Classical Greek Mythology

Aeschylus and the Oresteia

Who was Aeschylus and how did he use mythology?

Aeschylus (c. 525–456 B.C.E.) was from a wealthy family in Eleusis and was, in fact, an initiate in the Mysteries of Eleusis. Much of his early life was spent as a soldier in the wars against Persia, but he found time to write a large number of plays and to win prizes for his work at the City Dionysia. The large majority of his plays, of which only a few are extant, are about figures in mythology. His Seven against Thebes is about the sons of the unfortunate King Oedipus; Prometheus Bound (which some scholars believe was written by another playwright) was about the equally unfortunate Titan. His most famous plays are the three which make up the trilogy, The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. In these, as in all his mythic plays, Aeschylus takes a myth as it has been passed down over the generations, probably at least from Mycenaean times, and re-interprets it in such a way as to express his sense of the morality or ethical, social, and religious principles it represents —in this case a fifth-century Athenian view as opposed to a view more prevalent in earlier times.


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