Aeschylus

Modern picture of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, where many of Aeschylus's plays were performed. PD courtesy of BishkekRocks and Wikipedia.
Modern picture of the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, where many of Aeschylus’s plays were performed. PD courtesy of BishkekRocks and Wikipedia.

Dates: 525/4 – 456/55 B.C.
Birthplace: Eleusis, Greece
Place of death: Gela, Sicily

I imagine Greek drama before Aeschylus’ time as being a bit like an all-male Bollywood song and dance routine with the deep Baritones of Amitabh Bachchan narrating events from behind the mask of a solitary stationary satyr/faun. That’s just me, but Aeschylus is renowned, not only for participation in the Battles of Marathon and Salamis, but for his writing and adding a second actor to Greek goat-song (aka “tragedy”).

With this addition, there could be proper conversations and dialogue, reducing the importance of the chorus, while increasing the possible variations in the plot. Two actors changing masks meant a virtually unlimited number of characters could be written in, even if only two could stand together at any one time. This must have impressed the audience, since Aeschylus first won a prize for drama in 484, the year Euripides was born.  In all, Aeschylus won either 13 or 28 prizes. Even if he won only 13, that means 52, since awards at the Great Dionysia were given a tetralogy — 3 tragedies and 1 satyr play.

Satyrs surprise sleeping maenads
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Satyrs surprise sleeping maenads.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1894.

Aeschylus may not only have written, but also performed in his plays. An attempt was made on his life while he was on stage, as an actor would have been. The reason for the attempt may have been to punish him for revealing an Eleusinian mystery (note that he comes from Eleusis).

Surviving Tragedies by Aeschylus:

  • Agamemnon
    Written 458 B.C.
  • The Choephori
    Written 450 B.C.
  • Eumenides
    Written 458 B.C.
  • The Persians
    Written 472 B.C.
  • Prometheus Bound
    Written ca. 430 B.C.
  • The Seven Against Thebes
    Written 467 B.C.
  • The Suppliants
    Written ca. 463 B.C.
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