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Supporting Materials for Lectures

Lecture 8: Aeschylus, with Special Reference to The Suppliant Women


    The Ancient Life of Aeschylus (T 1 TrGF)
    Aeschylus the tragic poet was an Athenian by race from the deme of Eleusis, the son of Euphorion, the brother of Cynegeirus, from a noble lineage.

    He began writing tragedies as a young man and greatly surpassed his precursors in his poetry, his representation of the scene, the brilliance of his choreography, his training of the actors, and the solemnity of his chorus, as even Aristophanes says (Frogs 1004-5):

    "He was first of Greeks to tower up austere words
    and arrange the tragic trumpery."

    He was a contemporary of Pindar, having been born in the fortieth(?) Olympiad.

    They say that he was noble and participated in the battle of Marathon with his brother Cynegeirus and in the sea-battle of Salamis with the youngest of his brothers, Ameinias, and in the infantry-battle of Plataea.

    As concerns the writing of poetry, he was an enthusiast always for composition swollen with neologisms and adjectives. He also used metaphors and everything that was able to put gravity into his diction. The structures of his plays have few reversals of fortune and twists as compared with the work of younger writers, for he was only concerned to give weight to his characters, considering the lofty and the heroic to be old-fashioned and deeming villainous boasting and sententiousness to be alien to tragedy. So he is satirized by Aristophanes (Frogs 911ff) for increasing the seriousness of his characters. In the Niobe, for example, the title-character sat by the tomb of her children wearing a veil, not speaking until two-thirds of the play were over. And in the Ransoming of Hector Achilles was similarly veiled and did not speak except for a little duet with Hermes in the beginning. While very many passages could be found in his plays that are suitable for quotation, there are few sententiae, or sympathetic utterances, or anything else that could move people to tears. He used spectacle and words for marvelous consternation rather than for deception.

    He sailed tot the court of Hieron, according to some under the urging of the Athenians and having been beaten by Sophocles who was still a young man, or according to others having been beaten by Simonides in the contest to write the elegy for those who had died at Marathon (Simonides' elegy is lost; see fr. 9-16 West), for an elegy ought to have a lot of the delicacy involved in sympathy that, as we have said, is alien to Aeschylus. Some say that in the production of the Eumenides he brought the chorus on piecemeal and so startled the citizens (i.e. the audience?) that the babies died and the pregnant women miscarried. Going therefore to Sicily at the time when Hieron was founding Aetna, he produced the Aetnaean Women in order to augur a good life for those who inhabited the city.

    He was greatly honoured by the tyrant Hieron and the citizens of Gela and, having lived among them for three years, he died an old man in the followings way. An eagle snatched up a turtle and when it was unable to master its prey, it dropped it onto the rocks to crush its shell, but it was borne onto the poet and killed him. It had been prophesied that a bolt from heaven would kill him.

    When he had died, the citizens of Gela buried him with many honours at public expense and honoured him exceedingly, with this epitaph:

    "This tomb holds the Athenian Aeschylus, son of Euphorion
    who died in grain-bearing Gela.
    Of his comely strength the grove of Marathon can tell
    and the long-haired Mede: he knows it well."

    Those who found his tragedies life-like made pilgrimages to his tomb and gave it hero-worship and performed his plays.

    The Athenians loved Aeschylus so much that they voted after his death that anyone wishing to produce his plays would be given a chorus.

    He lived sixty-three years, in which time he wrote seventy tragedies and in addition about twenty satyr-plays. He won in all thirteen victories. He carried off not a few victories after his death.

    Aeschylus was the first to augment the tragic art with the most noble sufferings and he painted the scene-building and filled the sight of the spectators with brilliance, with paintings and devices, altars and tombs, trumpets, ghosts, Furies. He covered the actors with loose sleeves and long theatrical robes and he increased their height with platform-shoes. He used as his first actor Cleanander and after him added Mynnicus from Chalcis. But Sophocles invented the third actor, as Dicaearchus of Messene says. If one were to compare the simplicity of his dramatic art with those who came after him, one would find it paltry and simple, but if with those who came before, one would marvel at the poet for his clarity of vision and inventiveness. To whomsoever Sophocles seems to be the more perfect poet, and rightly so, le t him consider that it was much harder to bring tragedy to this height over Thespis, Phyricus and Choerilus than to come to Sophoclean perfection over Aeschylus.

    There was written on his tomb:

    "Struck on the pate from the claws of an eagle, he died"

    They say that Hieron deemed it worthy to produce the Persians in Sicily and that it was a great success.


  1. The Danaid Tetralogy
    The tetralogy originally consisted of: i) Suppliant Women, ii) Aegyptiads, iii) Danaids and iv) Amymone (satyric); how can we reconstruct the plots of the lost plays? What are their recurrent themes (overcoming drought by bringing irrigation, the punishment of drawing water with a sieve in Hades, the creation of the spring of Lerna; rape, etc.)? (Note that the speech of Aphrodite, perhaps in a Eumenides-like trial-scene - the only surviving fragment of the Danaids - is given in the introduction to the Suppliant Women in Grene and Lattimore's edition page 3.) What is the date of the tetralogy? Stylistically it seems simpler than the other plays (the earliest datable one to survive being Persians of 472), but Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 2256.3 (published in 1952) says that it was defeated by Sophocles: was this a revival, or did the tetralogy languish unproduced until after 468 (Sophocles' debut)?


    • D. S. Robertson, "The End of the Supplices Trilogy of Aeschylus," Classical Review 38 (1924) 51-3.
    • H. N. Cook, "The Loathing of the Danaids," (abstract) Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 63 (1932) liv-lv.
    • K. von Fritz, "Die Danaidentrilogie des Aeschylus," Philologus 91 (1936) 121-35, 249-69.
    • G. H. Macurdy, "Had the Danaid Trilogy a Social Problem?" Classical Philology 39 (1944) 95-100.
    • F. R. Earp, "The Date of the Supplices of Aeschylus," Greece and Rome 22 (1953) 118-23.
    • J. F. Finley, "The Suppliants," in Pindar and Aeschylus (Cambridge, Mass. 1955).
    • *A. Diamantopoulos, "The Danaid Tetralogy of Aeschylus," Journal of Hellenic Studies 77 (1957) 220-9.
    • E. A. Wolff, "The Date of Aeschylus' Danaid Trilogy," Eranos 56 (1958) 112-39; 57 (1959) 6-34.
    • R. D. Murray Jr., The Motif of Io in Aeschylus' Suppliants (Princeton 1958).
    • H. Lloyd-Jones, "The Supplices of Aeschylus: The New Date and Old Problems," L'Antiquité classique 33 (1964) 356-74 = H. Hommel ed., Wege zu Aischylos = Wege der Forschung 87 (CITY 1974) 101-24 = E. Segal ed, Oxford Readings in Greek Tragedy (Oxford 1983-4) 42-56 = Kleine Schriften ?
    • A. Lesky, "Die Datierung der Hiketiden und der tragiker Mesatos," Gessamelte Schriften (Bern and Munich 1967) 220-33.
    • A. J. Garvie, Aeschylus Supplices: Play and Trilogy (Cambridge 1969).
    • *D. F. Sutton, "Aeschylus Amymone," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 15 (1974) 193-202.
    • S. Ireland, "The Problem of Motivation in the Supplices of Aeschylus," Rheinisches Museum 117 (1974) 14-29.
    • *A. J. Podlecki, "Reconstructing an Aeschylean Trilogy," Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 22 (1975) 1-19.
    • M. McCall, "The Secondary Choruses in Aeschylus' Supplices," California Studies in Classical Antiquity 9 (1976) 117-31.
    • O. Taplin, The Stagecraft of Aeschylus (Oxford 1977) 192-239.
    • *T. Ganz, "Love and Death in the Suppliants of Aeschylus," Phoenix 32 (1978) 279-87.
    • *J. K. Mackinnon, "The Reason for the Danaid's Flight," Classical Quarterly 28 (1978) 74-82.
    • H. F. Johansen and E. W. Whittle, Aeschylus: The Suppliants (Denmark 1980) 3 vols.
    • *R. P. Winnington-Ingram, Studies in Aeschylus (Cambridge 1983) 55-72.


  2. Suppliant Women
    1. Why do the Danaids oppose their marriage? Do they oppose (a) marriage in general, because they are devotees of Artemis à la the Amazons or Hippolytus (but some scholars argue that they do remarry at the end of the third play), or (b) marriage with non-Greeks, or (c) marriage with their cousins as being incestuous, in which case they would serve as spokes-people fo the principle of exogamy against the endogamy favoured by the Aegyptiads and by the real-life pharaohs of Egypt (see J. Cerný, "Consanguinous Marriages in Pharaonic Egypt," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 40 [1954] 23-9; in this respect they will be the opposite of Antigone, who shows a deep, almost romantic attachment to her brother), or (d) forced marriage as being a king of rape (cf. the story of the Sabine women)? Or is no explanation for their reluctance given or relevant" Or, again, do their motives change depending on whether they are, in the person of the coryphaeus, actors in the drama or when they function strictly as the chorus (so Ireland)? Did the Aegyptii have a legal right to claim the women as wives under the law of epikleroi as femmes couvertes under their kurioi? (Probably not, since their father is alive and opposes the marriage.)


    2. What, if any, is the relevance of this story to Aeschylus' contemporaries?
      1. Discuss the arranging of marriages by match-makers, a legitimate profession, but often seen as little better than bawds (promnestria; Eur. Hipp. 589, Xen. Mem. 2.6.36, Pl. Tht. 149d, Ar. Nub. 1ff, Digesta Iustiniaani 50.14.2, Codex 5.1.6; see D. Noy, "Matchmakers and Marriage-Markets in Antiquity," Echoes du monde classique/Classical Views 9 [1990] 375-400), a role played in part by the herald in this play.
      2. The Danaids are accepted as resident aliens (metoikoi) in Argos (Aeschylus, Suppliant Women 609, cf. the use of this word of the Furies in Eumenides 1011, 1018); discuss this state.
      3. You may also want briefly to discuss the Athenian law of suppliants or refugees (hiketeis).
      4. Does Aeschylus by showing Pelasgus of Argos as the saviour of the Danaids, hold up contemporary Argos to his audience's admiration? Themistocles had been ostracized from Athens under the influence of Cimon (a conservative pro-Spartan) politician. Like the Danaids, he found refuge in Sparta and used this as a staging-ground for his anti-Spartan machinations (see Podlecki).


    • A. J. Podlecki, The Political Background of Aeschylean Tragedy (Ann Arbor 1966).
    • A. Andrewes, The Greeks (London 1967) 113-4.
    • A. R. W. Harrison, The Law of Athens (Oxford 1968).
    • J. Gould, "Hiketeia," Journal of Hellenic Studies 93 (1973) 74-103.

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