Æschylus

, one of the most eminent tragic -poets of ancient times, was born at Athens. Authors differ in regard to the time of his birth, some placing it in the 65th, others in the 70th olympiad; but according to Stanley, who relies on the Arundelian marbles, he was born in the 63d olympiad, or about 400 years B. C. He was the son of Euphorion, and brother to Cynegirus and Aminias, who distinguished themselves in the battle of Marathon, and the sea-fight of Salamis; at which engagement Æschylus was likewise present. In this last action, according to Diodorus Siculus, Aminias, the younger of the three brothers, commanded a squadron of ships, and behaved with so much conduct and bravery, that he sunk the admiral of the Persian fleet, and signalized himself above all the Athenians. To this brother our poet was, upon a particular occasion, obliged for saving his life. Ælian relates, that Æschylus, being charged by the Athenians with certain blasphemous expressions in some of his pieces, was accused of impiety, and condemned to be stoned to death. They were just going to put the sentence in execution, when Aminias, with a happy presence of mind, throwing aside his cloak, shewed his arm without a hand, which he had lost at the battle of Salamis, in defence of his country. This sight made such an impression on the judges, that, touched with the remembrance of his valour, and the friendship he shewed for his brother, they pardoned Æschylus. Our poet however resented the indignity of this prosecution, and resolved to leave a place where his life had been in | danger. He became more determined in this resolution, when he found his pieces less pleasing to the Athenians than those of Sophocie’s, though a much younger writer. Simonides had likewise won the prize from him, in an elegy upon the battle of Marathon. Suidas having said that uÆschylus retired into Sicily, because the seats broke down during the representation of one of x his tragedies, some have taken this literally, without considering that in this sense such an accident did great honour to ^schylus; but, according to Joseph Scaliger, it was a phrase amongst the comedians; and he was said to break down the seats, whose piece could not stand, but fell to the ground. Some affirm, that Æschylus never sat down to compose but when he had drunk liberally. This perhaps was in allusion to his excessive imagination, which was apparent in an abrupt, impetuous, and energetic style. They who co.uld not relish the sublimer beauties of language, might perhaps have ascribed his rapid and desultory manner, rather to the fumes of wine than to the result of reason. He wrote a great number of tragedies, of which there are but seven remaining; viz. Prometheus, the Seven Champions before Thebes, the Persae, the Agamemnon, the Choephorae, the Eumenides, and the Suppliant Virgins; and in these it is evident, that if he was not the father, he was the great improver of the Grecian stage. In the time of Thespis there was no public theatre to act upon; the strollers drove about from place to place in a cart. Æschylus furnished his actors with masks, and dressed them suitably to their characters. He likewise introduced the buskin, to make them appear more like heroes; and the ancients give Æschyius the praise of having been the first who removed murders and shocking sights from the eyes of the spectators. He is said likewise to have lessened the number of the chorus; but perhaps this reformation was owing to an accident; in his Eumenides, the chorus, which consisted of fifty persons, appearing on the stage with frightful habits, had such an effect on the spectators, that the women with child miscarried, and the children fell into fits; which occasioned a law to be made to reduce the chorus to fifteen. Mr. Le Fevre has observed, that Æschylus never represented women in love, in his tragedies, which, he says, was not suited to his genius; but in representing a woman transported with fury, he was incomparable. Longinus says, | that Æschylus has a noble boldness of expression; and that his imagination is lofty and heroic. It must be owned, however, that he affected pompous words, and that his sense is too often obscured by figures. But, notwithstanding these imperfections, this poet was held in great veneration by the Athenians, who made a public decree that his tragedies should be played after his death. When Æschylus retired to the court of Hiero king of Sicily, this prince was then building the city of Ætna, and our poet celebrated the new city by a tragedy of the same name. After having lived some years at Gela, we are told that he died of a fracture of his skull, caused by an eagle letting fall a tortoise on his head; and that this death is said to have been predicted by an oracle, which had foretold that he should die by somewhat from the heavens. He died, however, by whatever means, according to Mr. Stanley, in the 69th year of his age. He had the honour of a pompous funeral from the Sicilians, who buried him near the river Gela; and the tragedians of the country performedplays and theatrical exercises at his tomb; upon which was inscribed an epitaph, celebrating him only for his valour at the battle of Marathon.

He has been justly compared to Shakspeare for energy of style and sentiment, for expression of character and passion, often by the happiest use of trivial circumstances. His merits have been skilfully analysed by the author of the Observer, No. 132, 133, and 134, who, it is nowknown, derived his materials from the unpublished writings of Dr. Bentley and perhaps yet better by the abbé Barthelemy, in his Anacharsis.

The editions of Æschylus are very numerous. The best are those of Robertellus, Venet. 1552, 8vo; Victorius, Paris, 1557, 4to; Canterus, Antwerp, 1530, 12mo; Stanley, London, 1663 1664, fol. from the text of Canter, a magnificent book, containing the scholia, fragments, the notes and prefaces of preceding editors, and the annotations of the very learned editor himself. Another magnificent edition of Glasgow, 1795, fol. from the text of the late professor Person, is said to be incorrect. The learned professor’s genuine edition was published in 1806, 2 vols. 8vo, and contains many admirable improvements of the text. It is much to be regretted, that the notes have not appeared. The English reader has been introduced to the | beauties of Æschylus by the elegant poetical translation of Mr. Potter, published in 1777. 1

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Gen. Dict.—Cumberland’s Observer.—British Essayists, vol. XI.—Dibdin’s Classics.—Bibliographical Dict.—Saxii Onomasticon.Anacharsis, vol. VI.