For they of Athens & Jerusalem Were neither mid the mighty captives seen

The Triumph of Life by Percy Bysshe Shelley



Reference to context

for they of Athens & Jerusalem

Were neither mid the mighty captives seen

Nor mid the ribald crowd that followed them Lines 134-136

June 2017




The given lines have been taken from P.B.Shelley's (1792-1822) The Triumph of Life (1822 , published 1824)


The triumph of life is Shelley’s last incomplete visionary poem in terza rima. He met his untimely death while writing this poem. The speaker appears to be a version of Shelley himself. Here, life himself (on a Triumphal chariot”) appears as the universal conqueror (one of the many tyrants in Shelley). He describes life as the “painted veil” which obscures and

disguises the immortal spirit. Ultimately, natural life corrupts and triumphs over the spirit.


In the earlier lines we are told that of sorts of people this multitude is comprised, such as aged rulers or aged sufferers (odd juxtaposition ...), those who suffer to the last moment of their lives, those with either fame or infamy, etc. We are then told of those who do not comprise the captive multitude. These are specifically "the sacred few" who being born, die immediately and "like eagles" flee back to whence they came. It is these who are identified as being "they of Athens & Jerusalem" who are neither among those who comprise the captives nor those who mocked the captives.


The poet divides this enormous mass of people in two groups – The weaker “captive multitude” and “mighty multitudes”. The weaker multitude is “chained to car” and is mere followers of the mighty multitudes. They are “all those who had grown old in power/or misery, - all who have their age subdued” (120-121). The poet terms them as “the ribald crowd”, (136). The narrator affirms that all and everyone are part of this rabble and hustle- bustle, except “the sacred few”. They are the ones whose spirits could not be tamed by the compulsions and constraints of Life.

These were the people “who put aside the diadem/Of earthly thrones or gems.” These people were far above the avarice and avidity of power and pelf so “could not tame/ Their spirits to the Conqueror.” These “sacred few” are Jesus Christ and Socrates who never become the part of the crowd.

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