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History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed/Chapter XXIII

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§ 1. Life of Æschylus. § 2. Number of his tragedies, and their distribution into trilogies. § 3. Outline of his tragedies; the Persians. § 4. The Phineus and the Glaucus Pontius. § 5. The Ætnæan women. § 6. The Seven against Thebes. § 7. The Eleusinians. § 8. The Suppliants; the Egyptians. § 9 The Prometheus bound. § 10. The Prometheus unbound. § 11. The Agamemnon. § 12. The Choëphoræ. § 13. The Eumenides, and the Proteus. § 14. General characteristics of the poetry of Æschylus. § 15. His latter years and death.

§ 1. Æschylus, the son of Euphorion, an Athenian, from the hamlet of Eleusis, was, according to the most authentic record, born in Olymp. 63. 4. B. C. 525.[1] He was therefore thirty-five years old at the time of the battle of Marathon, and forty-five years old at the time of the battle of Salamis. Accordingly, he was among the Greeks who were contemporary, in the fullest sense of the word, with these great events, and who had felt them with all the emotions of a patriotic spirit. His epitaph speaks only of his fame in the battle of Marathon, not of his glories in poetic contests.[2] Æschylus belonged completely to the race of the warriors of Marathon, in the sense which this appellation bore in the time of Aristophanes; those patriotic and heroic Athenians, of the ancient stamp, from whose manly and honourable character sprang all the glory and greatness which were so rapidly developed in Athens after the Persian war.

Æschylus, like almost all the great masters of poetry in ancient Greece, was a poet by profession; he had chosen the exercise of the tragic art as the business of his life. This exercise of art was combined with the training of choruses for religious solemnities. The tragic, like the comic, poets were essentially chorus teachers. When Æschylus desired to represent a tragic poem, he was obliged to repair, at the proper time, to the Archon, who presided over the festivals of Bacchus,[3] and obtain a chorus from him. If this public functionary had the requisite confidence in the poet, he granted him the chorus; that is to say, he assigned him one of the choruses which were raised, maintained, and fitted out by the wealthy and ambitious citizens, as choregi, in the name of the tribes or Phylæ of the people. The principal business of Æschylus then was to practise this chorus in all the dances and songs which were to be performed in his tragedy; and it is stated that Æschylus employed no assistant for this purpose, but arranged and conducted the whole himself.

Thus far the tragic was upon the same footing as the lyric, especially the dithyrambic, poet, since the latter received his dithyrambic chorus in the same manner, and was likewise required to instruct it. The tragic poet, however, also required actors, who were paid, not by the choregus, but by the state, and who were assigned by lot to the poet, in case he was not already provided. For some poets had actors, who were attached to them, and who were peculiarly practised in their pieces; thus Cleandrus and Myniscus acted for Æschylus. The practising or rehearsal of the piece was always considered the most important, because the public and official part of the business. Whoever thus brought out upon the stage a piece which had not been performed before, obtained the rewards offered by the state for it, or the prize, if the play was successful. The poet, who merely composed it in the solitude of his study, could lay no claim to the rewards due for its public exhibition.

§ 2. These statements show that the exercise of the tragic art was the sole occupation of a man's life, and (from the great fertility of the ancient poets) absorbed every faculty of his mind. There were extant in antiquity seventy dramas of Æschylus; and among these the satyric dramas do not appear to be included.[4] All these plays fall in the period between Olymp. 70. 1. B. C. 500, and Olymp. 81. 1. B. C. 456. In the former of these years, Æschylus, then in his twenty-fifth year, first strove with Pratinas for the prize of tragedy, (upon which occasion the ancient scaffolding is said to have given way,) and in the latter year the poet died in Sicily. Accordingly he produced seventy tragedies in a period of forty-four years. That the excellence of these works was generally recognized is proved by the fact of Æschylus having obtained the prize for tragedy thirteen times.[5] For, since at every contest he produced three tragedies, it follows that more than half his works were preferred to those of his competitors, among whom there were such eminent poets as Phrynichus, Chœrilus, Pratinas, and Sophocles;[6] the latter of whom had, at his first representation, in Olymp. 77. 4. B. C. 493, obtained the prize from Æschylus.

It has been already stated that Æschylus composed three tragedies for every tragic contest in which he appeared as a competitor; and to these, as was also remarked, a satyric drama was annexed. In making this combination, Æschylus followed a custom which had probably grown up before his time, and which was retained as long as tragedy continued to flourish in Athens. But Æschylus differed from his successors in this, that his three tragedies formed a whole, connected in subject and plan; while Sophocles began to oppose three separate tragedies to an equal number produced by his rivals.[7] We should be at a loss to understand by what means the three pieces composing the trilogy were formed into a connected series, without depriving each piece of its individual character, if we were not so fortunate as to possess a trilogy of Æschylus, in his Agamemnon, Choëphoræ, and Eumenides. The best illustration of the nature of a trilogy will therefore be a short analysis of these dramas, and accordingly we proceed to give an account of his extant works.

§ 3. Of the early part of the career of Æschylus we do not possess a single work. All his extant dramas are of a later date than the battle of Salamis. Probably his early works contained little to attract the taste of the later Greeks.

The earliest of the extant works of Æschylus is probably the Persians, which was performed in Olymp. 76. 4. B. C. 472; a piece unique in its kind, which appears, at a first glance, more like a lament over the misfortunes of the Persians than a tragic drama. But we are led to modify this opinion, on considering the connexion of the parts of the trilogy, which is apparent in the drama itself.

We will give an outline of the plan of the Persians of Æschylus. The chorus (consisting of the most distinguished men of the Persian empire, into whose hands Xerxes, at his departure, had committed the government of the country) proclaim in their opening song the numbers and power of the Persian army; but, at the same time, express a fear of its destruction; for "what mortal man may elude the insidious deceit of the gods?" The first stasimon, which immediately follows the opening choral song, describes, in a more agitated manner, the grief of the country in case the army should not return. The chorus is preparing for a deliberation, when Atossa appears, the mother of Xerxes, and widow of Darius; she relates an ominous dream which has filled her with anxious forebodings. The chorus advise her to implore the gods to avert the impending evil, and especially to propitiate the spirit of Darius by libations, and to pray for blessing and protection. To her questions concerning Athens and Greece they answer with characteristic descriptions of the distinctions of the different nations; when a messenger from Greece arrives, and, after the first announcements of mishap and laments of the chorus, he presents a magnificent picture of the battle of Salamis, with its terrific consequences for the Persian army. Atossa resolves, though everything is lost, to follow the advice of the chorus, in case any benefit may be obtained from it. In the second stasimon the chorus dwell upon the desolation of Asia, to which is added a fear that the subject nations will no longer endure their servitude. In the second episodion the libations for the dead change into an evocation of the spirit of Darius. The chorus, during the libations of Atossa, call upon Darius, in songs resembling a commos, full of warmth and feeling, as the wise and happy ruler, the good father of his people, who now alone can help them, to appear on the summit of the tomb. Darius appears, and learns from Atossa (for fear and respect tie the tongue of the chorus) the destruction of the kingdom. He immediately recognizes in the event the "too speedy fulfilment of oracles," which might have been long delayed, had not the arrogance of Xerxes hastened their accomplishment. "But when any man, of his own accord, hurries on to his ruin, the deity seconds his efforts." He regards the crossing of the Hellespont as an enterprise contrary to the will of the gods, and as the main cause of their wrath; and, on the authority of oracles known to him, which are now to be completely fulfilled, especially on account of the violation of the Greek temples, he announces that the remains of the invading Persian army will be destroyed at the battle of Platæa. The annihilation of its power in Europe is a warning given by Zeus to the Persians, that they should be satisfied with their possessions in Asia. The third stasimon, which concludes this act, describes the power which Darius had gained without himself invading Greece or crossing the Halys; contrasted with the misfortunes sent by the gods upon Persia for infringing these principles. In the third act Xerxes himself appears as a fugitive, in torn and ragged kingly garments, and the whole concludes with a long commos, or orchestic and musical representation of the despair of Xerxes, in which the chorus takes a part.

§ 4. It appears from this outline, that the evocation and appearance of Darius, and not the description of the victory, form the main subject of this drama. The arrogance and folly of Xerxes have brought about the accomplishment of the ancient oracles, and caused the fate which was hanging over Asia and Greece to be fulfilled in the destruction of the Persian power. The oracles alluded to in general terms by Darius are known to us from Herodotus. They were predictions attributed to Bacis, Musæus, and others, and they had been made known, though in a garbled form, by Onomacritus, the companion of the Pisistratids at the Persian court.[8] They contained allusions to the bridging of the Hellespont, the destruction of the Grecian temples, and the invasion of Greece by a barbarian army. They referred, indeed, in part, to mythical events, but they were then (as has been often the case with other predictions) applied to the events of the time.[9] Now we know from a didascalia that the Persians was, at its representation, preceded by a piece entitled the Phineus. It is sufficient to observe that Phineus, according to the mycologists, received the Argonauts on their voyage to Colchis, and, at the same time, foretold to them the adventures which were yet to befal them.

We have shown in a former chapter[10] that the notion of an ancient conflict between Asia and Europe, leading, by successive stages, to events constantly increasing in magnitude, was one of the prevailing ideas of that time. It is probable that Æschylus took this idea as the basis of the prophecies of Phineus, and that he represented the expedition of the Argonauts as a type of the greater conflicts between Asia and Europe which succeeded it. We will not follow out the mythical combinations which the poet might have employed, inasmuch as what we have said is sufficient to explain the connexion and subject of the entire trilogy.

The same purpose is likewise perceptible in the third piece, the Glaucus-Pontius.[11] The extant fragments show that this marine demigod (of whose wanderings and appearances on various coasts strange tales were told in Greece) described in this tragedy a voyage which he had made from Anthedon through the Eubœan and Ægean seas to Italy and Sicily. In this narrative a prominent place was filled by Himera, the city in which the power of the Sicilian Greeks had crushed the attempts of the Carthaginian invaders, at the time of the battle of Salamis. In this manner Æschylus had an opportunity of bringing this event (which was considered as the second great exploit by which Greece was saved from the yoke of the barbarians) into close connexion with the battle of Platæa; since the scene of the drama was Anthedon in Bœotia, where Glaucus was supposed to have lived as a fisherman. It may likewise be conjectured that in the tragedy of Phineus, the Phœnicians, as well as the Persians, may have been introduced into the predictions respecting the conflicts between Asia and Greece.[12]

§ 5. Accordingly, in this trilogy, Æschylus shows himself a friend of the Sicilian Greeks, as well as of his countrymen at Athens. His connexion with the princes and republics of Sicily must be here considered, since it exercised some influence upon his poetry. The later grammarians (who have filled the history of literature with numerous stories founded upon mere conjecture) have assigned the most various motives for the residence of Æschylus in Sicily, which was an ascertained fact, by enumerating all the circumstances in his life at Athens, which could have induced him to become a voluntary exile. Some accounts of a different character have, however, been preserved, on which we may safely rely.[13] Æschylus was in Sicily with Hiero, just after this ruler of Syracuse had built the town of Ætna, at the foot of the mountain, and in the place of the ancient Catana. At this time he composed his tragedy of the "Women of Ætna," in which he announced the prosperity of the new colony. The subject of it, as its name, borrowed from the chorus, betokens, must have been taken from the events of the day. At the same time he reproduced the Persians at the court of Hiero; but whether with alterations, or as it had been acted at Athens, was a matter of controversy among the ancient scholars. Hence it appears that Æschylus, soon after the appearance of the Persians, went to Sicily, about the year 471 B. C., four years after the time when Ætna was founded, and when it was not quite finished. Hiero died four years afterwards, in 467 B. C. (Olymp. 78. 2.); but Æschylus must have left Sicily before this event, as in the beginning of the year 468 B. C. (Olymp. 77. 4.) we find him again at Athens, and engaged in a poetical contest with Sophocles. According to the ancients, his acquaintance with the Pythagorean philosophy and his use of certain rare Doric expressions then used in Sicily, may be traced to his residence in that island.

§ 6. The tragedy of the Seven against Thebes falls in the next time. It is known to have been acted after the Persians, and before the death of Aristides (which occurred about 462 B. C.)[14] In this drama the ancients peculiarly admired the warlike spirit exhibited by the poet; and, in fact, a fire burns throughout it which could only have been kindled in a brave and heroic breast. Eteocles appears as a wise and resolute general and hero, as well in the manner in which he recommends tranquillity to the women of the chorus, as in the answers which he makes to the tidings of the messengers, and in his opposing to each of the seven haughty leaders of the hostile army (who come like giants to storm the walls of Thebes) a brave Theban hero; until at length Polynices, his own brother, is named, when he declares his resolution to go out himself to meet him. The determination of Polynices to reserve himself for the combat with his brother creates an anxious interest in an attentive hearer; and his announcement of this resolution is the pivot upon which the whole piece turns. Nothing can be more striking than the gloomy resoluteness with which Eteocles recognizes the operation of the curse pronounced by Œdipus against his two sons, and yet proceeds to its fulfilment. The stasimon of the chorus which follows plainly recognizes the wrath and curse of Œdipus as the cause of all the calamities which threaten the Thebans. This dark side of the destiny of Thebes had not been revealed in the previous part of the drama, although Eteocles had once before declared his fear of the woes which this curse might bring upon Thebes (v. 70). Soon afterwards arrives the account of the preservation of the city, but with the reciprocal slaughter of the brothers. The two sisters, Antigone and Ismene, now appear upon the stage; and, with the chorus, sing a lament for the dead; which is very striking from the blunt ingenuity and melancholy wit with which Æschylus has contrived to paint in the strongest colours the calamities and perversities of human life.[15] At the conclusion, the two sisters separate from the chorus; inasmuch as Antigone declares her intention to bury her brother Polynices, against the command of the senate of Thebes, which had just been proclaimed.

§ 7. This concluding scene therefore points as distinctly as the end of the Choëphorœ to the subject of a new piece, which was doubtless "the Eleusinians." This drama appears to have turned upon the burial of the Argive heroes slain before the gates of Thebes; which burial was carried into execution by Theseus with the Athenians, against the will of the Thebans, and in the territory of Eleusis. It is manifest that the fate of Antigone (who, following her own impulse, had buried her brother, and either suffered or was to suffer death in consequence) was closely connected with this subject. But neither the plan nor the prevailing ideas of this last drama of the trilogy can be gathered from the few fragments of it which remain.

The connexion of the Seven against Thebes with a preceding piece is less evident, in the same way that the Choëphorœ points forward far more distinctly to the Eumenides than it points backward to the Agamemnon. But since we perceive in the extant trilogy that Æschylus was accustomed to develope completely all the essential parts of a mythological series, it cannot be doubted that the Seven against Thebes was preceded by some drama with which it was connected. The subject of this drama should not, however, be sought, with some critics, in the fables respecting the expedition of the Argive heroes; for they do not form the centre about which this tragic composition revolves, but are a vast foreign power breaking in upon the destinies of Thebes. It should rather be sought in the earlier fortunes of the royal family of Thebes. If we consider the great effect produced in "the Seven against Thebes" by the curse of Œdipus, we must conclude that this curse must have been treated as the principal subject of the preceding play; so as to be kept in mind by the spectators during the speeches of Eteocles, and to spread over the whole that feeling of anxious foreboding which is one of the most striking effects of tragedy.[16] It may, therefore, be probably inferred that it was the Œdipus, one of the lost plays of Æschylus, with which this trilogy commenced.

The poetry of Æschylus furnishes distinct and certain evidence of his disposition and opinions, particularly with respect to those public occurrences which at that time occupied the mind of every patriotic Greek; and in speaking of the Seven against Thebes, our attention has been called to his political principles, which appear still more clearly in the Orestean trilogy. Æsehylus was one of those Athenians who strove to moderate the restless struggles of their countrymen after democracy and dominion over other Greeks; and who sought to maintain the ancient severe principles of law and morality, together with the institutions by which these were supported. The just, wise, and moderate Aristides was the statesman approved of by Æschylus, and not Themistocles, who pursued the distant objects of his ambition, through straight and crooked paths, with equal energy. The admiration of Æschylus for Aristides is clearly seen in his description of the battle of Salamis.[17] In the Seven against Thebes, the description of the upright Amphiaraus, who wished, not to seem, but to be, the best; the wise general, from whose mind, as from the deep furrows of a well-ploughed field, noble counsels proceed; was universally applied by the Athenian people to Aristides, and was doubtless intended by Æschylus for him. Then the complaint of Eteocles, that this just and temperate man, associated with impetuous companions, must share their ruin, expresses the disapprobation felt by Æschylus of the dispositions of other leaders of the Greeks and Athenians; among the rest, of Themistocles, who at that time had probably gone into exile on account of the part he had taken in the treasonable designs of Pausanias.

§ 8. We come next to the trilogy which may be called the Danais, and of which only the middle piece is preserved in the Suppliants. An historical and political spirit pervades this trilogy. The extant piece turns upon the reception in Pelasgic Argos of Danaus and his daughters, who had fled from Egypt in order to escape the violence of their suitors, the sons of Ægyptus. They sit as suppliants near a group of altars (κοινοϐωμία), in front of the city of Argos; and of the king the Argives (who is fearful of involving his kingdom in distress and danger) is induced, after many prayers and entreaties, to convene an assembly of the people, in order to deliberate concerning their reception. The assembly, partly from respect for the rights of suppliants, and partly from compassion for the persecuted daughters of Danaus, decrees to receive them. The opportunity soon presents itself of fulfilling the promise of protection and security: for the sons of Ægyptus land upon the coast, and (during the absence of Danaus, who is gone to procure assistance) the Egyptian herald attempts to carry off the deserted maidens, as being the rightful property of his masters. Upon this, the king of the Pelasgians appears in order to protect them, and dismisses the herald, notwithstanding his threats of war. Nevertheless, the danger is averted only for the moment; and the play concludes with prayers to the gods that these forced marriages may be prevented, with which are intermingled doubts concerning the fate determined by the gods.

The want of dramatic interest in this drama partly proceeds from its being the middle piece of a trilogy. The third piece, the Danaides, doubtless contained the decision of the contest by the death of the suitors, with the exception of Lynceus; while a preceding drama, the Egyptians, must have explained the cause and origin of the contest in Egypt. There are other instances, in the middle pieces of the trilogies of Æschylus, of the action standing nearly still, the attention being made to dwell upon the sufferings caused by the elements which have been set in motion. The idea of the timid, afflicted virgins flying from their suitors' violence like doves before the vulture (which is worked out, in lyric strains, with great warmth and intensity of feeling) is evidently the main subject of the drama; it seems, indeed, that the preservation of the play has been due to the beauty of these choral odes. Yet the reception of the Danaides must have been a much more appropriate and important subject for a tragedy, according to the ideas of Æschylus, than according to those of Sophocles and Euripides. What this action wants in moral significance was compensated, in his opinion, by its historical interest. Æschylus belongs to a period when the national legends of Greece were considered, not as mere amusing fictions, but as evidences of the divine power which ruled over Greece. An event like the reception of the Danaides in Argos, on which depended the origin of the families of the Perseids and Heracleids, appeared to him as a great work of the counsels of Zeus; and to record the operation of these on human affairs seemed to him the highest calling of the tragic poet. Contrary to the custom of epic and tragic poets, he ascribes the greatest merit of the act to the Argive people, not to their king, and accordingly, the chorus, in a beautiful song (v. 625—709), invokes blessings upon them, the cause of which is evidently to be found in the relations which then subsisted between Athens and Argos. Æschylus, however, never makes forced allusions to contemporary events; they arise naturally out of his mode of considering history, which closely resembles that of Pindar. According to this view, it was in the early mythical ages that the Greek states received the lot of their future destinies and were fixed in that position which they occupied in later times. Those passages in the Suppliants which so plainly refer to the establishment of a well regulated popular government in Argos and to treaties with foreign states by which war might be avoided,[18] make it evident that this piece was produced about the time when the alliance between Athens and Argos was already in operation, perhaps towards the end of Ol. 79, B. C. 461.[19] Also, the threats of a war with Egypt, which are implied in the plot of this tragedy, furnish the poet with a favourable opportunity for introducing some striking and impressive sayings, which necessarily held out great encouragement to the Athenians for the war with Egypt, which began Olymp. 79. 3. B. C. 462; as when we find it said that "The fruit of the papyrus" (which was the common food of the Egyptians) "conquers not the wheat-stalk."[20]

§ 9. The Prometheus was in all probability one of the last efforts of the genius of Æschylus, for the third actor is to a certain extent employed in it (chap. XXII. § 7). It is, beyond all question, one of his greatest works. Historical allusions are not to be expected in this play, as the subject does not comprise the events of any particular state or family, but refers to the condition and relations of the whole human race. Prometheus, as we had occasion to remark when speaking of Hesiod (chap. VIII. § 3, p. 91 note), represents the provident, aspiring understanding of man, which ardently seeks to improve in all ways the condition of our being. He was represented as a Titan, because the Greeks, who considered the gods of Olympus as rulers only, not as creators, of the human race, laid the foundation and beginning of man in the time which preceded the kingdom of the Olympian gods. Thus, according to the conception of Æschylus, he is the friend and mediator of man—"the dæmon most friendly to mankind," in that period of the world when the kingdom of Zeus began. He does not, however, spiritualize him into a mere allegory of foresight and prudence, for in Æschylus a veal, lively faith in the existence of mythical beings is harmoniously combined with a consideration of their significance. By teaching men the use of fire, Prometheus has made them acquainted with all the arts which render human life more endurable; in general, he has made them wiser and happier in every respect, especially by taking from them the fear of death. But in this he does not respect the limits which, according to the view of the ancients, the gods, who are alone immortal, have prescribed to the human race; he seeks to acquire for mortals perfections which the gods had reserved for themselves alone; for a mind which is always striving after advancement, and using all means to obtain it, cannot easily, from its very constitution, confine itself within the narrow limits prescribed to it by custom and law. These efforts of Prometheus, which we also learn occasionally from the play that has come down to us, were in all probability depicted with much greater perfection, and in connexion with his stealing the fire, in the first portion of the trilogy, which was called Prometheus the Fire-bringer (Προμηθεὺς πυρφόρος).[21]

The extant play, the Prometheus Bound (Προμηθεὺς δεσμώτης), begins at once with the fastening of the gigantic Titan to the rocks of Scythia, and the fettered prisoner is the centre of all the action of the piece. The daughters of Oceanus, who constitute the chorus of the tragedy, come to comfort and calm him; he is then visited by the aged Oceanus himself, and afterwards by Hermes, who endeavour, the one by mild arguments, the other by insults and threats, to move him to compliance and submission. Meanwhile Prometheus continues to defy the superior power of Zeus, and stoutly declares that, unless his base fetters are removed, he will not give out an oracle that he has learned from his mother Themis, respecting the marriage, by means of which Zeus was destined to lose his sovereign power. He would rather that Zeus should bury his body in the rocks amid thunder and lightning. With this the drama concludes, in order to allow him to come forth again and suffer new torments. This grand and sublime defiance of Prometheus, by which the free will of man is perfectly maintained under overwhelming difficulties from without, is generally considered the great design of the poem; and in reading the remaining play of the trilogy, there is no doubt on which side our sympathies should be enlisted: for Prometheus appears as the just and suffering martyr; Zeus as the mighty tyrant, jealous of his power. Nevertheless, if we view the subject from the higher ground of the old poetic associations, we cannot rest content with such a solution as this. Tragedy could not, in conformity with those associations, consist entirely of the opposition and conflict between the free will of an individual and omnipotent fate; it must appease contending powers and assign to each of them its proper place. Contentions may rise higher and higher, the opposition may be stretched to the utmost, yet the divine guidance which presides over the whole finds means to restore order and harmony, and allots to each conflicting power its own peculiar right.

The contest, with all its attendant miseries, appears even beneficial in its results. This is the course of the tragedies of Æschylus, and indeed of Greek tragedy in general, so far as it remains true to its object. The tragedies of Æschylus uniformly require faith in a divine power, which, with steady eye and firm hand, guides the course of events to the best issue, though the paths through which it leads may be dark and difficult, and fraught with distress and suffering. The poetry of Æschylus is full of profound and enthusiastic glorifications of Zeus as this power. How then could Zeus be depicted in this drama as a tyrant, how could the governor of the world be represented as arbitrary and unjust? It is true that the Greek divinities are always described as beings who are not what they were, (above p. 88,) and hence it is difficult to separate from them the ideas of strife and contention. This also accounts for the severity with which Zeus, at the time described by Æschylus, proceeds against every attempt to limit and circumscribe his newly established sovereignty. But Æschylus, in his own mind, must have felt how this severity, a necessary accompaniment of the transition from the Titanian period to the government of the gods of Olympus, was to be reconciled with the mild wisdom which he makes an attribute of Zeus in the subsequent ages of the world. Consequently the deviation from right, the ἁμαρτία in the tragic action, which, according to Aristotle, should not be considered as depravity, but as the error of a noble nature,[22] would all lie on the side of Prometheus; and even the poet has clearly shown this in the piece itself, when he makes the chorus of Oceanides, who are friendly to Prometheus, and even to the sacrifice of themselves, perpetually recur to the same thoughts. "Those only are wise who humbly reverence Adrastea," (the inexorable goddess of Fate).[23]

§ 10. In these remarks upon the Prometheus Bound we have passed over one act of the play, which, however, is of the highest importance for an understanding of the whole trilogy, namely, the appearance of Io, who, having won the love of Zeus, has brought upon herself the hatred of Hera. Persecuted by horrid phantoms, she comes in her wanderings to Prometheus, and learns from him the further miseries, all of which she has still to endure. The misfortunes of Io very much resemble those of Prometheus, since Io also might be considered as a victim to the selfish severity of Zeus, and she is so considered by Prometheus. At the same time, however, as Prometheus does not conceal from Io that the thirteenth in descent from her is to release him from all his sufferings; the love of Zeus for her appears in a higher light, and we obtain for the fate of Prometheus also that sort of Page:History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed.djvu/352 Page:History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed.djvu/353 Page:History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed.djvu/354 Page:History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed.djvu/355 Page:History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed.djvu/356 Page:History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (Müller) 2ed.djvu/357 &c. Yet the poet by no means wants the power of adapting his language to the different characters, to say nothing of all those differences which depend upon the metrical forms; and, notwithstanding the general elevation of his style, persons of an inferior grade, such as the watchman in the Agamemnon, and the nurse of Orestes in the Choëphorœ, are made to descend, as well in the words as in the turn of the expressions, to the use of language more nearly approaching that of common life, and manifest even in the collocation of their words a weaker order of mind.

§ 15. To return once more to the Orestean trilogy of Orestes: the judges of tragic merit adjudged the prize to it before all the rival pieces. But this poetic victory seems to have been no compensation to Æschylus for the failure of the practical portion of his design, as the Athenians at the same time deprived the Areopagus of all the honour and power which the poet had striven to preserve for it. Æschylus returned a second time to Sicily, and died in his favourite city of Gela, three years after the performance of the Orestea.

The Athenians had a feeling that Æschylus would not be satisfied with the course their public life and their taste for art and science took in the next generation; the shadow of the poet, as he is brought up by Aristophanes from the other world in the "Frogs," manifests an angry discontent with the public, who were so pleased with Euripides, although the latter was no rival of Æschylus, for he did not appear upon the stage till the year in which Æschylus died. Yet this did not prevent the Athenians from recognizing most fully the beauty and sublimity of his poetry. "With him his muse died not," said Aristophanes, alluding to the fact that his tragedies were allowed to be performed after his death, and might even be brought forward as new pieces. The poet, who taught his chorus the plays of Æschylus, was remunerated by the state, and the crown was dedicated to the poet who had been long dead.[24] The family of Æschylus, which continued for a long time, preserved a school of poetry in his peculiar style, which we will hereafter notice.



  1. The celebrated chronological inscription of the island of Paros states the year of his death and his age, whence the year of his birth can be determined.
  2. Cynegeirus, the enthusiastic fighter of Marathon, is called the brother of Æschylus: it is certain that his father was named Euphorion, Herod. VI. 114. with Valckenaer's note. On the other hand, Ameinias, who began the battle of Salamis, cannot well have been a brother of Æschylus, since he belonged to the deme of Pallene, while Æschylus belonged to the deme of Eleusis.
  3. This was for the great Dionysia, the first Archon, ὁ ἄρχων κατ᾽ ἐξοχήν; for the Lenea, the second, the basileus.
  4. In the much contested passage at the end of the Vita Æschyli, should probably be written: ἐποίησε δράματα ἑβδομήκοντα καὶ ἐπὶ τούτοις σατυρικά ἀμφίβολα πέντε. 'He composed 70 dramas, and also satyric dramas; five are ascribed to him on doubtful authority.' The extant titles of dramas of Æschylus are, including the satyric dramas, about 38.
  5. According to the life. First in Olymp. 73, 4. according to the Parian marble.
  6. The calculation is indeed rendered somewhat uncertain by the fact that Euphorion, the son of Æschylus, gained the prize four times after his father's death, with dramas which had been bequeathed to him by his father, and which had not been before represented: Suidas in Εὐφορίων. Accordingly. 12 of the 70 tragedies probably fall after Olymp. 81. 1. The four prizes ought not, however, to be deducted from the 13 gained by Æschylus, since Euphorion was publicly proclaimed victor, although it was well known that the tragedies were composed by Æschylus.
  7. This is the meaning of the words, δρᾶμα πρὸς δρᾶμα ἀγωνίζεσθαι, ἀλλὰ μὴ τριλογίαν. Suidas in Σοφοκλῆς.
  8. See ch. XVI. § 5.
  9. Herod. VI. 6. IX. 42, 43.
  10. Ch. XIX. § 4.
  11. The argument of the Persians mentions the Γλαῦκος Ποτνιεύς. But as the two plays of Æschylus, the Glaucus Pontius and Glaucus Potnieus are confounded in other passages, we may safely adopt the conjecture of Welcker, that the Glaucus Pontius is the play meant in the argument just cited.
  12. [The explanation given in § 4 of the trilogy referred to is exceedingly doubtful. The main subject of the Persians is evidently the discomfiture of the invading Persians by the Greeks. The evocation of Darius is merely a device to introduce the battle of Platæa, which consummated their defeat, as well as the battle of Salamis. The notion that the Phineus, Persians, and Glaucus formed a trilogy in which the subjects of the three pieces were connected, is highly improbable; and the conjecture that the third piece was the Glaucus Pontius, and not the Potnieus, as the didascalia tells us, is gratuitous. It cannot be doubted that many of the plays of Æschylus were written in connected trilogies; but it is impossible to prove that they all were, and that the introduction of disconnected pieces was an innovation of Sophocles, as is asserted below, chap. XXIV. § 4. p. 341. The very trilogy in question will be, to many persons, a sufficient proof of the contrary.—Editor.]
  13. Eratosth. ap. Schol. Aristoph. Ran. 1055 (1060), and the Vita Æschyli, with the additam. e cod. Guelferbytano.
  14. See Clinton F. H. ad ann. 472. Aristophanes Ran. 1026. appears to consider the Persians as posterior to the Seven against Thebes.
  15. As when the chorus says, "Their hate is ended: their lives have flowed together on the gory earth; now in truth are they blood-relations" (ὅμαιμοι), v. 938–40, or where it is said, that the evil genius of the race has placed the trophies of destruction at the gate where they fell, and never rested till it had overcome both. V. 957–60.
  16. The account of this curse which was given by Æschyhlus seems to have been in several respects peculiar. Œdipus not only announced that the brothers would not divide their heritage in amity (according to the Thebaid in Athen. XI. p. 466), but he also declared that a stranger from Scythia (the steel of the sword) should make the partition as an arbitrator (δατητής, according to the language of the Attic law). If Œdipus had not used these words, the chorus, v. 729 and 924, and the messenger, v. 817, could not express the same idea, in nearly the same terms.
  17. Comp. vv. 447—471, with Herodot. viii. 95.
  18. Thus the chorus says, v. 698—703: "May the people, who rule the city, maintain their rights—may they give foreigners their due, before they put weapons into the hands of Ares."
  19. This alliance is more distinctly mentioned in the Eumenides (v. 765 seqq.) which was brought out a few years after.
  20. V. 761. Comp. v. 954.
  21. This Prometheus Pyrphoros must, as Welcker has shown, be distinguished from the Prometheus Pyrkaeus, "the fire-kindler," a satyric drama which was appended to the trilogy of the Persæ, and probably bad reference to the festal customs of the Promethea in the Cerameicus, which comprised a torch-race.
  22. That is to say, so far as it is the ἁμαρτία of the protagonists, as of Ptometheus, Agamemnon, Antigone, Œdipus, and so forth; for the ἁμαρτίαι of the tritagonists are of a totally different kind.
  23. V. 936. Οἱ προσκυνοῦντες τὴν Ἀδράστειαν σοφοί.
  24. This is the result of the passages in the Vita Æschyli; Philostrat. Vita Apollon. vi. 11. p. 245, Olear.; Schol. Aristoph. Acharn. 10. Ran. 892. The Vita Æschyli says that the poet was crowned after his death; and this view seems preferable to Quinctilian's assertion (Inst. x. 1), that many other poets obtained the crown by representing the plays of Æschylus. We must distinguish from this case the victories of Euphorion (above, § 2 and note) obtained by producing plays of Æschylus that had not been represented; the law of Lycurgus, too, with regard to the representation of pieces by the three great tragedians, from copies officially verified, has nothing to do with the custom alluded to in the text.