The question of the foreigner, especially as elaborated by Jacques Derrida in the first of his two essays Of Hospitality, is at the heart of Aeschylus’ Suppliants, a play in which the fifty daughters of the Egyptian king Danaus appeal to the Argive king Pelasgus for asylum. Indeed, Aeschylus structures much of the initial encounter between the Danaids and Pelasgus in the interrogatory mode: as an exchange of questions to the foreigner, of the foreigner. Beginning with queries about identity, the play moves quickly to pose questions about authority, ultimately running aground upon Pelasgus’ inability to decide what to do about these Egyptian-Argive women whose demands for hospitality threaten his control over the city. Where previous scholarship on the play has focused on its representation of foreignness or its introduction of democratic rule, a close reading in light of Derrida’s work on hospitality elaborates the important relationship between hospitality and democratic sovereignty that the play develops. For the real question of the foreigner asks how the people can wield power in a city; in response, the play imagines the origins of democracy as an act of civic hospitality or metoikia.

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