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Aeschylus (525–456 BC) brought a new grandeur and epic sweep to the drama of classical Athens, raising it to the status of high art. In Prometheus Bound the defiant Titan Prometheus is brutally punished by Zeus for daring to improve the state of wretchedness and servitude in which mankind is kept. The Suppliants tells the story of the fifty daughters of Danaus who must flee to escape enforced marriages, while Seven Against Thebes shows the inexorable downfall of the last members of the cursed family of Oedipus. And The Persians, the only Greek tragedy to deal with events from recent Athenian history, depicts the aftermath of the defeat of Persia in the battle of Salamis, with a sympathetic portrayal of its disgraced King Xerxes.

Philip Vellacott’s evocative translation is accompanied by an introduction, with individual discussions of the plays, and their sources in history and mythology.

160 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 471

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Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC)
Greek Αισχύλος , Ésquilo in Portuguese; Esquilo in Spanish; Eschyle en français; Eschil in romanian; Эсхил in russian.

Aeschylus, an ancient Greek playwright, is often recognized as the father or the founder of tragedy. He is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive extant, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. According to Aristotle, he expanded the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict among them; previously, characters interacted only with the chorus. Unfortunately, only seven of an estimated 70 plays by Aeschylus have survived into modern times; one of these plays, Prometheus Bound, is sometimes thought not to be the work of Aeschylus.

At least one of Aeschylus's works was influenced by the Persian invasion of Greece, which took place during his lifetime. His play The Persians remains a good primary source of information about this period in Greek history. The war was so important to Greeks and to Aeschylus himself that, upon his death around 456 BC, his epitaph included a reference to his participation in the Greek victory at Marathon but not to his success as a playwright.

There are no reliable sources for the life of Aeschylus. He was said to have been born in c. 525 in Eleusis, a small town about 27 kilometers northwest of Athens, which is nestled in the fertile valleys of western Attica, though the date is most likely based on counting back forty years from his first victory in the Great Dionysia. His family was both wealthy and well-established; his father Euphorion was a member of the Eupatridae, the ancient nobility of Attica.

As a youth, he 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 from the dream, the young Aeschylus began writing a tragedy, and his first performance took place in 499 BC, when he was only 26 years old. After fifteen years, his skill was great enough to win a prize for his plays at Athens' annual city Dionysia playwriting competition. But in the interim, his dramatic career was interrupted by war. The armies of the Persian Empire, which had already conquered the Greek city-states of Ionia, entered mainland Greece in the hopes of conquering it as well.

In 490 BC, Aeschylus and his brother Cynegeirus fought to defend Athens against Darius's invading Persian army at the Battle of Marathon. Though Athens was victorious, Cynegeirus died in the battle. Aeschylus continued to write plays during the lull between the first and second Persian invasions of Greece, and won his first victory at the city Dionysia in 484 BC. In 480 he was called into military service again, this time against Xerxes' invading forces at the Battle of Salamis. This naval battle 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 had been initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult to Demeter based in his hometown of Eleusis. As the name implies, members of the cult were supposed to have gained some sort of mystical, secret knowledge. Firm details of the Mysteries' specific rites are sparse, as members were sworn under the penalty of death not to reveal anything about the Mysteries to non-initiates. Nevertheless, according to Aristotle, it was alleged that Aeschylus had placed clues about the secret rites in his seventh tragedy, Prometheus Bound. According to some sources, an angry mob tried to kill Aeschylus on the spot, but he fled the scene. When he stood trial for his offense, Aeschylus pleaded ignorance and was only spared because of his brave service in the Persian Wars.

Aeschylus traveled to Sicily once or twice in the 470s BC, having

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Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
174 reviews351 followers
May 10, 2023
3 ⭐

”Grief is man’s lot, and men must bear it.
Sorrows come from sea and land;
And mortal ills will multiply with mortal years”

- The Ghost of Darius

aeschylus-turtle (1)
Aeschylus’ final moments – Tragedy of the Tragedian

Next time you’re feeling hard done by, as if the Fates look upon you unfavourably, or Eutychia has treated you frugally in her distribution of good fortune, remember, it could be worse! Aeschylus was killed by an eagle that dropped a turtle on his head!

This is Aeschylus, the earliest Greek playwright from whom we still possess surviving material. He wrote anywhere between 70-90 plays of which 7 remain including The Oresteia Trilogy (the only extant trilogy of its kind) and the 4 plays included in this collection: Prometheus Bound, The Suppliants, Seven Against Thebes and The Persians.

I’m confident that the works in this collection are not Aeschylus’ best.

Prometheus Bound is the first. I found it an interesting choice to make it the dominant/titular play of the collection given that many scholars believe it wasn’t actually written by Aeschylus’ at all but perhaps by his eldest Grandson (in keeping with tradition, also named Aeschylus). Probably just comes down to good marketing, being the most popular of the 4 plays. It’s well-known; I found nothing remarkable about it.

The Suppliants is very dull. Being the first, and only extant, play of a trilogy it’s pretty evident that it’s intended to set up the second and third plays for which reason, very little actually happens. The 50 Suppliant Maidens (the Danaids) are fleeing their 50 cousins (the sons of Aegyptus) who wish to marry them against their will. With the help of their Father, Danaus, they come to the city of Argos where they promptly proceed to emotionally manipulate Argos’ King, Pelasgus, into taking them in and protecting them; poor bugger. For sure you’d help them if they came to you and respectfully put forth their woes and lamentations but these women immediately attempt to put the fear of the Gods’ retribution in Pelasgus’ heart and threaten to off themselves if he doesn’t protect them. Not cool, girls!

Seven against Thebes is the third, and only surviving, play from Aeschylus’ Oedipus trilogy. The first 2 being Lauis and Oedipus. Polyneices, son of Oedipus, has brought an army of foreigners to the Walls of Thebes (his own home from which he was exiled) to take control of the city from his brother, Eteocles. This play is, essentially, a long lamentation from a chorus of Theban women regarding the unfortunate situation they find themselves and their city in, followed by a live draw of which 7 Achaen Champions will do mortal combat with the 7 Thebian Champions, including a prayer, by the chorus, for each Thebian champion announced. Let me tell you... It’s mind-numbing! The melodramatic lamentation and frantic prayers to the Gods from the Theban women is almost comical. I actually questioned whether this was a tragedy when I found myself smiling at the back-and-forth between Eteocles and the Theban women as he frustratedly tried to calm them. Aeschylus portrays them as the generic frightened and inconsolable maidens in distress and, as it goes on for more than a couple of pages too many, it grates on the nerves. Antigone and Ismene are much the same towards the end of the play when there’s another comical display of mourning but Antigone, at least, is a character with some grit and fortitude. When the choice between family and state is forced upon her, she chooses family; Confucius would be proud. I’m looking forward to Sophocles Theban plays!

The Persians is the best of the bunch, in my opinion. It is a standalone, the earliest extant tragedy and the only one concerned with recent history rather than myth. The tale of King Xerxes who leads the entire Persian army to its death at the hands of the Athenians who they outnumbered 3 to 1. Professor Elizabeth Vandiver of the University of Maryland says that the plays of antiquity that survive, most likely survive because they were highly treasured in the byzantine era for their rhetorical, grammatical and linguistic features and were, therefore, used for educational purposes. Persians was the only play of the 4 which I personally felt this would apply to. To me, it shares little of the banalities of the other plays and the syntax is just a step above the others. A couple of examples:

”Smooth delusion’s flattering smile
Leads but where her trap is set;
There man pays his mortal debt:
Doom has caught what death will keep”

By replacing a single word, many passages become timeless truths:

”Such was the flower of manhood,
The pride of Persian youth’s
That we saw march away;
For whom the land that nursed them
Now grieves with ardent longing
And counts each empty day
That quakes our hearts, and lengthens long delay.”

Regarding this edition specifically; that is the Penguin Classics translation by Philip Vellacott with the assistance of advisory editor Betty Radice, I thought the notes were hit and miss. They begin poorly with many of the notes for Prometheus Bound seeming kind of redundant or self-explanatory (in other words, not worth flicking to the back of the book for) but improve in quality/relevance from Seven of Thebes onwards. The main issue is that there aren’t enough notes, at least for someone like myself who enjoys as much extra detail as I can get. You’re better off having some sort of Greek Mythology Encyclopedia for quick reference. I already owned Hamilton’s Mythology so I flicked through that for a little refresher but Vellacott, himself, states:

The following notes explain only a few of the references to characters, places and events in ancient mythology which occur on almost every page of these plays... in general the reader must be referred to works such as Robert Grave’s ‘The Greek Myths’ or Rose’s ‘Handbook of Greek Mythology....

You could also supplement with something in an audio format. I’ve been working my way through ‘The Great Courses – Greek Tragedy’ and it’s chock full of fascinating information. Enjoy! :)

”... let your soul taste each day’s pleasure, spite of griefs;
For all abundance holds no profit for the dead.”
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
April 15, 2019
This is a review of Prometheus Bound. Reviews of other plays in the same book are found elsewhere (see below)

Peter Paul Rubens

Prometheus, discoursing on his gifts to mankind:

... At first
Mindless, I gave them mind and reason. - What I say
Is not censure of mankind, but showing you
How all my gifts to them were guided by goodwill. -
In those days they had eyes, but sight was meaningless;
Heard sounds, but could not listen; all their length of life
They passed like shapes in dreams, confused and purposeless.
Of brick-built, sun-warmed houses, or of carpentry,
They had no notion; lived in holes, like swarms of ants,
Or deep in sunless caverns; knew no certain way
To mark off winter, or flowery spring, or fruitful summer;
Their every act was without knowledge, till I came.

This play was the first in a trilogy. The others, both lost, were Prometheus Unbound (in which Zeus presented his case for the justness of his punishment of Prometheus) and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer. The translator, Philip Vellacott, in his excellent introduction to the four plays, expresses the view that it is difficult to imagine what material was left to cover in the last play, though it's assumed that somehow a resolution of the cases made by Prometheus and Zeus in the first two plays was concocted.

- - - - - - - - - -

Set the play at the dawn of human existence, or perhaps at a time when Greek "civilization" was thought to have been no more than barbaric, with little use of man's mental faculties. In Greek mythology this was in the time of the Titans. (See below)

Edith Hamilton cautions us, "The Greeks did not believe the gods created the universe. It was the other way about: the universe created the gods. Before there were gods Heaven and Earth had been formed. They were the first parents. The Titans were their first children, and the gods were their grandchildren."

The Titans were sometimes called the Elder Gods, and were supreme in the universe for an untold amount of time. The most important was Cronos, who ruled over the other Titans until his son, Zeus, dethroned him and seized power.

There were other notable Titans: Ocean, the river that encircled the earth; his wife Tethys; Hyperion, the father of the sun, the moon, and the dawn; Mnemosyne, which means Memory; Themis (Justice); and Iapetus, important because of his two sons – Atlas, who bore the world on his shoulders, and Prometheus, who was the savior of mankind. (from Hamilton, Mythology)

So, Prometheus: the savior of mankind. Why did mankind need a savior? Where did men come from?

The human race was created in the time of the Titans. But, says Vellacott,
man was early recognized as a regrettable failure, and kept in a state of wretchedness and total subservience. Force ruled everything; reason and right were unknown. The Titans were a race of gigantic size and strength, and [at least in one version of the myth] no intelligence; until in one of them, Prometheus, emerged rational and moral qualities, ranging from cunning and ingenuity to a love of freedom and justice. The knowledge that the future lay with such intangible principles rather than with brute strength, was a secret possessed by Earth, who imparted it to her son Prometheus. This certainly set Prometheus at the side of Zeus, son of Cronos, in rebellion against his father and the older dynasty; and by Prometheus' help Zeus and the other 'Olympian' gods won the day and thenceforward ruled the universe.

But Prometheus was not only an immortal; he was also a son of Earth, and felt a natural sympathy with the earth's mortal inhabitants. The race which Zeus despised and planned to destroy, Prometheus saw as capable of infinite development. He stole fire from heaven and gave it to them; and he taught them the basic mental and manual skills. In so doing he frustrated Zeus's plan to create a more perfect race… What win our favor for Prometheus is largely the fact that he believed in, and wanted to help, the human race as it is, full of both noble achievement and pitiable squalor, honoring both goodness and wickedness… But though in this play the balance of feeling is in favor of Prometheus, even the sympathetic Chorus rebuke him for pride: and it is clear that Zeus's case has yet to be presented.

the play

Like the other plays in this volume, there are no jumps in time, or changes of setting. Prometheus is present on the stage throughout. The Chorus is present on the stage from the time they enter right up to the end. The other characters enter and leave the stage, presenting the minimal "scene change" that apparently was accepted in early Greek drama.

Here's a synopsis.

- It begins with Prometheus being dragged onto the stage by STRENTH and VIOLENCE (are these minor Titans? children of the Titans? I'm not sure. This may be an example of the fact that many of the relations between non-human beings in Greek mythology are notably ambiguous, even seemingly contradictory from one tale to another.)

At any rate, there really is some action on the stage to open the play. HEPHAESTUS, the god of Fire, follows these three onto the stage. He doesn't really want to be there, because he understands what he is supposed to do. His opening speech establishes Aeschylus' setting for the play:
For you two, Strength and Violence, the command of Zeus
Is now performed. You are released. But how can I
Find heart to lay hands on a god of my own race,
And cruelly clamp him to this better, bleak ravine?
And yet I must; heart or no heart, this I must do.
To slight what Zeus has spoken is a fearful thing.
[to PROMETHEUS] Son of sagacious Themis, god of mountainous thoughts,
With heart as sore as yours I now shall fasten you
In bands of bronze immovable to this desolate peak,
Where you will hear no voice, nor see a human form;
But scorched with the sun's flaming rays your skin will lose
Its bloom of freshness. Glad you will be to see the night
Cloaking the day with her dark spangled robe; and glad
Again when the sun's warmth scatters the frost at dawn.
Each changing hour will bring successive pain to rack
Your body; and no man yet born shall set you free.
Your kindness to the human race has earned you this.
A god who would not bow to the gods' anger – you,
Transgressing right, gave privileges to mortal men.
For that you shall keep watch upon this bitter rock,
Standing upright, unsleeping, never bowed in rest.
And many groans and cries of pain shall come from you,
All useless; for the heart of Zeus is hard to appease.
Power newly won is always harsh.

Hephaestus rivets each of the arms to the rock. He is then commanded by Strength to "drive straight through the chest with all the force you have/the unrelenting fang of the adamantine [unbreakable] wedge." Once this is done, the three leave Prometheus to his misery.

Prometheus cries out,
See with what outrage
Racked and tortured
I am to agonize
For a thousand years!
See this shameful prison
Invented for me
By the new master of the gods!

I know exactly every thing
That is to be; no torment will come unforeseen.
My appointed fate I must endure as best I can,
knowing the power of Necessity is irresistible.
Under such suffering, speech and silence are alike
Beyond me. For bestowing gifts upon mankind
I am harnessed in this torturing clamp. For I am he
Who hunted out the source of fire, and stole it, …
And fire has proved
For men a teacher in every art, their grand resource.
That was the sin for which I now pay the full price,
Bared to the winds of heaven, bound and crucified.

- The CHORUS now enters in a winged ship and speak to Prometheus at length. They leave the ship, and gather around Prometheus as OCEANUS arrives, seated on a winged four-footed creature. She insists that she feels great friendship toward him, and admonishes him to be less proud, in this new regime in which Zeus has achieved rule over the other gods.

- Next Io enters. This is the longest "scene" in the play. Io, the virgin daughter of the king of Argos, is a fellow victim, indirectly, of Zeus. When Zeus first saw her he desired her. His wife Hera became aware of the attraction before a union had been consummated, and took steps to prevent it by transforming Io into a cow, then set the giant Argus to watch over her. Zeus had Hermes kill Argus, but Hera responded to this by sending a gadfly to torment Io, driving her from place to place all over the known world.

The Chorus asks Io to tell her story, and as she does Prometheus recounts his personal knowledge of Io's travail, and even tells her what will befall her in the future before she finds salvation from the enmity of Hera and the lust of Zeus.

- Finally Prometheus is visited by the last character, Hermes, who has been sent on an errand by Zeus. It seems that Zeus has foreknowledge that a son of his will cause his downfall, and Zeus wants Prometheus to use his powers to reveal to him who the mother of this child will be.

Prometheus mocks Hermes, claiming that he will not share this knowledge with the god who is responsible for his torments. Hermes warns Prometheus, and the Chorus, who seem to defend him, that they'll be sorry for being so pig-headed. Once Hermes leaves, his warning about Zeus' thunder and lightning comes to pass, and Prometheus cries, "Now it is happening; threat gives place to performance. The earth rocks; thunder, echoing from the depth/Roars in answer; fiery lightnings twist and flash… The cataclysm advances visibly upon me, Sent by Zeus to make me afraid.

Oh Earth, my holy mother,
O sky, where sun and moon
Give light to all in turn,
You see how I am wronged!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Previous review: Americanah
Next review: Varieties of Disturbance
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Previous library review: Seven Against Thebes Aeschylus
Next library review: The Suppliants Aeschylus.
Profile Image for BrokenTune.
755 reviews206 followers
May 22, 2020
The Persians and Other Plays is a collection of plays and commentary about plays by Aeschylus.

The book contains the following:
The Persians
Seven Against Thebes
The Suppliants
Prometheus Bound

Each play comes with a thorough introduction of the play itself as well as details of what we (think we) know about the history of the play's original performances and how they may have influenced other Classical plays and playwrights, references in which inevitably have been used to date the plays themselves.
This is followed by more commentary and notes on the plays and on related plays that may have existed.

For example, it appears from the commentary that it has long been unclear in what order Aeschylus wrote the plays:

The production of 472 is the only one by Aeschylus that is known to have consisted of four plays whose stories were, on the face of it, unrelated - indeed, they were not even placed in proper chronological order. The first play was Phineus, about an episode in the saga of the Argonauts. This was followed by The Persians; then, jumping back to the heroic age, by Glaucus of Potniae, about a man who subjected his horses to an unnatural training regime and was devoured by them after crashing in a chariot race; and then by a satyr play about Prometheus ("Prometheus the Fire-Bearer" or "Fire-Kindler"). Repeated efforts have been made to find method behind the apparent madness of this arrangement, so far with little success.

As entertaining as it is to imagine someone making a simple mistake when noting down the running order of the plays in Ancient times, this must be quite frustrating to Classicists.

It took me way longer to read this collection than I thought but I don't regret a single minute of it.

While some of the concepts discussed and displayed in the plays were not instantly recognisable to a 20th- and 21th-century reader, the context and explanatory notes provided by Alan H. Sommerstein were so excellent that each of the plays not only made sense but actually made it a joy to discover how Aeschylus' may have raised smiles in some and incensed others of his audiences.

And some ideas and points of view in his plays - especially the description of the Persian's defeat (in The Persians), the exposition that women may refuse marriage (in The Suppliants), and some of the rather humanist views of Prometheus (in Prometheus Bound) - were quite different from what I had expected. Or rather, different from what I have come to expect from the Ancient Greek world when coming to Ancient Greek drama after reading the Greek myths (in whichever version: Apollodorus, Ovid, or any of the modern retellings). But even coming to Aeschylus with some familiarity of other playwrights such a Sophocles, I found Aeschylus surprisingly empathetic, satirical, and ... oddly modern.

CHORUS: You didn't, I suppose, go even further than that?
PROMETHEUS: I did: I stopped mortals foreseeing their death.
CHORUS: What remedy did you find for that affliction?
PROMETHEUS: I planted blind hopes within them.
CHORUS: That was a great benefit you gave to mortals.
PROMETHEUS: And what is more, I gave them fire.

It is easy to think of Prometheus only as the rebel who went against Zeus' wishes and brought fire to mankind, but there is more to him. I loved how Aeschylus focuses not on the fire-bringing alone but also on his shared humanity, and on the prophecy that Prometheus knew of that would lead to the decline of Zeus' power, the proverbial Götterdämmerung of the Ancient Greek gods.

It's very easy for someone who is standing safely out of trouble to advise and rebuke the one who is in trouble.
I knew that, all along. I did the wrong thing intentionally, intentionally, I won't deny it: by helping mortals, I brought trouble on myself. But I certainly never thought I would have a punishment anything like this, left to wither on these elevated rocks, my lot cast on this deserted, neighbourless crag. Now stop lamenting my present woes: descend to the ground and hear of my future fortunes, so that you will know it all to the end. Do as I ask, do as I ask. Share the suffering of one who is in trouble now: misery, you know, wanders everywhere, and alights on different persons at different times.
Profile Image for Steve.
441 reviews491 followers
March 19, 2015
I recommend that you look at Terence's review at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... , but I would like to add some remarks to his.

Amongst these plays I much preferred The Persians. It opens with the elderly councilors to Xerxes who remained behind in Susa. They recall the pride and confidence with which the Persian army set forth but now are filled with foreboding and anxiety at the lack of news of victory. The tension between these emotions is very well drawn. The sense of foreboding is heightened when Xerxes' mother arrives and relates a dream and an omen. Then the news of Persia's calamity at Salamis arrives. The messenger recounts the battle - since Aeschylus was probably in the Athenian navy at Salamis (in any case, since the play was written only 8 years after that battle, he surely knew what he was writing about), I found this report to be riveting and composed in a noble and exciting poetry. In their grief they summon the shade of Darius, Xerxes' father (not the last ghost to haunt Western theater), who warns at length against hubris (he is clearly Aeschylus' puppet here). Then the defeated Xerxes arrives to emphasize in most dramatic speech the disastrous consequences of hubris. This emphasis on hubris is, of course, Greek, not Persian. But I very much appreciate that Aeschylus, instead of gloating over the Greeks' victory, empathized with the defeated foe.

This play has none of the frequent invocations, laments and pleas to the gods found in the other plays. I understand that ancient Greek drama had religious ceremony at its origin and only slowly developed its more human concerns, and, since Aeschylus is the eldest of the Greek playwrights whose work has survived, it is natural that there are, seemingly, more such invocations in his work. But, as understandable as it may be, it was a relief not to have to read them in The Persians . And since much of Prometheus Bound consists of such addresses, my pleasure in that play, clearly the most dramatic of the four in this book, was diminished.

Indeed, I find that I disagree with the relative ranking of Prometheus Bound and The Suppliants made by so many. Yes, Prometheus Bound can be read as a rebellion against tyranny, but as such an allegory it is quite thin. The rebellion occurred before the action of the play - the play is actually about the sufferings of those who rebel against tyranny. This is emphasized by the arrival of Io. How much more appealing, to my mind, is the story of a father trying to shelter his daughters (their number, 50, is absurd, but let that pass) from violent and unwanted suitors! And the moment when King Pelasgus realizes how bad of a situation the arrival of the descendants of Io has placed him in is real.

As for Seven Against Thebes, the less said the better. I was not surprised to read, after I had finished the play and felt that the appearance of Antigone and Ismene was superfluous, that Aeschylus' original ending was replaced by this foreign appendage 50 years after his death.


Profile Image for Terence.
1,168 reviews394 followers
January 16, 2012
Having recently read Caroline Alexander’s The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War, a wild hare came into my head to read Aeschylus’ Persians, which was mentioned in some connection with the book. My exposure to Greek playwrights is limited. In my infamous graduate-school days, my exposure to Greek authors comprised the historians and relatively obscure Byzantine chroniclers; I had done little reading – much less serious reading – of the literature.

As my ancient Greek has rusted almost beyond use, I am fortunate in this case for having an excellent translation by Carl Mueller, who quotes Dryden in illustrating his approach to the plays – “The translator that would write with any force or spirit of an original must never dwell on the words of the author.” (p. 117)

This volume contains four of the seven complete plays from Aeschylus’ work (somewhere between 70 and 90 plays, of which only fragments have survived the ages): Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Suppliants, and Prometheus Bound.

Persians: None of these plays are “plays” in what most people expect from that word. There’s little action or plot, and much recitation between chorus and actor. Persians is unique in a couple of ways. It’s the only first-hand account of the battle of Salamis (the playwright was there) that has survived, and for a play presented to an audience of Athenians it presents the enemy in a surprisingly sympathetic light (remarkably so, considering that Salamis was only about a decade in the past when first performed and many in the audience would have been veterans of the war). It is – above all – a cautionary tale about the perils of hubris. In attempting to invade Hellas, Xerxes has overstepped the bounds of what is permitted to humans and he and all of Persia must pay the price – defeat, humiliation, ruin.

Even at this early period in the evolution of theater, Aeschylus shows a mastery of dramatic technique (pp. 26ff), and a genius for vivid imagery. Compare the images of the flower of Persia’s youth marching to war and the lament when they are slaughtered by the Athenians:

From Susa they went, / from Agbatana, / from Kissia’s ancient, towering ramparts, / by horse, by ship, by foot, / in close-ranked columns of war. / Men like Amistres and Artaphrenes, / Megabates and Astaspes, / each of them kings, / Persian commanders, / but each of them also the Great King’s servants, / marshals of Persia’s massive forces, / surging, surging, / seething for battle, / archers, horsemen, / a sight to see, / fearful in the fight, / stern in the harsh resolve of their spirit.

Artembares, high in his chariot, / and Masistres, / and noble Imaios, / strong of arm with his archer’s bow, / unyielding Imaios, / and Pharandakes, / and Sosthenes, driver of stallions. / And others, still others / great Nile sent forth, / teeming Nile’s fertile flow: / Sousiskanes, / and Egypt-born, sun-dark Pegastagon, / and towering Arsames, / lord of temple-rich Memphis, and / Ariomardos, governor of age-old Thebes, / and marsh-dwelling oarsmen terrible in number…
(pp. 122-23)

And from the Persian Chorus:

King! / My King! / I lament for your army, / your noble army, / for the greatness of Persia, / and her glorious men, / cut down now, / cut down, whom / god has destroyed!

The land, / the land cries, / cries aloud, / cries, / for her youth whom / Xerxes has / slain, / whom Xerxes had crammed into dismal / Hades, / Persia’s / youth from Agbatana, / great Persia’s flower, / many, many, / thousands, / ten thousands, / archers, / masters of the bow, / a forest of men, / gone, / destroyed, / no more!

Weep for them, / weep, / our noble defense! / All Asia brought to her / knees in / shame!
(pp. 167-68)

Seven Against Thebes: Before I learned the actual story behind the title, this play always brought to my mind a Greek version of “The Seven Samurai” (or at least “The Magnificent Seven”). The reality, for me, wasn’t quite as inspiring.

Eteokles and Polyneikes are the brother-sons of Oedipus. The original plan was for the brothers to alternate in the kingship of Thebes but after Eteokles’ first year, he refused to give up the throne and exiled his brother. Polyneikes goes to Argos, where he convinces King Adrastos to help him take the city. Adrastos recruits five other champions and they lead an army against Thebes. Everyone but Adrastos is fated to die in this war, the brothers as part of a curse on Oedipus’ house, as well as a fulfillment of the father-brother’s curse on them for mistreatment.

In its “raw” form, there’s really no side to prefer but in Aeschylus’ hands, you’re urged to root for Eteokles, who is presented here as the epitome of (martial) arête and good kingship – not only does he fulfill the demands of honor but he truly cares for the fate of Thebes and dies knowing that his defense of the city will save it from the horrors of a sack.

As with Persians, there’s some memorable poetry:

O god-hated house of Oedipus, / house cursed by the gods, / house maddened by the gods, / house of tears, / now the curse of Oedipus is fulfilled!

But no time for tears or wailing now, / giving birth to even worse suffering!

As for him, / Polyneikes, / so well-named, / strife-bringer, we will / see if his sign is fulfilled; whether golden / letters on a shield will do what they say; / or are they the babble of a demented mind?

If Justice, virgin daughter of / Zeus, had ever been with him in / thought or deed, his boasting might have come true.

But never, never once, never – not when he / fled the dark cavern of his mother’s / womb, not in childhood or adolescence, not when the hair of manhood grew on his chin, / did Justice ever, even once, / turn her eye on him or ever acknowledge him! / Nor does she now, / now as he rapes his city, his parent / land, in this violent, criminal assault! / For is she did, / if Justice looked / kindly on him, she would be justly misnamed / for championing one who brings death on his city!
pp. (215-16)

Suppliants: This play is the least satisfying from a self-contained-story point of view. It sets up a confrontation between the fifty daughters of Danaos, who do not want to marry against their will, and the demands of Greek culture, which says a girl must wed.

It must be remembered that all of these plays were part of dramatic trilogies and a satyr play (a comedy). Suppliants is the first in an arc that explored the myth of the Danaids. It’s as if we only had a copy of “The Empire Strikes Back” and maybe a frame or two of the other movies. We could comment favorably on the movies’ technical mastery and script but we wouldn’t know much about the characters or why Vader’s admission of paternity is so pivotal.

Prometheus Bound: Prometheus Bound is the most play-like of these plays. The characters are strongly delineated (Hephaistos, Prometheus, Oceanus, the First Daughter, Io and Hermes) and, while no action takes place on stage, the monologues are harrowing enough in the tales they recount, and the finale when the Titan is hurled down into Tartarus is as violent as any an action-film lover could wish.

The story should be familiar to most readers: There is a war in heaven between Zeus’ faction and that of his father, Kronos. Prometheus & his mother Themis, though Titans and initially Kronos’ allies, defect to Zeus and allow his side to prevail. But Zeus, in this play, is a tyrant who can brook no competition. When Prometheus gives to Man not alone fire but all the arts of civilization, Zeus condemns him to perpetual torment, chained to a cliff in the Caucasus.

The play is a deconstruction of tyranny and the proper response of a free man. Hephaistos and Oceanus are the men who go along to get along (courtiers and sycophants), Io is a living victim of tyranny (raped by Zeus and driven mad by Hera’s jealousy), and Hermes is Zeus’ Gestapo (spying on the sky god’s subjects so that no rival can arise).
Profile Image for Dragos C Butuzea.
111 reviews103 followers
September 5, 2015
mai citește cineva piesele lui eschil? mai ales că atunci, mii de ani înainte, mai toată piesa era cântată (autorii dramatici erau și compozitori) - și ce ar însemna textele oratoriului de bach fără partitura muzicală?
să mai amintim, de asemenea, și desfășurarea piesei, cu corul său mulțime, pe care eschil l-a făcut „actor“, implicându-l în tragedie și nu comentator de pe margine, cum fusese până atunci.

cincizeci de muieri egiptene, fiicele lui danaos, sunt „ursite“ să se mărite cu verii lor tuciurii. lor le e scârbă, așa c-o rup pe mare până ajung pe țărmul helladei, mai precis în argolida, unde șef este pelasgos. tot văitându-se în cor, că vai! că oh!, ele ajung la templu și solicită în numele lui zeus, protecție ca suplicante (rugătoare). ceea ce și primesc. iar când tuciuriii vin disperați după ele, pavăză le stă rezistența băștinașilor argolizi (nimeni nu refuză o femeie, darmite cinciezeci!).

genial este că aproape nu există acțiune, parcă e o piesă de beckett, scena e formată dintr-un gorgan, pe care actorii ba urcă, ba coboară (asta când nu ies din scenă).

uimitoare este religiozitatea piesei, în care sunt adunați sodom de zei, ceea ce dă piesei caracter sacru. la mijloc, stă mitul lui io, tipa sedusă de zeus, transformată apoi în vacă fugară în egipt. de unde „rudenia“ dintre greci și egipteni.

tonul rugătoarelor este unul negativist, plângăreț, contestatar, ele se opun bunului mers al lumii (căsătoria), sunt un fel de feministe avant la lettre, și așa ele atrag hybrisul, și nenorocirea, așa cum se va întâmpla în celelalte piese pierdute ale trilogiei.

Să scape urmașele
mamei slăvite
de-a împărți cu bărbații culcușul,
scutite să fie de nuntă
și de-mblânzire! (p.36)
Privește spre noi, rugătoarele,
fugare gonind pretutindeni, așa cum aleargă juninca vânată de lup,
sărind sub perete de stânci să-și afle scăpare,
și-i spune, mugind,
păstorului caznele sale. (p.48)

nu încape nici o dezlegare fără suferință (p.53) este mesajul piesei (dar și cel tragic, al lui eschil), iar cele cincizeci vor atrage suferința multora.
femeia, singură, este nimic. (p.67)
a cinsti, mai tare decât însăși viața, cumpătarea.(p.79)

deși considerată cea mai bună dintre tragedii (în afară de tragedia orestia), nu mi-a plăcut din cale afară. poate tocmai pentru că e etalon al tragediei grecești și-i excită pe clasiciști).

în urma victoriei navale a grecilor de la salamina, învingătorul xerxes (îl știți, ăla chelu' din 300), conducătorul imperiului persan, și perșii (adunarea bătrânilor) se tânguie împreună. nu doar pentru pierderea tinerimii războinice - aici eschil înșiră de două ori pomelnicul vitejilor - dar tânguirea reprezintă de fapt șocul psihologic al oamenilor pricinuit de eșec.
și aici stă măreția lui eschil, în reprezentarea perșilor nu doar ca învinși cretini, ci ca neam viteaz și glorios.
de asemenea, mi-a plăcut introducerea fantomei (umbrei) unui mort, a marelui rege dareios, tatăl lui xerxes, care iese din infern: De-acolo nu se pleacă prea ușor, pentru că zeii din adâncuri știu mai bine să apuce, decât să sloboadă. / Eu totuși am venit, având destulă trecere la ei. (p.113)
am mai aflat ce anume puneau în ofrande zeilor cei antici: laptele alb și dulce la băut al unei vaci neprihănite-n jug, atotscânteietoarea miere stoarsă de lucrătoarea florilor, albina, prinos de apă curgător din șipot feciorelnic, și-această băutură neamestecată, luminoasă, din mumă câmpenească, dintr-o viță veche, și rodul cu mireasmă bună al măslinului bălai, care-și întinde viața frunzelor tot anul, și împletite flori, vlăstare ale gliei roditoare. (p.109-110)
cum am mai spus, e multă religie în piesă, deși este una istorică, de fapt documentar-patriotică (încă un plus pentru eschil).

piesa are de toate: vise premonitorii, fast vs. umilință, slavă vs. nenorocire, știre documentară vs. aolire, multe dualisme izvorâte - de ce nu, se întreabă traducătorul alexandru miran în prefață - din religia dualistă iraniană, zoroastrismul.

cei șapte contra thebei
spre deosebire de celelalte piese, aceasta nu are aproape deloc acțiune, deși mersul soldaților de pe meterezele cetății sau zgomotul bătăliei însoțesc cântările corului pe o bună parte din spinarea piesei.
cetatea theba, condusă de fiul blestematului oedip, eteocles, este atacată la cele șapte porți de către dușmanii argieni conduși de fratele lui, polyneikes. intriga este dată de văicărelile corului de femei, căruia regele le închide gura, ca să nu slăbească moralul războinicilor cetății: Când biruie, femeia nu-i decât neobrăzare, și nu te poți apropia de ea cu vorba. / Când o cuprinde teama, pacostea e și mai mare, pentru casă, pentru obște. / Bărbatul e răspunzător de cele ce se pun la cale în afara casei, aici femeia nu are nici un cuvânt. (p. 145)
un spion vestește despre cei șapte războinici contra thebei, cărora regele le pregătește câte un apărător theban. avem aici un duel al descrierilor aprigelor vitejii ale fiecăruia în parte, în opoziție. practic, așa creează eschil „lupta“, prin dialog.
theba scapă de atacatori, dar cei doi frați mor amândoi în luptă, ca efect al hybrisului părintelui incestuos și bunicului lor pederast. de asemenea, nici cei doi nu sunt chiar „inocenți“ - de pildă, eteocles parcă chiar își dorește să-și ucidă fratele (are o mâncărime a fratricidului), în ciuda rugăminților corului femeilor thebane.
piesa se termină cu petrecania celor doi frați, împreună cu cele două surori, ismena și antigona (se spune că fragmentul e adăugită)
se spune că dintr-o cetate cucerită zeii pleacă. (p. 146)
e în câștig acel ce moare mai devreme decât mai târziu. (p. 165)

prometeu înlănțuit - cel mai mișto personaj al lui eschil

prometeu este, fără îndoială, personajul care mi-a plăcut cel mai mult dintre personajele celor patru piese ale volumului. nu pentru că este personaj civilizator al oamenilor - care nu doar că le-a adus focul, dar le-a dat scrierea, ingineria, meșteșugurile, calendarul, domesticirea animalelor - cu alte cuvinte, oameni i-a făcut.

dar prometeu e dat dracului. face ce vrea, are limba lungă, ce-i în gușă și-n căpușă, și-i pedepsit de noul șef al zeilor, zeus, care se dovedește cam tiranic și-l osândește să stea legat în lanțuri și un vultur să-i mănânce ficații: De-aceea vei fi pedepsit să stai de veghe pe stânca dușmănoasă, în picioare, veșnic fără somn, și fără să-ți îndoi genunchii. / Vei înălța potop de plângeri și zadarnici suspine. (p. 192) .

iar prometeu acceptă, acceptând firea de rahat a ingratului de zeus: acesta, după ce bine mersi a primit ajutorul lui zeus pentru a-l detrona pe tat-su, cronos, s-a ofticat brusc pe mila lui prometeu față de oameni. care oameni:
la început vedeau fără să vadă și ascultau fără să audă, aidoma cu plăsmuirile stârnite în vise, se petreceau de-a lungul vieții fără sens și în amestec. (p. 211)

se plânge el, dar își acceptă soarta. știe că va fi eliberat, mai târziu, de hercule. și că are un secret, care e atuul lui în fața lui zeus.

și fiicele lui okeanos, zânele apelor, se tot învârt cu corul lor, și-i cântă soarta, în fâlfâit de valuri.

Să cadă asupră-mi mănunchiul de foc împletit, tresară eterul în zgomot de trăsnete, sub vifor de vânturi sălbatice; suflările lor, zguduind pământul, să-l smulgă din rădăcini și străfunduri; talazul mării, cu vuiet năprasnic și aspru, umflat pân' la cer, să șteargă cărările stelelor, nemernicu-mi trup să-l azvârle adânc în bezna din Tartaros, în vârtejirile unei neîndurate ursite!
Dar nu voi putea fi atins niciodată de moarte. (p. 238)
Profile Image for Erick.
259 reviews237 followers
April 25, 2020
I read this more for Prometheus Bound than anything else. I find the mythological archetype of the trickster interesting. Prometheus has obvious parallels with the Sumerian/Accadian deity Enki/Ea. There can hardly be any doubt that the tradition is a shared one between the Middle East and the Mediterranean. On top of that, the figure of Shemhazai (aka Samyaza) of the Enochic tradition is also somewhat analogous. Prometheus is said to have given man certain kinds of forbidden knowledge, e.g. the knowledge of fire and various arts and sciences, including medicine and magic. While Azazel was also credited with bringing to humanity forbidden knowledge, his predilection was apparently more geared towards war than towards civilization building. Shemhazai seemed to be more allied with knowledge that was meant to promote civilization. Another interesting parallel between Shemhazai and Prometheus is that both were made to do penance in their repsective traditions. In Prometheus' case, he was bound to some remote mountain where his liver was devoured by crows after it continuously regenerated. Shemhazai was said to have been suspended between heaven and earth. Apparently, in Enochic tradition, some constellation may have been equated with Shemhazai originally. Draco is an obvious candidate, given the following: It also is likely that the serpent in the garden is a related motif. It was a component of Sumerian myth that Enki was often symbolized by a serpent. That serpents and dragons were often conflated in Middle Eastern and Levantine mythology is ubiquitously evident. For some reason both were often associated with wisdom and knowledge. Azazel was said to have been cast into the rocky wilderness of Dudael. There may be some parallel there.

It's interesting that Aeschylus could put in the mouth of Prometheus a prophecy of Zeus' removal as head of the pantheon. It is clear that the average Greek didn't see Zeus as being omnipotent. It was understood that he became the head divinity after the removal of Chronos. It isn't made clear what tradition is behind this Promethean prophecy. Prometheus adamantly refuses to give details when Io inquires. However, there's an allusion to Typhon that seems to imply that Zeus will be overcome by Typhon eventually:

"I pity Typhon, that earth-born destroying giant,
The hundred-headed, native of the Cilician caves;
I saw him, all his fiery strength subdued by force.
Against the united gods he stood, his fearful jaws
Hissing forth terror; from his eyes a ghastly glare
Flashed, threatening to annihilate the throne of Zeus.
But Zeus's sleepless weapon came on him....
... and struck
His very heart, and burnt his strength to sulphurous ash.
...and thence one day
Rivers of flame shall burst forth, and with savage jaws
Devour the bright smooth fields of fertile Sicily;
Such rage shall Typhon, though charred with the bolt of Zeus,
Send boiling out in jets of fierce, fire-breathing spume

The apocalyptic element of this prophecy seems to mirror the Norse legend of Ragnarok and Thor's final battle with the Midgard serpent. The parallels are certainly there.

The other three works included here are semi-historical dramas that are rather low on mythology, but contain some historical characters and allusions to historical events. Not quite as interesting for me, but worth reading nonetheless. There's not much there that I feel compelled to comment on.

The playwrights became excellent sources of myth when other primary sources were lost. Aeschylus is thus a primary source for the myth of Prometheus. If one is interested in Greek mythology, this is a great source.
Profile Image for sologdin.
1,717 reviews642 followers
December 9, 2019
I came for Prometheus Bound and stayed for The Persians and The Seven Against Thebes--but The Suppliant Maidens is the most sophisticated text here.

The Suppliant Maidens - a bizarre thing, with a choral protagonist, concerning an asylum claim of the Danaids: Greek drama was part of a self-flattering political dream wherein aliens always already desire to immigrate to Hellas against the wishes of nativists, which self-flattery continues in 2019 to be an abiding ideology in the United States and is accordingly one of the key foundational and self-defining mythologies of so-called western civilization. It gets to a weird start when the Egyptian speaker invokes Greek religion in the first line—is it masterful cosmopolitanism, or is it not rather a rigid xenophobia that can’t even imagine that strangers have their own ways? After the initial invocation of Zeus, the chorus seeks asylum whereupon the further invocation is made: “Who not in hell, Where another Zeus among the dead (they say) Works out their final punishment, can flee Their guilt of lust” (ll. 229-31). The imputation of Hellenic religion to xenos continues in “by race we claim Argos, the offspring of a fruitful cow” (l. 273-74), a reference to Io’s long journey.

Their petition: “to be no household-slave to Egyptus’ sons” (334). This, to the royal judge, is a “demand to wage / A new war” (341). The judge wants to avoid that “strife for us arise in unexpected and unpremeditated ways” (359). He regards it as outside his executive or judicial authority to decide, and considers it a legislative question: “But I make no promises until I share with all the citizens” (368-9), who at least have a consultative role, if not truly deliberative. The petitioners argue that “the land, the hearth [polis and oikos, NB] you rule / With the single vote and scepter” (372-3). In this dilemma, he fears “to act or not to act” (379), a moment of indecision. A concern for humanitarian intervention into the oikos of another in “a watchdog of men / Distressed who sit at neighboring hearths, / But obtain no lawful justice” (382-4). It is proposed that “Egytpus’ sons rule you by customs / Native to your city” (387-88), and they wish to escape it as a “heartless marriage” (394). The royal judge has difficulty with the issue, but insists on self-preservation: “So never may people say, if evil comes, / ‘Respecting aliens the city you destroyed’” (400-1).

The king is “run aground” (439) on the impasse of xenos v. polis, a matter of either course “necessity is strained” (440), hanged on ananke: “if consanguine / Blood is to stay unshed, we must sacrifice / To slaughter many kind to many gods” (448-49), he is “spent by this dispute” (450). “If I leave / This debt unpaid, you’ve warned of pollution / That shall strike unerringly” (471-3). He enjoins the father to place wreaths at “Altars of the native gods” so that “no one of the native people, who delight / In blame” might blame him (480 ff).

The chorus for its part thinks “mad is the race Egyptian, cursed, / In war unsated” (741-2); they are “wanton men, monstrous and profane” (763). The choral asylum claim runs through Io (524 ff.), who is construed at times as “bacchant of Hera” (565), “woman in turn, a monster marveled at” (570). The Egyptian advocate refers to the chorus as “you without city, I cannot respect” (852)—“willing, unwilling, you shall go” (861). The Egyptian position is standard imperialist: “I do not fear these gods before me” (893)—though the local royalty is not exactly enlightened: “You are / Barbarians, and you trifle insolently / With Greeks” (913-5): “you know not how to be a stranger” (918) as against “you speak unkindly to strangers” (927). The monarch adheres to the legislative will: “thus unanimous the vote / Decreed, never to surrender them to force” (941-2)—the city’s “voted will / Is now fulfilled” (963-4). Likely a trilogy focusing on the polis + demos > polis – demos; part II as themis – demos > polis + demos; part III is themis + demos > themis – demos? Dreadful, that they are lost.

The Persians

The introduction notes that “Aeschylus removes the Persian War to the realm of myth” here (45). The immediate concern is how “all Asia is gone: / To the city of Persians / Neither a herald not horseman returns” (13-5). The intention had been to “yoke / in servitude Hellas” (49-50)—a “destroyer of cities” (64) who is “yoking the neck of the sea” (71), the Persian monarch, from Herodotus VII, traces “his descent from Perseus” (79). The problem: “For divine fate has prevailed since / It enjoined Persians to wage wars” (102-3). It hangs in suspense until, foil to Marathon, “a Persian runner comes” (246) to report “all the barbarian host is gone” (254): “the sea-dyed corpses whirl / Vagrant on cragged shores” (277-8), “all aliens in a savage / Country, perished” (318-9). Even though the Persians allegedly outnumbered the Greeks, “some deity destroyed / Our host” (345-6): “she could not sate her appetite with those / Whom Marathon had made the Persians lose” (476-7). The result: “Now all Asia / Desolate, void” (548). “They throughout the Asian land / No longer Persian laws obey, / No longer lordly tribute yield, / Exacted by necessity; / Nor suffer rule as suppliants, / To earth obeisance never make: / Lost is the kingly power” (584-90). What’s left but to “lavish on the nether gods” libations for the dead (621)?

An anti-katabasis, of course, wherein the queen summons spectral Darius “up from the dead” (631). He duly reports: “Ascent is not easy. The chthonic deities more readily / Receive than give” (688-9). Though he fears famine or “civil strife within the city” (715) (Agamben’s stasis), the complaint is that Xerxes “drained the plain manless” (718), a fantasy of demographics, then. She is concerned that “to the joyous bridge / They came, the yoke of continents” (735); his point is rather that “my son in ignorance / Discovered it, by youthful pride; who hoped / To check the sacred waters of the Hellespont / by chains, just as if it were a slave” (742-5). He recalls a lovely precession of Persian history (765 ff) before noting that “Grecian soil is their own ally” (791) insofar as “it starves to death excessive numbers” (793). Persia is punished: “so great will be / The sacrificial cake of clotted gore / Made at Plataea by Dorian spear” (816-17).

Seven Against Thebes

Part of the Oedipus story, this text focuses plainly on the stasis that occurs in the power vacuum after Oedipus is cast out: there is “disaster” throughout the polis (5), and the present archon orders his soldiers “fear not that mighty mob of foreigners” (34), a nexus of rightwing anxiety. His reconnaissance reports that the seven enemy divisions seek to “lay your city level / with the ground, sacked, or by their deaths to make /a bloody paste of this same soil of yours” (47-48). Thereafter, signs of the enemy are seen in a “cloud of dust” that their movements raise (60, 81), as well as in sounds thereof heard from outside (83, 100, 150)—though it gets borderline surreal with proclamations such as “I see the sound” (103); this is a similar pre-heralding, as in the Agamemnon. Archon repeats the order to participate in the defense of the polis: “Now if there is anyone that will not hear / my orders, be he man or woman or in between, / sentence of death shall be decreed against him / and public stoning he shall not escape” (196-9 emphasis added): never mind the perverse incentives generated by this injunction, what is going on with the gender politics there? Archon is the normal authoritarian in advocating that “obedience is the mother of success” (223). The choral position is that “thanks to the Gods that we have our city / unconquered” (233), but the archon produces, perhaps, a tragic dilemma in “I do not grudge your honoring the Gods. / But lest you make our citizens cowards, / be quiet and not overfearful” (236-8).

None of it matters insofar as the polis is genuinely subject to solicitation: “Our city groans from its foundation” (245)—is the dilemma aforesaid shaking the constitutional order, rooted in theological fear, which runs contrary to the orders of the polis executive? For his part, the executive despairs, “Alas, the luck which among human beings / conjoins an honest man with impious wretches” (597-8), which founders on the same dilemma, interpreted in a self-serving manner. He believes that “our race, the race of Oedipus, / by the gods maddened, by them greatly hated” (653-4), which is a reasonable point, considering that this is all the fallout of divine revenge against Oedipus for his ancestors’ defeat of ancient chthonian monsters. He appeals to a different dilemma: “I do not think that now he comes to outrage / this fatherland of his she will stand his ally/ or else she is called falsely Justice, joining with a man whose mind conceives no limit in villainy. / In this I trust and to the conflict with him / I’ll go myself. What other has more right? / King against king, and brother against brother” (669-675). The chorus recognizes the problem: “Forth from your house the black-robed Fury / shall go” (700); “Old is the tale of sin I tell / but swift in retribution: to the third generation it abides. / Thrice in Pythian prophecies / given at Navel-of-Earth / Apollo had directed / King Laius all issueless to die” (742 ff.). For Oedipus, the problem was not the patricide or the incest, but rather when “he knew the meaning of his dreadful marriage” (778-9). But “the decisions of Laius, / wanting in faith” (841) as the crime? Otherwise, a fantasy of demographics insofar as “emptied the city walls” (330) is plausible; Capaneus particularly desires to “burn the city” (434), as part of the slick catalog of enemies (375 et seq.); the descriptions of the Seven are lovely otherwise.

Prometheus Bound

Set at “the world’s limit” (1), an “untrodden desolation” (2), agents of the gods “nail this malefactor” (id.) to the cliff so that he might “pay the gods the penalty” for his “man-loving disposition” (3-4). The “command of Zeus” finds its “perfect fulfilment” in “Might and Violence” (12). The torture will proceed until Heracles liberates Prometheus, though during the play he “has yet to be born” (26). Hephaestus feels guilt, but is assured that “your craft is in no way the author of his present troubles” (47).

Fairly brutal: “drive the obstinate jaw of the adamantine wedge right through his breast” (64). The prosopopeia for Might intones, after nailing, that “the Gods named you wrongly when they called you Forethought” (88). Prometheus himself envisions “ten thousand years of time” of torment (95). He also sees a “limit to my sufferings” because “I have known all before, all that shall be” (99-100). His resume is slick: “It was mortal man / to whom I gave great privileges and / for that was yoked to this unyielding harness. / I hunted out the secret spring of fire, / that filled the narthex stem, which then revealed / became the teacher of each craft to men, / a great resource. This is the sin committed / for which I stand accountant” (106-13). At “earth’s end” (117), he finds that he is “enemy of Zeus, hated of all” (121)—aesthetics determined by power—arising out of his “excessive love for man” (123)—even his self-assessment is uncritical in accepting the distortions of power. He wishes instead that he had been thrown “underneath / the earth and underneath the House of Hades, host of the dead-- / yes, down to limitless Tartarus” (152-54), which would have been the more standard punishment for this sort of transgression.

What then accounts for the deviation from precedent? The chorus construes Zeus as he malignantly, / always cherishing a mind /that bends not, has subdued the breed of Uranos, not shall he cease / until he satisfies his heart” (163-5). Prometheus for his part predicts that “he shall need me” (168), at which time he will demand “recompense” (179). Zeus is savage and “his justice / a thing he keeps by his own standard” (188-9), which enables Russell’s critique of the moral argument for the existence of god—that the standard of justice is idiosyncratic to power, rather than derived from any particular set of axioms.

An apocalyptic prediction in that Zeus “shall melt to softness yet / when he is broken in the way I know” (190-1). Zeus is more concerned with how “he assigned / to the several gods their several privileges / and portioned out their power, but to the unhappy / breed of mankind he gave no heed, intending / to blot the race out and create a new” (231-5). Prometheus by contrast “rescued men from shattering destruction” (236) and acted in representative capacity: “I gave to mortal man a precedence over myself in pity” (240). He caused “mortals to cease foreseeing doom” (250) and “placed in them blind hopes” (252) and “gave them fire” (254); he also “first yoked beasts for them” so that “they might be man’s substitute” (462-4). He also taught them medicine, divination, religious practice, oneiromancy, augury, and so on (475 ff.): “all arts that mortals have came from Prometheus” (505). And yet: “craft [techne?] is far weaker than necessity [ananke?]” (513). This acting in representative capacity is also an intentional internalization of an externality: “I knew when I transgressed nor will I deny it. / in helping man I brought my troubles on me” (267-8). An apocalypse is foretold (368-74). A repeated refrain is how Zeus is a tyrant—and that general term of opprobrium is given some substance in the notion of a “tyrant’s private laws” (403).

Here is perhaps a dilemma: “Who then is the steersman of necessity?” “The triple-formed Fates and the remembering Furies.” “Is Zeus weaker than these?” “Yes, for he, too, cannot escape what is fated” “What is fated for Zeus besides eternal sovereignty?” “Inquire of this no further” (515-20). This must be compared to Roman Jupiter, who is perhaps superior to fate. Prometheus declines to let out the secret that he knows, the fate of Zeus, as “it is only by keeping it that I will escape my despiteful bondage and my agony” (524). Io shows up to “the limits of the world” (666), with tales of Zeus wanting to “blot out the whole race” (669), again construing humans as a writing. Prometheus tells Io that her suffering thus far is but a “prelude” (739). Io asks if Zeus will fall from power and he answers: “know that this shall be” (760) because of “a son mightier than his father” (768)—unless Prometheus is freed—and there is a recitation of the liberatory agent, a descendent of Io, “a man renowned / for archery” (870-1), anti-chthonian Heracles.
Profile Image for Alina.
144 reviews73 followers
December 17, 2019
Though I’ve already written a review in Romanian for Prometheus Bound, it would have been strange if I didn’t write something about the entire volume that includes four of Aeschylus’ tragedies: The Suppliant Maidens, The Persians, The Seven Against Thebes and Prometheus Bound.

What you need to know about Aeschylus is that he is one of the three emblematic figures of Greek tragedy along with Sophocles and Euripides. It is said that Aeschylus wrote around one hundred plays during his lifetime, but only seven survived the test of time, four of which I’ve mentioned above, while the other three form the Oresteia Trilogy. Aeschylus is also known for introducing the second actor on the stage. He gradually diminished the role of the chorus and he shifted the focus from the lyricism of the composition to the dialogue – an important change that gives the tragedy its dramatic characteristics we all recognize even today. For his artistic achievements, Aeschylus is also called the Father of Tragedy and he is praised by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his famous work, Poetics.

The Suppliant Maidens (Ἱκέτιδες) is the earliest play of Aeschylus’ that survived to the present day, but it is less known in contrast with his other works. I actually read this one last because the subject didn’t appeal to me that much and I found the play pretty mediocre in theme and ‘action’. The subject has its roots in Greek mythology and it is the story of Danaus’ daughters who flee from Egypt to Argos, in order to avoid their incestuous marriages to the sons of Aegyptus, who were their cousins. The maidens (escorted by their father) find shelter in Argos hoping not to be captured by their suitors. In order to help the newcomers, Pelasgus (the King of Argos) asks his people to vote and their decision is crucial for the maidens’ destinies. Though the other two parts of the trilogy are lost, there are some scarce references to what happens to the maidens in Prometheus Bound and in one of Horace’s Odes.
E. D. A. Moreshead wrote about The Persians (Πέρσαι) that it “was brought out in 472 B.C., eight years after the sea-fight of Salamis which it commemorates” (p. 5), a play that had a great significance for those who fought against the Persian Empire in the Battles of Termopilæ, Marathon, Salamis and Plataea. The Persians might be the second play of a trilogy “standing between the Phineus and the Glaucus” (Idem.), Phineus being a prophet like Tiresias, who foreshadowed the conflict that is depicted in The Persians. I won’t spoil your read, but I will only add that, through this play, Aeschylus sends a patriotic message to his fellow Athenians and he revives their past victories against the Persians or the triumph of civilisation against barbarism, as Ovidiu Drîmba writes in his study of the history of theatre.
The Seven Against Thebes (Ἑπτὰ ἐπὶ Θήβας) depicts the siege of Thebes along with the cruel fate of the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, who were cursed by their father, the late King Oedipus, for not taking care of their blind parent and for their selfishness and thirst for power. From my point of view, the most lyrical and heartbreaking parts of the play are those recited by the Chorus of Maidens, who depict the terrific battle scenes and address helpless and desperate prayers to the gods to protect the city and not let it fall into the hands of their enemy. The irony is that the name Thebes doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, but Cadmea or Cadmus. The one that gave the play the name we all know was actually Aristophanes, who referred to it in his comedy Frogs as "the Seven against Thebes, a drama instinct with War, which anyone who beheld must have yearned to be a warrior" (p. 6).

In Prometheus Bound (Προμηθεὺς Δεσμώτης), Titan Prometheus is punished by Zeus for creating the first humans, for stealing the Sacred Fire from Mt. Olympus and for giving it to the earthlings to start the process of civilisation. Though Prometheus is bound to a rock on Mt. Elbrus and Zeus uses various types of torture to make the titan repent, Prometheus stands tall and doesn’t have any reason to be ashamed or to apologize for what he has done. He has the power to predict the future and that future will not be a bright one for Mighty Zeus. Prometheus is not afraid of Zeus because he is immortal; therefore, all he has to do is to endure all the torture until his saviour will fulfil the prophecy. Unfortunately for us, the second and third plays of the Promethean trilogy are lost, but we can find out who the saviour is by reading the Greek myths.

Overall, the plays were very interesting, due to their unique structure and well-known characters from history and myths, but the language was pretty old and sometimes difficult to understand – a factor that made the reading too slow for my liking. I’m sure that I would have enjoyed this volume a little more if the writing had been a bit more modern, but this is a matter of taste.


This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Anne.
502 reviews509 followers
March 29, 2015
Prometheus Bound : I really enjoyed being thrown back to high school and remembering Io the cow and all the crazy stories of the Greek gods. In this short play, Prometheus, who gave humans the gift of fire, is condemned to being chained to a mountain for having done so because Zeus doesn't approve. Io shows up and her reveals to her that she still has a long way before she will eventually conceive a child from Zeus.

The Suppliants : In this one the fifty daughters of Danaus (some descendant of Zeus and Io) are running away from their fifty cousins who want to bed them.

"Let them die before they ever lay hands
On us their cousins, to enter our unwilling beds,
Which Right forbids them!"

At least they understand how it works and know that bedding cousins is probably a BAD idea. This is putting Oedipus to serious shame. ;)
The whole play is pretty much about the ladies moaning and imploring the gods and the King of Argos, whom they chance upon and implore to help them. It was pretty crazy, but what would you expect from descendants of Zeus and a cow?

"The child pastured amid flowers,
The Calf whom Zeus begot
Of the Cow, mother of our race,
Made pregnant by the breathing and caress of Zeus"

Seven Against Thebes : This one was my favourite and a sort of prologue to Antigone, it tells the story of how the two brothers came to kill each other. For some reason the end made me laugh.

"Antigone: For you who died.
Ismene: For you who killed.
Antigone: My heart is wild with sobs.
Ismene: My soul groans in my body.
Antigone: Brother, whom I weep for -
Ismene: Brother, most pitiable -
Antigone: You were killed by your brother.
Ismene: You killed your brother.
Antigone: Twofold sorry to tell of -
Ismene: Twofold sorrow to see -
Antigone: Sorrow at the side of sorrow!
Ismene: Sorrow brother to sorrow!"

It's not even funny, but late at night it was.

The Persians : My least favourite, about the account of the battle of Salamis and the victory of the Athenians over Xerxes' army, and the latter's curse. It was good but less engaging than the rest.
Profile Image for Sarah.
262 reviews16 followers
December 10, 2020
Timeless themes and artful writing. I especially enjoyed the thoughts on justice presented by The Suppliant Maidens. I will be thinking about (and re-reading) Prometheus Bound for a long time... maybe one of these days I'll figure out its deeper meaning!
Profile Image for Daniel Chaikin.
594 reviews54 followers
June 19, 2016
34. Aeschylus, 2 : The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, The Suppliants, Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus
Penn Greek Drama Series edited by David R. Slavitt & Palmer Bovie
published: 1999
format: 205 page paperback
acquired: May 30
read: Jun 6-9
rating: 4 stars

Each play had a different translator:

The Persians (472 bce) - translated by David R. Slavitt
Seven Against Thebes (467 bce) - translated by Stephen Sandy
The Suppliants (463 bce) - translated by Gail Holst-Warhaft
Prometheus Bound: (date unknown, authorship contested) - translated by William Matthews

When I originally sat down to read some Greek tragedies, I started with this book, because Aeschylus's are the oldest surviving. At first I was struck by how curious the beginning of [The Persians] was. A prologue character opens the play and narrates the setting, talking directly to the audience. He opens, "The chorus of elders files in, the enemy we despise." Then goes on to describe these elders of the chorus and how we, the audience, will respond to them. When he called me a "New Yorker or Californian", I finally figured out something wasn't right. At this point I should have been terribly annoyed and hated the book.

These are "original literary translations". Slavitt was most free and creative in [The Persians]. There are no prologue characters in the Greek tragedies. Slavitt has essentially written his own play, one that tries to modernize the ancient one while maintaining the general theme. The other three plays are closer to simply translations. They translate freely, mixing, excising and adding parts, but they don't do anything as radical as add or subtract characters.

Anyway, the reason I didn't hate this book is that I actually enjoyed Slavitt's creation. Yes, it left me feeling I still needed to read more standard translations, and for a few plays I did this. But I gained something here too. This book was, for me, worth the detour.

I reviewed The Persians and The Seven Against Thebes on their pages. Some notes on the other two:

The Suppliants

50 brides, the Danaids, flee their Egyptian grooms. They travel oversea and land in Argos in Greece, where they camp on holy ground. They beg for protection from the gods and from the king of Argos, hence the supplication.

It's the first of a lost trilogy. Here the king of Argos agrees to protect them, just as the 50 rejected grooms arrive. In the next plays the king is killed and the sisters are married to the men. The first night of marriage, 49 sisters kill their new husbands. One holds out—Hypermnestra refuses to kill Lynceus. Lynceus eventually becomes king of Argos.

The Suppliants is odd in several ways. It's uneventful and kind of boring and yet also curious and interesting as the woman plead for protection by reasoning. They first argue they are in the right, then they threaten mass suicide on sacred ground of Argos, and act that would pollute this ground.

The translator, in her preface, thinks over the question of why this play was preserved when so many were lost. She calls it "a remote and haunting text, whose august stance is hard to comprehend".

Prometheus Bound

Easily the best of these four plays. There is a lot going on here. Prometheus is interesting. The basic story line is that he is chained to cliff by Zeus forever as punishment for giving man fire. Here he claims he gave man not only fire, but everything needed for civilization, including how to think, and how to use math and study the stars. He is visited by Oceanus who wishes to help him, and Io (as in Ionic) who is rushing through her own troubles. Hera turned her into a cow and has a fly endlessly harass her across the known world. Finally Hermes comes to press Prometheus on a secret he has about the fate of Zeus. The discussions are interesting and varied, touching on personal fate and on how much to sacrifice and what it all means.

This is another survivor of a lost trilogy. In Prometheus Unbound, Zeus would free Prometheus, who, in return, would warn Zeus not to marry Thetis. In Prometheus the Fire-Bringer Prometheus would finally convince Zeus not to marry Thetis. She is married to a human, and gives birth to the hero Achilles. I'll note that there is some debate on the author of Prometheus Bound, but I'll leave it there. (I'm not sure what "author" really meant to Greeks in this context anyway.)

Profile Image for James Henderson.
2,044 reviews166 followers
December 28, 2020
Some have compared Prometheus to Jesus Christ. Certainly the opening scene of Aeschylus's play, with Prometheus splayed upon a rock as he is bound by Hephaestus, invites the comparison. I would not go so far and see the interplay between the Greek gods to be the relevant context for this scene. Played out at the "world's limit" in a bleak setting the drama portrays Prometheus suffering punishment for making humans "intelligent and masters of their minds". (line 444)

Prometheus' crime is not the only reason for his punishment for the chorus tells us that there is a war going on between the "Old" gods (Olympians) and the new generation of Gods. Zeus is seeking to maintain his primacy while Prometheus and his brothers are the dangerous new gods on the block. Atlas is suffering as well carrying the weight of the whole world on his back. The scales are not even - their is nothing like fairness or justice in this world. Prometheus is doomed even as he is visited by Io who is also suffering due to Hera's jealous rage over Zeus's attentions.

Being a god does not seem to lead to a completely pleasant life - there is strife and anger at every turn even for the most powerful. The winners in this play seem to be humans who do not have to relinquish the gifts endowed them by Prometheus. However, even these can be seen as a two-edged sword for our ancestors who had to endure hardships of many kinds in the struggle of living in the world. Prometheus cries out "O sky that circling brings light to all, you see how unjustly I suffer!" (lines 1091-2) Could that be our own cry even today?
Profile Image for Marcos Augusto.
727 reviews5 followers
September 11, 2022
The god Prometheus, who in defiance of Zeus has saved mankind and given them fire, is chained to a remote crag as a punishment ordered by the king of the gods. Despite his isolation Prometheus is visited by the ancient god Oceanus, by a chorus of Oceanus’ daughters, by the “cow-headed” Io (another victim of Zeus), and finally by the god Hermes, who vainly demands from Prometheus his knowledge of a secret that could threaten Zeus’s power. After refusing to reveal his secret, Prometheus is cast into the underworld for further torture. The drama of the play lies in the clash between the irresistible power of Zeus and the immovable will of Prometheus, who has been rendered still more stubborn by Io’s misfortunes at the hands of Zeus. The most striking and controversial aspect of the play is its depiction of Zeus as a tyrant. Prometheus himself has proved to be for later ages an archetypal figure of defiance against tyrannical power.
Profile Image for Dave.
232 reviews18 followers
August 21, 2011
How does one approach reviewing Aeschylus or any of the classics? One is dealing with a work which is thousands of years old and in and of itself a piece of history. Add to that problem that for most of us, there is no choice but to read translations of the work, rather than the original. In addition, there are only a few works remaining from only three sources (unless the authorship has been incorrectly given), so one is left to compare Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, and given that Aeschylus was writing much earlier than the others the comparison would be rather difficult given the changes that Aeschylus made to Greek Theatre. What one can discuss is how readable the translations are, and the supporting material.

Aeschylus I, number 145 in the Loeb Classical Library contains four of Aeschylus’ plays: “Persians”, “Seven Against Thebes”, “Suppliants”, and “Prometheus Bound”. The edition I have read is the 2008 publication which was edited and translated by Alan H. Sommerstein. In the preface, Mr. Sommerstein discusses the state of the Aeschylus volumes prior to this publication and what he attempts to accomplish with this new translation and publication of the plays. This is followed by a superb introduction which discusses Aeschylus, his life, his works, Greek Theatre, and what happened to the plays in history to bring them to the point they are now at. This is followed by the standard Bibliography, Sigla, and Abbreviations which one expects from a Loeb edition, and that brings us to the plays themselves.

Each of the plays is preceded by a section detailing the specifics of the play. When it was believed to be first performed, whether it won the Dionysia competition, what parts of the play may be suspect, what is believed to be the other plays in the production and what is known about those plays. The footnotes in the translations of the plays themselves are also quite extensive, as information about the decisions made in the translation are covered as well as more information to better help understand any unspoken meanings that Aeschylus may have been trying to convey. The translations themselves are excellent. I have read a few translations of some of these plays, and Mr. Sommerstein has done an outstanding job of helping the reader understand the play.

“Persians” opens with the council of Susa (i.e. the chorus) unsure of the fate of their army and concerned because so many men went to war so far away. They are joined by the Queen Mother, Atossa who is also concerned, because of a dream she had. News of the disaster arrives by messenger, and all are distraught. Atossa asks the chorus to summon the ghost of Darius, who at first is completely unaware of what has occurred, and then curses the hubris of his son Xerxes who led his vast army to this disaster, and then prophesizes the defeat at Plataea. Eventually Xerxes himself arrives in rags and laments the defeat and what it means to Persia.

“Seven Against Thebes” begins after Thebes has been under siege for a time, and on a day when it has been prophesized (by Teiresias) that the city will be assaulted on that very day. A scout arrives and gives Eteocles a description of what has happened outside the city and then leaves to gather more information. Eteocles comments on what he has been told and leaves to oversee the defenses. The Theben maidens arrive (i.e. The Chorus) and describe the fear and terror felt inside the city. Eteocles returns and tries to shame the women into being silent and thus not spread any more fear, they agree and Eteocles once again leaves to inspect the defenses. The Chorus continues to comment until the scout returns and Eteocles rushes back to talk to him. The scout describes each of the seven captains who are assaulting the seven gates, finishing with Polyneices Eteocles discusses how each will be dealt with, and when he learns that is brother is at the seventh gate, he decides to go there to face his brother himself. The Chorus is left alone as both the scout and Eteocles have left the stage. The scout returns and we learn that Eteocles and Polyneices have killed each other. The ending is a bit uncertain as it appears that Atigone and Ismene were added to the play for a later production. However, there is a dispute over what to do with the bodies of the two brothers.

“Suppliants” is about the Danaids who are fleeing a forced marriage and make a plea to King Pelasgus of Argos to protect them. He lets the Argive people make the decision, which is to help the Danaids. An Egyptian herald arrives to try to force the Danaids to return for the marriage, but King Pelasgus threatens the herald and pushes the Danaids to go within the walls of Argos for protection. For me, this was the most difficult play to follow, there was not much in the way of action, and significant sections of it are missing or were added in which makes it all the more difficult.

“Prometheus Bound” is the last of the plays in this volume, and along with “Persians” is the most enjoyable one to read. Some question whether Aeschylus actually wrote the play, but regardless it is an interesting one. The play opens with Prometheus being escorted to the wrong to which he will be bound by Power (Kratos), Violence (Bia), and Hephaestus, the smith. Violence never utters a word, nor does Prometheus himself during this initial period, but Power mocks Prometheus and Hephaestus is empathetic to Prometheus’s position. Power pushes Hephaestus until the job is done, and then the three leave Prometheus alone. For the remainder of the play Prometheus is chained to the rock, lamenting his position, and talking to those who come to see him, such as the daughters of Oceanus (Chorus), Oceanus, Io, and at the end Hermes. The play pits the tyranny of Zeus against Prometheus and his (Prometheus’s) love for man.

This is an excellent edition of the Loeb library, and the new translations of Aeschylus are quite good. One could argue that any edition of classic works deserves five stars, but in this case it is really earned.
Profile Image for mary kate.
85 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2023
“misfortune wanders everywhere, and settles now upon one and now upon another.”
Profile Image for Mel.
3,252 reviews188 followers
November 23, 2012
I bought this book because we were going to see a production of the Persians and wanted to be familiar with the story. I did like it a lot. This translation seemed really good, you could really hear the beauty and the despair of the ancient words. It was interesting reading a play that was how terrible things were for the enemey. Were the Greeks boasting or just showing compassion? I enjoyed the Persians immensly, a lot of woe, a strong woman queen, and a ghost! My favourite things! The next play Seven against thebes I also found interesting. I liked the juxtaposition between the women seeking religious help from the gods and the men keen on war. While it read a lot like a modern action movie (with descriptions of battles) it was interesting to see the gender differences and the way religon was portrayed, and like the first play, the language was gorgeous. The supplicants was also very interesting from a gender perspective, as the women petitioned the gods, and the town to save them from unwanted marriage. I can totally see why people would want to study these plays in detail, just reading through I felt like I was missing so much, but still getting exposed to so much history it was great. The last play Prometheus Unbound wasn't as much fun. The translator said how it was possibly not written by Aeschylus. I think the fact that there were so many more charcters seemed a bit weaker, and I missed the woes of the female chorus in the other play. But it was still good, just not as good as the first three. I think I've read three Greek playwrights so far, and this is definitely my favourite. I also highly recommend this translation.
Profile Image for Noah Goats.
Author 8 books22 followers
November 27, 2020
This is a great collection of plays, beautifully translated and helpfully annotated in this Penguin edition. The story of Prometheus is one of the most powerful and poignant in Greek mythology, and Aeschylus tells it with real feeling. The other plays in this collection are great as well. Seven Against Thebes continues the story of the aftermath of the whole Oedipus debacle, and in the process captures the horror of living in an ancient walled city under siege. The Suppliants, with its story about refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and searching for asylum in Europe felt surprisingly timely. We've been having the same immigration debate for well over 2,000 years now apparently. The last play in the collection is the Persians, and it's an interesting work for several reasons. Aeschylus was a veteran of the wars against the Persians, and when he wrote this it wasn't ancient myth, but very recent history. It's actually an important historical source for what happened at the battle of Salamis. It's funny because the play is presented as a tragedy, but what was tragedy for the Persians was glory for the Greeks, and it's fun to imagine those Greek audiences positively glowing with schadenfreude as they watched it. All these plays are interesting glimpses into ancient Greek culture with passages of great beauty and power. Still well worth reading after so many centuries.
Profile Image for Daisy.
773 reviews3 followers
March 17, 2016
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars

I definitely preferred Prometheus Bound and The Persians to the other plays in this collection. Divine intervention is always more interesting for me, but even the plays I didn't like so much were still written very well. There's a level of eloquence classical writers are known for that you really don't find these days, and I think Aeschylus demonstrates this perfectly. I'm definitely enjoying studying this over some of the other texts, and I think it's a good way to go into classical plays if you're at al interested but slightly daunted by the idea.
Profile Image for Cassandra Kay Silva.
704 reviews277 followers
June 2, 2011
As theater goes I have read nothing of higher caliber than this. Prometheus Bound especially stirs great emotion in the reader and would be amazing to see live. The conversations with the Ocean, the nature of the gods, mans relation to fire. It is all very poetic and lovely. It was a sheer pleasure to read these works of Aeschylus.
Profile Image for Ryan Morrow.
Author 7 books13 followers
December 15, 2021
Prometheus Bound was incredible, the other three plays dragged on with minimal payoff. In contrast, I think any of the plays would have been fantastic to see in person.
Profile Image for Xavier.
164 reviews59 followers
August 20, 2021
I find the ancient Greeks to be a fascinating bunch. I'm slowly learning about their culture and beliefs, their love of wine and the olive, and of discourse and philosophy. They loved competition; the Panhellenic Games -- boxing, wrestling, foot races, etc., the genesis of the Olympic Games today -- was a staple of their society which managed to bring together the city-states of Hellas. This love of the contest also extended into the realm of the drama. The Greek citizen enjoyed watching plays come alive in the open-aired theatres. The playwrights vied for the honor of having their play chosen as the best.

This work provides four of Aeschylus' work that have survived. Each of these plays were originally parts of a trilogy and unfortunately those works were lost to time, and so what we have left are these unfinished stories. The only trilogy that we have in completion is the Oresteia, which I plan to read at some point.

Here is a quick review of each play:

The Suppliant Maidens: A short play about maidens who have taken flight from Egypt to prevent being forcefully married to their cousins. They arrive in Argos and beg the the king of the city to give them refuge. I wasn't blown away but its important to note that this is 1 part of a lost trilogy so who knows what the rest of the play was like. 2/5 stars.

The Persians: Another short drama written in the point of view of the Persians after their loss at Salamis. In the introduction it says that plays humanizing the enemy were unthought of in ancient Greece. I enjoyed it because the melancholy and lamentations come through very well. You feel for the losers of the war. 3/5 stars.

Seven Against Thebes: Oedipus's son Eteocles, who is now king of Thebes, protects the city against an attack from his brother Polynices and six other great warriors. I enjoyed the writing in this one; very poetic. It's a cool addition to the three Theben plays by Sophocles. Fate wasn't kind to poor Oedipus. 4/5 stars.

Prometheus Bound: The story of Prometheus is my favorite of Greek myths and I was not disappointed with this one. The language was beautiful. Prometheus is wise and defiant. Hermes is an asshole but Prometheus lays down a lyrical smackdown. I loved it. I would've loved to see how this one ended. 5/5 stars.
Profile Image for AB.
175 reviews5 followers
March 9, 2018
An interesting collection of plays but over all I have mixed feelings about them. Each had some great points to them but I can't help feeling some sort of lackluster thoughts. The plays, by today's and even later classical playwrights standards fell slightly flat. I could not help but think that nothing substantial had happened. I am aware that these plays are one part of a trilogy so I do not grudge Aeschylus or think these are not worth reading, but it did feel like a single act over a complete play. That being said, these plays were still an enjoyable and insightful experience and I feel that this read was time well spent. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in classical tragedy
Out of the 4 plays presented here The suppliants and The Persians were by far my favourites. I found the threat of ritual pollution threatened by the daughters of Danaus and the tricky position the king was put in to be absolutely riveting ideas. The Persians was such a great read. I got what I expected in terms of Athenian boasting but the Persians were surprisingly human. While you felt the pride the Athenians would have felt you also feel the crushing defeat and uncertainty of the Persians. Overall, interesting concepts and executions. Footnotes were minimal and not very useful
Profile Image for Abigail Brown.
28 reviews2 followers
July 23, 2023
I'm really enjoying my exploration of these ancient Greek works, I just wish more of them survived! I was so invested in The Suppliants, just for the trilogy to be incomplete😭😭 I need to figure out where to read more about Io's story too, it sounds absolutely wild! After this I'm planning on re-reading the Odyssey and getting my hands on the Oedipus plays. I also sort of feel like I'm studying for my eventual dive into Percy Jackson lmao😅 yes, I'll get to that eventually
Profile Image for paula..
433 reviews148 followers
October 10, 2021
i do enjoy the story of prometheus and i was very glad that we are discussing this in class, however prometheus is a pick me man who should learn to shut up because he is annoying!!!

book 1 for my drama and transgression: from prometheus to faust module
Profile Image for v.
272 reviews26 followers
September 26, 2022
These four plays (all of which are the only surviving parts of trilogies) are suggestive, spare, and varied, and "Prometheus Bound" is likely my favorite ancient Greek tragedy. I'll take this over the Oresteia.
Profile Image for Phoebes.
501 reviews28 followers
April 23, 2022
1) Filottete (Sofocle) - 4 stelle.
Mi è piaciuta molto questa tragedia! Pur essendo nel complesso piuttosto statica, si è fatta leggere con interesse ed emozione!
Belli i personaggi, bello il tema trattato, bello anche lo scenario dell’isola selvaggia e deserta! :)

2) Agamennone (Eschilo) - 4 stelle
Sempre affascinante leggere un testo così antico. E’ proprio l’espressione di un altro modo di pensare. Come dice Enrico Medda in una delle note, in questa tragedia, ancor più nel seguito della trilogia, non c’è una contrapposizione tra giusto e ingiusto, ma tra diverse concezioni di giustizia.

3) Coefore (Eschilo) - 4 stelle
Come quasi tutti i capitoli di mezzo delle trilogie, è un po’ appeso, meno incisivo del primo (il terzo devo ovviamente ancora leggerlo), ma comunque interessante.

4) Eumenidi (Eschilo) - 4 stelle
Da quando a scuola lessi il riassunto di questa trilogia, mi venne il desiderio di leggerla perché una cosa in particolare mi aveva grandemente affascinato: la scena d’inizio di questa tragedia. La Pizia si prepara ad accogliere i pellegrini in cerca di profezie, e si ritrova davanti Oreste, con le mani ancora insanguinate, circondato dalle Erinni che dormono. Penso che sia una scena fantastica, non so come potevano essere i costumi all’epoca, ma anche solo con la fantasia è un’immagine spettacolare, questo ragazzo che per forza di cose si trova a familiarizzare con questi esseri mostruosi! :)

5) Aiace (Sofocle) - 4 stelle
Ma sapete che Sofocle era proprio bravo a scrivere? ;) Anche questa tragedia mi è piaciuta molto, nonostante la storia, stavolta, non fosse particolarmente interessante.

6) Sette contro Tebe (Eschilo) - 4 stelle
Forse dopo l’Orestea mi sarà difficile provare le stesse emozioni per un’altra tragedia greca, però sono sempre una lettura che mi piace moltissimo. Situazioni assurde, scelte incomprensibili, il fato che sovrasta ogni cosa e impone il suo volere… eppure si parla sempre di sentimenti umani, e per questo colpiscono ancora oggi, a millenni di distanza, noi lettori che apparentemente non abbiamo il benché minimo tratto in comune con questi personaggi. E’ tutto un po’ una metafora, efficace sempre, allora come oggi.

7) Trachinie - 4 stelle
Conoscevo già il mito su cui si basa questa tragedia, sapevo quindi come la storia sarebbe andata a finire. Poi, è una tragedia, perciò il finale tristissimo pieno di morte e sciagura era previsto, però devo dire che l’ho trovato davvero molto deprimente.
Tenuto conto di tutto ciò, comunque mi è piaciuto leggere questa tragedia, non l’ho trovata per nulla pesante o noiosa, e anche se non credo sia una di quelle che mi rimarrà impressa com’è accaduto invece qualche altra volta, è stata una bella lettura.

8) Persiani - 4 stelle
Mi è piaciuta molto questa tragedia, anche se la parte del Coro l’ho trovata noiosa perché troppo ripetitiva. Mi è piaciuto che rappresentasse, una volta tanto, un evento storico e non mitologico, e mi è piaciuto che decidesse di mostrarcelo da un punto di vista originale, quello dei vinti. Intendiamoci, solo dal loro punto di vista, non certo dalla loro parte, perché comunque lo scopo di Eschilo era esaltare i Greci e la loro famosa vittoria. In ogni caso una lettura molto piacevole e interessante!
Profile Image for Rick.
2,479 reviews
July 9, 2017
See four plays are all really fragments as they portions of larger cycles dealing the same characters or themes. Imagine sitting down to read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and having only Volume 3 available. Or only being able to watch Attack of the Clones but knowing five other Star Wars films once existed. Frustrating. Like the lost plays of William Shakespeare, the plays contained in this slim volume only tease us with what the completed stories might have authored. These are good examples of dissecting the human condition, but they only hint at what the author may have truly had in mind in telling them.

Two of the four stood out for me.
Prometheus Unbound is an interesting fraction (?) of a larger play, the rest of the pieces have been sadly lost, but it still works well on its own. Prometheus is the prototype rebel against authority, but he is also the prototype of the teacher. This makes him a very fascinating character study. In this play we see the results of his struggles against Zeus's authority and the consequences of his delivery of fire into the hands of mankind. It's a pity the other two (?) plays detailing the Prometheus chronicle by Aeschylus have been lost.

The Persians was also very interesting. A tagedy written by a Greek but from the point of view of a Persian who wanted to enslave the Greeks. Not what I expected.one would think that a historical tragedy would portray the Persians as monsters, villains and the stereotypical political enemy. Instead the Persians are humanely noble; which, of course, make sthe tragedy work. It was also interesting that this was a historical tragedy, most (all?) Greek plays I am familiar with deal with mythological stories and characters. This is in many ways a very unique example of Greek theater.
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