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Author Information: Aeschylus

 
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525 - 456 BC

The "Father of Tragedy," Aeschylus was born in 525 B.C. in the city of Eleusis. Immersed early in the mystic rites of the city and in the worship of the Mother and Earth goddess Demeter, he was once sent as a child to watch grapes ripening in the countryside. According to Aeschylus, when he dozed off, Dionysus appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to write tragedies. The obedient young Aeschylus began a tragedy the next morning and "succeeded very easily."

When Aeschylus first began writing, the theatre had only just begun to evolve. Plays were little more than animated oratorios or choral poetry supplemented with expressive dance. A chorus danced and exchanged dialogue with a single actor who portrayed one or more characters primarily by the use of masks. Most of the action took place in the circular dancing area or "orchestra" which still remained from the old days when drama had been nothing more than a circular dance around a sacred object.

Although Aeschylus is said to have written over ninety plays, only seven have survived. His first extant work, The Suppliants, reveals a young Aeschylus still struggling with the problems of choral drama. The tale revolves around the fifty daughers of Danaus who seek refuge in Argos from the attentions of the fifty sons of Aegyptus. His second extant drama, The Persians, recounts the battle of Salamis--in which Aeschylus and his brother actually fought--and deals primarily with the reception of the news at the imperial court. This play contains the first "ghost scene" of extant drama.

Legend has it that Aeschylus met his death when an eagle mistook his bald head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on it. Whatever the cause of his death, his life laid the groundwork the dramatic arts would need to flourish, and by the time of his death, there were two notable successors ready to take his place--Sophocles and Euripides. In addition, Aeschylus left behind two sons who would carry on his dramatic legacy, and one of them, Euphorion, would even claim first prize at the City Dionysia, defeating both Sophocles and Euripides in 431 BC.

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