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Aeschylus | Biography

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Early Life and Military Service

The Greek dramatist Aeschylus, born around 525 BCE, is considered the father of tragedy. He was born in a small town near Athens and spent his youth working in a vineyard. In the traditional story told about Aeschylus's playwriting beginnings, the god Dionysus visited him in his sleep and commanded him to write tragedies. At the time theater was still a new art in Greece.

Aeschylus's first play was performed when he was about 26. He later joined the military, fighting against the invading Persians at the historic Battle of Marathon. His brother was killed in the battle, and the loss may have deeply affected Aeschylus. He lived in a turbulent time for Greece, when Athenians had just adopted democracy. The Athenians were struggling to fight off both outside forces and would-be despots from within.

A Rising Star of Greek Theater

As Greek theater began to gain popularity, Aeschylus became a major participant in Athens's annual Great Dionysia dramatic competition. He began to compete in 499 BCE, and he won first place for the first time in 472 BCE for his play Persians (Persae in Greek), a response to the invasion from Persia, which threatened Greek dominance. His writing career continued to thrive during this time, although he lost the competition one year to the new playwright Sophocles. He went on to write as many as 90 plays, of which only seven survive.

Aeschylus's Legacy

Aeschylus made major contributions to the development of Greek drama as a lasting literary form. Before Aeschylus, playwrights had used only a single character who interacted with the Chorus. Aeschylus was the first Greek playwright to expand the number of characters in his plays, thereby creating additional conflicts and dramatic tension. He was also one of the first dramatists to present plays in a trilogy or a cycle of three.

Although there is disagreement about when Prometheus Bound was written, it is generally thought to have been produced in 463 or later. There are those who think Aeschylus is not the author of the play.

Aeschylus died around 456 BCE on the southern coast of Sicily, which the Greeks had colonized. A respected figure, he was given a public funeral with dramas performed at his grave.

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