Return to Home Page Harrys Greece Guide

Who's Who Ancient Greece: The Arts

Aeschylus (525-456 BC) Poet & Playwright

Tragic poetry (drama)

aeschylus the PlaywrightBorn in Elefsis (Eleusis), this renowned tragic poet died in Sicily. He was from an aristocratic family that claimed descent from King Kodrus of Athens. His two sons also became tragic poets. He fought during the Persian Wars at Marathon, and at Salamis.

Though little is known about his education, he seems to have known the work of Homer well. In his work, he celebrates the warriors who liberated Greece. His brother died at Marathon, and his whole family was extremely patriotic.

He won first prize in drama contests for many years at the annual Athenian Dionysia festival contest, though defeated after eighteen years of winning by Sophocles.

He wrote between 70 and 90 tragedies and satiric dramas, though of all these, only seven have survived. His most accomplished work was the trilogy , the Orestia, comprised of the tragedies 'Agamemnon', Choephoroi (Libation Bearers), and Eumenidhes (Furies).

The heroic era infuses his work, both from his knowledge of Homer, and also from his own participation in the struggle against outside powers. His proud heroes are driven by great passions, expressed through superb poetic imagery.

Aeschylus introduced innovations to theater which include adding a second actor (the prior convention dictating one actor only, along with the chorus), limiting the chorus to 12 members, teaching his own choral movements, and perhaps adding new steps, and adding impressive costumes and masks. He composed the music for his own plays.

One of his interesting sayings is, 'Respect neither anarchy nor despotism''.