Biography of Aeschylus

Aeschylus (525 B.C.E. – 456 B.C.E.; Greek: Ασχύλος) was a playwright of ancient Greece, and the earliest of the three greatest Greek tragedians. Like Sophocles and Euripides, who would follow him, Aeschylus is one of the seminal figures in the development of drama in the Western world.

If Sophocles was the dramatist whose primary theme was fate, Aeschylus was dramatist who examined the relation of the gods to the lives of mortal men. More than the other tragedians, Aeschylus was concerned about the role of the divine, the path to moral rectitude, and the nature of justice. His most famous cycles of plays, the Oresteia, uses the retelling of the myth of the House of Atreus in the aftermath of the Trojan War to explain the transition from the ancient law of revenge, the lex talionis, to the new system of trial by jury. This is seen as mythically representing one of the important turning points in the development of civilization.

Aeschylus's concerns were no doubt influenced by his own turbulent and morally confusing times—the Athenian republic had just begun its experiment in democracy, and was constantly in danger of being usurped by local tyrants and foreign invaders. Aeschylus not only fought for Athenian democracy as a writer, but also as a soldier—he was wounded protecting Greece at the Battle of Marathon—and would later consider his achievements as a soldier, rather than a playwright, to be his greatest contribution to history.

As a playwright, Aeschylus made important contributions to the dramatic art form. He was the first playwright of ancient Greece to include scenes containing multiple actors. Prior to his work, all Greek plays consisted of a single actor and a chorus that served as a sort of narrator. This development presaged the shift towards character and individual actors that would become the hallmark of modern theater. His plays are striking because they so closely resemble the modern conception of drama. The "Father of Tragedy," as he has been called, Aeschylus is also the father of character-driven drama as a whole. 

Aeschylus provides an important example of how closely art participates in human development. In the case of Aeschylus his plays engage the full range of human transformation from the nature divine human relations, through political, juridical, and social transformation. This foreshadows the enormous responsibility of artists, as their work not only reflects but influences human directions for better or for ill. 

Plays by Aeschylus