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Aeschylus
(525 - 456 BC) Greece

Aeschylus

Athenian poet

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Together with Sophocles and Euripides, Aeschylus is one of the best-known Athenian tragic poets. In his plays, he addresses complex theological problems. For example, in the trilogy Agamemnon - Choephoroi - Eumenides, he describes how the gods punish a family for a series of murders. The Persians is a superb play, in which the Athenian victory at Salamis (480) is celebrated, written seven years after the event. Of his remaining tragedies, the Seven against Thebes is a very static play, the Suppliants celebrates the legendary past of Athens, whereas the Prometheus asks why an all-powerful god should be good (the authorship is disputed).

Aeschylus was highly esteemed; fifty years after his death, the comic poet Aristophanes wrote a play, The Frogs, in which Aeschylus and Euripides are presented as the greatest playwrights. Aeschylus himself did not care about his fame: he wanted to be remembered not for his tragedies, but for the fact that he had fought at Marathon, where his brother had been killed in action.

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Aeschylus' Myrmidons is named by Athenaeus as the first famous play on this theme. The text has vanished, but enough fragments remain for us to guess at the plot. The play takes its title from Achilles' armed Thessalian followers at Troy, who presumably made up its chorus; its subject is Achilles' love for Patroclus.

The climax is the death of Patroclus, who had died fighting in Achilles' armor, and its most quoted speech was Achilles' lament over the body of his dead lover. In it, he referred to their "many kisses" and to "the holy union of our thighs," a phrase that must have startled the Athenians.

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