The Libation Bearers - from The...
Æschylus is often regarded as the father of Greek tragedy; he moved play writing from the simple interaction of a single character and a chorus to one where many characters interact and thereby create more dynamic and dramatic situations. Æschylus, was the son of Euphorion, and a scion of a Eupatrid or noble family. He was born at Eleusis 525 B.C., or, as the Greeks calculated time, in the fourth year of the 63rd Olympiad. He first worked at a vineyard and whilst there claimed to have been visited by Dionysis in a dream and told to turn his attention to the tragic art. It was a dream that would deliver a rich and incredible legacy through his writing talents. His earliest tragedy, composed when he was twenty-six years of age, failed to win the fabled Dionysia, (a revered festival of theatre) and it was not until fifteen years later that he gained this victory in 484BC going on to win it again in 472 BC (for The Persians), 467 BC (for Seven Against Thebes) and 463 BC (for The Suppliants). Æschylus was also known for his military skills and was ready to fight in defence of Athens whenever the call was made. He and his brother, Cynegeirus, fought against Darius's invading Persian army at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE and, although the Greeks won against overwhelming odds, Cynegeirus died in the battle, which had a naturally had a profound effect on Æschylus. He made several visits to the important Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily at the invitation of the tyrant Hieron, and it is thought that he also travelled extensively in the region of Thrace. His writing continued to be the envy of others. With the series of plays of which Seven Against Thebes was a part, his supremacy was undisputed. He was the "father of tragedy." Æschylus made many changes to dramatic form. The importance of the chorus was demoted and a second added to give prominence to the dialogue and making that interchange the leading feature of the play. He removed all deeds of bloodshed from the public view, and in their place provided various spectacular elements, improving the costumes, making the masks more expressive and convenient, and probably adopting the cothurnus to increase the stature of the performers. Finally, he established the custom of contending for the prize with trilogies, an inter-connecting set of three independent dramas. The closing years of the life of Æschylus were mainly spent in Sicily, which he had first visited soon after his defeat at the Dionysia by Sophocles. Æschylus returned to Athens to produce his Orestean trilogy, probably the finest of his works, although the Eumenides, the last of the three plays, revealed so openly his aristocratic tendencies that he became extremely unpopular, and returned to Sicily for the last time in 458 BCE and it was there that he died, while visiting the city of Gela in 456 or 455 BCE.