Aeschylus

Aeschylus was born in Eleusis, a Greek town near Athens, in 525 B.C. He
was the
first of the great Greek tragedians, preceding both Sophocles and Euripides,
and is often
credited with inventing tragic drama. Prior to Aeschylus, plays were
primitive, consisting
of a single actor and a chorus offering commentary. In his works, he added a
"second
actor" (often more than one) thus creating endless new dramatic
possibilities. He lived
until 456 B.C., fighting in the wars against Persia, and attaining great
acclaim in the world
of the Athenian theater.
Aeschylus wrote nearly ninety plays; however, only seven have survived to
the
modern era, including such famous works as Prometheus Bound and The Seven
Against
Thebes. Agamemnon is the first of a trilogy, called the Oresteia, which
continues with The
Libation-Bearers and concludes with The Eumenides. The trilogy--the only such
work to
survive from Ancient Greece--is considered by many critics to be the greatest
Athenian
tragedy ever written, both for the power of its poetry and the strength of
its characters.
Agamemnon depicts the assassination of the title character by his wife,
Clytemnestra, and her lover; The Libation-Bearers continues the story with
the return of
Agamemnon\'s son, Orestes, who kills his mother and avenges his father.
Orestes is
pursued by the Furies in punishment for his matricide, and finally finds
refuge in Athens,
where the god Athena relieves him of his persecution.
The events of Agamemnon take place against a backdrop that would have been
familiar to an Athenian audience. Agamemnon is returning from his victory at
Troy, which
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has been besieged for ten years by Greek armies attempting to recover Helen,
Agamemnon\'s brother\'s wife, stolen treacherously by the Trojan Prince, Paris.
(The events
of the Trojan War are recounted in Homer\'s Iliad.) The play\'s tragic events
occur as a
result of the crimes committed by Agamemnon\'s family. His father, Atreus,
murdered and
cooked the children of his own brother, Thyestes, and served them to him;
Clytemnestra\'s
lover, Aegisthus (Thyestes\'s only surviving son), seeks revenge for that
crime. Meanwhile,
Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to gain a favorable wind to Troy,
and
Clytemnestra murders him to avenge her death.
Tragedies were Athenian, reflecting the taste and intellectual climate of
mid fifth
century Athens. The weight of history and heritage becomes a major theme of
the play,
and indeed of the entire trilogy, for the family it depicts cannot escape the
cursed cycle of
bloodshed from its past.
Aeschylus wrote this victory-winning trilogy in Athens, 458 B.C. His
participation
in a loosely organized political “group” is thought to have influenced his
works. His
political faction included Pericles, who led Athens to the height of its
political power and
its artistic achievement with democracy. Pericles’ group believed in
expanding democratic
base of citizens, in manifesting Athens’ imperial claims, and in fostering a
foreign policy
that was anti-Spartan.
Sparta had suffered defeat during an uprising in a nearby city-state.
This Spartan
failure upset the balance of power, which Pericles’ group wished to exploit.
Argos, a
city-state in the heart o f the Peloponnesos, without a powerful Sparta,
extended control
over some smaller neighboring cities. In 462, Argos, Athens, and Thessaly
formed an
informal alliance. In 461, Argos changed her constitution from aristocratic
to democratic.
Her assembly, courts, and other features mimicked those of Athens. Something
to note is
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whether or not these events had any influence over Aeschylus’ decision to
move the locale
of the entire myth from Mycenae(the Homeric version of the epic) to Argos!
In response to these democratic reforms, other political groups attacked
the
reforms. Ephialtes, the original leader of the quasi-democratic faction, was
assassinated;
his position was taken by Pericles. This can be paralleled to Aeschylus’
theme in
Agamemnon. He emphasizes integrity and prestige of King of Argos(like
Ephialtes).
Furthermore, Clytemnestra can be referred to as Pericles, who assassinates
The King and
restores his power with her own--see a connection?
Implications for city-state is also prevalent and important. The idea of
class unity
and a just society can be reflected in Aeschylus’ work. At last day of year
in August (New
Year’s Eve Day for ancient times) a court held a murder trial and tried an ax
of murder,
found it guilty, and threw it into the sea. This trial reflects the serious
implications the act
of manslaughter held for the city-state. The concerns included first, how
society is
affected. That is, what is the result of revenge? If one member of a family
were to take
revenge on another, the pattern of vendetta and