Aeschylus
Posted by Admin on April 16 2013 02:37:40

Aeschylus

 

 

 

AeschylusThe strongest proof of the intellectual force of the ancient Creeks, and especially of the Athenians, is the rapidity with which they rose to heights never perhaps to be surpassed in each form of literature which they essayed. Epic and lyric poetry, tragedy and comedy, history and oratory, each in turn absorbed their genius. As the precious relics of Cree..: art have been the models for succeeding generations. so the remaining works of their poets, tragedians and orators have been the study of every civilized people. Of all their poetical achievements, none is so characteristic and unique as the Greek Tragedy. It originated in the religious festivals celebrated by the Greeks from the earliest ages. In connection with the sacrifices offered by each tribe at certain seasons of the year, and especially in the worship of Bacchus, mythological stories were recited and hymns were sung by a chorus which danced around the altar.

 

Thespis, in 535 B.C. is regarded as the inventor of the drama, because he interspersed the recitation with questions and comments from the chorus, who were dressed as satyrs in goat.skins and had their faces smeared with wine-lees, while be in reciting wore a mask. In a rude cart he journeyed through Attica from village to village, assisting the tribal worship in each. But when Athens rose to a predominant position, the roving cart was changed to a fixed stage, and the rude disguise became dresses indicating the character assumed.

 

Aeschylus, the first great tragic poet, born in Attica in 525 B.C., fought at Marathon in 490, and took part in the destruction of the fleet of Xerxes ten years later. He brought a second actor on the stage j the recitation became a dialogue, and the chorus was restricted to the part of sympathizing spectators. Aeschylus added more expressive masks and arranged an ,appropriate back-ground. It was not t in a much later period that scenery was used. The tragedy of Aeschylus was usually a solemn poetical rendering of some episode of the national mythology. It was heightened with the pomp and music of a religious festival. Yet the defeat of the Persians at Salamis was felt to be an event of such importance as to justify an exception in its favor. Of his seventy plays, most of which were presented in competition with other authors, only seven survive. Though the excellence of his works was promptly and generously acknowledged, they show an aristocratic spirit. His conservatism probably rendered him apprehensive of the increasing power of the democracy in Athens. This disagreement with the tendency of affairs was probably a reason for his resorting to Sicily, where Hiero, King of Syracuse, eagerly patronized literary men. Here he enjoyed the company of Simonides and other poets. Yet he returned to take part in the dramatic competition at Athens. Altogether he won the prize for dramatic superiority thirteen times. His career closed with the presentation of the trilogy, or group of three tragedies, relating to Orestes. He died at Gela, in Sicily, in the sixty-ninth year of his age. There was a common story that while he was meditating on the sea-shore, an eagle which had seized a tortoise and borne it aloft, let it fall on his head. His tomb bore this inscription testifying to his patriotism:

 

" Here Aeschylus lies, from his Athenian home Remote, 'neath Gela's wheat-producing loam; How brave in battle was Euphorion's son, The long-haired Mede can tell who fell at Marathon. , Aeschylus was the most sublime of the Greek tragedians, his moral tone is pure, his character earnest, his belief in bis country's gods thoroughly sincere. Yet in his Prometheus Bound he testified to a power of righteousness beyond what was exhibited in the rule of Zeus in the world.

 

THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS.

 

Atossa. Which navy first advanced to the attack? Who led to the onset, tell me? the bold Greeks, Or, glorying in his numerous fleet, my son?

 

Messenger. Our evil genius, lady, or some god Hostile to Persia, led to every ill. Forth from the troops of Athens came a Greek, And thus addressed thy son, the imperial Xerxes: "Soon as the shades of night descend, the Greeks Shall quit their station: rushing to their oars, They mean to separate, and in secret flight Seek safety." At these words, the royal chief, Little conceiving of the wiles of Greece And gods averse, to all the naval lenders Gave his high charge :-" Soon as you sun shall cease To dart his radiant beams, and dark'ning night Ascends the temple of this sky, arrange In three divisions your well-ordered ships, And guard each pass, each outlet of the sea: Others enuring around the rocky isle Of Salamis. Should Greece escape her fate, And work her way by secret flight, your heads Shall answer the neglect." This harsh command He gave, exulting in his mind nor knew What Fate design'd. With martial discipline And prompt obedience, snatching a repast, Each mariner fixed well his ready oar. Soon as the golden sun was set, and night Advanced, each train'd to ply the dashing oar, Assumed his seat; in arms each warrior stood, Troop cheering troop through all the ships of war. Each to the appointed station steers his courseAnd through the night his naval force each chief Fix'd to secure the passes. Night advanced, But not by secret flight did Greece attempt To escape. The morn, all beauteous to behold, Drawn by white steeds bounds o'er the enlighten'd earth; At once from ev'ry Greek with glad acclaim Burst forth the song of war, whose lofty notes The echo of the island rocks return 'd, Spreading dismay through Persia's hosts, thus fallen From their high hopes; no flight this solemn strain Portended, but deliberate valor bent On daring battle; while the trumpet's sound Kindled the flames of war. But when their oars, The paean ended, with impetuous force Dash'd the resounding surges, instant all Rushed all in view: ill orderly array The squadron on the right first led, behind Rode their whole fleet, and now distinct we heard From ev'ry part this voice of exhortation:- " Advance, ye sons of Greece, from thraldom save Your country,-save your wives, your children save, The temples of your gods, the sacred tomb Where rest your honor'd ancestors; this day The common cause of all demands your valor."

 

Meantime from Persia's hosts the deep' ning shout Answered their shout; no time for cold delay ; But ship 'gainst ship its brazen beak impell'd. First to the charge a Grecian galley rush'd; In the Phcelliciall bore the rough attack, Its sculptured prow all shattered. Each advanced Daring all opposite. The deep array Of Persia at the first sustain' d the encounter; But their throug'd numbers in the narrow seas, Confined, want room for action; and, deprived Of mutual aid, beaks clash with beaks, and each Breaks all the other's oars: with skill disposed The Grecian navy circled them around In fierce assault; and rushing from its height 'the inverted vessel sinks: the sea no more Wears its accustomed aspect, with foul wrecks And blood disfigured; floating carcasses Roll on the rocky shores : the poor remains Of the barbaric armament to flight Ply every oar inglorious: onward rush The Greeks amidst the ruins of the fleet, As through a shoal of fish caught in the net, Spreading destruction: the wide ocean o'er Wailings are heard, and loud laments, till night With darkness on her brow brought grateful truce. Should I recount each circumstance of woe, Ten times on my unfinished tale the sun Would set; for be assured that not one day Could close the ruin of so vast a host.

 

Atoss. Ah, what a boundless sea of woe hath burst On Persia and the whole barbaric race!

 

Mess. These are not half, not half our ills; on these Came an assemblage of calamities, That sunk us with a double weight of woe. Atoss. What fortune can be more unfriendly to us Than this? Say on, what dread calamity Sunk Persia's host with greater weight of woe ?

 

Mess. Whoe'er of Persia's warriors glow'd in prime Of vig'rous youth, or felt their generous souls Expand with courage, or for liable birth Shone with distinguished luster, or excell'd In firm and duteous loyalty, all these Are fall'n, ignobly, miserably fall'n.

 

Atoss. Alas, their ruthless fate, unhappy friends! But in what manner, tell me, did they perish?

 

Mess. Full against Salamis an isle arises, Of small circumference, to the anchor'd bark Unfaithful; on the promontory's brow, That overlooks the sea, Pan loves to lead The dance: to this the monarch sends these chiefs, That when the Grecians from these shatter'd ships Should here seek shelter. these might hew them down An easy conquest, and secure the strand To their sea wearied friends; in-judging what The event: but when the fav'ring god to Greece Gave the proud glory of this naval fight, Instant in all their glitt'ring arms they leap'd From their light ships, and all the island round Encompassed, that our bravest stood dismay'd ; While broken rocks, whirl'd with tempestuous force, And storms of arms crushed them; then the Greeks Rush'd to the attack at once, and furious spread The carnage, till each mangled Persian fell. Deep were the groans of Xerxes when he saw This havoc; for his seat, a lofty mound Commanding the wide sea, o'erlooked his hosts. With rueful cries he rent his royal robes, And through his troops embattled all the shore Gave signal of retreat; then started wild, And fled disorder'd. To the former ills ·These are fresh miseries to awake thy sighs.

 

Atoss. Invidious Fortune, how thy baleful power Hath sunk the hopes of Persia! Bitter fruit My son hath tasted from his purposed vengeance On Alhens, famed for arms; the fatal field Of Marathon, red with barbaric blood, Sufficed not that defeat he thought to avenge, And pull'd this hideous ruin on his head. But tell me, if thou canst, where didst thou leave The ships that happily escaped the wreck?

 

Mess. The poor remains of Persia's scattered fleet Spread ev'ry sail for flight, as the wind drives, In wild disorder; and on land no less, The ruined army.-"AECHYLUS, translated by W. POTTER.

 

Aeschylus