Bust of Aeschylus from the Capitoline Museums, Rome
- This article is about the ancient Greek playwright. For other articles with similar names, see Aeschylus (disambiguation).
Aeschylus (525 BC—456 BC; Greek: Αἰσχύλος) was a playwright of Ancient Greece. He is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays are not entirely lost, the others being Sophocles and Euripides.
Born in Eleusis in western Attica, he wrote his first plays in 498 BC. His earliest surviving play is probably The Persians, performed in 472 BC. In 490 BC, he participated in the Battle of Marathon and in 480 BC he fought at the Battle of Salamis, which was to become the subject of The Persians. Written eight years later; it is now generally accepted that The Suppliants was written in the last decade of his life, making The Persians his earliest play and not The Suppliants as previously supposed. P.W. Buckham writes that Aeschylus was considered, philosophically speaking, a Pythagorean and that this was evidenced in some of his works.1 Buckham also quotes August Wilhelm von Schlegel, supporting the notion that Aeschylus was the inventor of tragedy. 2 Aeschylus frequently travelled to Sicily, where the tyrant of Gela was one of his patrons. In 458 BC he travelled there for the last time; according to traditional legend, Aeschylus was killed in 456 BC when an eagle (or more likely a Lammergeier) dropped a live and apparently very savage tortoise on him, mistaking his bald head for a stone. Some accounts differ, claiming that the bird dropped a stone on his head, mistaking it for a large egg. The inscription on his gravestone may have been written by him, but makes no mention of his theatrical renown, commemorating only his military achievements. It read:
- - :This tomb the dust of Aeschylus doth hide,
- :Euphorion's son and fruitful Gela's pride
- :How tried his valor, Marathon may tell
- :And long-haired Medes, who knew it all too well - - In Greek:
- - Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει
- :μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·
- ἀλκὴν δ’ εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι
- :καὶ βαρυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος. - - - (Anthologiae Graecae Appendix, vol. 3, Epigramma sepulcrale 17)
Aeschylus' work has a strong moral and religious emphasis, concentrating on man's position in the cosmos in relation to the gods, divine law and divine punishment in the Oresteia trilogy. Besides the literary merit of his work, Aeschylus' greatest contribution to the theater was the addition of a second actor to his scenes. Previously, the action took place between a single actor and the Greek chorus. This invention was attributed to him by Aristotle.
Aeschylus is known to have written about 76 plays, only 6 of which survive:
- The Persians (472 BC) (Persai)
- Seven Against Thebes (467 BC) (Hepta epi Thebas)
- The Suppliants (463 BC?) (Hiketides)
- Oresteia (458 BC)
- The Libation Bearers (Choephoroi)
- The Eumenides
In addition, the existing canon of Aeschylus' plays includes a seventh, Prometheus Bound. Attributed to Aeschylus in antiquity, it is generally considered by modern scholars to be the work of an unknown playwright. One theory is that it was written by Euphorion, one of Aeschylus' sons, and produced as his father's work. Its language is much simpler than that which Aeschylus usually utilises, without nearly as much complex metaphor and imagery, and is closer to Sophocles' style (though it is not at all suggested that Sophocles is its author); its hostility to the figure of Zeus is completely at odds with the religious views of the other six plays. We know it must have been written before 429 BC, as Cratinus makes reference to this play in his own The Wealth Gods. Lost and fragmentary plays include Phineas, Glaukos Potnieus and Prometheus Pyrkaeus, a satyr play, belonging to the same tetralogy as The Persians; Laios, Oedipus and Sphynx, another satyr play, belonging to the same tetralogy as Seven Against Thebes; Proteus, the satyr play belonging to the Oresteia tetralogy; Eleusians and The Net-pullers.
P.W. Buckham, p.120, "In philosophical sentiments Aeschylus is said to have been a Pythagorean
". cf. Cicero, Tusc. Disp., ii.9, "Veniat Aeschylus, non poeta solum, sed etiam Pythagoreus; sic eniam accepimus
" -- "Let us see what Aeschylus says, who was not only a poet but a Pythagorean philosopher also, for that is the account which you have received of him ..." Book II.10. 
P.W. Buckham, p.121., quoting from Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature
by August Wilhelm von Schlegel. "Aeschylus is to be considered as the creator of Tragedy: in full panoplyshe sprung from his head, like Pallas from the head of Jupiter. He clad her with dignity, and gave her an appropriate stage; he was the inventor of scenic pomp, and not only instructed the chorus in singing and dancing, but appeared himself as an actor. He was the first that expanded the dialogue, and set limits to the lyrical part of tragedy, which, however, still occupies too much space in his pieces.
- Buckham, Philip Wentworth, Theatre of the Greeks, 1827.
- Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones (Tusculan Disputations).
- Pickard-Cambridge, Sir Arthur Wallace
- Dithyramb, Tragedy, and Comedy , 1927.
- The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, 1946.
- The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 1953.
- Schlegel, August Wilhelm, Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, 1809. 
- Sommerstein, Alan H., Greek Drama and Dramatists, Routledge, 2002
- Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane, Tragedy and Athenian Religion, Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Wiles, David, The Masked Menander: Sign and Meaning in Greek and Roman Performance, 1991.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
- Selected Poems of Aeschylus
- Aeschylus anthology in English and Greek, Select online resources
- Works by Aeschylus at Project Gutenberg
- Available by .pdf file at Textkit:
- The Suppliants
- The Persians
- Seven Against Thebes
- The Libation Bearers
- The Eumenides
- IMDB list of films based on Aeschylus
|Plays by Aeschylus |
|Plays: The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants |
|Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides |
- Photo of a fragment of The Net-pullers