Aeschylus: Biography, Famous Plays, and Achievements

Aeschylus’ contribution to theatre

Aeschylus achievements | Image: Modern picture of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, Greece, where Athenians were entertained by many of Aeschylus’s plays

Aeschylus’ over 90 plays had a profound impact on the way tragedy was written in Greece. Prior to him, dramatists used only one actor in tragedy. The actor, also known the protagonist or the first actor, would then communicated with a chorus, who in turn engaged in static recitation and responded to the play with song and dance. The actor had to take on different roles by changing costumes and masks. Although quite popular, those kinds of arrangements imposed a bit of limitations as few possibilities for dialogue existed.

The dramatist Aeschylus realized that he could overcome that limitation by introducing a second actor. Known in some cases as the deuteragonist, the second actor offered more possibilities for dialogue and the creation of tension in the play. What this meant was that the second actor could converse with the chorus, enabling the plot to have more variety.

For the varied role actors played, Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle was full of praises for Aeschylus, praising him for reducing the role of the chorus and turning the plot into the leading actor.

Ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus was skilled at communicating themes of divine retribution, where the actors accepted punishments and rewards that are due them from the Greek gods, particularly from the goddess Nemesis, a deity whose role was to punish people for their hubris and insolent behavior.

Aeschylus

Aeschylus increased the size of the cast by adding a second actor who could then converse with the chorus. With such introductions, the plot was placed at the center while the role performed by the chorus became secondary.

Death

In either 456 or 455 BCE, Aeschylus died at Gela, a town on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy. Following his death, a public funeral was held at Gela. In his honor, several dramatists performed at the event. Also, in the years that followed, his grave site turned into a pilgrimage destination for writers hoping to be inspired by the great Greek tragedy writer.

In the decades that followed his death, an uncorroborated story of the cause of his death made rounds. It was alleged that the Greek playwright was killed in an accident when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.

Aeschylus died in Sicily, Italy, around the age of 69

More Aeschylus Facts

The goal of ancient Greek tragedy writers such as Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles was to express in a vivid manner what ancient Greeks held most dearly. For his contribution to the tragedy genre, Aeschylus is generally considered the “Father of the tragedy”.

Two sons of his went on to attain reasonable heights in drama and playwright. Euphorion, one of his sons, even defeated the two other great Greek tragedians – Sophocles and Euripides – in a competition held in 431 BCE.

In the play Prometheus Bound, the “Father of Tragedy” Aeschylus describes the Greek Titan goddess Themis as the mother of the second generation Titan Prometheus, the god of fire and trickery. Also in Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus calls the Amazons ‘the unwed, flesh-devouring Amazons’.

According to Greek tragedian Aeschylus, Trojan princess Cassandra was given the power to see the future by the god of light and music Apollo. In exchange, Cassandra agreed to be the consort of Apollo, Greek god of light, music and poetry. However, she reneged on her promise, much to the frustration of Apollo. Therefore, Apollo cursed her. Cassandra would keep her ability to see the future, however, nobody would ever believe the prophecies that she make.

The Amazons were also called Antianeirai, which means ‘equivalent to men’. The famed ancient Greek author Aeschylus described them as Styganor – ‘those who loathe all men’.

Aeschylus quotes

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