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Aeschylus

Greek Poet
Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC) was an ancient Greek playwright. He is often recognized as the father or the founder of tragedy, and is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive extant, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict among them; previously, characters interacted only with the chorus. Unfortunately, only seven of an estimated 70 plays by Aeschylus have survived into modern times; one of these plays, Prometheus Bound, is sometimes thought not to be the work of Aeschylus.

At least one of Aeschylus' works was influenced by the Persian invasion of Greece, which took place during his lifetime. His play The Persians remains a good primary source of information about this period in Greek history. The war was so important to Greeks and to Aeschylus himself that, upon his death around 456 BC, his epitaph included a reference to his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon but not to his success as a playwright.

There are no reliable sources for the life of Aeschylus. He was said to have been born in c. 525 in Eleusis, a small town about 27 kilometers northwest of Athens, which is nestled in the fertile valleys of western Attica, though the date is most likely based on counting back forty years from his first victory in the Great Dionysia. His family was both wealthy and well-established; his father Euphorion was a member of the Eupatridae, the ancient nobility of Attica. As a youth, he 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. As soon as he woke from the dream, the young Aeschylus began writing a tragedy, and his first performance took place in 499 BC, when he was only 26 years old. After fifteen years, his skill was great enough to win a prize for his plays at Athens' annual city Dionysia playwriting competition. But in the interim, his dramatic career was interrupted by war. The armies of the Persian Empire, which had already conquered the Greek city-states of Ionia, entered mainland Greece in the hopes of conquering it as well.

In 490 BC, Aeschylus and his brother Cynegeirus fought to defend Athens against Darius's invading Persian army at the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians, though outnumbered, encircled and slaughtered the Persian army. This pivotal defeat ended the first Persian invasion of Greece proper and was celebrated across the city-states of Greece. Though Athens was victorious, Cynegeirus died in the battle. Aeschylus continued to write plays during the lull between the first and second Persian invasions of Greece, and won his first victory at the city Dionysia in 484 BC. In 480 he was called into military service again, this time against Xerxes' invading forces at the Battle of Salamis. This naval battle holds a prominent place in The Persians, his oldest surviving play, which was performed in 472 BC and won first prize at the Dionysia.

Aeschylus was one of many Greeks who had been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult to Demeter based in his hometown of Eleusis. As the name implies, members of the cult were supposed to have gained some sort of mystical, secret knowledge. Firm details of the Mysteries' specific rites are sparse, as members were sworn under the penalty of death not to reveal anything about the Mysteries to non-initiates. Nevertheless, according to Aristotle it was alleged that Aeschylus had placed clues about the secret rites in his seventh tragedy, Prometheus Bound. According to some sources, an angry mob tried to kill Aeschylus on the spot, but he fled the scene. When he stood trial for his offense, Aeschylus pleaded ignorance and was only spared because of his brave service in the Persian Wars.

Aeschylus traveled to Sicily once or twice in the 470s BC, having been invited by Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse
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Quotes by Aeschylus

Oh, the torment bred in the race, the grinding scream of death and the stroke that hits the vein, the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief, the curse no man can bear. But there is a cure in the house, and not outside it, no, not from others but from them, their bloody strife. We sing to you, dark gods beneath the earth. Now hear, you blissful powers underground -- answer the call, send help. Bless the children, give them triumph now.

by Aeschylus
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It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.

by Aeschylus
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I would rather be ignorant than knowledgeable of evils.

by Aeschylus
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He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

by Aeschylus
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To be free from evil thoughts is God's best gift.

by Aeschylus
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Time brings all things to pass.

by Aeschylus
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I know how men in exile feed on dreams.

by Aeschylus
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It is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer.

by Aeschylus
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The wisest of the wise may err.

by Aeschylus
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There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart's controls.

by Aeschylus
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My friends, whoever has had experience of evils knows how whenever a flood of ills comes upon mortals, a man fears everything; but whenever a divine force cheers on our voyage, then we believe that the same fate will always blow fair.

by Aeschylus
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For the poison of hatred seated near the heart doubles the burden for the one who suffers the disease; he is burdened with his own sorrow, and groans on seeing another's happiness.

by Aeschylus
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Who apart from the gods is without pain for his whole lifetime's length?

by Aeschylus
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When strength is yoked with justice, where is a mightier pair than they?

by Aeschylus
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Whenever a man makes haste, God too hastens with him.

by Aeschylus
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If a man suffers ill, let it be without shame; for this is the only profit when we are dead. You will never say a good word about deeds that are evil and disgraceful.

by Aeschylus
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The anvil of justice is planted firm, and fate who makes the sword does the forging in advance.

by Aeschylus
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Of all the gods only death does not desire gifts.

by Aeschylus
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Alas for the affairs of men! When they are fortunate you might compare them to a shadow; and if they are unfortunate, a wet sponge with one dash wipes the picture away.

by Aeschylus
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God always strives together with those who strive.

by Aeschylus
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Be bold and boast, just like the cock beside the hen.

by Aeschylus
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And though all streams flow from a single course to cleanse the blood from polluted hand, they hasten on their course in vain.

by Aeschylus
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For children preserve the fame of a man after his death.

by Aeschylus
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Bronze in the mirror of the form, wine of the mind.

by Aeschylus
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Neither a life of anarchy nor one beneath a despot should you praise; to all that lies in the middle a god has given excellence.

by Aeschylus
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