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Aeschylus, (Aischulos). The son of Euphorion, born in the Attic deme
of Eleusis in the year B.C. [p. 36] 525. The period of his youth and early manhood
coincides with the great national struggle which both Asiatic and European Hellas
were forced to wage against the barbarians in the first twenty years of the fifth
century. In this conflict he played the part of a brave soldier at the battles
of Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea, and his works abound in traces of the warlike
and patriotic feeling of those stirring days. His brother Cynegirus met an heroic
death at Marathon, and another distinguished soldier of Salamis, Aminias, is said
to have been of the same family, but this is probably an error. We know little
of the youth and education of Aeschylus, but it is certain that he began his career
as a tragic poet before the age of thirty years, though his first victory was
not gained till 485. About the year 470 he went to Sicily at the invitation of
King Hiero of Syracuse. Here he composed his Aetnaean Women (Aitnaiai), in honour
of the newly founded city of Aetna. His departure from Athens has been ascribed
to an indictment by the Athenians for profanation of the mysteries. But it was
the policy of Hiero to attract literary men to his brilliant court, and the presence
of Aeschylus there needs no more explanation than that of Simonides and Pindar
during the same period. Later in his life he visited Sicily a second time, where
he met his death in 456. Among the many mythical details with which tradition
has surrounded the life of Aeschylus, it is said that he was killed by an eagle
letting fall a tortoise upon his bald head, supposing it to be a stone. The high
honour in which he was held by the Athenians after his death is shown by the fact
that in later times it was made lawful to reproduce his plays in competition for
the prize against new tragedies.
Aeschylus is said to have produced seventy-two, or even ninety dramas,
and to have gained the first prize thirteen times. As each poet competed with
four plays (three tragedies and a satyric drama), it appears that Aeschylus was
successful in more than half of all his contests. Only seven of his tragedies
have come down to us. They will be described in what seems to have been their
(1) The Suppliants (Hiketides) takes its name from the chorus
representing the fifty daughters of Danaus fleeing to Argos for protection from
the sons of Aegyptus. The prominence of the chorus, the small number of characters,
and the absence of a prologue mark this play as the earliest of those of Aeschylus
which we have, and consequently the oldest Greek drama extant. Its undeniable
merits are much obscured by the very corrupt state of the text.
(2) The Persians (Persai) is unique among the Greek tragedies
which we possess in drawing its theme from history rather than from myth. The
central point of interest is found in a splendid narrative of the battle of Salamis,
but by an artifice of the poet the scene of the play is laid in Susa, and the
laments of Atossa and the Persian nobles supply the tragic elements. The Persians
was produced in B.C. 472, as part of a tetralogy consisting of the Phineus, Persians,
Glaucus potnieus, and Prometheus the Fire-kindler (purkaeus).
(3) The Seven against Thebes (Hepta epi Thebas) was produced
in B.C. 467, as the third play in a tetralogy of which the remaining pieces were
the Laius, Oedipus, and the satyric drama called The Sphinx. It includes a magnificent
description of the seven Argive champions and their Theban opponents, with the
final victory of Thebes, and a hint, at the close, of the Antigone-motive, afterwards
so finely worked out by Sophocles. In this play, as in the Persians, the martial
spirit of Aeschylus finds ample room for manifestation. Both dramas are "full
of war," to quote the words of Aristophanes (Frogs, 1021).
(4) The Prometheus Bound (Prometheus desmotes), with its companion
pieces the Prometheus Loosed (luomenos) and the Prometheus the Fire-bearer (purphoros),
treated the history of the rebellious Titan who steadfastly suffered the wrath
of Zeus for his benefactions to mankind. The Prometheus Bound, the only play of
the trilogy which has come down to us, depicts the hero, fettered to a rock in
Scythia, and threatened by Hermes with a penalty still more severe. But he proudly
refuses to submit to the will of the new ruler of Olympus, and at the close of
the play he is struck by the thunderbolt, and, with the rock to which he is fastened,
sinks out of sight. The second play described the final reconciliation and the
liberation of Prometheus; while the third (see Westphal's Proleg. to Aeschylus,
p. 207 foll.) probably celebrated the establishment of Prometheus in Attica as
a benignant deity. No Greek tragedy has been more admired than the Prometheus
Bound. In the grandeur of its action and the sublimity of character displayed,
as well as in the exquisite pathos of some of its scenes, it stands almost unequalled.
The Prometheus trilogy was probably produced either in B.C. 468 or 466 (Christ),
or about ten years earlier (Wecklein).
(5) The trilogy composed of the Agamemnon (Agamemnon), Choephori
(Choephoroi), and Eumenides (Eumenides), comes last in the list, and is of special
interest from the fact that it is the only complete trilogy which is extant from
any of the Greek tragedians. In the Agamemnon the poet describes the return of
the victorious king from Troy, and his murder by Clytaemnestra and her paramour
Aegisthus. In the Choephori, Orestes, son of Agamemnon, now grown to manhood,
returns, and with the help of his friend Pylades avenges the murder of his father
by putting to death the guilty pair, and is himself, in turn, driven frantic by
the Erinyes. In the Eumenides he flees to Athens, where he is tried, and by the
advocacy of Apollo and the casting vote of Athene he is acquitted, and the family
curse comes to an end. This great trilogy shows the genius of Aeschylus in its
loftiest form. Each play is complete in itself, and yet each is but a single act
in the [p. 37] mighty drama of crime, vengeance, and expiation. The Agamemnon
is the most powerful of the three plays, and probably the greatest work of Aeschylus,
if indeed it is not the most impressive tragedy in existence. The trilogy is usually
known as the Oresteia (Oresteia), and, with the satyric play Proteus (Proteus),
was produced in B.C. 458.
The extant works of Aeschylus show a constant progress in dramatic
art. He is said to have added a second actor to the one employed by his predecessors,
and in his later plays he adopts, and uses with full mastery, the third actor
first introduced by his younger rival, Sophocles. The choral parts, at first the
most prominent feature both in extent and importance, gradually give way before
the growth of the dialogue. In the scenic effects, too, Aeschylus made many improvements,
using extraordinary means to excite wonder or awe. Like Wagner, he was both poet
and musician, and, besides training his own choruses, he is said to have taken
part as actor in the performances themselves.
The most characteristic feature of his poetry is its grandeur,
both of thought and style, though he is none the less master of lyric beauty and
tender pathos. His theology is stern and lofty, and pervaded by the idea of a
destiny which controls all things, human and divine. But the hereditary curse
that brooded over the families of Labdacus and Pelops was always aided in its
destrnctive work by the folly and wickedness of the victims themselves. No poet,
in fact, has stated more impressively than Aeschylus the inevitable connection
between guilt and punishment. His style, it must be confessed, is sometimes so
elevated as to seem almost bombastic, but this apparent fault is the natural result
of the poet's mighty current of thought, which could not find vent in the ordinary
channels of expression.
All the existing MSS. of Aeschylus are said by W. Dindorf to
be derived from the Codex Mediceus (Laurentianus), which dates back to the eleventh
century, and contains many valuable scholia taken from the ancient grammarians.
It is the chief authority for the Choephori, of which, however, the text is in
a bad condition. The Prometheus, Seven against Thebes, and Persians are more fully
represented by MSS. than the other plays. Two codices of the fourteenth century
(Florentinus and Farnesianus) supply that portion of the Agamemnon (lines 295-
1026) which is missing from the Codex Mediceus.
This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
- Aeschylus: Perseus Encyclopedia
Aeschylus (Aischulos) was born at Eleusis in Attica in B. C. 525, so that he was
thirty-five years of age at the time of the battle of Marathon, and contemporary
with Simonides and Pindar. His father Euphorion was probably connected with the
worship of Demeter, from which Aeschylus may naturally be supposed to have received
his first religious impressions. He was himself, according to some authorities,
initiated in the mysteries, with reference to which, and to his birthplace Eleusis,
Aristophanes (Ran. 884) makes him pray to the Elensinian goddess. Pausanias (i.
21.2) relates an anecdote of him, which, if true, shews that lie was struck in
very early youth with the exhibitions of the drama. According to this story, "
When he was a boy he was set to watch grapes in the country, and there fell asleep.
In his slumbers Dionysus appeared to him, and ordered him to apply himself to
tragedy. At daybreak he made the attempt, and succeeded very easily." Such a dream
as this could hardly have resulted from anything but the impression produced by
tragic exhibitions upon a warm imagination.
At the age of 25 (B. C. 499), he made his first appearance as a competitor
for the prize of tragedy, against Choerilus and Pratinas, without however being
successful. Sixteen years afterward (B. C. 484), Aeschylus pained his first victory.
The titles of the pieces which he then brought out are not known, but his competitors
were most probably Pratinas and Phrynichus or Choerilus. Eight years afterwards
he gained the prize with the trilogy of which the Persae, the earliest of his
extant dramas, was one piece. The whole number of victories attributed to Aeschylus
amounted to thirteen, most of which were gained by him in the interval of sixteen
years, between B. C. 484, the year of his first tragic victory, and the close
of the Persian war by Cimon's double victory at the Eurymedon, B. C. 470. The
year B. C. 468 was the date of a remarkable event in the poet's life. In that
year lie was defeated in a tragic contest by his younger rival Sophocles, and
if we may believe Plutarch (Cim. 8), his mortification at this indignity, as he
conceived it, was so great, that lie quitted Athens in disgust the very same year,
and went to the court of Hiero (Paus. i. 2.3), king of Syracuse, where he found
Simonides the lyric poet, who as well as himself was by that prince most hospitably
received Of the fact of his having visited Sicily at the time alluded to, there
can be no doubt; but whether the motive alleged by Plutarch for his doing so was
the only one, or a real one, is a question of considerable difficulty, though
of little practical moment. It may be, as has been plausibly maintained by some
authors, that Aeschylus, whose family and personal honours were connected with
the glories of Marathon, and the heroes of the Persian war, did not symipathise
with the spirit of aggrandisement by which the councils of his country were then
actuated, nor approve of its policy in the struggle for the supremacy over Greece.
The contemporaries of his earlier years, Miltiades, Aristeides, and Themistocles,
whose achievements in the service of their country were identified with those
of himself and his family, had been succeeded by Cimon: and the aristocratical
principles which Aeschylus supported were gradually being supplanted and overborne
by the advance of democracy. From all this, Aeschylus might have felt that he
was outliving his principles, and have felt it the more keenly, from Cimon, the
hero of the day, having been one of the judges who awarded the tragic prize to
Sophocles in preference to himself. (Plut. l. c.) On this supposition, Athens
could not have been an agreeable residence to a person like Aeschylus, and therefore
he might have been disposed to leave it; but still it is more than probable that
his defeat by Sophocles materially influenced his determinations, and was at any
rate the proximate cause of his removing to Sicily. It has been further conjectured
that the charge of asebeia or impiety which was brought against Aeschylus for
an alleged publication of the mysteries of Ceres (Aristot. Eth. iii. 1), but possibly
from political motives, was in some measure connected with his retirement from
iris native country. If this were really the case, it follows, that the play or
plays which gave the supposed offence to the Athenians, must have been published
before B. C. 468, and therefore that the trilogy of the Oresteia could have had
no connexion with it. Shortly before the arrival of Aeschylus at the court of
Hiero, that prince had built the town of Aetna, at the bottom of the mountain
of that name, and on the site of the ancient Catana : in connexion with this event,
Aeschylus is said to have composed his play of the Women of Aetna (B. C. 471,
or 472), in which he predicted and prayed for the prosperity of the new city.
At the request of Hiero, he also reproduced the play of the Persae, with the trilogy
of which he had been victorious in the dramatic contests at Athens (B. C. 472).
Now we know that the trilogy of the Seven against Thebes was represented soon
after the " Persians:" it follows therefore that the former trilogy must have
been first represented not later than B. C. 470. Aristeides, who died in B. C.
468, was living at the time (Plut. Arist. 3). Besides "The Women of Aetna," Aeschylus
also composed other pieces in Sicily, in which are said to have occurred Sicilian
words and expressions not intelligible to the Athenians (Athen. ix.). From the
number of such words and expressions, which have been noticed in the later extant
plays of Aeschylus, it has been inferred that he spent a considerable time in
Sicily, on this his first visit. We must not however omit to mention, that, according
to some accounts, Aeschylus also visited Sicily about B. C. 488, previous to what
we have considered his first visit. The occasion of this retirement is said to
have been the victory gained over him by Simonides, to whom the Athenians adjudged
the prize for the best elegy on those who fell at Maarathon. This tradition, however,
is not supported by strong independent testimony, and accordingly its truth has
been much questionned. Suidas indeed states that Aeschylus had visited Sicily
even before this, when he was only twenty-five years of age (B. C. 499), immediately
after his first contest with Pratinas, on which occasion the crowd of spectators
was so great as to cause the fall of the wooden planks (ikria) or temporary scaffolding,
on which they were accommodated with seats.
In B. C. 467, his friend and patron king Hiero died; and in B. C.
458, it appears that Aeschylus was again at Athens from the fact that the trilogy
of the Oresteia was produced in that year. The conjecture of Bockh, that this
might have been a second representation in the absence of the poet, is not supported
by any probable reasons, for we have no intimation that the Oresteia ever had
been acted before. In the same or the following year (B. C. 457), Aeschylus again
visited Sicily for the last time, and the reason assigned for this his second
or as others conceive his fourth visit to this island, is both probable and sufficient.
The fact is, that in his play of the Eumenides, the third and last of the three
plays which made up the Orestean trilogy, Aeschylus proved himself a decided supporter
of the ancient dignities and power of that " watchful guardian " of Athens, the
aristocratical court of the Areiopagus, in opposition to Pericles and his democratical
coadjutors. With this trilogy Aeschylus was indeed successful as a poet, but not
as a politician : it did not produce the effects he had wished and intended, and
he found that he had striven in vain against the opinions and views of a generation
to which he did not belong. Accordingly it has been conjectured that either from
disappointment or fear of the consequences, or perhaps from both these causes,
he again quitted Athens, and retired once more to Sicily. But another reason,
which if founded on truth, perhaps operated in conjunction with the former, has
been assigned for his last sojourn in Sicily. This rests on a statement made more
or less distinctly by various authors, to the effect that Aeschylus was accused
of impiety before the court of the Areiopagus, and that he would have been condemned
but for the interposition of his brother Ameinias, who had distinguished himself
at the battle of Salamis. (Aelian, V. H. v. 19.) According to some authors this
accusation was preferred against him, for having in some of his plays either divulged
or profanely spoken of the mysteries of Ceres. According to others, the charge
originated from his having introduced on the stage the dread goddesses, the Eumenides,
which he had done in such a way as not only to do violence to popular prejudice,
but also to excite the greatest alarm among the spectators. Now, the Eumenides
contains nothing which can be considered as a publication of the mysteries of
Ceres, and therefore we are inclined to think that his political enemies availed
themselves of the unpopularity he had incurred by his " Chorus of Furies," to
get up against him a charge of impiety, which they supported not only by what
was objectionable in the Eumenides, but also in other plays not now extant. At
any rate, from the number of authorities all confirming this conclusion, there
can be no doubt that towards the end of his life Aeschylus incurred the serious
displeasure of a strong party at Athens, and that after the exhibition of the
Orestean trilogy he retired to Gela in Sicily, where he died B. C. 456, in the
69th year of his age, and three years after the representation of the Eumenides.
On the manner of his death the ancient writers are unanimous (Suidas, s. v. Chelonemion).
An eagle, say they, mistaking the poet's bald head for a stone, let a tortoise
fall upon it to break the shell, and so fulfilled an oracle, according to which
Aeschylus was fated to die by a blow from heavenly. The inhabitants of Gela shewed
their regard for his character, by public solemnities in his honour, by erecting
a noble monument to him, and inscribing it with an epitaph written by himself
(Paus. i. 14.4; Athen. xiv.). In it Gela is mentioned as the place of his burial,
and the field of Marathon as the place of his most glorious achievements; but
no mention is made of his poetry, the only subject of commemoration in the later
epigrams written in his honour. At Athens also his name and memory were holden
in especial reverence, and the prophecy in which he (Athen. viii.) is said to
have predicted his own posthumous fame, when lie was first defeated by Sophocles,
was amply fulfilled. His pieces were frequently reproduced on the stage; and by
a special decree of the people, a chorus was provided at the expense of the state
for any one who night wish to exhibit his tragedies a second time (Aristoph. Achar.
102; Aeschyl. vita). Hence Aristophanes (Ran. 892) makes Aeschylus say of himself,
that his poetry did not die with him; and even after his death, he may be said
to have gained many victories over his successors in Attic tragedy. The plays
thus exhibited for the first time may either have been those which Aeschylus had
not produced himself, or such as had been represented in Sicily, and not at Athens,
during his lifetime. The individuals who exhibited his dramatic remains on the
Attic stage were his sons Euphorion and Bion : the former of whom was, in B. C.
431, victorious with a tetralogy over Sophocles and Euripides (Argum. Eurip. Med.),
and in addition to this is said to have gained four victories with dramatic pieces
of his father's never before represented. Philocles also, the son of a sister
of Aeschylus, was victorious over the King Oedipus of Sophocles, probably with
a tragedy of his uncle's (Argum. Soph. Oed. Tyr.). From and by means of these
persons arose what was called the Tragic School of Aeschylus, which continued
for the space of 125 years.
We have hitherto spoken of Aeschylus as a poet only; but it must not
be forgotten that he was also highly renowned as a warrior. His first achievements
as a soldier were in the battle of Marathon, in which his brother Cynaegeirus
and himself so highly distinguished themselves, that their exploits were commemorated
with a descriptive painting in the theatre of Athens, which was thought to be
much older than the statue there erected in honour of Aeschylus (Paus. i. 21.2).
The epitaph which he wrote on himself, proves that he considered his share in
that battle as the most glorious achievement of his life, though he was also engaged
at Artemisium, Salamis, and Plataea (Paus. i. 14.4). All his family, indeed, were
distinguished for bravery. His younger brother Ameinias (Herod. viii. 84; Diod.
xi. 25) was noted as having commenced the attack on the Persian ships at Salamis,
and at Marathon no one was so perseveringly brave as Cynaegeirus (Herod. vi. 114).
Hence we may not unreasonably suppose, that the gratitude of the Athenians for
such services contributed somewhat to a due appreciation of the poet's merits,
and to the tragic victory which he gained soon after the battle of Marathon (B.
C. 484) and before that of Salamis. Nor can we wonder at the peculiar vividness
and spirit with which he portrays the " pomp and circumstance" of war, as in the
Persae, and the " Seven against Thebes," describing its incidents and actions
as one who had really been an actor in scenes such as he paints.
The style of Aeschylus is bold, energetic, and sublime, full of gorgeous
imagery, and magnificent expressions such as became the elevated characters of
his dramas, and the ideas he wished to express (Aristoph. Ran. 934). This sublimity
of diction was however sometimes carried to an extreme, which made his language
turgid and inflated, so that as Quintilian (x. 1) says of him, " he is grandiloquent
to a fault." In the turn of his expressions, the poetical predominates over the
syntactical. He was peculiarly fond of metaphorical phrases and strange compounds,
and obsolete language, so that he was much more epic in his language than either
Sophocles or Euripides, and excelled in displaying strong feelings and impulses,
and describing the awful and the terrible, rather than in exhibiting the workings
of the human mind under the influence of complicated and various motives. But
notwithstanding the general elevation of his style, the subordinate characters
in his plays, as the watchman in the Agamemnon, and the nurse of Orestes in the
Choephoroe, are made to use language fitting their station, and less removed from
that of common life.
The characters of Aeschylus, like his diction, are sublime and majestic,
-they were gods and heroes of colossal magnitude, whose imposing aspect could
be endured by the heroes of Marathon and Salamis, but was too awful for the contemplation
of the next generation, who complained that Aeschylus' language was not human
(Aristoph. Ran. 1056). Hence the general impressions produced by the poetry of
Aeschylus were rather of a religious than of a moral nature : his personages being
both in action and suffering, superhuman, and therefore not always fitted to teach
practical lessons. He produces indeed a sort of religious awe, and dread of the
irresistible power of the gods, to which man is represented as being entirely
subject; but on the other hand humanity often appears as the sport of an irrevocable
destiny, or the victim of a struggle between superior beings. Still Aeschylus
sometimes discloses a providential order of compensation and retribution, while
he always teaches the duty of resignation and submission to the will of the gods,
and the futility and fatal consequences of all opposition to it.
With respect to the construction of his plays, it has been often remarked,
that they have little or no plot, and are therefore wanting in dramatic interest:
this deficiency however may strike us more than it otherwise would in consequence
of most of his extant plays being only parts, or acts of a more complicated drama.
Still we cannot help being impressed with the belief, that he was more capable
of sketching a vast outline, than of filling up its parts, however bold and vigorous
are the sketches by which he portrays and groups his characters. His object, indeed,
according to Aristophanes, in such plays as the Persae, and the Seven against
Thebes, which are more epical than dramatical, was rather to animate his countrymen
to deeds of glory and warlike achievement, and to inspire then with generous and
elevated sentiments, by a vivid exhibition of noble deeds and characters, than
to charm or startle by the incidents of an elaborate plot. (Ran. 1000.) The religious
views and tenets of Aeschylus, so far as they appear in his writings, were Homeric.
Like Homer, he represents Zeus as the supreme Ruler of the Universe, the source
and centre of all things. To him all the other divinities are subject, and from
him all their powers and authority are derived. Even Fate itself is sometimes
identical with his will, and the result of his decrees. He only of all the beings
in heaven and earth is free to act as he pleases. (Prom. 40)
In Philosophical sentiments, there was a tradition that Aeschylus
was a Pythagorean (Cic. Tus. Disp. ii. 10); but of this his writings do not furnish
any conclusive proof, though there certainly was some similarity between him and
Pythagoras in the purity and elevation of their sentiments. The most correct and
lively description of the character and dramatic merits of Aeschylus, and of the
estimation in which he was held by his contemporaries and immediate successors,
is given by Aristophanes in his "Frogs." He is there depicted as proud and impatient,
and his style and genius such as we have described it. Aristophanes was evidently
a very great admirer of him, and sympathised in no common degree with his political
and moral sentiments. He considered Aeschylus as without a rival and utterly unapproachable
as a tragic poet; and represents even Sophocles himself as readily yielding to
and admitting his superior claims to the tragic throne. But few if any of the
ancient critics seem to have altogether coincided with Aristophanes in his estimation
of Aeschylus, though they give him credit for his excellences. Thus Dionysius
(De Poet. Vet. ii. 9) praises the originality of his ideas and of his expressions,
and the beauty of his imagery, and the propriety and dignity of his characters.
Longinus (15) speaks of his elevated creations and imagery, but condemns some
of his expressions as harsh and overstrained; and Quintilian (x. 1) expresses
himself much to the same effect. The expression attributed to Sophocles, that
Aeschylus did what was right without knowing it (Athen. x.), in other words, that
he was an unconscious genius, working without any knowledge of or regard to the
artistical laws of his profession, is worthy of note. So also is the observation
of Schlegel (Lecture iv.), that " Generally considered, the tragedies of Aeschylus
are an example amongst many, that in art, as in nature, gigantic productions precede
those of regulated symmetry, which then dwindle away into delicacy and insignificance;
and that poetry in her first manifestation always approaches nearest to the awfulness
of religion, whatever shape the latter may assume among the various races of men."
Aeschylus himself used to say of his dramas, that they were fragments of the great
banquet of Homer's table. (Athen. viii.) The alterations, made by Aeschylus in
the composition and dramatic representation of Tragedy were so great, that he
was considered by the Athenians as the father of it, just as Homer was of Epic
poetry and Herodotus of History (Philostr. Vit. Apoll. vi. 11). As the ancients
themselves remarked, it was a greater advance from the elementary productions
of Thespis, Choerilus, and Phrynichus, to the stately tragedy, of Aeschylus, than
from the latter to the perfect and refined forms of Sophocles. It was the advance
from infancy if not to maturity, at least to a youthful and vigorous manhood.
Even the improvements and alterations introduced by his successors were the natural
results and suggestions of those of Aeschylus. The first and principal alteration
which he made was the introduction of a second actor deuteragonistes (Aristot.
Poet. 4.16), and the consequent formation of the dialogue properly so called,
and the limitation of the choral parts. So great was the effect of this change
that Aristotle denotes it by saying, that he made the dialogue, the principal
part of the play (ton logon protagonisten pareskeuasen), instead of the choral
part, which was now become subsidiary and secondary. This innovation was of course.
adopted by his contemporaries, just as Aeschylus himself (e. g. in the Choephoroi
665-716) followed the example of Sophocles, in subsequently introducing a third
actor. The characters in his plays were sometimes represented by Aeschylus himself
(Athen. i.). In the early part of his career he was supported by an actor named
Cleandrus, and afterwards by Myniscus of Chalchis. The dialogue between the two
principal characters in the plays of Aeschylus was generally kept up in a strictly
symmetrical form, each thought or sentiment of the two speakers being expressed
in one or two unbroken lines: e. g. as the dialogue between. Kratos and Hephaestus
at the beginning of the Prometheus. In the same way, in the Seven against Thebes,
Eteocles always expresses himself in three lines between the reflections of the
chorus. This arrangement, differing as it does from the forms of ordinary conversation,
gives to the dialogue of Aeschylus an elevated and stately character, which bespeaks
the conversation of gods and heroes. But the improvements of Aeschylus were not
limited to the composition of tragedy: he added the resources of art in its exhibition.
Thus, he is said to have availed himself of the skill of Agatharcus, who painted
for him the first scenes which had ever been drawn according to the principles
of linear perspective (Vitruv. Praef lib. vii.). He also furnished his actors
with more suitable and magnificent dresses, with significant and various masks,
and with the thick-soled cothurnus, to raise their statue to the height of heroes.
He moreover bestowed so much attention on the choral dances, that he is said to
have invented various figures himself, and to have instructed the choristers in
them without the aid of the regular ballet-masters. So great was Aeschylus' skill
as a teacher in this respect, that Telestes, one of his choristers, was able to
express by dance alone the various incidents of the play of the Seven against
Thebes.The removal of all deeds of bloodshed and murder from the public view,
in conformity with the rule of Horace (A. P. 185), is also said to have been a
practice introduced by Aeschylus, (Philos. Vit. Apol. vi. 11). With him also arose
the usage of representing at the same time a triogy of plays connected in subject,
so that each formed one act, as it were, of a great whole, which might be compared
with some of Shakespeare's historical plays. Even before the time of Aeschylus,
it had been customary to contend for the prize of tragedy with three plays exhibited
at the same time, but it was reserved for him to shew how each of three tragedies
might be complete in itself, and independent of the rest, and nevertheless form
a part of a harmonious and connected whole. The only example still extant of such
a trilogy is the Oresteia, as it was called. A Satyrical play commonly followed
each tragic trilogy, and it is recorded that Aeschylus was no less a master of
the ludicrous than of the serious drama (Paus. ii. 13.5).
Aeschylus is said to have written seventy tragedies. Of these only
seven are extant, namely, the " Persians," the " Seven against Thebes," the "Suppliants,"
the "Prometheus," the " Agamemnon," the " Choephoroe," and " Eumenides ;" the
last three forming, as already remarked, the trilogy of the " Oresteia." The "
Persians" was acted in B. C. 472, and the " Seven against Thebes" a year afterwards.
The "Oresteia" was represented in B. C. 458; the "Suppliants" and the "Prometheus"
were brought out some time between the "Seven against Thebes" and the " Oresteia."
It has been supposed from some allusions in the "Suppliants," that this play was
acted in B. C. 461, when Athens was allied with Argos.
The first edition of Aeschylus was printed at Venice, 1518, 8vo.;
but parts of the Agamemnon and the Choephoroe are not printed in this edition,
and those which are given, are made up into one play. Of the subsequent editions
the best was by Stanley, Lond. 1663, fo. with the Scholia and a commentary, reedited
by Butler. The best recent editions are by Wellauer, Lips. 1823, W. Dindorf, Lips.
1827, and Scholefield, Camb. 1830. There are numerous editions of various plays,
of which those most worthy of mention are by Blomfield, Muller, Klausen, and Peile.
The principal English translations are by Potter, Harford, and Medwin. (Petersen,
De Aeschyli Vita et Fabulis, Havniae, 1814; Welcker, Die Aeschyl. Trilogie Prtomethcus,
Darmstadt, 1824, Nachtrag zur Trilogie, Frankf. 1826, and Die Griech. Tragodien,
Bonn, 1840; Klausen, Thcologumena Aeschyli Tragiei, Berol. 1829.)
This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited July 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology (ed. William Smith)
The e-texts of the works by Aeschylus can be found in Greece (ancient country) under the category Ancient Greek Writings.