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(ĕs`kĭləs, ēs`–), 525–456 B.C., Athenian tragic dramatist, b. Eleusis. The first of the three great Greek writers of tragedy, Aeschylus was the predecessor of SophoclesSophocles
, c.496 B.C.–406 B.C., Greek tragic dramatist, younger contemporary of Aeschylus and older contemporary of Euripides, b. Colonus, near Athens. A man of wealth, charm, and genius, Sophocles was given posts of responsibility in peace and in war by the Athenians.
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 and EuripidesEuripides
, 480 or 485–406 B.C., Greek tragic dramatist, ranking with Aeschylus and Sophocles. Born in Attica, he lived in Athens most of his life, though he spent much time on Salamis. He died in Macedon, at the court of King Archelaus.
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Aeschylus fought at Marathon and at Salamis. In 476 B.C. he went to Sicily to live at the court of Hiero I, and he died at Gela. He wrote perhaps 90 plays (7 survive in full) and won 13 first prizes at the Greater Dionysia, the spring dramatic festival in which each dramatist submitted four connected plays—a tragic trilogy and a lighter satyr play.

Achievements and Characteristics

Prior to Aeschylus, tragedy had been a dramatically limited dialogue between a chorus and one actor. Aeschylus added an actor, who often took more than one part, thus allowing for dramatic conflict. He also introduced costumes, stage decoration, and supernumeraries. In addition, Aeschylus also appeared in his own plays.

In the sophisticated theology of his tragedies, human transgressions are punished by divine power, and humans learn from this suffering, so that it serves a positive, moral purpose. At their best, his choral lyrics are rivals of the odes of PindarPindar
, 518?–c.438 B.C., Greek poet, generally regarded as the greatest Greek lyric poet. A Boeotian of noble birth, he lived principally at Thebes. He traveled widely, staying for some time at Athens and in Sicily at the court of Hiero I at Syracuse and also at Acragas
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. The choruses, more important in Aeschylus than in his successors, both comment on the action as well as present it. Vivid in its character portrayal, majestic in its tone, and captivating in its lyricism, Aeschylus' tragic poetry is esteemed among the greatest of all time. He alone of Greek tragedians was honored at Athens by having his plays performed repeatedly after his death.

The Plays

The extant plays of Aeschylus are hard to date. The earliest is probably The Suppliants, simple in plot (concerning the 50 daughters of Danaüs) and with only one actor besides the chorus. The Persians (472? B.C.), glorifying the Athenian victory over Persia at Salamis, has two actors, but the new form is still unpolished. The Seven against Thebes can be dated to 467. Prometheus Bound (see PrometheusPrometheus
, in Greek mythology, great benefactor of mankind. He was the son of the Titan Iapetus and of Clymene or Themis. Because he foresaw the defeat of the Titans by the Olympians he sided with Zeus and thus was spared the punishment of the other Titans.
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), of uncertain date, is striking for its bald attack on the vengefulness of the gods toward man, but the later two parts of its trilogy, which are lost, may have portrayed Zeus as just.

The last three tragedies of Aeschylus compose the only extant ancient trilogy, called the Oresteia, a history of the House of AtreusAtreus
, in Greek mythology, the son of Pelops and the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. He vied with his brother Thyestes for the throne of Mycenae. When Thyestes seduced Atreus' wife, Aerope, in order to attain the golden ram whose possession signified kingship, Atreus, in
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, with which the poet won first prize in 458. The three plays are Agamemnon, The Choëphoroe (The Libation Bearers), and The Eumenides; in each play three actors are used—an innovation borrowed from Sophocles. Because of its scope, complexity, and the profundity of its themes (the significance of human suffering and the true meaning of justice), the Oresteia as a whole is considered by many to be the greatest Attic tragedy. BrowningBrowning, Robert,
1812–89, English poet. His remarkably broad and sound education was primarily the work of his artistic and scholarly parents—in particular his father, a London bank clerk of independent means.
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's Agamemnon is a poetic translation of the first play, and Eugene O'NeillO'Neill, Eugene (Gladstone),
1888–1953, American dramatist, b. New York City. He is widely acknowledged as America's greatest playwright. Early Life

O'Neill's father was James O'Neill, a popular actor noted for his portrayal of the Count of Monte Cristo.
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's Mourning Becomes Electra is an American reworking of the trilogy. The translation by David Grene and Richmond Lattimore in The Complete Greek Tragedies is one of many English translations of his plays.


See studies by G. Murray (1940), M. H. McCall, ed. (1972), T. G. Rosenmeyer (1982), R. P. Winnington-Ingram (1983), and J. Herington (1986).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



Born circa 525 B.C. in Eleusis; died 456 in B.C. in Sicily. Greek dramatist.

Aeschylus came from an old aristocratic family. He fought in the Persian Wars. He won his first drama contest in 484 B.C., and subsequently won 12 more. Of the 80 or more dramatic works by Aeschylus known in antiquity, only seven have been preserved: The Persians (472); Seven Against Thebes (467); the trilogy Oresteia (458), which consists of Agamemnon, The Libation-Bearers, and The Eumenides; The Suppliants; and Prometheus Bound. There is no common agreement about the dates of the last two tragedies. Excerpts from his other tragedies, rarely exceeding five or ten verses, have been preserved, and relatively large fragments of the satyr plays The Net Haulers and The Pilgrims were published in editions based on discovered Egyptian papyri in 1933 and 1941.

Aeschylus’ works, written during the period of the flowering of Athenian democracy, reflect the ideological revaluation of the clan system. The hero of his tragedies is independent and responsible for his own actions. The essence of the tragic for Aeschylus is most clearly revealed in the Oresteia: Atreus’ curse on the house of Agamemnon is realized only because the members of the house—Agamemnon and Clytemnestra—are themselves guilty of serious crimes against divine and human law. The bloody series of vengeful crimes finally ends owing to the intervention of the Areopagus, whose decision is sanctified by the goddess Athena, symbolizing the victory of the democratic state system over the archaic law of the blood feud.

The triumph of patriotism and civic equality over barbaric despotism is the main theme of The Persians and is also reflected in Seven Against Thebes and The Suppliants. The humanist content of Aeschylus’ works is revealed with exceptional brilliance in the tragedy of Prometheus, whom Marx considered “the noblest saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizvedenii, 1956, p. 25).

Known as “the father of tragedy,” Aeschylus was an outstanding innovator in plot development. Choral and lyric parts played by actors were of the utmost importance in his tragedies. They charge the atmosphere with emotion and anxiety and lead the action toward its culmination. With the introduction of a second actor, Aeschylus greatly increased the significance of the individual characters, including such powerful heroes and heroines as Eteocles, Prometheus, and Clytemnestra. The tragedies of Aeschylus were well known in ancient Rome, and several of them served as prototypes for works by Ennius, Lucius Accius, and Seneca. The character of Prometheus was widely used in the literature and art of the new age.


Aeschyli septem quae supersunt tragoediae. Translated by D. Page. Oxford, 1972.
In Russian translation:
Tragedii. Translated by S. Apt. Moscow, 1971.


Radtsig, S. S. Istoriia drevnegrecheskoi literatury, 4th ed. Moscow, 1977.
Iarkho, V. N. Eskhil. Moscow, 1958.
Lesky, A. Die tragische Dichtung der Hellenen, 3rd ed. Göttingen, 1972.
Wege zu Aischylos. vols. 1–2. Edited by H. Hommel. Darmstadt, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


mistaking his bald head for a rock, an eagle dropped a tortoise on it, thus killing him. [Gk. Legend: Brewer Dictionary, 13]


dramatist killed when an eagle dropped a turtle on his bald head, thinking it a rock. [Gk. Legend: Brewer Dictionary, 13]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


?525--?456 bc, Greek dramatist, regarded as the father of Greek tragedy. Seven of his plays are extant, including Seven Against Thebes, The Persians, Prometheus Bound, and the trilogy of the Oresteia
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005