Anonymous Life of AeschylusAnonymous Life of Aeschylus, Translation by S. Burges Watson, Living Poets, (Durham, 2014), livingpoets.dur.ac.uk generously made available under open license. This text has 19 tagged references to 11 ancient places.
CTS URN: urn:cts:greekLit:tlg4141.tlg001; Wikidata ID: Q87763334; Trismegistos: authorwork/11178
§ 1 Aeschylus the tragedian was Athenian by birth, from the deme of Eleusis. He was the son of Euphorion, brother of Cynegirus and one of the Eupatrids.
§ 2 He began writing tragedies as a young man and greatly surpassed his predecessors with his poetry, the arrangement of the stage, the splendour of his choral productions, his actors' costumes, and the solemnity of the chorus, as Aristophanes, too, says (Frogs 1004-5): "But you, who first among the Greeks created towers of solemn words and beautified tragic nonsense."
§ 3 He was a contemporary of Pindar and was born in the †40th† Olympiad.
§ 4 They say that he was noble and that he participated in the battle of Marathon together with his brother, Cynegirus, and in the naval battle at Salamis with the youngest of his brothers, Ameinias, and in the infantry battle at Plataea.
§ 5 In the composition of poetry, he strove for a consistently grand style by using coinages and epithets. He employed, in addition, metaphors and all other devices capable of conferring weight on diction. The plots of his dramas do not have many reversals and contortions, as is the case with more recent poets. He strove only to give his characters gravity, for he judged magnificence and the heroic to be archaic, and considered sententious and ingenious knavishness to be alien to tragedy. Hence, he is parodied by Aristophanes because of the excessive gravity of his characters.
§ 6 For, in the Niobe, the heroine, who is veiled, sits on the tomb of her children saying nothing for three scenes. And in the Ransoming of Hector, Achilles, similarly covered up, again says nothing, except in the beginning, when he says a few verses to Hermes in dialogue.
§ 7 As a result, a great number of passages could be found in his plays that are distinguished for their artistic treatment, but gnomic statements, or scenes of pathos, or any of the other devices which can bring people to tears are completely absent. For he uses visual effects and plots for the sake of portentous shock rather than for the sake of beguiling the audience.
§ 8 He left Athens for the court of Hieron, as some say because he was vexed with the Athenians because of his defeat by Sophocles, then a young man; according to others, it was because he had been defeated by Simonides in an elegy for those who died at Marathon. For elegy requires much subtlety as regards the treatment of emotions, which as we said, is alien to Aeschylus.
§ 9 But some say that at the performance of the Eumenides, when he led on the chorus one by one, he frightened the people so much that some children lost consciousness and unborn babies were aborted. Going to Sicily, therefore, at the time when Hieron was founding Etna, he put on the Women of Etna, divining a good life for those who settled the city.
§ 10 Having been greatly honored by the tyrant Hieron and the citizens of Gela, he lived a further two years and died an old man in the following way: an eagle had seized a tortoise, but was not strong enough to break open its prey, so dropped it on the rocks to crush its shell. But the tortoise fell on the poet's head and killed him. In fact, it had been prophesied to him: 'a heavenly missile will kill you.'
§ 11 After his death, the citizens of Gela gave him a public burial and honoured him magnificently by writing the following epitaph:
This memorial holds Aeschylus the Athenian, son of Euphorion, who died in grain-bearing Gela.
The grove of Marathon could speak of his famous courage and the Mede with thick long hair who knows of it.
And whoever was professionally involved in tragedy, when they visited his memorial, would offer sacrifices and declaim his dramas.
§ 12 But the Athenians loved Aeschylus so much that they voted after his death that anyone who wished to put on the plays of Aeschylus would receive a chorus. 13 He lived for sixty three years, during which he put on seventy dramas and additionally around †five† satyr plays. In total, he was victorious thirteen times. He also won quite a few victories after his death.
§ 14 Aeschylus was the first to augment tragedy with the noblest sufferings and he decorated the stage-building and astounded the spectators' gaze with splendour, paintings and machines, altars and tombs, trumpets, ghosts and Erinyes, and he gave the actors long sleeves, increasing their size with long robes and raising them up on bigger boots.
§ 15 He used Cleandrus as his first actor, then he added a second actor, Mynniscus the Chalcidean. The third actor he himself introduced, although Dicaearchus of Messene says that it was Sophocles.
§ 16 With regard to the simplicity of his dramatic composition, if one were to judge him in relation to the playwrights who succeeded him, one would find him unsophisticated and lacking elaboration, but if one were to judge him in relation to those who preceded him, one would marvel at the poet's ingenuity and inventiveness. Anyone who thinks that Sophocles was the more perfect tragic poet, is right to do so, but should consider that it was far more difficult for a playwright who succeeded Thespis, Phrynichus and Choerilus to bring tragedy to such greatness than for a successor of Aeschylus to reach even the perfection of Sophocles.
§ 17 On his tomb has been inscribed:
I died, struck on the forehead by a missile from an eagle's claws.
§ 18 They say that being esteemed by Hieron, he re-produced the Persians in Sicily to great acclaim.