Aeschylus

GreekPoetBio

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



Quotes by Aeschylus
The man whose authority is recent is always stern. Aeschylus

It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath. Aeschylus

I pray for no more youthTo perish before its prime;That Revenge and iron-heated WarMay fade with all that has gone beforeInto the night of time. Aeschylus
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Drop, dropin our sleep, upon the heartsorrow falls, memorys pain,and to us, though against our very will,even in our own despite,comes wisdomby the awful grace of God. Aeschylus
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Justice, voiceless, unseen, seeth thee when thou sleepest and when thou goest forth and when thou liest down. Continually does she attend thee, now aslant thy course, now at a later time. Aeschylus
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The reward of suffering is experience. Aeschylus

It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted. Aeschylus

It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered. Aeschylus

He who goes unenvied shall not be admired. Aeschylus

Call no man happy till he is dead. Aeschylus

God loves to help him who strives to help himself. Aeschylus

There is no sickness worse for me than words that to be kind must lie. Aeschylus

Every ruler is harsh whose laws is new. Aeschylus

It is always in season for old men to learn. Aeschylus

When a match has equal partners then I fear not. Aeschylus

Memory is the mother of all wisdom. Aeschylus

Who, except the gods, can live time through forever without any pain? Aeschylus

Wisdom comes alone through suffering. Aeschylus

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. Aeschylus

Death is softer by far than tyranny. Aeschylus


Aeschylus's favourite topics
GodHeartPainDeathSuffers

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