Last updated
Herma of Aeschylus, Klas08.jpg
Roman marble herma of Aeschylus dating to c. 30 BC, based on an earlier bronze Greek herma, dating to around 340-320 BC
Bornc. 523 BC
Diedc. 456 BC (aged c. 67)
OccupationPlaywright and soldier
Parent(s)Euphorion (father)

Aeschylus ( UK: /ˈskɪləs/ , [1] US: /ˈɛskɪləs/ ; [2] Greek : ΑἰσχύλοςAiskhylos, pronounced  [ai̯s.kʰý.los] ; c. 525/524 – c. 456/455 BC) was an ancient Greek tragedian. He is often described as the father of tragedy. [3] [4] Academics' knowledge of the genre begins with his work, [5] and understanding of earlier tragedies is largely based on inferences made from reading his surviving plays. [6] According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in the theatre and allowed conflict among them. Before this, characters interacted only with the chorus. [nb 1]


Only seven of his estimated seventy to ninety plays have survived. There is a long-standing debate regarding the authorship of one of these plays, Prometheus Bound . Some believe that his son Euphorion wrote it. Fragments from other of Aeschylus' plays have survived in quotations, and more continue to be discovered on Egyptian papyrus. These fragments often give further insights into Aeschylus' work. [7] He was probably the first dramatist to present plays as a trilogy. His Oresteia is the only extant and ancient example. [8] At least one of his plays was influenced by the Persians' second invasion of Greece (480–479 BC). This work, The Persians , is one of very few classical Greek tragedies concerned with contemporary events, and the only one extant. [9] The significance of the war against Persia was so great to Aeschylus and the Greeks that Aeschylus' epitaph commemorates his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon while making no mention of his success as a playwright. Despite this, Aeschylus's work – particularly the Oresteia is generally acclaimed by modern critics and scholars.


Bust of Aeschylus at North Carolina Museum of Art Aeschylus Bust.jpg
Bust of Aeschylus at North Carolina Museum of Art

Aeschylus was born in c. 525 BC in Eleusis, a small town about 27 kilometers northwest of Athens, in the fertile valleys of western Attica. [10] Some scholars argue that his date of birth may be based on counting back forty years from his first victory in the Great Dionysia. [11] His family was wealthy and well established. His father, Euphorion, was a member of the Eupatridae, the ancient nobility of Attica. [12] But this might be a fiction invented by the ancients to account for the grandeur of Aeschylus' plays. [13]

As a youth, Aeschylus 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. [12] As soon as he woke, he began to write a tragedy, and his first performance took place in 499 BC, when he was 26 years old. [10] [12] He won his first victory at the City Dionysia in 484 BC. [12] [14]

In 510 BC, when Aeschylus was 15 years old, Cleomenes I expelled the sons of Peisistratus from Athens, and Cleisthenes came to power. Cleisthenes' reforms included a system of registration that emphasized the importance of the deme over family tradition. In the last decade of the 6th century, Aeschylus and his family were living in the deme of Eleusis. [15]

The Persian Wars played a large role in Aeschylus' life and career. In 490 BC, he and his brother Cynegeirus fought to defend Athens against the invading army of Darius I of Persia at the Battle of Marathon. [10] The Athenians emerged triumphant, and the victory was celebrated across the city-states of Greece. [10] Cynegeirus was killed while trying to prevent a Persian ship retreating from the shore, for which his countrymen extolled him as a hero. [10] [15]

In 480 BC, Aeschylus was called into military service again, together with his younger brother Ameinias, against Xerxes I's invading forces at the Battle of Salamis. Aeschylus also fought at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. [16] Ion of Chios was a witness for Aeschylus' war record and his contribution in Salamis. [15] Salamis holds a prominent place in The Persians, his oldest surviving play, which was performed in 472 BC and won first prize at the Dionysia. [17]

Aeschylus was one of many Greeks who were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, an ancient cult of Demeter based in his home town of Eleusis. [18] Initiates gained secret knowledge through these rites, likely concerning the afterlife.[ citation needed ] Firm details of 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, Aeschylus was accused of asebeia for revealing some of the cult's secrets on stage. [19] [20]

Other sources claim that an angry mob tried to kill Aeschylus on the spot but he fled the scene. Heracleides of Pontus asserts that the audience tried to stone Aeschylus. Aeschylus took refuge at the altar in the orchestra of the Theater of Dionysus. He pleaded ignorance at his trial. He was acquitted, with the jury sympathetic to the military service of him and his brothers during the Persian Wars. According to the 2nd-century AD author Aelian, Aeschylus' younger brother Ameinias helped to acquit Aeschylus by showing the jury the stump of the hand he had lost at Salamis, where he was voted bravest warrior. The truth is that the award for bravery at Salamis went not to Aeschylus' brother but to Ameinias of Pallene. [15]

Aeschylus travelled to Sicily once or twice in the 470s BC, having been invited by Hiero I of Syracuse, a major Greek city on the eastern side of the island.[ clarification needed ] He produced The Women of Aetna during one of these trips (in honor of the city founded by Hieron), and restaged his Persians. [10] By 473 BC, after the death of Phrynichus, one of his chief rivals, Aeschylus was the yearly favorite in the Dionysia, winning first prize in nearly every competition. [10] In 472 BC, Aeschylus staged the production that included the Persians, with Pericles serving as choregos . [15]


The death of Aeschylus illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle by Maso Finiguerra Death of Aeschylus in Florentine Picture Chronicle.jpg
The death of Aeschylus illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle by Maso Finiguerra

In 458 BC, he returned to Sicily for the last time, visiting the city of Gela, where he died in 456 or 455 BC. Valerius Maximus wrote that he was killed outside the city by a tortoise dropped by an eagle (possibly a lammergeier or Cinereous vulture, which do open tortoises for eating by dropping them on hard objects [22] ) which had mistaken his head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell. [23] Pliny, in his Naturalis Historiæ , adds that Aeschylus had been staying outdoors to avoid a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object. [23] But this story may be legendary and due to a misunderstanding of the iconography on Aeschylus's tomb. [24] Aeschylus' work was so respected by the Athenians that after his death his tragedies were the only ones allowed to be restaged in subsequent competitions. [10] His sons Euphorion and Euæon and his nephew Philocles also became playwrights. [10]

The inscription on Aeschylus' gravestone makes no mention of his theatrical renown, commemorating only his military achievements:

Αἰσχύλον Εὐφορίωνος Ἀθηναῖον τόδε κεύθει
     μνῆμα καταφθίμενον πυροφόροιο Γέλας·
ἀλκὴν δ' εὐδόκιμον Μαραθώνιον ἄλσος ἂν εἴποι
     καὶ βαθυχαιτήεις Μῆδος ἐπιστάμενος

Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,
     who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;
of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,
     and the long-haired Persian knows it well.

According to Castoriadis, the inscription on his grave signifies the primary importance of "belonging to the City" (polis), of the solidarity that existed within the collective body of citizen-soldiers.

Personal life

Aeschylus married and had two sons, Euphorion and Euaeon, both of whom became tragic poets. Euphorion won first prize in 431 BC in competition against both Sophocles and Euripides. [26] A nephew of Aeschylus, Philocles (his sister's son), was also a tragic poet, and won first prize in the competition against Sophocles' Oedipus Rex . [15] [27] Aeschylus had at least two brothers, Cynegeirus and Ameinias.


Modern picture of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, where many of Aeschylus's plays were performed Athen Theatre of Dionysus BW 2017-10-09 14-29-49.jpg
Modern picture of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, where many of Aeschylus's plays were performed
Tragoediae septem (1552) Tragediae septem.tif
Tragoediae septem (1552)

The seeds of Greek drama were sowed in religious festivals for the gods, chiefly Dionysus, the god of wine. [14] During Aeschylus' lifetime, dramatic competitions became part of the City Dionysia, held in spring. [14] The festival opened with a procession which was followed by a competition of boys singing dithyrambs, and all culminated in a pair of dramatic competitions. [28] The first competition Aeschylus would have participated in involved three playwrights each presenting three tragedies and one satyr play. [28] Such format is called a continuous tragic tetralogy.[ citation needed ] It allowed Aeschylus to explore the human and theological and cosmic dimensions of a mythic sequence, developing it in successive phases. [29] [ clarification needed ] A second competition involving five comedic playwrights followed, and the winners of both competitions were chosen by a panel of judges. [28]

Aeschylus entered many of these competitions, and various ancient sources attribute between seventy and ninety plays to him. [3] [30] Only seven tragedies attributed to him have survived intact: The Persians , Seven Against Thebes , The Suppliants , the trilogy known as The Oresteia (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's extant tragedies are known to have won first prize at the City Dionysia.

The Alexandrian Life of Aeschylus claims that he won the first prize at the City Dionysia thirteen times. This compares favorably with Sophocles' reported eighteen victories (with a substantially larger catalogue, an estimated 120 plays), and dwarfs the five victories of Euripides, who is thought to have written 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. [31] The Oresteia is the only extant example of this type of connected trilogy, but there is evidence that Aeschylus often wrote such trilogies. The satyr plays that followed his tragic trilogies also drew from myth.

The satyr play Proteus, which followed the Oresteia, treated the story of Menelaus' detour in Egypt on his way home from the Trojan War. It is assumed, based on the evidence provided by a catalogue of Aeschylean play titles, scholia, and play fragments recorded by later authors, that three other of his extant plays were components of connected trilogies: Seven Against Thebes was the final play in an Oedipus trilogy, and The Suppliants and Prometheus Bound were each the first play in a Danaid trilogy and Prometheus trilogy, respectively. Scholars have also suggested several completely lost trilogies, based on known play titles. A number of these treated myths about the Trojan War. One, collectively called the Achilleis , comprised Myrmidons, Nereids and Phrygians (alternately, The Ransoming of Hector).

Another trilogy apparently recounted the entrance of the Trojan ally Memnon into 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 seems to have written about Odysseus' return to Ithaca after the war (including his killing of his wife Penelope's suitors and its consequences) in 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). [32]

Surviving plays

The Persians

The Ghost of Darius Appearing to Atossa, drawing by George Romney. Dariuslarge.jpg
The Ghost of Darius Appearing to Atossa, drawing by George Romney.

The Persians (Persai) is the earliest of Aeschylus' extant plays. It was performed in 472 BC. It was based on Aeschylus' own experiences, specifically the Battle of Salamis. [33] It is unique among surviving Greek tragedies in that it describes a recent historical event. [3] The Persians focuses on the popular Greek theme of hubris and blames Persia's loss on the pride of its king. [33]

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. [34]

Seven Against Thebes

Seven against Thebes (Hepta epi Thebas) was performed in 467 BC. It has the contrasting theme of the interference of the gods in human affairs. [33] [ clarification needed ] Another theme, with which Aeschylus' would continually involve himself, makes its first known appearance in this play, namely that the polis was a key development of human civilization. [35]

The play tells the story of Eteocles and Polynices, the sons of the shamed king of Thebes, Oedipus. Eteocles and Polynices agree to share and alternate the throne of the city. After the first year, Eteocles refuses to step down. Polynices undertakes war therefore. The pair kill each other in single combat, and the original ending of the play consisted of lamentations for the dead brothers. [36] But 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 Antigone declares her intention to defy this edict. [36] The play was the third in a connected Oedipus trilogy. The first two plays were Laius and Oedipus. The concluding satyr play was The Sphinx. [37]

The Suppliants

Miniature by Robinet Testard showing the Danaids murdering their husbands Danaides tuant leurs maris BnF Francais 874 fol. 170v.jpg
Miniature by Robinet Testard showing the Danaids murdering their husbands

Aeschylus continued his emphasis on the polis with The Suppliants (Hiketides) in 463 BC. The play gives tribute to the democratic undercurrents which were running through Athens and preceding the establishment of a democratic government in 461. The Danaids (50 daughters of Danaus, founder of Argos) flee a forced marriage to their cousins in Egypt.[ clarification needed ] They turn to King Pelasgus of 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 are allowed within the walls of Argos despite Egyptian protests. [38]

A Danaid trilogy had long been assumed because of The Suppliants' cliffhanger ending. This was confirmed by the 1952 publication of Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2256 fr. 3. The constituent plays are generally agreed to be The Suppliants and The Egyptians and The Danaids. A plausible reconstruction of the trilogy's last two-thirds runs thus: [39] In The Egyptians, the Argive-Egyptian war threatened in the first play has transpired. King Pelasgus was killed during the war, and Danaus rules Argos. Danaus negotiates a settlement with Aegyptus, a condition of which requires his 50 daughters to marry the 50 sons of Aegyptus. Danaus secretly informs his daughters of an oracle which predicts that one of his sons-in-law would kill him. He orders the Danaids to murder their husbands therefore on their wedding night. His daughters agree. The Danaids would open the day after the wedding. [40]

It is revealed that 49 of the 50 Danaids killed their husbands. Hypermnestra did not kill her husband, Lynceus, and helped him escape. Danaus is angered by his daughter's disobedience and orders her imprisonment and possibly 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 49 Danaids are absolved of their murders, and married off to unspecified Argive men. The satyr play following this trilogy was titled Amymone, after one of the Danaids. [40]

The Oresteia

Besides a few missing lines, the Oresteia of 458 BC is the only complete trilogy of Greek plays by any playwright still extant (of Proteus , the satyr play which followed, only fragments are known). [33] Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers (Choephoroi) and The Eumenides [35] together tell the violent story of the family of Agamemnon, king of Argos.


The Murder of Agamemnon by Pierre-Narcisse Guerin (1817) Gerin Clytemnestre hesitant avant de frapper Agamemnon endormi Louvre 5185.jpg
The Murder of Agamemnon by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1817)

Aeschylus begins in Greece,[ clarification needed ] describing the return of King Agamemnon from his victory in the Trojan War, from the perspective of the towns people[ clarification needed ] (the Chorus) and his wife, Clytemnestra. Dark foreshadowings build to the death of the king at the hands of his wife,[ clarification needed ] who was angry that their daughter Iphigenia was killed so that the gods would restore the winds and allow the Greek fleet to sail to Troy. Clytemnestra was also unhappy that Agamemnon kept the Trojan prophetess Cassandra as his concubine. Cassandra foretells the murder of Agamemnon and of herself to the assembled townsfolk, who are horrified. She then enters the palace knowing that she cannot avoid her fate. The ending of the play includes a prediction of the return of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who will seek to avenge his father. [35]

The Libation Bearers

The Libation Bearers opens with Orestes' arrival at Agamemnon's tomb, from exile in Phocis. Electra meets Orestes there. They plan revenge against Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. Clytemnestra's account of a nightmare in which she gives birth to a snake is recounted by the chorus. This[ clarification needed ] leads her to order her daughter, Electra, to pour libations on Agamemnon's tomb (with the assistance of libation bearers) in hope of making amends. Orestes enters the palace pretending to bear news of his own death. Clytemnestra calls in Aegisthus to learn the news. Orestes kills them both. Orestes is then beset by the Furies, who avenge the murders of kin in Greek mythology. [35]

The Eumenides

The third play addresses the question of Orestes' guilt. [35] The Furies drive Orestes from Argos and into the wilderness. He makes his way to the temple of Apollo and begs Apollo to drive the Furies away. Apollo had encouraged Orestes to kill Clytemnestra, so he bears some of the guilt for the murder.[ clarification needed ] The Furies are a more ancient race of the gods,[ clarification needed ] and Apollo sends Orestes to the temple of Athena with Hermes as a guide. [38]

The Furies track him down,[ clarification needed ] and Athena steps in and declares that a trial is necessary. Apollo argues Orestes' case, and after the judges (including Athena) deliver a tie vote, Athena announces that Orestes is acquitted. She renames the Furies The Eumenides (The Good-spirited, or Kindly Ones), and extols the importance of reason in the development of laws. As in The Suppliants, the ideals of a democratic Athens are praised. [38]

Prometheus Bound

Prometheus Being Chained by Vulcan by Dirck van Baburen (1623) Dirck van Baburen - Prometheus Being Chained by Vulcan Rijksmuseum SK-A-1606.jpg
Prometheus Being Chained by Vulcan by Dirck van Baburen (1623)

Prometheus Bound is attributed to Aeschylus by ancient authorities. Since the late 19th century, however, scholars have increasingly doubted this ascription, largely on stylistic grounds. Its production date is also in dispute, with theories ranging from the 480s BC to as late as the 410s. [10] [41]

The play consists mostly of static dialogue.[ clarification needed ] The Titan Prometheus is bound to a rock throughout, which is his punishment from the Olympian Zeus for providing fire to humans.[ clarification needed ] The god Hephaestus and the Titan Oceanus and the chorus of Oceanids all express sympathy for Prometheus' plight. Prometheus is met by Io, a fellow victim of Zeus' cruelty.[ clarification needed ] He prophesies her future travels, revealing that one of her descendants will free Prometheus.[ clarification needed ] The play closes with Zeus sending Prometheus into the abyss because Prometheus will not tell him of a potential marriage which could prove Zeus' downfall. [34] [ clarification needed ]

Prometheus Bound seems to have been the first play in a trilogy, 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 Prometheus' perpetually regenerating liver (then believed the source of feeling[ citation needed ]). We learn that Zeus has released the other Titans which he imprisoned at the conclusion of the Titanomachy, perhaps foreshadowing his eventual reconciliation with Prometheus. [42]

In the trilogy's conclusion, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer , it seems that the Titan finally warns Zeus not to sleep with the sea nymph Thetis, for she is fated to beget a son greater than the father. Not wishing to be overthrown, Zeus marries Thetis off to the mortal Peleus. The product of that union is Achilles, Greek hero of the Trojan War. After reconciling with Prometheus, Zeus probably inaugurates a festival in his honor at Athens. [42]

Lost plays

Of Aeschylus' other plays, only titles and assorted fragments are known. There are enough fragments (along with comments made by later authors and scholiasts) to produce rough synopses for some plays.


This play was based on books 9 and 16 of the Iliad . Achilles sits in silent indignation over his humiliation at Agamemnon's hands for most of the play.[ clarification needed ] Envoys from the Greek army attempt to reconcile Achilles to Agamemnon, but he yields only to his friend Patroclus, who then battles the Trojans in Achilles' armour. The bravery and death of Patroclus are reported in a messenger's speech, which is followed by mourning. [15]


This play was based on books 18 and 19 and 22 of the Iliad. It follows the Daughters of Nereus, the sea god, who lament Patroclus' death. A messenger tells how Achilles (perhaps reconciled to Agamemnon and the Greeks) slew Hector. [15]

Phrygians, or Hector's Ransom

After a brief discussion with Hermes, Achilles sits in silent mourning over Patroclus. Hermes then brings in King Priam of Troy, who wins over Achilles and ransoms his son's body in a spectacular coup de théâtre. A scale is brought on stage and Hector's body is placed in one scale and gold in the other. The dynamic dancing of the chorus of Trojans when they enter with Priam is reported by Aristophanes. [15]


The children of Niobe, the heroine, have been slain by Apollo and Artemis because Niobe had gloated that she had more children than their mother, Leto. Niobe sits in silent mourning on stage during most of the play. In the Republic , Plato quotes the line "God plants a fault in mortals when he wills to destroy a house utterly." [15]

These are the remaining 71 plays ascribed to Aeschylus which are known to us:

  • Alcmene
  • Amymone
  • The Archer-Women
  • The Argivian Women
  • The Argo, also titled The Rowers
  • Atalanta
  • Athamas
  • Attendants of the Bridal Chamber
  • Award of the Arms
  • The Bacchae
  • The Bassarae
  • The Bone-Gatherers
  • The Cabeiroi
  • Callisto
  • The Carians, also titled Europa
  • Cercyon
  • Children of Hercules
  • Circe
  • The Cretan Women
  • Cycnus
  • The Danaids
  • Daughters of Helios
  • Daughters of Phorcys
  • The Descendants
  • The Edonians
  • The Egyptians
  • The Escorts
  • Glaucus of Pontus
  • Glaucus of Potniae
  • Hypsipyle
  • Iphigenia
  • Ixion
  • Laius
  • The Lemnian Women
  • The Lion
  • Lycurgus
  • Memnon
  • The Men of Eleusis
  • The Messengers
  • The Myrmidons
  • The Mysians
  • Nemea
  • The Net-Draggers
  • The Nurses of Dionysus
  • Orethyia
  • Palamedes
  • Penelope
  • Pentheus
  • Perrhaibides
  • Philoctetes
  • Phineus
  • The Phrygian Women
  • Polydectes
  • The Priestesses
  • Prometheus the Fire-Bearer
  • Prometheus the Fire-Kindler
  • Prometheus Unbound
  • Proteus
  • Semele, also titled The Water-Bearers
  • Sisyphus the Runaway
  • Sisyphus the Stone-Roller
  • The Spectators, also titled Athletes of the Isthmian Games
  • The Sphinx
  • The Spirit-Raisers
  • Telephus
  • The Thracian Women
  • Weighing of Souls
  • Women of Aetna (two versions)
  • Women of Salamis
  • Xantriae
  • The Youths


Influence on Greek drama and culture

Mosaic of Orestes, main character in Aeschylus's only surviving trilogy The Oresteia Mosaic Orestes Iphigenia Musei Capitolini MC4948.jpg
Mosaic of Orestes, main character in Aeschylus's only surviving trilogy The Oresteia

The theatre was just beginning to evolve when Aeschylus started writing for it. Earlier playwrights such as Thespis had already expanded the cast to include an actor who was able to interact with the chorus. [30] Aeschylus added a second actor, allowing for greater dramatic variety, while the chorus played a less important role. [30] He is sometimes credited with introducing skenographia, or scene-decoration, [43] though Aristotle gives this distinction to Sophocles.[ citation needed ] Aeschylus is also said to have made the costumes more elaborate and dramatic, and made his actors wear platform boots (cothurni) to make them more visible to the audience.[ clarification needed ][ citation needed ] According to a later account of Aeschylus' life, the chorus of Furies in the first performance of the Eumenides were so frightening when they entered that children fainted and patriarchs urinated and pregnant women went into labour. [44]

Aeschylus wrote his plays in verse. No violence is performed onstage. The plays have a remoteness from daily life in Athens, relating stories about the gods, or being set, like The Persians, far away. [45] Aeschylus' work has a strong moral and religious emphasis. [45] The Oresteia trilogy concentrated on humans' position in the cosmos relative to the gods and divine law and divine punishment. [46]

Aeschylus' popularity is evident in the praise that the comic playwright Aristophanes gives him in The Frogs , produced some 50 years after Aeschylus' death. Aeschylus appears as a character in the play and claims, at line 1022, that his Seven against Thebes "made everyone watching it to love being warlike"[ citation needed ]. He claims, at lines 1026–7, that with The Persians he "taught the Athenians to desire always to defeat their enemies."[ citation needed ] Aeschylus goes on to say, at lines 1039ff., that his plays inspired the Athenians to be brave and virtuous.

Influence outside Greek culture

Aeschylus' works were influential beyond his own time. Hugh Lloyd-Jones draws attention to Richard Wagner's reverence of Aeschylus. 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 character by character comparison between Wagner's Ring and Aeschylus's Oresteia. But a critic of that book, while not denying that Wagner read and respected Aeschylus, has described the arguments as unreasonable and forced. [47]

J.T. Sheppard argues in the second half of his Aeschylus and Sophocles: Their Work and Influence that Aeschylus and Sophocles have played a major part in the formation of dramatic literature from the Renaissance to the present, specifically in French and Elizabethan drama.[ clarification needed ] He also claims that their influence went beyond just drama and applies to literature in general, citing Milton and the Romantics. [48]

Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), a trilogy of three plays set in America after the Civil War, is modeled after the Oresteia. Before writing his[ clarification needed ] acclaimed trilogy, O'Neill had been developing a play about Aeschylus, and he noted that Aeschylus "so changed the system of the tragic stage that he has more claim than anyone else to be regarded as the founder (Father) of Tragedy." [49]

During his presidential campaign in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy quoted the Edith Hamilton translation of Aeschylus on the night of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.. Kennedy was notified of King's murder before a campaign stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was warned not to attend the event due to fears of rioting from the mostly African-American crowd. Kennedy insisted on attending and delivered an impromptu speech that delivered news of King's death. [50] [ unreliable source? ][ citation needed ] Acknowledging the audience's emotions, Kennedy referred to his own grief at the murder of Martin Luther King and, quoting a passage from the play Agamemnon (in translation), said: "My favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote: 'Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.' What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness; but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black ... Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world." The quotation from Aeschylus was later inscribed on a memorial at the gravesite of Robert Kennedy following his own assassination. [50] [ better source needed ][ citation needed ]


The first translation of the seven plays into English was by Robert Potter in 1779, using blank verse for the iambic trimeters and rhymed verse for the choruses, a convention adopted by most translators for the next century.

See also


  1. The remnant of a commemorative inscription, dated to the 3rd century BC, lists four, possibly eight, dramatic poets (probably including Choerilus, Phrynichus, and Pratinas) who had won tragic victories at the Dionysia before Aeschylus had. Thespis was traditionally regarded the inventor of tragedy. According to another tradition, tragedy was established in Athens in the late 530s BC, but that may simply reflect an absence of records. Major innovations in dramatic form, credited to Aeschylus by Aristotle and the anonymous source The Life of Aeschylus, may be exaggerations and should be viewed with caution (Martin Cropp (2006), "Lost Tragedies: A Survey" in A Companion to Greek Tragedy, pp. 272–74)


  1. Jones, Daniel; Roach, Peter, James Hartman and Jane Setter, eds. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. 17th edition. Cambridge UP, 2006.
  2. "Aeschylus". Webster's New World College Dictionary .
  3. 1 2 3 Freeman 1999 , p. 243
  4. Schlegel, August Wilhelm von (December 2004). Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature. p. 121.
  5. R. Lattimore, Aeschylus I: Oresteia, 4
  6. Martin Cropp, 'Lost Tragedies: A Survey'; A Companion to Greek Tragedy, p. 273
  7. P. Levi, Greek Drama, 159
  8. S. Saïd, Aeschylean Tragedy, 215
  9. S. Saïd, Aeschylean Tragedy, 221
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Sommerstein, Alan (2010). Aeschylean tragedy (in German). London: Duckworth. ISBN   978-0-7156-3824-8. OCLC   645674252.
  11. Grene, David, and Richmond Lattimore, eds. The Complete Greek Tragedies: Vol. 1, Aeschylus. University of Chicago Press, 1959.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Bates 1906 , pp. 53–59
  13. S. Saïd, Eschylean tragedy, 217
  14. 1 2 3 Freeman 1999 , p. 241
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Kopff 1997 pp. 1–472
  16. ANONYMOUS LIFE OF AESCHYLUS, § 4 "They say that he was noble and that he participated in the battle of Marathon together with his brother, Cynegirus, and in the naval battle at Salamis with the youngest of his brothers, Ameinias, and in the infantry battle at Plataea."
  17. Sommerstein 1996 , p. 34
  18. Martin 2000 , §10.1
  19. Nicomachean Ethics 1111a8–10.
  20. Filonik, J. (2013). Athenian impiety trials: a reappraisal. Dike-Rivista di Storia del Diritto Greco ed Ellenistico, 16, page 23.
  21. Ursula Hoff (1938). "Meditation in Solitude". Journal of the Warburg Institute. 1 (44): 292–294. doi:10.2307/749994. JSTOR   749994.
  22. del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J., eds. (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World. 2. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. p. 107. ISBN   84-87334-15-6.
  23. 1 2 J. C. McKeown (2013), A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization, Oxford University Press, p. 136, ISBN   978-0-19-998210-3, The unusual nature of Aeschylus's death ...
  24. Critchley 2009
  25. Anthologiae Graecae Appendix, vol. 3, Epigramma sepulcrale. p. 17.
  26. Osborn, K.; Burges, D. (1998). The complete idiot's guide to classical mythology. Penguin. ISBN   978-0-02-862385-6.
  27. Smith 2005 , p. 1
  28. 1 2 3 Freeman 1999 , p. 242
  29. Roman, L., & Roman, M. (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman mythology. , p. 29, at Google Books
  30. 1 2 3 Pomeroy 1999 , p. 222
  31. Sommerstein 1996
  32. Sommerstein 2002, 34.
  33. 1 2 3 4 Freeman 1999 , p. 244
  34. 1 2 Vellacott: 7–19
  35. 1 2 3 4 5 Freeman 1999 , pp. 244–46
  36. 1 2 Aeschylus. "Prometheus Bound, The Suppliants, Seven Against Thebes, The Persians." Philip Vellacott's Introduction, pp. 7–19. Penguin Classics.
  37. Sommerstein 2002, 23.
  38. 1 2 3 Freeman 1999 , p. 246
  39. See (e.g.) Sommerstein 1996, 141–51; Turner 2001, 36–39.
  40. 1 2 Sommerstein 2002, 89.
  41. Griffith 1983 , pp. 32–34
  42. 1 2 For a discussion of the trilogy's reconstruction, see (e.g.) Conacher 1980, 100–02.
  43. According to Vitruvius. See Summers 2007, 23.
  44. Life of Aeschylus.
  45. 1 2 Pomeroy 1999 , p. 223
  46. Pomeroy 1999 , pp. 224–25
  47. Furness, Raymond (January 1984). "The Modern Language Review". The Modern Language Review. 79 (1): 239–40. doi:10.2307/3730399. JSTOR   3730399.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  48. Sheppard, J. T. (1927). "Aeschylus and Sophocles: their Work and Influence". The Journal of Hellenic Studies . 47 (2): 265. doi:10.2307/625177. JSTOR   625177.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  49. Floyd, Virginia, ed. Eugene O'Neill at Work. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981, p. 213. ISBN   0-8044-2205-2
  50. 1 2 Virginia – Arlington National Cemetery: Robert F. Kennedy Gravesite

Related Research Articles

Erinyes Female chthonic deities of vengeance

The Erinyes, also known as the Furies, were female chthonic deities of vengeance in ancient Greek religion and mythology. A formulaic oath in the Iliad invokes them as "the Erinyes, that under earth take vengeance on men, whosoever hath sworn a false oath". Walter Burkert suggests they are "an embodiment of the act of self-cursing contained in the oath". They correspond to the Dirae in Roman mythology. The Roman writer Maurus Servius Honoratus wrote that they are called "Eumenides" in hell, "Furiae" on earth, and "Dirae" in heaven.

Sophocles ancient Athenian tragic playwright

Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than, or contemporary with, those of Aeschylus; and earlier than, or contemporary with, those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus. For almost fifty years, Sophocles was the most celebrated playwright in the dramatic competitions of the city-state of Athens which took place during the religious festivals of the Lenaea and the Dionysia. He competed in thirty competitions, won twenty-four, and was never judged lower than second place. Aeschylus won thirteen competitions, and was sometimes defeated by Sophocles; Euripides won four.

<i>Seven Against Thebes</i>

Seven Against Thebes is the third play in an Oedipus-themed trilogy produced by Aeschylus in 467 BC. The trilogy is sometimes referred to as the Oedipodea. It concerns the battle between an Argive army led by Polynices and the army of Thebes led by Eteocles and his supporters. The trilogy won the first prize at the City Dionysia. The trilogy's first two plays, Laius and Oedipus, as well as the satyr play Sphinx, are no longer extant.


Electra is one of the most popular mythological characters in tragedies. She is the main character in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and Eugene O'Neill. Her characteristic can be stated as a vengeful soul in The Libation Bearers, the second play of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy, because she plans out an attack with her brother to kill their mother, Clytemnestra.

<i>Oresteia</i> Trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus

The Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies written by Aeschylus in the 5th century BC, concerning the murder of Agamemnon by Clytemnestra, the murder of Clytemnestra by Orestes, the trial of Orestes, the end of the curse on the House of Atreus and the pacification of the Erinyes. The trilogy—consisting of Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων), The Libation Bearers (Χοηφóρoι), and The Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες)—also shows how the Greek gods interacted with the characters and influenced their decisions pertaining to events and disputes. The only extant example of an ancient Greek theatre trilogy, the Oresteia won first prize at the Dionysia festival in 458 BC. The principal themes of the trilogy include the contrast between revenge and justice, as well as the transition from personal vendetta to organized litigation. Oresteia originally included a satyr play, Proteus (Πρωτεύς), following the tragic trilogy, but all except a single line of Proteus has been lost.

<i>Prometheus Bound</i> Ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus

Prometheus Bound is an Ancient Greek tragedy. In antiquity, it was attributed to Aeschylus, but now is considered by some scholars to be the work of another hand, and perhaps one as late as c. 430 BC. Despite these doubts about its authorship, the play's designation as Aeschylean has remained conventional. The tragedy is based on the myth of Prometheus, a Titan who defies the gods and gives fire to mankind, acts for which he is subjected to perpetual punishment.

The Persians is an ancient Greek tragedy written during the Classical period of Ancient Greece by the Greek tragedian Aeschylus. It is the second and only surviving part of a now otherwise lost trilogy that won the first prize at the dramatic competitions in Athens' City Dionysia festival in 472 BC, with Pericles serving as choregos.

Orestes was the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, in Greek mythology.

Greek tragedy is a form of theatre from Ancient Greece and Anatolia. It reached its most significant form in Athens in the 5th century BC, the works of which are sometimes called Attic tragedy. Greek tragedy is widely believed to be an extension of the ancient rites carried out in honor of Dionysus, and it heavily influenced the theatre of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance. Tragic plots were most often based upon myths from the oral traditions of archaic epics. In tragic theatre, however, these narratives were presented by actors. The most acclaimed Greek tragedians are Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. These tragedians often explored many themes around human nature, mainly as a way of connecting with the audience but also as way of bringing the audience into the play.

<i>Achilleis</i> (trilogy) lost trilogy by Aeschylus, consisting of The Myrmidons, The Nereids, and The Phrygians

The Achilleis is a lost trilogy by the Athenian dramatist Aeschylus. The three plays that make up the Achilleis exist today only in fragments, but aspects of their overall content can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty. Like the Oresteia which forms "a narratively connected unit with a continuous plot," the trilogy had a unified focus, presumably treating the story of Achilles at Troy in a version comparable to the plot of the latter two-thirds of the Iliad. In the Myrmidons, Achilles' refusal to fight after his quarrel with Agamemnon led to the death of Patroclus. The title of the play traditionally placed second in the trilogy is the Nereids. The chorus was thus a group of Nereids, and the subject of the play involved Achilles and his Nereid mother Thetis, probably her mourning his imminent death and the acquisition of his new arms. In the Phrygians or Ransom of Hector, Priam and a chorus of Phrygians sought to retrieve Hector's body from the still wroth Achilles.

<i>Electra</i> (Sophocles play) ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles

Electra,Elektra, or The Electra is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Its date is not known, but various stylistic similarities with the Philoctetes and the Oedipus at Colonus lead scholars to suppose that it was written towards the end of Sophocles' career. Jebb dates it between 420 BC and 414 BC.

<i>Electra</i> (Euripides play) ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides

Euripides' Electra is a play probably written in the mid 410s BC, likely before 413 BC. It is unclear whether it was first produced before or after Sophocles' version of the Electra story.

Philip Humphrey Vellacott was an English classical scholar, known for his numerous translations of Greek tragedy.

The Prometheia is a trilogy of plays about the titan Prometheus. It was attributed in Antiquity to the 5th-century BC Greek tragedian Aeschylus. Though an Alexandrian catalogue of Aeschylean play titles designates the trilogy Hoi Prometheis, in modern scholarship the trilogy has been designated the Prometheia to mirror the title of Aeschylus' only extant trilogy, the Oresteia. Unlike the Oresteia, only one play from this trilogy—Prometheus Bound—survives. Inasmuch as the authorship of Prometheus Bound continues to be debated, the very existence of a Prometheus trilogy is uncertain. To the extent that modern scholars postulate the existence of such a trilogy by a single author, the consensus holds that it comprised Prometheus Bound, Prometheus Unbound, and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, in that order.

<i>The Suppliants</i> (Aeschylus) Play by Aeschylus

The Suppliants, also called The Suppliant Maidens, The Suppliant Women, or Supplices is a play by Aeschylus. It was probably first performed "only a few years previous to the Orestea, which was brought out 458 BC." It seems to be the first play in a tetralogy, sometimes referred to as the Danaid Tetralogy, which probably included the lost plays The Egyptians, and The Daughters of Danaus, and the satyr play Amymone. It was long thought to be the earliest surviving play by Aeschylus due to the relatively anachronistic function of the chorus as the protagonist of the drama. However, evidence discovered in the mid-20th century shows it one of Aeschylus' last plays, definitely after The Persians and possibly after Seven Against Thebes.

"Those at least who judge by the style, the simplicity of the plot, the paucity of the characters, and the predominance of choric action, will be reluctant to believe that the Suppliants was composed more than ten years after the Prometheus, Persians, and Seven against Thebes. It may be remarked, though not as an evidence of date, that the play is rather a melodrama than a tragedy. It ends happily, and has no other claim to the latter title than from the pathos excited and sustained by the helpless condition of the fugitive maidens in a foreign land. On the whole, it is rather a good play; and though it has obtained a bad name among scholars on the score of its many corruptions, yet there is a grace and a dignity in the choruses, and a general tenderness, virtue, and artlessness in the characters, that impart a very pleasing tone to the whole composition."

Clytemnestra figure from Greek mythology

Clytemnestra, in Greek mythology, was the wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and the sister of Helen of Troy. In Aeschylus' Oresteia, she murders Agamemnon – said by Euripides to be her second husband – and the Trojan princess Cassandra, whom Agamemnon had taken as a war prize following the sack of Troy; however, in Homer's Odyssey, her role in Agamemnon's death is unclear and her character is significantly more subdued.

Reflections of the Oresteia in the arts and popular culture show the influence of the classic trilogy of tragedies by Aeschylus.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies event from Greek mythology

Orestes Pursued by the Furies is an event from Greek mythology that is a recurring theme in art depicting Orestes.

The Kabeiroi, also known as Cabeiroi and Cabeiri, is an ancient Greek tragedy by Aeschylus which survives in three fragments. It was written between 499 and 456BC, and appears to have featured Jason and the Argonauts arriving on the island of Lemnos and being initiated into the mystery cult of the Kabeiroi. The title refers to the play's chorus, who were local chthonic deities associated with mystery religion and often considered to be sons or grandsons of Hephaistos. Lemnos was the location for a cult of the Kabeiroi from the sixth century BC onwards, and archaeological excavations confirm that initiation rites occurred there. In 2017 the fragments were reimagined by Punchdrunk as a six-hour durational performance which took place on the streets of London for just two audience members at a time.