It proclaimed that, if anyone wished to revive one of Aeschylus' plays, the city itself would act as choregos and pay for the chorus, by far the costliest aspect of theatre production in that day. Conversely, the Parian Marble also reports that Aeschylus' first victory at the Dionysia came only in BCE, which must have been fairly late in his career, certainly not the first time he entered the Dionysia. To judge from the number of extant play titles accredited to him—he wrote at least seventy dramas constituting a minimum of seventeen separate tetralogies three tragedies plus a satyr play —Aeschylus' career almost certainly had to have begun earlier than BCE.
It would have been infeasible for him to enter the competition at the Dionysia often enough between and his death in to generate that many plays. Thus, for at least some portion of his early career he must have gone without winning at the Dionysia. In other words, his popularity was ultimately very great but probably came neither quickly nor easily. The reason for such a rough road to success but also his enduring presence on the Athenian stage centered, no doubt, around his well-documented ingenuity as a poet, playwright and technician of theatre.
A great experimenter with all aspects of drama, Aeschylus was renowned for creating spectacular effects on stage. In the middle of his play The Suppliants , for example, he has a second chorus of men break onto the stage and attempt to abduct the principal chorus of women. Our text today records only cries and shrieks—it reads literally " o!
And it surely taxed the producer's purse but then the trade-off for backing a winning Aeschylean spectacle and having one's name inscribed on the victory lists must have been very tempting, too. To judge from the extant plays, Aeschylus also enjoyed creating and solving dramatic challenges. For instance, in Prometheus Bound the central character, the rebellious titan Prometheus who in Greek myth brought fire down to humankind, is nailed to a rock in the first scene of the play and from there never moves until the end of the show.
Leave it to Aeschylus to conceive of a drama in which the hero does not—nay, cannot! His reason for choosing a tale like this is not as easy to pin down as its title character, however. Perhaps he wanted more time to work with the chorus and execute innovative dances and songs for them, so he froze the leading actor himself? It would certainly have saved him a considerable amount of time blocking the show.
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Aeschylus was also famous for his "silent" characters like Cassandra in Agamemnon , as we noted in the previous chapter. Given a theatrical milieu in which there is a convention of mute as opposed to "speaking" actors, coupled with multiple role-playing, Aeschylus more than once has fun with his audience's anticipation of whether a character will speak. In other words, he has turned a convention which might be seen as a limitation in the eyes of less talented artists into an opportunity to generate dramatic tension by finding a novel and intriguing way of engaging the audience's interest.
Such bold finesse is not inappropriate for the man whom Aristotle credits with having "invented" dialogue. A play based on recent history, it stands out as the only Greek tragedy extant which does not take its subject matter from myth. It focuses, instead, on the Persians' reaction to their defeat by the Greeks in the Second Persian War BCE , an event still fresh in the minds of many in Aeschylus' audience, some of whom would have been veterans of that campaign.
As such, the play owes a clear debt to Phrynichus' The Phoenician Women and in more ways than one looks backward as much as forward. A bold and creative play, nevertheless, but nothing as audacious as Aeschylus would go on to produce in the last years of his life, and so though he was around fifty-years-old when he composed Persae , it seems safe to say he had clearly not yet hit his stride.
Indeed, Aeschylus' consummate work is among his last, the trilogy he wrote about the family of Agamemnon, The Oresteia. Produced in BCE, just two years before the playwright's death, the three plays of this trilogy Agamemnon , The Libation-Bearers , The Eumenides represent the only true trilogy extant from the Classical Age.
That is, the Oresteia is the one surviving instance of three tragedies which were originally designed to be performed together at the Dionysia. While other so-called "trilogies," such as Sophocles' "Theban trilogy" Oedipus , Oedipus at Colonus , Antigone , may today appear to constitute a trilogy, in actuality the playwright did not originally compose these plays for performance at the same festival but instead on different occasions over the course of thirty years. The collocation of this triad of plays into a "trilogy" is the result of modern conflation.
The Oresteia begins with the general Agamemnon's return to Greece, having just won the Trojan War click here for a fuller version of the myth on which this trilogy is based. In the first play, Agamemnon , the title character meets his wife Clytemnestra after a ten-year absence and almost immediately upon his arrival she murders him in revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia when he left for the war a decade earlier. In the second play, The Libation-Bearers , which takes place several years later, Agamemnon's son Orestes who has been raised in a faraway land arrives in Argos and, with the encouragement of his sister Electra, kills their mother Clytemnestra.
The concluding play, The Eumenides , tells how Clytemnestra's Furies—referred to hopefully as Eumenides "good-minded ones" in Greek when they are, in fact, plutonic demons of vengeance—rise from the bowels of the earth and pursue Orestes demanding recompense for Clytemnestra's murder. Orestes flees to Athens where the gods put him on trial for murder. With Apollo acting as his defense attorney and Athena as judge, Orestes wins acquittal, though at the end of the play the Furies are given some measure of satisfaction not with blood but by being made "honorary citizens" of Athens called "metics," resident foreigners who were allowed to live in Athens.
That is, Athena agrees to have her people, the Athenians, celebrate the Furies in ritual, an actual ceremony in Aeschylus' day. The finale of The Eumenides contains features typical of Aeschylean grandeur, as the chorus of Furies turn their stygian black cloaks inside out to reveal a scarlet inner lining—in Aeschylus' day, Athenian metics wore scarlet capes in formal processions—and with this grand gesture, a stroke of high drama, Aeschylus creates a bold theatrical vision of peace and divine justice bestowed for its mercy upon a deserving land. His writing style is hardly less daring than his stagecraft.
In its lofty elegance, it resembles nothing so much as Shakespeare's English—these dramatists also rival each other in incomprehensibility at times—even to the ancient Greeks Aeschylus' poetry seemed at times so unfathomable that rumor had it he composed his plays drunk. They could not believe a sober person was able to concoct such fantastical turns of phrase. For instance, when in Agamemnon the chorus describes the title character's sacrifice of his own daughter Iphigenia, Aeschylus has them speak of "staining fatherly hands with virgin-slaughtered streams of blood" Ag.
More extreme still, near the end of the same play, after Clytemnestra has murdered her husband helpless and naked in his bath, Aeschylus presents her standing in triumph over the dead Agamemnon. Towering above his blood-soaked corpse, she holds aloft the knife she used to butcher him and claims her long-awaited vengeance, pay-back for her daughter's sacrifice, and boldly narrates how she effected the murder Ag.
The Greek Plays
An endless cloak, as if for fishes, I put around him, a wealthy weight of fabric, evil; I strike him twice, and with two groans He relaxes his limbs, and once he fell, A third blow I dedicate, to the Zeus of Hell, Savior of the dead, a prayerful gift of thanks. So his spirit he exhales, after he went down, And blowing out a bitter blood-slaughter Hits me with a murky drop of gory dew, And I rejoice no less than with god-given Delight in the seeded pod's birth. In other words, Clytemnestra exults in her husband's slaughter as it were to her the coming of spring with blossoms bursting into fruit.
To her, his destruction is rebirth, his murder her bounty. For one miraculous moment, life is death, and blood fertility, as this remorseless "Lady Macbeth" revels with no sense of guilt whatsoever in being caught red-handed. According to ancient sources, the aged Aeschylus died when an eagle, carrying a turtle aloft so it could drop it on a rock and crush its shell, saw the elderly Aeschylus' bald head and unloaded the poor creature on him, killing him—and presumably the turtle as well.
Such fanciful stories accreted naturally around the great tragedians and point, if not to any literal truth, to the abiding popularity and pre-eminence of classical drama in the ancient world.
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At the same time, however, with only seven complete plays by Aeschylus surviving to our day, it's clear how difficult were the straits his works had to pass through after antiquity, brutal times filled with bibliophagic Scyllas that devoured many of his companions. Later we will see why there are a mere seven, but first we must look at his great heir—and briefly also his most significant rival—Sophocles.
Course Description. Class Grading and Projects. A Guide to Writing in History and Classics. The Oresteia review — gripping Aeschylus in a hellish beach resort 4 out of 5 stars. Published: 29 Oct Out 1: Noli Me Tangere review — hour art film is a buff's ultimate challenge 4 out of 5 stars.
Published: 28 Oct The Oresteia review — visceral in every sense 4 out of 5 stars. Kate Kellaway: By the end of the second play, two bloodbaths down and hoping for a cathartic finish, the viewer is reeling. Published: 13 Sep The Oresteia review — a vigorous, vivid, but inconsistent take on Aeschylus 3 out of 5 stars. Published: 4 Sep Published: 2 Sep Choosing my greatest plays — and why I left out King Lear.
Published: 26 Aug Oresteia review — a terrifying immediacy 5 out of 5 stars. An exhilarating present-day reworking of Aeschylus gives free rein to female power. Published: 7 Jun Kill and counter-kill: why does the Oresteia still slay them? Charlotte Higgins wonders why it continues to strike a nerve today.
Published: 22 May Milhaud: L'Orestie d'Eschyle review — an operatic curiosity worth investigating 4 out of 5 stars.
The Greek Plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides: | apalinyxavoj.ml: Books
Published: 27 Aug Clytemnestra gets a makeover. Is Clytemnestra, whose daughter is sacrificed for Troy, finally about to get her revenge? Poet Gwyneth Lewis explains why she reimagined her fate. Published: 16 Apr