male μέτοικος could not see his grandsons be Athenian citizens if his daughter married one (Whitehead 1977:150). Cynthia Patterson asserts that Pericles’ concept of citizenship did not necessarily focus on the rights associated with the designation but on being a part of the Athenian community (Patterson 1981:135). By this view, Pericles’ law specifically excludes non-citizens from truly belonging to Athens. According to Whitehead, it was mostly after Pericles enacted this law that Athenians began to fully define the metic status, in conjunction with the more specific definition of a citizen that emerged with Pericles’ law (Whitehead 1977:151-152).

3§3 During most of the fifth century, a metic was a free, non-citizen resident alien in Athens. Later, the term metic took on an expanded definition to include people who were only in Athens for a short time, but Whitehead states that in the fifth century, the metic population in Athens was mostly “settled” (Whitehead 1977:9-10). The status developed as a “third estate” which embodied “the central fact that the newcomers are not to be true members of the polis and its sub-divisions but simply in a working relationship with them” (Whitehead 1977:69). The status achieved this by combining small privileges with great responsibilities and limited rights.

3§4 Bakewell argues that the establishment of metic status reflects a “calculated self-interest” on the part of the Athenians (Bakewell 2011:265). On the one hand, the new legal definition emphasized the superiority of full Athenian citizenship. On the other hand, it gave metics small privileges that encouraged them to remain in Athens and contribute to the city’s economy. The only real privileges a metic had were in not being considered a slave and being allowed to join a deme (a “parish” or “precinct” which represented the basic unit of Athenian civic organization), but their responsibilities tested their loyalty to Athens (Whitehead 1977:73). The most definitive aspect of a metic’s identity was his subjection to a metic tax, the μετοίκιον. Once a foreigner had been in Athens for a certain period of time, he or she was subject to such a yearly fee, which was 12 drachmas for men and six for independent women (Whitehead 1977:75). Metics also paid εἰσφοραί and liturgies, which were taxes to which citizens were bound, as well (Whitehead 1977:78, 82). Metics were obligated to perform military services when necessary. The first evidence of metics serving in the military comes from Thucydides, who mentions metic hoplites in Book II chapter 13 of the History of the Peloponnesian War. The cavalry was not open to metics; they could only become hoplites and auxiliaries (Whitehead 1977:83). To help metics navigate their responsibilities, each one was required to have a citizen sponsor called a προστάτης, who gave witness that his charge was a free metic, intervened when necessary, oversaw deme-enrollment and assisted in legal proceedings (Whitehead 1977:91).

3§5 Metics needed προστάται because they lacked many of the essential rights of Athenian citizens, to the point that Whitehead labels metics “anti-citizens” (Whitehead 1977:70). Metics could not participate in the assembly, hold office or sit on a jury. They also had no right to fill priesthoods or to own land (Whitehead 1977: 70). However, metics did have an official relationship with a deme of their own choosing that related to where they lived within Athens (Whitehead 1977: 73).

3§6 According to Whitehead, metic status was fairly well-defined by the time of the Peloponnesian War, when metics were drafted into the Athenian army to fight the Spartans. Tensions between Sparta and Athens reached a height before Sparta declared war on Athens in late 432 B.C.E. (Hornblower 2011:150–184). Thucydides reports that Athenian citizens began preparing for the war with zeal but that signs were pointing to Athens’s downfall; an earthquake occurred in Delos that seemed “ominous”; most of Greece was already turning against Athens (Thucydides II.8). Thucydides writes, “οὕτως <ἐν> ὀργῇ εἶχον οἱ πλείους τοὺς Ἀθηναίους, οἱ μὲν τῆς ἀρχῆς ἀπολυθῆναι βουλόμενοι, οἱ δὲ μὴ ἀρχθῶσι φοβούμενοι” (Thucydides II 8, “So general was the indignation felt against Athens, whether by those who wished to escape from her empire, or were apprehensive of being absorbed by it” [11]). Meanwhile, Pericles ordered those in the countryside of Attica to retreat to the city (Thucydides II.13). The Athenians followed orders, but resettlement was not pleasant for them. Thucydides writes, χαλεπῶς δὲ αὐτοῖς διὰ τὸ αἰεὶ εἰωθέναι τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐν τοῖς ἀγροῖς διαιτᾶσθαι ἡ ἀνάστασις ἐγίγνετο (Thucydides 2.14, “But they found it hard to move, as most of them had been always used to live in the country”). The city was over-crowded, and people were forced to find shelter in public places and areas that were supposed to be left empty (Thucydides II.17). While public morale for the war was high, Thucydides reports that living conditions in Athens at the time were subpar, and personal morale may have been low.

3§7 The hardships of Athenian citizens proved a turning point for the city’s metics. Around the time of the Peloponnesian War, the city began recognizing metics for their contributions. Whitehead says, “At all events, in the second half of the fifth century the contribution of the metics to their adoptive city was widely acknowledged – and by men, like Thucydides and the Old Oligarch, who were scarcely under the spell of the radical democracy” (Whitehead 1977:151). Later on in this paper, we will see with help from the tragedians that the city’s misfortunes contributed to an overall softening of the citizens’ views on metics. This is how online casino works if you are looking to play casino online from usa as explained in this US casino site.

An Analysis of Aeschylus’s Suppliants

4§1 In the Suppliants, Aeschylus tells the story of the daughters of Danaus who come from Egypt to Argos seeking asylum from King Pelasgus and his people, the Pelasgians, having escaped a forced marriage to their cousins. Aeschylus makes the Danaids’ new legal status in Argos resemble the status of Athenian metics. As noted, metic status developed in Athens sometime in the first half of the fifth century B.C.E. to distinguish freeborn foreigners from indigenous Athenian citizens (Bakewell 2011:265). Sommerstein dates the Suppliants around 461 B.C.E. because the plot resembles the political downfall of the Athenian leader Kimon, which took place in 462 B.C.E. (Sommerstein 2010:136–137). Papadapoulou, in her commentary on the Suppliants, argues that the motif in which suppliants seek asylum is a topos (a traditional theme) in Greek tragedy, and so the Suppliants cannot be dated based on its contemporary political context (Papadapoulou 2011:67). However, she gives no alternate date for the play. If Sommerstein’s date is correct, metic status was still being defined around the time Aeschylus wrote the Suppliants, but a metic’s general legal rights were probably straightforward at that time (Whitehead 1977:69).

4§2 To reiterate, the legal definition of a metic in fifth-century Athens is a free but foreign-born permanent resident who is registered in an Athenian deme, sponsored by a citizen, not allowed to own land or houses, and subject to a metic tax and military service when needed (Bakewell 1999:45). These are the circumstances of the Danaids throughout the Suppliants. When Danaus reports on the Argives’ decision to accept his daughters into the city, he says:


ἔδοξεν Ἀργείοισιν οὐ διχορρόπως,

ἀλλ᾽ ὥστ᾽ ἀνηβῆσαί με γηραιᾷ φρενί:

πανδημίᾳ γὰρ χερσὶ δεξιωνύμοις

ἔφριξεν αἰθὴρ τόνδε κραινόντων λόγον:

ἡμᾶς μετοικεῖν τῆσδε γῆς ἐλευθέρους

κἀρρυσιάστους ξύν τ᾽ ἀσυλίᾳ βροτῶν:

καὶ μήτ᾽ ἐνοίκων μήτ᾽ ἐπηλύδων τινὰ

ἄγειν: ἐὰν δὲ προστιθῇ τὸ καρτερόν,

τὸν μὴ βοηθήσαντα τῶνδε γαμόρων

ἄτιμον εἶναι ξὺν φυγῇ δημηλάτῳ

The Argives have resolved, with no divided voice, but in such a way that my aged heart felt young again – for the air bristled with their aptly named right hands as the entire people ratified this proposal – that we shall have the right of residence in this land in freedom, with asylum and protection from seizure by any person; that no one, inhabitant or foreigner, may lay hands upon us; and that if force be applied, whoever among these citizens fails to come to our aid shall lose his civic rights and be driven into exile from the community.[12]

Suppliants 605–614

Aeschylus uses the verb μετοικεῖν to describe the Danaids’ right to residency in Argos. In LSJ, the standard Greek lexicon, the definition of the verb μετοικεῖν is “to reside in a foreign city” (LSJ, s.v., A II). However, in fifth-century Athens, μέτοικος was a technical legal term (Bakewell 1999:45), and in this context μέτοικος is an “alien resident in a foreign city … esp. at Athens” (LSJ, s.v., A). These alien residents had all the privileges and responsibilities mentioned above. We see that the Danaids are also free people rather than slaves in Aeschylus’s use of the word ἐλεύθερος. By choosing to use the verb μετοικεῖν in Danaus’s description of the Argives’ decision concerning his daughters, it is clear that Aeschylus is using language that an Athenian audience could associate with metics.[13]

4§3 Danaus explains that his daughters are protected from people laying their hands on them, and this protection applies to assailants who are either inhabitants (ἐνοίκοι [line 611]) or foreigners (ἐπήλυδες [line 611]). Aeschylus’s choice of the word ἐνοίκος instead of πολίτης or ἀστός further emphasizes the permanent immigrant status expressed by μετοικεῖν as opposed to the full citizenship of the native Pelasgians. While the Danaids are residing beyond (μετά) their true home, the autochthonous Pelasgians are rooted in (ἐν) theirs. The prefix μετά, however, does not have to be translated “beyond,” although that is one meaning (LSJ, s.v., C II 1); the prefix μετά could also mean “change of place” (LSJ, s.v., E) or living “among them” (LSJ s.v., G VIII). In all three cases, no matter how long the Danaids will reside in Argos, they will always strikingly be μέτοικοι and not ἐνοίκοι.

4§4 Danaus also says that Argive citizens who do not aid his daughters will lose their civic privileges and be banished from the city, destined to wander just as the Danaids did. Aeschylus names these citizens as γαμόροι, which means “landowner” (LSJ, s.v., A).[14] Specifying that those who might turn against the Danaids are landowners, Aeschylus implies that the Danaids themselves cannot own land, just like Athenian metics.

4§5 Aeschylus asks where the Danaids should live many times throughout the play. The Danaids themselves defer the decision to their father, saying:


ἀλλ᾽ ἀντ᾽ ἀγαθῶν ἀγαθοῖσι βρύοις,

δῖε Πελασγῶν.

πέμψον δὲ πρόφρων δεῦρ᾽ ἡμέτερον

πατέρ᾽ εὐθαρσῆ Δαναόν, πρόνοον

καὶ βούλαρχον. τοῦ γὰρ προτέρα

μῆτις, ὅπου χρὴ δώματα ναίειν

σύν τ᾽ εὐκλείᾳ καὶ ἀμηνίτῳ

βάξει λαῶν ἐγχώρων.

καὶ τόπος εὔφρων. πᾶς τις ἐπειπεῖν

ψόγον ἀλλοθρόοις


In return for these blessings may you teem with blessings, glorious leader of the Pelasgians! But be so kind as to send here our father Danaus, feeling confident, to take forethought and form a plan. He should first consider wisely where we should reside so as to be well reputed, and spoken of without anger, by the native population: even if a country is friendly, everyone is ready to speak ill of people of alien language.

Suppliants 966-977

The Danaids’ new home reflects how they will be received in the community. Because they cannot own property themselves, the Danaids’ lodgings depend on other people’s generosity. If the people of Argos truly accept them, the Danaids will be able to live in a comfortable place. But if they choose to reside in overly lavish housing, the people will resent them. If the Danaids can only live in squalor, the people are not willing to support them. However, the citizens will feel like they let down their suppliants if the Danaids cannot secure appropriate lodging. Pelasgus himself presents two housing options for the Danaids. He says:


καὶ δώματ᾽ ἐστὶ πολλὰ μὲν τὰ δήμια,

ἔνθ᾽ ἐστιν ὑμίν εὐτύκους ναίειν δόμους

πολλῶν μετ᾽ ἄλλων: εἰ δέ τις μείζων χάρις,

πάρεστιν οἰκεῖν καὶ μονορρύθμους δόμους

There is plenty of public housing, where you can live in well-prepared accommodation with many others; or, if it pleases you better, you may also live in separate dwellings, since I myself too am housed on no mean scale.

Suppliants 957-960

The Danaids can either share public housing with many others or be guests of the king in his own palace, which would be an unusual offer in fifth-century Athens. Most metics, or persons of equivalent status, would not have had the opportunity to dwell in the richest households in the city, but the Danaids’ reliance on other people’s housing does echo the reality that metics could not own their own property, regardless of their personal wealth. Bakewell argues that the verbs ναίειν and οἰκεῖν further emphasize the Danaids’ inability to own property because those words mean to inhabit and not to own (Bakewell 1997: 215).

4§6 Another aspect of the metic definition that the Danaids share is the necessity of a citizen sponsor (προστάτης). Every metic in Athens was required to have one. Whitehead says the citizen sponsor at least helped his metic choose a deme and perhaps assisted in legal proceedings (Whitehead 1977:91). LSJ defines προστάτης as “at Athens, etc., patron who took charge of the interests of μέτοικοι” (LSJ, s.v., III 2). For the Danaids, all the Pelasgians served as their citizen sponsors. Pelasgus says, προστάτης δ᾽ ἐγὼ ἀστοί τε πάντες, ὧνπερ ἥδε κραίνεται ψῆφος (“I am your patron, as are all the citizens who have made and enacted this decree,” Suppliants 963-965). Having the entire city as a sponsor would be an unusual case in reality, but the need for a citizen patron could echo the actual legal definition of a metic in Athens. Elsewhere Aeschylus uses the term προστάτης three times in the Seven Against Thebes (lines 408, 798, 1026). The word does not carry a legal connotation in those instances, but since the word is being used in the context of the relationship between foreigners and citizens in the Suppliants, the play uses it to indicate the legal status of a citizen sponsor.[15] The legal jargon Aeschylus uses, such as μετοικεῖν and προστάτης, could make his Athenian audience think of metics.

4§7 The Pelasgians resemble the Athenians themselves, just as the Danaids resemble Athenian metics. As the Danaids supplicate Pelasgus for asylum in Argos, Pelasgus affirms that even though he has the power to make a unilateral decision about their fate, he must defer to the people. He says:


εἶπον δὲ καὶ πρίν, οὐκ ἄνευ δήμου τάδε

πράξαιμ᾽ ἄν, οὐδέ περ κρατῶν, μὴ καί ποτε

εἴπῃ λεώς, εἴ πού τι μὴ τοῖον τύχοι,

‘ἐπήλυδας τιμῶν ἀπώλεσας πόλιν.

‘I have already said I am not prepared to do this without the people’s approval, even though I have the power, lest if something not too good should happen the people may end by saying ‘By giving privileges to foreigners you destroyed our city.’

Suppliants 398-401

Pelasgus fears the people of Argos will blame any possible future ruin on the city’s acceptance of the Danaids. Aeschylus uses the word ἔπηλυς to describe the Danaids as a potential agent of destruction. LSJ defines ἔπηλυς literally as “one who comes to a place.” Less literally, authors use it to mean “stranger” or “foreigner” (s.v., A). However, ἔπηλυς also means the opposite of αὐτόχθων (LSJ s.v., A II). While the former means “one who comes into a place,” the latter came to mean “sprung from the land itself” (LSJ s.v., A.).

4§8 Even more importantly, in this context, αὐτόχθων became an epithet for the Athenians. It came to have multiple connotations, and Vincent Rosivach asserts that the Athenians used it to label themselves as having always lived in Attica and being born of the earth itself. Rosivach analyzes the uses of the prefix αὐτό listed in LSJ and argues that the literal meaning of αὐτόχθων could only be “having the same land” as in “always having the same land” (Rosivach 1987:300). The Athenians claimed that their ancestors had always inhabited Attica and attached superiority to this respect of their autochthony. Thus even the lowliest citizen was superior to any non-citizen on account of his autochthonous lineage, conforming to democratic ideals. Rosivach argues that the Athenians did not attach the meaning “sprung from the land itself” to the word αὐτόχθων until the early fifth century, at some time between the Persian Wars and Pericles’ citizenship law. This change in meaning coincided with an increase in patriotism as a result of Athens’s rise to power in the Aegean following the Persian Wars. Homer says Erechtheus, the first king of Athens, was literally born from the earth (Iliad II.547–548).[16] Rosivach argues that Erechtheus became the symbol of Athenian autochthony because early authors such as Homer and Pindar had referred to the Athenians as the “sons of Erechtheus.” In the Memorabilia,[17] when recounting the typical list of Athens’s patriotic legends, Xenophon replaces Athenian autochthony with the birth of Erechtheus, which Rosivach claims signals the city’s association of Erechtheus’s chthonic origins with their own (Rosivach 1987:294–305). Aeschylus wrote the Suppliants during the same time period that Athenians were defining their autochthony. Rosivach even credits Aeschylus for helping develop the patriotic legend of the Athenians’ chthonic roots (Rosivach 1987:304).

4§9 The word ἔπηλυς in Pelasgus’s speech contrasts the Danaids with the autochthonous Pelasgians. Aeschylus uses the word γηγενής, a similar word to αὐτόχθων, to describe Pelasgus’s father Palaechthon. At line 250, Pelasgus introduces himself by saying, τοῦ γηγενοῦς γάρ εἰμ᾽ ἐγὼ Παλαίχθονος/ ἶνις Πελασγός, τῆσδε γῆς ἀρχηγέτης (“I am Pelasgus, ruler of this city, son of earth-born Palaechthon”). LSJ defines γηγενής as “like αὐτόχθων, earthborn” (LSJ s.v., A. 2), and in addition to using the word γηγενής, Aeschylus names Pelasgus’s father Παλαίχθων. The name Παλαίχθων exists only in the Suppliants, and Rosivach suggests that Aeschylus invented it (Rosivach 1987:298). LSJ lists παλαίχθων as a noun meaning “that has been long in a country, an ancient inhabitant” (LSJ s.v., A). Pelasgus’s chthonic origins parallel those of the Athenians and add further contrast to the Danaids’ label of ἔπηλυς.

4§10 By naming the play’s benefactor Pelasgus, Aeschylus is most likely drawing on the belief that the Pelasgians were the ancient ancestors of the Athenians, as recorded by Herodotus, which reinforces the idea that the tragic audience would identify themselves with the Pelasgians. We do not know exactly when Herodotus wrote the Histories, but we do know that it was already familiar in Athens around 425 B.C.E. because of a joke in Aristophanes’ Acharnians.[18] The Histories was most likely written after the Suppliants, but the idea of the Pelasgians as Athenian ancestors was probably present before Herodotus. In Book I chapters 56–58 of the Histories, Herodotus says that if the Athenians wish to claim autochthony, they must accept that they were descended from the Pelasgians. When he first introduces the Athenians, Herodotus notes that they are part of the Ionian race, as opposed to the Dorians who derive from the Hellenic people. The Pelasgians are autochthonous to Attica but were not ethnically Greek because they did not speak the Greek language. In contrast, Herodotus says the Hellenic people wandered very far before settling in Greece. Even though he acknowledges their autochthony, Herodotus describes the Pelasgians as one of many “foreign elements”[19] (ἄλλων ἐθνέων βαρβάρων) that the Hellenic people absorbed when they settled in Greece (Herodotus I.58).[20] Their arrival caused the Pelasgians, turned Athenians, to begin to speak the Greek language (Herodotus I.56–58). By portraying the Pelasgians as βάρβαροι, Herodotus seems to make fun of the Athenians who flaunted their autochthony. He presents the Athenians with an ultimatum: they can either claim to be autochthonous or claim to be Greek.

4§11 The name “Pelasgian” had many meanings for fifth-century Athenians, so to argue that the Pelasgians in the play were representative of the Athenians, we must explore the different connotations of the name. In their commentary on the Histories, W. W. How and J. Wells present two conceptions of the Pelasgians that were current when Herodotus was writing: the actual Pelasgians who lived in parts of Greece during the time of Herodotus and the “theoretic extension of the name to denote a stage in Greek civilization” (How and Wells 2000:442). In addition to denoting a particular race, the name “Pelasgian” could also describe the pre-historic Greeks, in which case How and Wells argue that these pre-historic peoples probably did not form one race, and “it is most unlikely the Greeks had any definite tradition as to these earlier peoples” (How and Wells 2000:446). In some instances, the Pelasgians were merely a catch-all group that encapsulated Greece’s early inhabitants, regardless of their ethnic ties. In his book titled Hellenicity, Jonathan Hall writes that the term “Pelasgian” became a “vague designation for any populations that later Hellenes believed to be in some sense ‘aboriginal’” (Hall 2002:34). In Book II chapter 56, Herodotus calls pre-historic Greece “Pelasgia” (Herodotus II.56). In Book VIII chapter 44 of the Histories, Herodotus says, “When what is now called Greece was occupied by the Pelasgians, the Athenians, a Pelasgian people, were called Cranai” (Herodotus VIII.44). The Athenians’ name may have changed, but their race remains constant (How and Wells 2000:444). How and Wells argue that in Book I chapters 56–58, Herodotus is only referring to the “Greeks in an undeveloped stage” when he speaks of the Pelasgians (How and Wells 2000:444). In this case, the Athenians have an explicit ethnic tie with the Pelasgians.

4§12 If we accept that the Pelasgians in Book I chapters 56–58 are pre-historic Greeks who are Athenian ancestors, then how do we explain the other stories about them in the Histories? In Book II chapter 51, Herodotus separates the Athenians from the Pelasgians when he says, Ἀθηναίοισι γὰρ ἤδη τηνικαῦτα ἐς Ἕλληνας τελέουσι Πελασγοὶ σύνοικοι ἐγένοντο ἐν τῇ χώρῃ, ὅθεν περ καὶ Ἕλληνες ἤρξαντο νομισθῆναι (“For just at the time when the Athenians were assuming Hellenic nationality, the Pelasgians joined them, and thus first came to be regarded as Greeks”). In his article titled, “How Did Pelasgians Become Hellenes?” R.N. McNeal said that when Herodotus calls the Pelasgians neighbors (σύνοικοι) of the Athenians, he complicates his picture of them. He writes, “This clause is totally at variance with the notion of a unified body of autochthonous Pelasgian Athenians. Indeed, Herodotus seems to be thinking of two separate groups of people. The Pelasgians are almost resident aliens” (McNeal 1985:17). In Book VI chapters 137–138, Herodotus further obscures the Pelasgians’ identity when he describes how the Athenians drove them out of Attica after they helped build the wall around the Acropolis because they began raping Athenian women. The Pelasgians then settled in Lemnos, and the Athenians conquered them again, taking control of the island (Herodotus VI.137–138). McNeal argues, “In Book VI Herodotus clearly thinks that the Pelasgians were a separate population of guest workers, however autochthonous, and were then expelled because of their rapacious behavior” (McNeal 1985:17). By McNeal’s view, the Pelasgians were barbarians who annoyed the Athenians and lost out to them. They were a separate, outsider group from the Hellenized Athenians. While it seems as though this characterization of the Pelasgians contradicts the one Herodotus presents in Book I chapters 56–58, Christine Sourvinou-Inwood, in her comprehensive essay titled, “Herodotos (and others) on Pelasgians: Some Perceptions of Ethnicity,” reconciles the two. She describes the sequence of events as follows: “The Athenians had been Pelasgians in the past, but then they became Greeks; not all Pelasgians had become Greeks, and of those people who continued to be Pelasgians, a segment came to live in Athens; the Pelasgians who came to live in Athens were distinct from the Athenians, who were now Greek” (Sourvinou-Inwood 2003:140). According to this reading, the two descriptions of Pelasgians can make sense together, and we can maintain that the Pelasgians mentioned in Book I Chapters 56–58 are legitimate Athenian precursors.

4§13 Even though differing conceptions of the Pelasgians are found in accounts of fifth-century Athens, Sourvinou-Inwood argues that the Athenian audience of Aeschylus’s Suppliants did not think of the stories in Book VI of the Histories when they watched the play:

The name ‘Pelasgians’ in this tragedy denotes the heroic-age inhabitants of Argos, who, it is unambiguously clear, were perceived to be Greeks. The combination of the kingship of Pelasgos and the use of the name ‘Pelasgians’ here shows that the use of the latter name is not an empty rhetorical flourish, but a refraction of a perception that the Pelasgians are the same people as the heroic age Greeks in the Peloponnese.

Sourvinou-Inwood 2003:117

According to Sourvinou-Inwood’s view, by thinking of the Pelasgians as “the same people as the heroic age Greeks,” the Athenian audience presumably thought of them as the same people as themselves. Sourvinou-Inwood asserts that even though a fragment of Sophocles’ Inachos paints the Pelasgians as barbarians, this is not the predominant ideology seen in extant tragedy:

Thus, Athenian audiences regularly heard the name ‘Pelasgians’ used for the Argive Greeks of the heroic age, but they also saw, at the very least in this Sophoclean play, the Pelasgians of Argos being represented as barbarians. Most importantly, in the Attic myths about the Pelasgians’ expulsion and the rape at Brauron the Pelasgians were non-Greek others, who had come from the outside and were eventually thrown out. The latter was the dominant Athenian perception of the Pelasgians, but for the tragic audiences who heard ‘Pelasgian’ referred to heroic-age Argives it would have become narcotized, they would not have tried to place the tragedy’s Pelasgians in one conceptual map that would also have made sense of the barbarian Pelasgians of local myth.

 Sourvinou-Inwood 2003:119

If we follow Sourvinou-Inwood’s argument, the Athenian tragic audience would have considered the Pelasgians to be ancient precursors to the Greeks, especially in Argos, even during Aeschylus’s time. Hall writes that even though fifth-century Greece was structured around city-states, Greeks began placing themselves in larger ethnic groups: “Increasing contact between communities created the recognition of – and aspiration to – a range of broader, supraregional affiliations which were articulated through stories of migrations and changes of nomenclature, explaining origins in exogenous (external) and endogenous (internal) terms respectively” (Hall 2002:35). Given this idea, Athenians in the fifth century were probably beginning to consider themselves part of a greater racial whole, and the most fitting group for the Athenians to be a part of was the Pelasgians. In this sense, it would be natural for the Athenians to recognize their shared ancestry with the Pelasgians in a tragic context. Given the above discussion of fifth-century Athenians’ conceptions of the Pelasgians, the Athenian audience at the Dionysia could easily identify themselves with Pelasgus and the Pelasgians just as they could identify metics with the Danaids.

4§14 If the Athenians themselves correspond to the Pelasgians, then Pelasgus’s fear, that his people may suffer if they accept the Danaids, reflects an Athenian fear. And, when the Danaids say, “Even if a country is friendly, everyone is ready to speak ill of people of alien language,” their concern echoes Athenian suspicion of metics (Suppliants 977). We do not possess the next two plays in what is believed to have been a trilogy in their entirety, but Bakewell records that in the rest of the series, Argos suffers a siege, a military defeat and a coup d’état, all linked to the Danaids (Bakewell 2011:264). According to R.P. Winnington-Ingram, the Suppliants would have been the first play in the series, followed by the Egyptians and the Danaids, and the satyr-play was the Amymone. The only fragment we have from the rest of the trilogy is a speech from Aphrodite about the power of sexual love. We know from Prometheus Bound that the Danaids are ultimately forced to marry their cousins, and 49 of the 50 women kill their husbands on their wedding night. Thus, Winnington-Ingram believes Aphrodite’s speech somehow relates to this mass murder. As for the other events that take place in the missing plays, Winnington-Ingram believes the most probable scenario is that Argos is defeated and besieged because of their defense of the Danaids (Winnington-Ingram 1961:141–145). If this is so, Pelasgus’s concerns about the future of the city would prove true, further emphasizing the view that foreigners bring chaos to a city present throughout the whole trilogy. If Aeschylus portrays the Danaids as troublesome metics and the Pelasgians as autochthonous benefactors, these biases were surely familiar in Athens at the time he was writing the Suppliants.

4§15 The portrayal of the Danaids as descended from Greeks suggests that Athenians’ suspicions were not limited just to non-Greeks. When Pelasgus hopes the Danaids do not cause trouble for Argos, he says:


εἴη δ᾽ ἄνατον πρᾶγμα τοῦτ᾽ ἀστοξένων.

μηδ᾽ ἐξ ἀέλπτων κἀπρομηθήτων πόλει

νεῖκος γένηται: τῶν γὰρ οὐ δεῖται πόλις

May the business of these citizen-strangers not prove ruinous, and may this event, never expected or planned for, not bring strife to the community: the city doesn’t need that!

Suppliants 356–358

The word ἀστόξενος describes the Danaids. This word is a hapax legomenon, defined as “a blood-relation, though a foreigner by birth” (LSJ, s.v., A). The Danaids emphasize that they have Argive blood, despite speaking Egyptian and wearing foreign dress. They explain that when Zeus fell in love with and impregnated Io, an Argive, and made Hera jealous, Hera turned Io into a cow. When Hermes killed Io’s watchdog Argus, Io wandered into Egypt, where she gave birth to Belus, whom the Danaids claim is an ancestor of their father Danaus (Suppliants 294–321). Because of their common lineage with the Argives, in this earlier passage the Danaids can be considered ἀστόξενοι instead of outright ξένοι. However, later, when Pelasgus imagines what the people might say to him if trouble occurs, he calls the Danaids ἐπήλυδες instead of ἀστόξενοι. This choice of words makes a point that the people can even become hostile to foreigners with whom they share a blood-relation. This idea too is consistent with the Athenian ideas of autochthony. By virtue of their autochthony, Athenians were superior to anyone whose descendants had not always lived in Attica, whether those others are of Greek ethnicity or not.

4§16 When the Suppliants was first performed in approximately 461 B.C.E., Margaret Miller says that most of the metic population in Athens was ethnically Greek (Miller 1997:84). The Danaids’ Greekness connects them to metics even more strongly. Pelasgus calls the Danaids ἐπήλυδες, despite their Greek origins, emphasizing that in times of trouble, the people will forget about the Danaids’ Greek ethnicity and associate them with all other destructive βάρβαροι.[21] The Suppliants is based on myth, yet Aeschylus’s descriptions of the Danaids and the Pelasgians seem rooted in the Athens of his day. Ober and Strauss note that Aeschylus and Euripides often put mythical stories into contemporary contexts, so the Suppliants would reasonably contain similar allusions (Ober and Strauss 1999:248). Given this tendency and the obvious parallel that can be drawn between the Athenians and the Pelasgians, the view that metics are dangerous for the city is one we can plausibly attribute to the Athenians themselves. If people could not claim that their descendants had always lived in Attica, as the autochthonous Athenians could, the Athenians did not accept them as Athenians, even if they resided legally in the city.

An Analysis of Euripides’ Children of Heracles

5§1 In the Children of Heracles, Euripides tells the story of the Heracleidae who seek asylum from Demophon, king of Athens. Eurystheus, king of Argos and their father’s rival, vows to attack any city that takes them in, and he wages war on Athens after the city accepts the children of Heracles. In the end, Athens prevails and takes Eurystheus captive, but Alcmene, Heracles’ wife, decides to kill him instead. Bakewell argues that most of the evidence we have for the date of the play confirms Euripides wrote and produced the Children of Heracles between 430 and 427 B.C.E.: “Stylistic criteria, including the percentage of resolved feet to the number of trimeters place The Children of Heracles somewhere around the time of Medea (431 B.C.E.). Internal evidence from the play, namely the animosity toward Sparta (lines 740–43) and the threat of an impending invasion from the Peloponnese (line 1035), suggests a date between 430 and 427 B.C.E” (Bakewell 1999:48). G. Zuntz, in his book on Euripides, dates the play between 430 and 429 B.C.E.: “The brisk enthusiasm and confidence which animate [the play] presuppose a similar frame of mind in the audience. After 430, the failures in the field and the plague at home must have engendered a very different public sentiment” (Zuntz 1955:88). Because of the plague in Athens and the city’s struggles against the Spartans, the Athenian audience would not be open to the confident sentiments throughout the play, so, Zuntz argues, Euripides could not have written it after 429 B.C.E. Either way, the consensus is that the Children of Heracles was performed around the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.

5§2 Throughout the Children of Heracles, Euripides describes the Heracleidae as ἀλῆται, or “wanderers” (LSJ s.v. A). When Iolaus, leader of the Heracleidae, thanks Demophon for his city’s generosity, he says:


ἄξιοι δ᾽ ὑμῖν σέβειν

οἳ γῆν τοσήνδε καὶ Πελασγικὸν λεὼν

ἡμῶν ἐνηλλάξαντο πολεμίους ἔχειν,

πτωχοὺς ἀλήτας εἰσορῶντες ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως

[οὐκ ἐξέδωκαν οὐδ᾽ ἀπήλασαν χθονός]

The Athenians are worthy of your reverence seeing that they rescued us from the great land of Argos and its army, braving their enmity even though they saw that we were wandering beggars [they did not give us up or drive us from the land].[22]

Children of Heracles 315–319

The Chorus also calls the Heraclidae ἀλῆται in an apostrophe directed to Eurystheus:


ὃς πόλιν ἐλθὼν ἑτέραν

οὐδὲν ἐλάσσον᾽ Ἄργους,

θεῶν ἱκτῆρας ἀλάτας[23]

καὶ ἐμᾶς χθονὸς ἀντομένους ξένος ὢν βιαίως

ἕλκεις, οὐ βασιλεῦσιν εἴ-

ξας, οὐκ ἄλλο δίκαιον εἰ-

πών: ποῦ ταῦτα καλῶς ἂν εἴ-

η παρά γ᾽ εὖ φρονοῦσιν;

You came to another city, full equal of Argos, and foreigner that you are you tried to drag off by force wanderers, the god’s suppliants and my country’s petitioners, not yielding to our kings or urging any further plea of justice. How can such things be accounted honorable in the eyes of men of sense?

Children of Heracles 362–370

We see the word ἀλήτης in the Odyssey used only to describe beggars, and this is how Iolaus uses the word to label his people (LSJ s.v. A). In Books 17 and 18, Homer calls Odysseus ἀλήτης when he disguises himself as a beggar and returns to his house to find that the suitors have taken over (Odyssey xvii.576, 578; xviii.18, 25). For example, Penelope refers to the disguised Odysseus when she says, κακὸς δ᾽ αἰδοῖος ἀλήτης (“It is bad for a wanderer/beggar to feel shame” Odyssey xvii.578).[24] The word ἀλήτης and its other forms ἀλάομαι and ἄλη are used to describe people who suffer the fate of wandering. In Book 15 of the Odyssey, Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, says to Eumaeus:

αἴθ᾽ οὕτως, Εὔμαιε, φίλος Διὶ πατρὶ γένοιο

ὡς ἐμοί, ὅττι μ᾽ ἔπαυσας ἄλης καὶ ὀϊζύος αἰνῆς.

πλαγκτοσύνης δ᾽ οὐκ ἔστι κακώτερον ἄλλο βροτοῖσιν.

Would that you, Eumaeus, might be a friend to father Zeus in this way as you are to me, having stopped me from wandering and terrible hardship. For there is nothing worse for mortals than wandering.[25]

Odyssey xv.341–343

The term ἀλήτης is pathetic because it represents the worst fate a human being can face. It elicits an emotional response from the reader, as opposed to ἔπηλυς or μέτοικος, which have more literal etymologies and more specific legal definitions, as we saw above. These straightforward terms describe the Danaids in the Suppliants, but Euripides’ Heracleidae make a more emotional appeal.

5§3 Just like Pelasgus in the Suppliants, Demophon in the Children of Heracles fears his people will be displeased with his decision to accept foreigners. Demophon, however, makes his decision unilaterally, while Pelasgus lets his people make the choice. Even so, Demophon knows his people will act according to reason. In the Children of Heracles, Demophon says to Iolaus:


καὶ νῦν πυκνὰς ἂν συστάσεις ἂν εἰσίδοις,

τῶν μὲν λεγόντων ὡς δίκαιον ἦν ξένοις

ἱκέταις ἀρήγειν, τῶν δὲ μωρίαν ἐμοῦ

κατηγορούντων: εἰ δὲ δὴ δράσω τόδε,

οἰκεῖος ἤδη πόλεμος ἐξαρτύεται.

ταῦτ᾽ οὖν ὅρα σὺ καὶ συνεξεύρισχ᾽ ὅπως

αὐτοί τε σωθήσεσθε καὶ πέδον τόδε,

κἀγὼ πολίταις μὴ διαβληθήσομαι.

οὐ γὰρ τυραννίδ᾽ ὥστε βαρβάρων ἔχω:

ἀλλ᾽, ἢν δίκαια δρῶ, δίκαια πείσομαι.

Now you will see crowded assemblies being held, with some maintaining that I was right to protect strangers who are suppliants, while others accuse me of folly. In fact, if I do as I am bidden, civil war will break out. Therefore, consider these facts and join with me in discovering how you yourselves may be saved and this land as well, and how I may not be discredited in the eyes of the citizens. I do not have a monarchy like that of the barbarians: only if I do what is fair will I be fairly treated.

Children of Heracles 415–424

The Athenians will debate the decision in the assemblies, and Demophon knows his people will treat him justly. This does not mean that all of them will agree with him, but they will make up their minds rationally, instead of drawing on fears that foreigners will destroy the city, a concern of Pelasgus in the Suppliants (Suppliants 401). Pelasgus says his fear that the people would revolt against his decision is the reason for him to put the choice before the Pelasgians instead of acting alone (Suppliants 398–401). By exerting his royal power to take in the Heracleidae, Demophon shows that he does not fear antagonism from his citizens. While he acknowledges that some people will always be wary of foreigners, he seems confident that his citizens will respect his choice. Demophon’s trust in his people’s reason may reflect real-life Athenians’ greater acceptance of metics. While Pelasgus’s people were likely to blame potential future ruin on foreigners living in their city, Demophon’s Athenians are more rational in forming opinions of strangers living in their midst.

5§4 Once Eurystheus attacks Athens and the Athenians capture him, Alcmene, Heracles’ mother, wants to kill him even though the Athenians consider killing a prisoner of war to be an unholy act. Eurystheus is grateful that the Athenians treated him with respect, and in his final speech, which is also the climax of the play, he says:


θανόντα γάρ με θάψεθ᾽ οὗ τὸ μόρσιμον,

δίας πάροιθε παρθένου Παλληνίδος:

καὶ σοὶ μὲν εὔνους καὶ πόλει σωτήριος

μέτοικος αἰεὶ κείσομαι κατὰ χθονός,

τοῖς τῶνδε δ᾽ ἐκγόνοισι πολεμιώτατος,

ὅταν μόλωσι δεῦρο σὺν πολλῇ χερὶ

χάριν προδόντες τήνδε. τοιούτων ξένων


For you Athenians will bury me in the place I was fated to lie, in front of the shrine of the divine maiden, Athena Pallenis. I shall lie for all time beneath the earth, a foreign visitor [metic] who is kindly to you and a protector of the city, but most hostile to the descendants of Heracles’ children when they come here with a great army, betraying the kindness you showed them. That is the kind of guest-friends you have defended.

Children of Heracles 1030–1037

In this passage, Eurystheus calls himself μέτοικος but calls the Heracleidae ξένοι. As we have seen, μέτοικος is a very specific legal term. However, Eurystheus never had the privileges and responsibilities associated with the designation. The Athenians treated Eurystheus as a guest-friend, respecting his importance as King of Argos, declining to kill him and promising to bury him after Alcmene orders him to be killed. The word ξένος may either mean “guest-friend” or “stranger, esp. wanderer, refugee” (LSJ s.v., I, II). If Eurystheus means the latter, he would be further contrasting his own portrayal as μέτοικος to his description of the Heracleidae as ξένοι. To call the Heracleidae ξένοι is especially ironic considering the Chorus refers to Eurystheus as ξένος in the apostrophe mentioned above (Children of Heracles 365).

5§5 To a certain extent, Eurystheus is not as much a ξένος as the Chorus makes him out to be. In Iolaus’s same speech to Demophon as above, he refers to Argos and its army as, οἳ γῆν τοσήνδε καὶ Πελασγικὸν λεὼν (Children of Heracles 316). Kovacs’s translation of “the great land of Argos and its army” ignores Euripides’ label for Argos’s land and army as Pelasgian, the same notion of the Pelasgians as we saw in Aeschylus’s Suppliants. Because the Pelasgians were precursors to the Athenians, as explained by Herodotus, this reference to the Pelasgians connects the people of Argos in the play with the Athenians (Herodotus I.56–58). Sourvinou-Inwood claims that one of the ways Athenians thought of the Pelasgians was as the “Argive Greeks of the heroic age” (Sourvinou-Inwood 2003:117). However, as discussed above, the Pelasgians also had a connotation of being the ancient inhabitants of Greece, especially of Athens, or so Herodotus says (Herodotus I.56–58). His evidence suggests that the idea of the Pelasgians as ethnic precursors to the Athenians was a topic of conversation around the time Euripides wrote the Children of Heracles. We know the Histories was familiar to Athenians around 425 B.C.E. because Aristophanes assumes his audience has read the Histories in the Acharnians (Acharnians 515ff.). So, by connecting Eurystheus with the Pelasgians, Euripides may be making Eurystheus a more sympathetic character to his audience.

5§6 According to Sourvinou-Inwood, Herodotus discussed the Pelasgians as “one large-scale ethnic group” in order to further alienate the Dorians from all other Greeks (2003: 131). Tensions between the Athenians and the Spartans were high at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, and I suggest that Euripides reflects these tensions within the Children of Heracles. According to Herodotus, both houses of Spartan kings claim to be descended from the Heracleidae (Herodotus VI.52, VII.204, VIII.131). In Apollodoros’s account of the Heracleidae, after Athens defeats Eurystheus, they reclaim the Peloponnese and thus become the progenitors of the Spartans (Apollodoros, The Library 2.8.2). Timothy Gantz asserts that these myths developed in Dorian Sparta to explain the influx of the Dorians at the end of the Bronze Age (Gantz 1993: 466).

5§7 Even though Euripides takes a sympathetic tone toward the Heracleidae as wanderers, he still portrays them as vengeful precursors to the Spartans, which works to paint Eurystheus in a more positive light at the end of the play. Although the Athenians offer long-term refuge to the Heracleidae, Euripides never describes them as μέτοικοι, and indeed they never truly accept Athens as a patron. Eurystheus, however, vows to protect Athens in return for the respect the city showed him, knowing that the Heracleidae will return to attack Athens in the future (Children of Heracles 1032). This is most likely an allusion to the Peloponnesian War in which the Spartans, the descendants of the Heracleidae, fight against Athens (Bakewell 1999:48–49). Euripides also reveals Athenians’ disdain for Sparta when Iolaus says to his servant, εἴθ᾽, ὦ βραχίων, οἷον ἡβήσαντά σε
μεμνήμεθ᾽ ἡμεῖς, ἡνίκα ξὺν Ἡρακλεῖ
Σπάρτην ἐπόρθεις, σύμμαχος γένοιό μοι τοιοῦτος (Children of Heracles 740–743, “Would that I could get you as an ally, O right arm of mine, as I remember you when you were young, in the days when in company with Heracles you sacked Sparta!”). Bakewell says these lines betray Euripides’ “animosity” toward Sparta (Bakewell 1999:48). By emphasizing Eurystheus’s lineage as Pelasgian, Euripides is aligning him more closely with the Ionians and distancing him from the Dorians, represented by the Heracleidae, which would surely make him more appealing to the Athenian audience at the time the play was performed.

5§8 Eurystheus himself says his change of heart toward Athens, which makes him a hero in the audience’s eyes, is caused by the city’s refusal to kill him (Children of Heracles 1027). At the end of the play, Alcmene insists on killing Eurystheus even though he was captured alive.[26] The Athenians of the play are presented with a dilemma: they either defy the desires of their ally Alcmene and honor the gods, or give in to her demands and dishonor the gods. The Athenians consider it more advantageous to listen to the gods than to capitulate to Alcmene. Eurystheus praises the city’s decision and says: πόλις τ᾽ ἀφῆκε σωφρονοῦσα, τὸν θεὸν/ μεῖζον τίουσα τῆς ἐμῆς ἔχθρας πολύ (Children of Heracles 1012-1013, “And it was sober good judgment on the city’s part that they spared my life, setting a much higher value on the god than on their hatred of me”). The same dilemma, whether to choose practical reasoning over divine instruction, arises when deciding whether or not to admit the Heracleidae as suppliants into Athens. On the one hand, Zeus as the god of suppliants would want the city to be open to wandering beggars. When Iolaus suggests Athens give him up to Eurystheus to avoid war, the Chorus says to him:


ὦ πρέσβυ, μή νυν τῶνδ᾽ ἐπαιτιῶ πόλιν:

τάχ᾽ ἂν γὰρ ἡμῖν ψευδὲς ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως κακὸν

γένοιτ᾽ ὄνειδος ὡς ξένους προυδώκαμεν.

Old sir, do not lay this charge against the city. For though it may be false, it would still be a shameful reproach, that we betrayed strangers.

Children of Heracles 461-463

Even though betraying strangers is “shameful,” admitting foreigners into one’s city can be risky. When Eurystheus sends a herald to Demophon to warn him against accepting the Heracleidae, the herald says:


ἦ κακὸν λόγον

κτήσῃ πρὸς ἀστῶν, εἰ γέροντος οὕνεκα,

τύμβου, τὸ μηδὲν ὄντος, ὡς εἰπεῖν ἔπος,

παίδων <τε> τῶνδ᾽ ἐς ἄντλον ἐμβήσῃ πόδα

Your citizens will have nothing good to say of you if you put your foot in the mire for an old man, a nobody as good as dead, and for these children.

Children of Heracles 165-168

A leader may face displeasure and blame from his people if his city becomes vulnerable to danger from being open to foreigners, as Pelasgus fears in the Suppliants. When he admits the Heracleidae into Athens, Demophon makes a personal sacrifice to honor the gods, just as the Athenians do in declining to kill Eurystheus. In both cases, Athens suffers: they create the Spartans, who later attack Athens, by saving the Heracleidae; even though the Athenians refuse to kill Eurystheus, Alcmene murders him anyway. However, in both cases, Athens acts honorably and in accordance with divine will. In the end, by honoring the gods, Athens gains an ally in Eurystheus the metic, proving that metics can truly be beneficial to the city and that choosing to support them in honor of the gods is the right decision for a city.

5§9 Bakewell argues that Eurystheus’s portrayal as μέτοικος and πόλει σωτήριος makes a significant statement about the real role of metics in the Peloponnesian War (Children of Heracles 1032-1033). Eurystheus says he will be buried near the shrine of Athena Pallenis, a cult of Athena maintained by a group of Athenian demes, including Pallene, so in a symbolic way Eurystheus will become a metic after death (Schlaifer 1943:60). Bakewell asserts that Eurystheus’s promise to protect Athens when the Heracleidae return is parallel to the metics’ responsibility to serve in the military when needed (Bakewll 1999:48). Thucydides mentions μετοίκων ὅσοι ὁπλῖται ἦσαν (“the metics who were hoplites,”[27] Thucydides II.13) who served in the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides estimates that 16,000 hoplites were either metics or citizens ineligible for active duty, and they remained on guard inside Attica, defending the city (Thucydides II.13). Whitehead says that Thucydides’ account is the earliest available evidence for metics serving in the army (Whitehead 1977: 82). The only evidence we have for Themistocles recruiting metics for the Athenian fleet comes from Diodorus, who wrote hundreds of years later (Whitehead 1977: 84). On this passage from Thucydides, Bakewell writes, “This evidence from Thucydides suggests that Eurystheus’ description of himself as metoikos is significant; as a metic, he ranks with the other resident aliens conspicuous in their willingness to defend Athens at about the time of the play’s production” (Bakewell 1999:50). Perhaps Thucydides noted the number of metics serving in the Athenian army to emphasize the failing state of Athens at the time? Whitehead discusses another passage from Thucydides, a part of Pericles’ speech at the end of Book I, that would refute that conjecture. Pericles says:

Εἴ τε καὶ κινήσαντες τῶν Ὀλυμπίασιν ἢ Δελφοῖς χρημάτων μισθῷ μείζονι πειρῷντο ἡμῶν ὑπολαβεῖν τοὺς ξένους τῶν ναυτῶν, μὴ ὄντων μὲν ἡμῶν ἀντιπάλων ἐσβάντων αὐτῶν τε καὶ τῶν μετοίκων δεινὸν ἂν ἦν· νῦν δὲ τόδε τε ὑπάρχει.

Even if they were to touch the moneys at Olympia or Delphi, and try to seduce our foreign sailors by the temptation of higher pay, that would only be a serious danger if we could not still be a match for them, by embarking our own citizens and the aliens resident among us. But in fact by this means we are always a match for them.

Thucydides I.143

Pericles says that if Athens can mobilize not only her citizens but her metics as well, her enemies will be no match for her. Therefore, he considers metics’ willingness to defend the city to be a strength of the Athenian army, not a sign of weakness. Whitehead writes, “If these words bear any approximation to what Pericles actually said, they represent an appreciation, with a crisis impending, of how vital the metics were to Athens’ survival” (Whitehead 1977: 42). Perhaps the Athenians had to rely on their metics and therefore had to respect them more than before in order to survive the Peloponnesian War.

5§10 The looming threat of the Spartans bruised the Athenians’ collective ego. They could no longer boast of uncontested hegemony in the Aegean, which jeopardized their reasons for asserting superiority in their autochthony. Based on Euripides’ portrayal of the Heracleidae and of Eurystheus, the Children of Heracles most likely reflects Athenian citizens’ better toleration and appreciation of metics. From a historical standpoint, as the Peloponnesian War began, Athenians had fewer reasons for exalting their superiority over metics, so perhaps they were forced to treat metics better. Whitehead asserts that scholars should be cautious when arguing that Athenians’ attitudes toward metics softened by the end of the fifth century:

And if we do claim an improvement of attitudes to the metic in this period we must be clear about its limits. No doubt the exigencies of war did something to unite astos and metoikos in solidarity of purpose, but sooner or later appreciative words … have to be backed up by action – and when no action is forthcoming the ideology of the metic is shown up in sharpest focus.

Whitehead 1977:152

Whitehead claims Athenians did not express their appreciation of metics with actions, and yet writers of tragedies call attention to the value of metics within the city. This is a bold action that expresses changing attitudes toward metics. These tragedies were performed in front of impressionable audiences at popular dramatic festivals, and in this way they were deliberate actions. We have few reliable resources for understanding fifth-century Athens, and literature is one of the strongest. Therefore, we should take Euripides’ portrayal of metics very seriously. Granted, more positive attitudes toward metics did not translate into legal benefits for them, but such attitudes could have had a significant welcoming effect on Athenian metics. While city crises motivated Athenian citizens’ change in attitudes toward metics, I believe that, based on the evidence within the Children of Heracles, Athenians were genuine in their acceptance of metics.


6§1 Athenian tragedy enacts the attitudes and underlying beliefs of fifth-century Athenians. The explorations in the Suppliants and the Children of Heracles of the relationship between established peoples and newcomers provide insights into the way Athenians viewed not only foreigners living abroad but also metics living inside their city. Aeschylus’s harsher tone toward the Danaids and his characters’ fears that the Danaids will bring Argos’s ruin reflect Athenians’ mistrust of metics in the early fifth century. Euripides’ more pathetic tone toward the Heracleidae and Eurystheus’s portrait as a metic savior of the city reflect a slight shift in Athenians’ attitudes toward metics at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Although one could say that Athenians were forced to accept metics because of their crucial role in protecting the city against the Spartans, still this utilitarian change in attitude proves some willingness in the Athenians to be more open to metics.

6§2 Golden Dawn leaders today resemble the Athenians of Aeschylus’ time. They treat Greece’s immigrants with the same distrust and suspicion with which the Athenians around the time of the Suppliants’ composition viewed the city’s metics. These politicians continue to claim Greek racial superiority as justification for their hatred of Albanians (Ellinas 2013:9). However, it is almost impossible to distinguish a Greek from an Albanian in appearance, just as with ancient Athenians and their metics. While Golden Dawn leaders’ attitudes toward immigrants reflect Athenian attitudes toward metics present in the Suppliants, Greece’s political climate is more analogous to that of Athens around the performance of the Children of Heracles. Greece’s economy is suffering, and overwhelming numbers of Greeks are unemployed and uncertain, just as Athenians were homeless and scared at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.

6§3 Because of Greece’s current precarious financial situation, Golden Dawn leaders could learn from fifth-century Athenians about the benefits of incorporating immigrants into their society in times of crisis. Even though Sparta nearly destroyed Athens in the Peloponnesian War, the evidence shows that her own metics supported Athenian survival. If more modern day Greeks could accept and support the immigrants among them, instead of claiming ethnic superiority, they could work together to rebuild their country and contribute more vigorously to the collective economy. Immigrants have suffered greatly to reach asylum in a new country, and their work ethic is phenomenal. More modern-day Greeks should reach out to immigrants from the goodness of their hearts, but if for nothing else, for their own sakes, today’s Greeks should look to their country’s immigrants as the Athenians do to Eurystheus at the end of the Children of Heracles: as εὔνους καὶ πόλει σωτήριος / μέτοικος (Children of Heracles 1032–1033).

[1] The OED lists the first two uses of the word as from the Athenaeum in 1909 and the Nation in 1919, two liberal publications of their times.

[2] We can draw parallels between Golden Dawn’s relationship with Greece’s immigrant population and that of fifth-century Athenians and their metics, as we will see in the conclusion of this paper.

[3] Translation by W.R.M. Lamb, 1925.

[4] Whitehead notes that naturalization almost never happened in classical Athens, and citizen status was only afforded “as a rare favour after exceptional services” (1977: 69).

[5] The Old Oligarch is an anonymous author whose work used to be attributed to Xenophon. The Constitution of the Athenians was most likely written between 425–424 B.C.E. (Marr and Rhodes 2008:6–12).

[6] Translation by E. C. Marchant, 1984.

[7] On Solon’s archonship, see Sealey 1976:127–128.

[8] Whitehead’s The Ideology of the Athenian Metic is the fundamental work on Athenian metics. This section relies heavily on this book because it is unparalleled in its detail and depth.

[9] Diodorus Siculus 11.43.3; Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who wrote a universal history in the first century B.C.E.

[10] On Athenian hegemony following the Persian Wars, see Hornblower 2011:9–39.

[11] Translation by Richard Crawley, 1993. Unless otherwise specified, all English translations of Thucydides are taken from Crawley.

[12] Translation by Alan H. Sommerstein, 2008. All English translations of Aeschylus are taken from Sommerstein.

[13] According to Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, this instance is the only time Aeschylus uses the verb μετοικεῖν. However, Aeschylus uses the noun μέτοικος eight times in his canon. In the Libation Bearers (lines 684, 971), the Persians (line 319), Seven Against Thebes (line 548), and the Eumenides (line 1011), Aeschylus uses the word to mean “resident alien.” More interestingly, in Agamemnon, Aeschylus describes vultures as μέτοικοι of the heavens, whereas only the gods are true citizens of the sky (Raeburn and Thomas 2011:74).

[14] Sommerstein translates γαμόροι as “citizens” instead of “landowners.” However, I prefer the latter definition in this case because owning land could be one of the civic rights at stake here.

[15] The word προστάτης and its verb form προστατέω appear 25 times in tragedy, according to the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. However, προστάτης has other meanings that are used in these instances. Euripides uses the word to mean “leader” in Iphigenia in Aulis (line 373), Orestes (lines 772, 911), and the Suppliants (line 243). Sophocles, in contrast, uses the word in multiple contexts. In Oedipus at Colonus, he uses the word to mean “suppliant” (lines 1278, 1171), which conforms to an alternate definition in LSJ (s.v., A IV). In Oedipus Tyrannus, however, Sophocles uses προστάτης to mean “protector” (line 303) and “client” (line 411). Again, none of these instances involves the relationship between a citizen and a foreigner.

[16] Ἐρεχθῆος μεγαλήτορος, ὅν ποτ᾽ Ἀθήνη/ θρέψε Διὸς θυγάτηρ, τέκε δὲ ζείδωρος ἄρουρα (“Great-hearted Erechtheus, whom blessed Athena, daughter of Zeus, raised, the life-giving earth bore” [My own translation]).

[17] Memorabilia 3.5.10.

[18] As argued by Sommerstein in his commentary on Aristophanes’ Acharnians (1980:3), Dicaeopolis blames the origin of the Peloponnesian War on the abduction of three prostitutes, which parodies Herodotus’s assertion that the conflict between Europe and Asia began with rapes of mythical women (Acharnians 515ff.).

[19] Translation by Aubrey De Selincourt, 2003. All English translations of Herodotus are taken from De Selincourt.

[20] The idea of Pelasgians as barbarians comes from Book II of the Iliad when the Pelasgians are listed as Trojan allies (Iliad II 840).

[21] Whitehead asserts that the ethnic background of metics in the fifth century was not a “major preoccupation” for intellectual Athenians, because “opportunities for mentioning it are passed over, in contexts both favourable and unfavourable” (1977:112).

[22] Translation by David Kovacs, 2005. All English translations of Euripides are taken from Kovacs.

[23] This is the Doric spelling of the word (LSJ s.v. A).

[24] My own translation.

[25] My own translation.

[26] In Pindar’s account of the Heracleidae, Iolaus cuts off Eurystheus’s head without any dilemma (Gantz 1993:464). Euripides most likely creates this dramatic moment for a purpose.

[27] My own translation


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