Friday Filosophy v.08.05.2022
In Friday Filosophy v.08.05.2022, founder and managing member Ron Slee shares quotes and thoughts for consideration from Aeschylus.
Aeschylus was born in c. 525 BC in Eleusis, a small town about 27 km northwest of Athens, in the fertile valleys of western Attica. Some scholars argue that his date of birth may be based on counting back forty years from his first victory in the Great Dionysia. His family was wealthy and well established. His father, Euphorion, was said to be a member of the Eupatridae, the ancient nobility of Attica, but this might be a fiction invented by the ancients to account for the grandeur of Aeschylus’ plays.
As a youth, Aeschylus worked at a vineyard until, according to the 2nd-century AD geographer Pausanias, the god Dionysus visited him in his sleep and commanded him to turn his attention to the nascent art of tragedy. As soon as he woke, he began to write a tragedy, and his first performance took place in 499 BC, when he was 26 years old. He won his first victory at the City Dionysia in 484 BC.
In 510 BC, when Aeschylus was 15 years old, Cleomenes I expelled the sons of Peisistratus from Athens, and Cleisthenes came to power. Cleisthenes’ reforms included a system of registration that emphasized the importance of the deme over family tradition. In the last decade of the 6th century, Aeschylus and his family were living in the deme of Eleusis.
The Persian Wars played a large role in Aeschylus’ life and career. In 490 BC, he and his brother Cynegeirus fought to defend Athens against the invading army of Darius I of Persia at the Battle of Marathon. The Athenians emerged triumphant, and the victory was celebrated across the city-states of Greece. Cynegeirus was killed while trying to prevent a Persian ship retreating from the shore, for which his countrymen extolled him as a hero.
In 480 BC, Aeschylus was called into military service again, together with his younger brother Ameinias, against Xerxes I‘s invading forces at the Battle of Salamis. Aeschylus also fought at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Ion of Chios was a witness for Aeschylus’ war record and his contribution in Salamis. Salamis holds a prominent place in The Persians, his oldest surviving play, which was performed in 472 BC and won first prize at the Dionysia.
Aeschylus was one of many Greeks who were initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, an ancient cult of Demeter based in his home town of Eleusis. According to Aristotle, Aeschylus was accused of asebeia (impiety) for revealing some of the cult’s secrets on stage.
Other sources claim that an angry mob tried to kill Aeschylus on the spot but he fled the scene. Heracleides of Pontus asserts that the audience tried to stone Aeschylus. Aeschylus took refuge at the altar in the orchestra of the Theater of Dionysus. He pleaded ignorance at his trial. He was acquitted, with the jury sympathetic to the military service of him and his brothers during the Persian Wars. According to the 2nd-century AD author Aelian, Aeschylus’ younger brother Ameinias helped to acquit Aeschylus by showing the jury the stump of the hand he had lost at Salamis, where he was voted bravest warrior. The truth is that the award for bravery at Salamis went not to Aeschylus’ brother but to Ameinias of Pallene.
Aeschylus travelled to Sicily once or twice in the 470s BC, having been invited by Hiero I, tyrant of Syracuse, a major Greek city on the eastern side of the island. He produced The Women of Aetna during one of these trips (in honor of the city founded by Hieron), and restaged his Persians. By 473 BC, after the death of Phrynichus, one of his chief rivals, Aeschylus was the yearly favorite in the Dionysia, winning first prize in nearly every competition. In 472 BC, Aeschylus staged the production that included the Persians, with Pericles serving as choregos.
Aeschylus married and had two sons, Euphorion and Euaeon, both of whom became tragic poets. Euphorion won first prize in 431 BC in competition against both Sophocles and Euripides. A nephew of Aeschylus, Philocles (his sister’s son), was also a tragic poet, and won first prize in the competition against Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Aeschylus had at least two brothers, Cynegeirus and Ameinias.
The death of Aeschylus illustrated in the 15th century Florentine Picture Chronicle by Maso Finiguerra
In 458 BC, Aeschylus returned to Sicily for the last time, visiting the city of Gela, where he died in 456 or 455 BC. Valerius Maximus wrote that he was killed outside the city by a tortoise dropped by an eagle (possibly a lammergeier or Cinereous vulture, which do open tortoises for eating by dropping them on hard objects) which had mistaken his head for a rock suitable for shattering the shell. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historiæ, adds that Aeschylus had been staying outdoors to avoid a prophecy that he would be killed by a falling object, but this story may be legendary and due to a misunderstanding of the iconography on Aeschylus’s tomb. Aeschylus’ work was so respected by the Athenians that after his death his tragedies were the only ones allowed to be restaged in subsequent competitions. His sons Euphorion and Euæon and his nephew Philocles also became playwrights.
The inscription on Aeschylus’ gravestone makes no mention of his theatrical renown, commemorating only his military achievements:
- He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
- Obedience is the mother of success and is wedded to safety.
- I have learned to hate all traitors, and there is no disease that I spit on more than treachery.
- From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.
- It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.
- Whoever is new to power is always harsh.
- It is best for the wise man not to seem wise.
- Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.
- There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.
- Memory is the mother of all wisdom.
- Death is softer by far than tyranny.
- It is always in season for old men to learn.
- God lends a helping hand to the man who tries hard.
- God’s most lordly gift to man is decency of mind.
- God loves to help him who strives to help himself.
- It is an easy thing for one whose foot is on the outside of calamity to give advice and to rebuke the sufferer.
- But time growing old teaches all things.
- It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.
- Married love between man and woman is bigger than oaths guarded by right of nature.
- The words of truth are simple.
- And one who is just of his own free will shall not lack for happiness; and he will never come to utter ruin.
- Too few rejoice at a friend’s good fortune.
- Who, except the gods, can live time through forever without any pain?
The time is now.