] The first competition, which Aeschylus would have participated in, was for the tragedians, and consisted of three playwrights each presenting three tragic plays followed by a shorter comedic
satyr play. A second competition of five comedic playwrights followed, and the winners of both competitions were chosen by a panel of judges.
Aeschylus entered many of these competitions in his lifetime, and it is estimated that he wrote some 70 to 90 plays. [harvnb|Freeman|1999|p=243] [harvnb|Pomeroy|1999|p=222] Only seven tragedies have survived intact: "
The Persians", " Seven against Thebes", " The Suppliants", the trilogy known as " The Oresteia", consisting of the three tragedies "Agamemnon", " The Libation Bearers" and "The Eumenides", and " Prometheus Bound" (whose authorship is disputed). With the exception of this last play—the success of which is uncertain—all of Aeschylus' extant tragedies are known to have won first prize at the City Dionysia. The Alexandrian "Life of Aeschylus" indicates that the playwright took the first prize at the City Dionysia thirteen times. This compares favorably with Sophocles' reported eighteen victories (with a substantially larger catalogue, at an estimated 120 plays), and dwarfs the five victories of Euripides (who featured a catalogue of roughly 90 plays).
One hallmark of Aeschylean dramaturgy appears to have been his tendency to write connected trilogies in which each play serves as a chapter in a continuous dramatic narrative. [harvnb|Sommerstein|1996] "
The Oresteia" is the only wholly extant example of this type of connected trilogy, but there is ample evidence that Aeschylus wrote such trilogies often. The comic satyr plays that would follow his dramatic trilogies often treated a related mythic topic. For example, the "Oresteia"'s satyr play " Proteus" treated the story of Menelaus's detour in Egypt on his way home from the Trojan War. Based on the evidence provided by a catalogue of Aeschylean play titles, scholia, and play fragments recorded by later authors, it is assumed that three other of Aeschylus' extant plays were components of connected trilogies: "Seven against Thebes" being the final play in an Oedipus trilogy, and "The Suppliants" and "Prometheus Bound" each being the first play in a Danaid trilogy and Prometheus trilogy, respectively (see below). Scholars have moreover suggested several completely lost trilogies derived from known play titles. A number of these trilogies treated myths surrounding the Trojan War. One—collectively called the "Achilleis" and comprising the titles "Myrmidons", "Nereids" and "Phrygians" (alternately, "The Ransoming of Hector")—recounts Hector's death at the hands of Achillesand the subsequent holding of Hector's body for ransom; another trilogy apparently recounts the entry of the Trojan ally Memnoninto the war, and his death at the hands of Achilles ("Memnon" and "The Weighing of Souls" being two components of the trilogy); "The Award of the Arms", "The Phrygian Women", and "The Salaminian Women" suggest a trilogy about the madness and subsequent suicide of the Greek hero Ajax; Aeschylus also seems to have treated Odysseus' return to Ithaca after the war (including his killing of his wife Penelope's suitors and its consequences) with a trilogy consisting of "The Soul-raisers", "Penelope" and "The Bone-gatherers". Other suggested trilogies touched on the myth of Jason and the Argonauts ("Argô", "Lemnian Women", "Hypsipylê"); the life of Perseus ("The Net-draggers", "Polydektês", "Phorkides"); the birth and exploits of Dionysus ("Semele", "Bacchae", "Pentheus"); and the aftermath of the war portrayed in "Seven against Thebes" ("Eleusinians", "Argives" (or "Argive Women"), "Sons of the Seven").
The earliest of the plays that still exist is "
The Persians" ("Persai"), performed in 472 BC and based on experiences in Aeschylus' own life, specifically the Battle of Salamis.harvnb|Freeman|1999|p=244] It is unique among Greek tragedies in treating a recent historical event rather than a heroic or divine myth. "The Persians" focuses on the popular Greek theme of " hubris" by blaming Persia's loss on the overwhelming pride of its king. It opens with the arrival of a messenger in Susa, the Persian capital, bearing news of the catastrophic Persian defeat at Salamis to Atossa, the mother of the Persian King Xerxes. Atossa then travels to the tomb of Darius, her husband, where his ghost appears to explain the cause of the defeat. It is, he says, the result of Xerxes' hubris in building a bridge across the Hellespont, an action which angered the gods. Xerxes appears at the end of the play, not realizing the cause of his defeat, and the play closes to lamentations by Xerxes and the chorus.Vellacott: 7–19]
"Seven against Thebes"
Seven against Thebes" ("Hepta epi Thebas"), which was performed in 467 BC, picks up a contrasting theme, that of fate and the interference of the gods in human affairs. It also marks the first known appearance in Aeschylus' work of a theme which would continue through his plays, that of the polis(the city) being a vital development of human civilization.harvnb|Freeman|1999|pp=244–246] The play tells the story of Eteoclesand Polynices, the sons of the shamed King of Thebes, Oedipus. The sons agree to alternate in the throne of the city, but after the first year Eteocles refuses to step down, and Polynices wages war to claim his crown. The brothers go on to kill each other in single combat, and the original ending of the play consisted of lamentations for the dead brothers. A new ending was added to the play some fifty years later: Antigone and Ismene mourn their dead brothers, a messenger enters announcing an edict prohibiting the burial of Polynices; and finally, Antigone declares her intention to defy this edict. The play was the third in a connected Oedipus trilogy; the first two plays were "Laius" and "Oedipus", likely treating those elements of the Oedipus myth detailed most famously in Sophocles' " Oedipus the King". The concluding satyr play was "The Sphinx".
Aeschylus would continue his emphasis on the polis with "The Suppliants" in 463 BC ("Hiketides"), which pays tribute to the democratic undercurrents running through Athens in advance of the establishment of a democratic government in 461. In the play, the
Danaids, the fifty daughters of Danaus, founder of Argos, flee a forced marriage to their cousins in Egypt. They turn to King Pelasgusof Argos for protection, but Pelasgus refuses until the people of Argos weigh in on the decision, a distinctly democratic move on the part of the king. The people decide that the Danaids deserve protection, and they are allowed within the walls of Argos despite Egyptian protests.harvnb|Freeman|1999|p=246] The 1952 publication of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2256 fr. 3 confirmed a long-assumed (because of "The Suppliants"' cliffhanger ending) Danaid trilogy, whose constituent plays are generally agreed to be "The Suppliants", "The Aegyptids" and "The Danaids". A plausible reconstruction of the trilogy's last two-thirds runs thus: In "The Aegyptids", the Argive-Egyptian war threatened in the first play has transpired. During the course of the war, King Pelasgus has been killed, and Danaus comes to rule Argos. He negotiates a peace settlement with Aegyptus, as a condition of which, his fifty daughters will marry the fifty sons of Aegyptus. Danaus secretly informs his daughters of an oracle predicting that one of his sons-in-law would kill him; he therefore orders the Danaids to murder the Aegyptids on their wedding night. His daughters agree. "The Danaids" would open the day after the wedding. In short order, it is revealed that forty-nine of the Danaids killed their husbands as ordered; Hypermnestra, however, loved her husband Lynceus, and thus spared his life and helped him to escape. Angered by his daughter's disobedience, Danaus orders her imprisonment and, possibly, her execution. In the trilogy's climax and dénouement, Lynceus reveals himself to Danaus, and kills him (thus fulfilling the oracle). He and Hypermnestra will establish a ruling dynasty in Argos. The other forty-nine Danaids are absolved of their murderous crime, and married off to unspecified Argive men. The satyr play following this trilogy was titled "Amymone", after one of the Danaids.
The most complete
tetralogyof Aeschylus' work that still exists is the " Oresteia" (458 BC), of which only the satyr play is missing. In fact, the "Oresteia" is the only full trilogy of Greek plays by any playwright that modern scholars have uncovered. The trilogy consists of "Agamemnon", "The Libation Bearers" ("Choephoroi"), and "The Eumenides". Together, these plays tell the bloody story of the family of Agamemnon, King of Argos.
"Agamemnon" describes his death at the hands of his wife
Clytemnestra, who was angry both at Agamemnon's sacrifice of their daughter Iphigeniaand at his keeping the Trojan prophetess Cassandraas a concubine. Cassandra enters the palace even though she knows she will be murdered by Clytemnestra as well, knowing that she cannot avoid her gruesome fate. The ending of the play includes a prediction of the return of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who will surely avenge his father."
"The Libation Bearers"
"The Libation Bearers" continues the tale, opening with Clytemnestra's account of a nightmare in which she gives birth to a snake. She orders
Electra, her daughter, to pour libations on Agamemnon's tomb (with the assistance of libation bearers) in hope of making amends. At the tomb, Electra meets Orestes, who has returned from protective exile in Phocis, and they plan revenge upon Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthustogether. They enter the palace pretending to bear news of Orestes' death, and when Clytemnestra calls in Aegisthus to share in the news, Orestes kills them both. Immediately, Orestes is beset by the Furies, who avenge patricide and matricide in Greek mythology.
The final play of "The Eumenides", addresses the question of Orestes' guilt. The Furies pursue Orestes from Argos and into the wilderness. Orestes makes his way to the temple of Apollo and begs him to drive the Furies away. Apollo had encouraged Orestes to kill Clytemnestra, and so bears a portion of the guilt of the act. But the Furies belong to the older race of the Titans, and Apollo is unable to drive them away. He sends Orestes to the temple of Athena, with Hermes as a guide. There, the Furies track him down and, just before he is to be killed, the goddess
Athena, patron of Athens, steps in and declares that a trial is necessary. Apollo argues Orestes' case and, after the jury splits their vote, Athena decides against the Furies. She also renames them the Eumenides, or kindly ones, and declares that thereafter all future hung juries should result in acquittal, since mercy should take precedence over harshness. "The Eumenides" specifically extols the importance of reason in the development of laws, and, like "The Suppliants", lauds the ideals of a democratic Athens.
In addition to these six works, a seventh tragedy, "
Prometheus Bound", is uniformly attributed to Aeschylus by ancient authorities. Since the late nineteenth century, however, modern scholarship has increasingly doubted this ascription largely on stylistic grounds. Its production date is also in dispute, with theories ranging from the 480's BC to as late as the 410's. [harvnb|Griffith|1983|pp=32–34] The play consists mostly of static dialogue, as throughout the play Prometheusis bound to a rock as punishment for providing fire to humans. The god Hephaestus, the Titan Oceanus, and the chorusof Oceanidsall express sympathy for the Titan's plight. Prometheus meets Io, a fellow victim of Zeus' cruelty; he prophesies for her future travels, and reveals that one of her descendants will eventually free Prometheus. The play closes with Zeussending Prometheus into the abyss because the Titan refuses to divulge the secret of a potential marriage that could be the Olympian's downfall. The "Prometheus Bound" appears to have been the first play in a trilogy called the " Prometheia". In the second play, "Prometheus Unbound", Heracles frees Prometheus from his chains and kills the eagle that had been sent daily to eat the Titan's perpetually regenerating liver. Perhaps foreshadowing his eventual reconciliation with Prometheus, we learn that Zeus has released the other Titans whom he imprisoned at the conclusion of the Titanomachy. In the trilogy's conclusion, " Prometheus the Fire-Bringer", the Titan finally warns Zeus not to lie with the sea nymph Thetis, for she is fated to give birth to a son greater than the father. Not wishing to be overthrown, Zeus marries Thetis off to the mortal Peleus; the product of that union will be Achilles, Greek hero of the Trojan War. After reconciling with Prometheus, Zeus perhaps inaugurates a festival in his honor at Athens.
Influence on Greek drama and culture
When Aeschylus first began writing, the theatre had only just begun to evolve, although earlier playwrights like
Thespishad expanded the cast to include an actor who was able to interact with the chorus.harvnb|Pomeroy|1999|p=222] Aeschylus added a second actor, allowing for greater dramatic variety, while the chorus played a less important role. He is sometimes credited with introducing "skenographia", or scene-decoration, though Aristotle gives this distinction to Sophocles. Aeschylus is moreover said to have made innovations in costuming—making the costumes more elaborate and dramatic, and having his actors wear platform boots ("cothurni") to make them more visible to the audience. According to a later account of Aeschylus' life, as they walked on stage in the first performance of the "Eumenides", the chorus of Furies were so frightening in appearance that they caused young children to faint, patriarchs to piss themselves, and pregnant women to go into labor.
Overall, though, he continued to write within the very strict bounds of Greek drama: his plays were written in verse, no violence could be performed on stage, and the plays had to have a certain remoteness from daily life in Athens, either by relating stories about the gods or by being set, like "The Persians", in far-away locales.harvnb|Pomeroy|1999|p=223] Aeschylus' work has a strong moral and religious emphasis. The "Oresteia" trilogy particularly concentrated on man's position in the cosmos in relation to the gods, divine law, and divine punishment. [harvnb|Pomeroy|1999|pp=224–225] Aeschylus' abiding popularity is perhaps most evident in the praise the comic playwright
Aristophanesgives him in " The Frogs", produced some half-century after Aeschylus' death.
Influence outside of Greek Culture
Aeschylus' works were influential beyond his own time.
Hugh Lloyd-Jones(Regius Professor of Greek Emeritus at Oxford University) wrote extensively on Wagner's relationship reverence of Aeschylus and the ensuing effect on his works. Michael Ewans argues in his "Wagner and Aeschylus. The 'Ring' and the 'Oresteia"' (London: Faber. 1982) that the influence was so great as to merit a direct comparison, character by character, of Wagner's 'Ring' and Aeschylus' 'Orestia.' Reviews of his book, while not denying Lloyd-Jones' views that Wagner read and respected Aeschylus, refute Ewans' arguments on the grounds that they seem unreasonable and forced. [cite journal|author= Furness, Raymond|title=The Modern Language Review|volume=79|issue=1|date=January 1984|pages= pp. 239–240|url= http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0026-7937%28198401%2979%3A1%3C239%3AWAAT%27A%3E2.0.CO%3B2–6 ]
Sir J. T. Sheppard, Provost of King's College in Cambridge, argues in the second half of his "Aeschylus and Sophocles: Their Work and Influence" that Aeschylus, along with Sophocles, had a major part in the formation of dramatic literature from the Renaissance to the present, specifically in French and Elizabethan drama. He also claims that their influence went beyond just drama and applies to literature in general, citing Milton and the Romantics as his prime examples. [cite journal|title=Aeschylus and Sophocles: their Work and Influence|journal=
Journal of Hellenic Studies|volume=47|issue= 2|date=1927|page=p. 265|url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0075-4269%281927%2947%3C265%3AAASTWA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L|year=1927|pages=265|doi=10.2307/625177|author=Sheppard, J. T. ]
2876 Aeschylus, which is named for him
* Buckham, P.W. (1827). "The Theater of the Greeks, or the History, Literature, and Criticism of Grecian Drama". Cambridge: W.P. Grant.
*—(2002). "Greek Drama and Dramatists". London: Routledge Press. ISBN 0415260272
*Thomson, George (1973) Aeschylus and Athens: A Study in the Social Origin of Drama. London: Lawrence and Wishart (4th edition)
* Vellacott, Philip, (1961). "Prometheus Bound and Other Plays: Prometheus Bound, Seven Against Thebes, and The Persians". New York:Penguin Classics. ISBN 0140441123
Theatre of ancient Greece
* [http://www.poetseers.org/the_great_poets/the_classics/aeschylus/ Selected Poems of Aeschylus]
* [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/perscoll?collection=Perseus:collection:Greco-Roman Aeschylus-related materials at the Perseus Digital Library]
* [http://www.bartleby.com/people/Aeschylu.html Online English Translations of Aeschylus]
* [http://www.csad.ox.ac.uk/POxy/VExhibition/2161.htm Photo of a fragment of "The Net-pullers"]
* [http://www.textkit.com/learn/ID/28/author_id/5/ "Prometheus Bound"]
*cite web |url=http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0004%3Aid%3Daeschylus-4 |title=Aeschylus (4) |last=Crane |first=Gregory |work=Perseus Encyclopedia
* [http://www.prometheusbound.info Book "Prometheus Bound"] "(for free download - two volumes about 600 pages)"
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Major ancient Greek playwright, one of only three whose works have survived into modern times.
DATE OF BIRTH= c. 525 BC
PLACE OF BIRTH=
DATE OF DEATH= c. 456 BC
PLACE OF DEATH=
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