Æschylus was thirty-five years old when he fought at Marathon. Born at Eleusis, near the Greek sanctuary where the Mysteries of Demeter, Persephone, and Dionysus (here worshiped as Bacchus) were celebrated, his soul was charged with influences which affected his plays and explain why religious problems, like that of sin and the justice of God, are so prominent in his thought. Externally, the gorgeous vestments of the Eleusinian priests inspired him with the idea of perfecting the costume of his players; but it was his own genius which led him to take the step that entitles him to be called the Father of Tragedy. This was the introduction of a second actor, which made it possible to portray two contrasted characters, two sets of emotions or purposes, and to bring before the sympathizing chorus and spectators a conflict of ideals which, according to Hegel, is the essence of tragedy.

The dithyramb was a comparatively short piece; hence an early tragedy was short. When, as the constructive faculty increased, it became evident that a theme could not be worked out within the limits of a single play, the custom arose of treating it in a group of three plays, to which was added, in deference to the festival, a satyr play, wherein the chorus took the part of satyrs, as in the ancient time. Thus the great theme of the commission, transmission, and remission of sin has its beginning, middle, and end in the “Agamemnon,” “The Libation-Bearers,” and “The Furies,”〖For the complete trilogy see Harvard Classics, viii, 7ff.〗 the only trilogy that is extant. Even this lacks the satyr play which once made the group a normal tetralogy. The “Prometheus Bound”〖H. C., viii, 166ff.〗 is obviously incomplete. We have lost the part of the trilogy in which the reconciliation between the rebellious Titan and his enemy, Zeus, was effected, and the justice of Zeus vindicated.

All the Greek plays contained in The Harvard Classics belong to the period of Athenian expansion following the successful fight against Persia. Poets, painters, sculptors, joined in celebrating the achievement of Greece, due mostly to Athens, in ridding Europe for centuries from the fear of Oriental despotism. Exploration and commerce brought new wealth into Attica, which now controlled the sea, and the outburst of lyric and dramatic genius has had no parallel except in England after the destruction of the Spanish Armada.

All Directories