Aeschylus: the Father of Greek Tragedy
Dramatic performances have been a popular form of entertainment since the early ages. They originated as a part of the rituals of Dionysia, a festival that honored Dionysus (the god of wine and festivities), and have since evolved into the theater we know and love today. Some of the more famous dramatic performances include Greek tragedies such as Oedipus Rex, the Illiad, the Odyssey, and Herakles. However, none of this would have been possible without the influence of one man: Aeschylus. Aeschylus (Aiskhylos) was born around 525/524 BCE in Eleusis, a small town just northwest of Athens. He is considered to be the "father of Greek tragedy" and is the first of three prize-winning Greek writers (the other two being Sophocles and Euripides). Aeschylus grew up in the turbulent time when the Greeks threw off tyranny and turned to democracy, and he fought alongside his brother, Cynegeirus, at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. The Greeks won that battle against overwhelming odds, but Cynegeirus was killed, which affected Aeschylus and his works forever. Living in Eleusis meant that Aeschylus was an active participant in the Eleusinian Mysteries (a secret cult devoted to Demeter, the goddess of the earth), as well as the widely-known Dionysia. In fact, most of his awards were from the Great Dionysia, a drama competition that was part of the festival. It's said that Aeschylus first participated in the Great Dionysia around 499 BCE (before the battle of Marathon) and had won around 13 prizes in the following years for his plays. Overall, Aeschylus wrote around 90 plays of tragedy and satire, but only seven of his tragedies remain to this day. Those are The Oresteia trilogy (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides), The Persians, The Suppliants, Seven Against Thebes, and Prometheus Bound. At the time Aeschylus began writing, Greek theater consisted of one actor and a chorus. Aeschylus added the innovation of a second actor, allowing for greater dramatic variety and giving the Chorus a less important role. We also know that he performed in his plays because an attempt was made on his life while he was on stage. Some suspect it was because he gave away a secret of the Eleusinian Mysteries, but that was never confirmed. Aeschylus died in the city of Gela around 456/455 BCE when an eagle mistook his balding head for a rock and dropped a tortoise on it. (That story may not be entirely true, but there's no other record of Aeschylus's death, so we'll never know for sure) Since his death, Aeschylus's grave has become a popular pilgrimage spot for other writers. Sacrifices and dramatic performances accompanied his funeral, so perhaps the spot is a source of inspiration after all. We owe a lot to the brilliant works of Aeschylus because he changed the face of theater forever. And I, as someone who's performed on stage several times, appreciate his contribution. To learn more about Aeschylus, visit Classical Literature, ThoughtCo., Encyclopedia Brittanica, and UK Essays. The photo of Aeschylus's marble bust came from ThoughtCo.