Aeschylus Aeschylus[1†]

Aeschylus (525/524 BC — 456/455 BC) was an ancient Greek tragedian, often described as the father of tragedy[1†]. Born in Eleusis, a small town about 27 kilometers northwest of Athens[1†], he was the first of classical Athens’ great dramatists[1†][2†]. He raised the emerging art of tragedy to great heights of poetry and theatrical power[1†][2†]. His work forms the foundation of the academic understanding of the genre[1†].

Early Years and Education

Aeschylus was born in 525/524 BC in Eleusis, a small town about 27 kilometers northwest of Athens[2†][3†]. He was born into a noble and wealthy Athenian family[2†][3†]. His father, Euphorion, was a member of the Eupatridae, the ancient nobility of Attica[2†][3†][4†].

Aeschylus’s education included the writings of Homer[2†][3†]. In fact, it was Homer who proved most inspiring to Aeschylus when he began to write as a teen[2†][3†]. His education was rich in the three Ps: poetry, philosophy, and politics[2†][4†].

Aeschylus grew up in a turbulent period when the Athenian democracy, having thrown off its tyranny (the absolute rule of one man), had to prove itself against both self-seeking politicians at home and invaders from abroad[2†]. He was probably around 35 years old in 490 BC when he participated in the Battle of Marathon, in which the Athenians first repelled the Persians[2†]. This experience likely had a profound impact on his life and work.

He entered his tragedies into the annual competition in Athens and won his first award as a young adult in 484 BC[2†][3†]. Aeschylus’s writings were strongly Athenian and rich with moral authority[2†][3†]. He carried home the first place award from the Athens competition thirteen times[2†][3†]!

Career Development and Achievements

Aeschylus was a notable participant in Athens’ major dramatic competition, the Great Dionysia[2†]. He is recorded as having participated in this competition, probably for the first time, in 499 BC[2†]. He won his first victory in the theatre in the spring of 484 BC[2†]. In the meantime, he had fought and possibly been wounded at Marathon[2†]. Aeschylus singled out his participation in this battle years later for mention on the verse epitaph he wrote for himself[2†]. His brother was killed in this battle[2†].

In 480 BC, the Persians again invaded Greece, and once again Aeschylus saw service, fighting at the battles of Artemisium and Salamis[2†]. His responses to the Persian invasion found expression in his play Persians, the earliest of his works to survive[2†]. This play was produced in the competition of the spring of 472 BC and won first prize[2†].

Aeschylus’s two sons also achieved prominence as tragedians[2†]. One of them, Euphorion, won first prize in his own right in 431 BC over Sophocles and Euripides[2†].

Prior to Aeschylus, tragedy had been a dramatically limited dialogue between a chorus and one actor[2†][5†]. Aeschylus added an actor, who often took more than one part, thus allowing for dramatic conflict[2†][5†]. He also introduced costumes, stage decoration, and supernumeraries[2†][5†]. In addition, Aeschylus also appeared in his own plays[2†][5†].

Aeschylus is known for authoring masterpieces like Seven Against Thebes (c. 467 BCE), Prometheus Bound (c. 430 BCE), The Persians (472 BCE), Eumenides (458 BCE), and Agamemnon (458 BCE)[2†][6†]. He was skilled at brilliantly exploring and depicting evil, as well as showing the fear and consequences of evil actions[2†][6†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Aeschylus is known for authoring masterpieces that have left an indelible mark on the world of literature[6†]. His works brilliantly explore and depict evil, as well as showing the fear and consequences of evil actions[6†]. Here are some of his main works:

These works not only showcase Aeschylus’ skill as a playwright but also provide insight into the societal and historical context of the time[6†][1†][6†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Aeschylus, often hailed as the father of tragedy[8†], made significant contributions to the development of fifth-century BCE Athenian tragedy[8†]. According to Aristotle’s “De Poetica”, it was Aeschylus who "first introduced a second actor to tragedy and lessened the role of the chorus and made dialogue take the lead"[8†]. This innovation marks a principal stage in the evolution of Greek tragedy[8†].

Aeschylus is also the probable inventor of the connected trilogy/tetralogy[8†]. Before Aeschylus, the three tragedies and one Satyr play that traditionally constituted a tragic production at the festival of the Greater Dionysia in Athens were unconnected in theme and plot[8†]. However, all the other surviving plays of Aeschylus were almost certainly part of connected groups[8†].

His brilliant use of the chorus as a protagonist in “The Suppliants” may have been another significant innovation[8†]. The central place of the chorus of Danaids was thought to reflect the choral role of early tragedy[8†].

Aeschylus’s works are marked by a grandeur of style and a richness of imagery that is appropriate to the scale and importance of his themes[8†]. His characters are drawn with power and depth, and his plays present profound philosophical and ethical issues to the audience[8†].

In conclusion, Aeschylus’s work has had a profound influence on the development of drama, not only in ancient Greece but also in subsequent literary traditions[8†]. His innovations in form and style, as well as his ability to engage with complex moral and philosophical issues, have ensured his place as one of the great playwrights of all time[8†].

Personal Life

Aeschylus was born to a noble and wealthy Athenian family in the Greek town of Eleusis[3†][1†]. His father was Euphorion, a wealthy man of the upper class[3†][1†]. Aeschylus’s education included the writings of Homer, the Greek poet who lived during the 800s B.C.E. and wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey[3†].

As a youth, Aeschylus worked at a vineyard until, according to the 2nd-century AD geographer Pausanias, the god Dionysus visited him in his sleep and commanded him to turn his attention to the nascent art of tragedy[3†][1†]. As soon as he woke, he began to write a tragedy, and his first performance took place in 499 BC, when he was 26 years old[3†][1†]. He won his first victory at the City Dionysia in 484 BC[3†][1†].

In 510 BC, when Aeschylus was 15 years old, Cleomenes I expelled the sons of Peisistratus from Athens, and Cleisthenes came to power[3†][1†]. Aeschylus became a soldier and took part in turning back a Persian invasion at the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E.)[3†][9†]. Nevertheless, Aeschylus’s plays left a bigger mark in Greek history than any of his battle accomplishments[3†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Aeschylus, often described as the father of tragedy[1†], raised the emerging art of tragedy to great heights of poetry and theatrical power[1†][2†]. His work forms the foundation of the genre, and understanding of earlier Greek tragedy is largely based on inferences made from reading his surviving plays[1†]. He expanded the number of characters in the theatre and allowed conflict among them[1†].

Aeschylus’s significance was so great that his epitaph commemorates his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon while making no mention of his success as a playwright[1†]. His influence extended beyond his lifetime. A century after his death, Lycurgus of Athens proposed a law to preserve the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in the public archives[1†][10†].

Aeschylus has been called the most theological of the Greek tragedians[1†][11†]. His plays taught the Greeks about their identity, the possibilities and limitations of the spirit, and what it meant to be alive in a world both beautiful and terrible[1†][11†].

His legacy continues to influence modern theatre, and his plays are still performed today. His contributions to literature and theatre have made him an enduring figure in the history of Western culture[1†][2†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Aeschylus [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Aeschylus: Greek dramatist [website] - link
  3. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Aeschylus Biography [website] - link
  4. The Hoplite Association - Aeschylus [website] - link
  5. Infoplease - Aeschylus: Achievements and Characteristics [website] - link
  6. World History Edu - Aeschylus: Biography, Famous Plays, and Achievements [website] - link
  7. Goodreads - Author: Books by Aeschylus (Author of The Oresteia) [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Aeschylus Analysis [website] - link
  9. ThoughtCo - Aeschylus: Greek Tragedy Writer Profile [website] - link
  10. GreekMythology.com - Aeschylus [website] - link
  11. Britannica - Tragedy - Aeschylus, Ancient Greece, Drama [website] - link
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