Born in c.524 B.C., the Greek playwright Aeschylus is regarded as the first of the great ancient Greek tragedians. He has been bestowed with the title Father of Tragedy for his plays which have survived into the present age; of course, only seven of roughly ninety plays authored by Aeschylus have survived. His best known plays include The Persians (472), Seven Against Thebes (467), and the three plays included in The Orestia (458).
Little is known of the life of Aeschylus. Scholars believe he was born in Eleusis, a village near the city of Athens, and took up the art of writing tragedy in his teens. He was a soldier and, along with his brother, was said to have participated in the Battle of Marathon against the Persians. Aeschylus’s brother died a hero in the battle. Aeschylus would also fight against the Persians during the Battle of Salamis in 480 and possibly the Battle of Plataea in 479.
Aeschylus married during his life and had two sons who also became tragic poets. After his military experience Aeschylus concentrated on his plays and appears to have won various drama competitions with his works. According to scholars, Aeschylus won first place thirteen times at the City of Dionysia Festival for his tragic works. Although only one has survived, Aeschylus preferred to write trilogies such as The Orestia which is comprised of three separate (though connected) tragic plays which continue a narrative. In the case of The Orestia, Aeschylus follows the narrative of King Agamemnon and his family in the plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. The Orestia is the only surviving trilogy, but scholars know that the playwright wrote several others that have not survived history.
For subject matter, Aeschylus wrote plays based on history, Greek mythology, and even other works of literature such as The Iliad by Homer. The Persians, for example, is a play based on Aeschylus’s own experiences at The Battle of Salamis. The Orestia features Agamemnon who fought in the Trojan War for the return of his brother’s notorious wife Helen.
Aeschylus, as an early playwright, has been celebrated for his contributions to Western Literature. Theatre scholars believe he may have contributed to the early evolution of Greek theatre by suggesting scene decoration; additionally he seems to have influenced early costume design as well. Various accounts of Aeschylus’s plays recount that his furies were so frightening that they induced pregnant women to go into labor. In any case, his tragedies influenced writers and thinkers throughout the ages. Historians believe the playwright died in c.456 B.C.