Aeschylus: Biography, Plays & Poems

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson is about the life and plays of Aeschylus, an Athenian soldier and playwright of the fifth century, and one of the first dramatists known to history.

Aeschylus: Life and Legend

Sometimes, legends can outlive facts. That is certainly true for Aeschylus, a writer from ancient Greece. There are no reliable biographies about Aeschylus, but legend has it he was descended from the ancient nobility of Athens. Another story says that he spent his youth tending vineyards until Dionysius came to him in a dream and told him to write plays. To have these legends survive for thousands of years says something about the respect Aeschylus had in life.

The Bust of Aeschylus

And yet, what we do know for sure about Aeschylus is much more impressive. He was born in about 535 B.C.E. in Eleusis, a small town near Athens. He participated at the battles of Marathon and Salamis, two battles that kept the Persian Empire from conquering Greece.

Aeschylus was not the kind of person to be satisfied with just military success, however. He was living in a time of great thinkers. We might compare his time period with the much more recent era that took place in the U.S. after World War II. That generation who fought the war is often referred to as 'The Greatest Generation' because of its accomplishments. Aeschylus was living in a great generation as well, one rich with the most well-known writers, speakers and scientists of the time. But he was primarily drawn to the theater.

Changes to the Theater

Aeschylus was an innovator for plays. When he began writing, most plays used only a single actor who would interact with the chorus. Aeschylus introduced a second actor, and this development allowed for greater dramatic flexibility.

Aeschylus was also responsible for improving the costumes for his plays. It has been said that when the Furies appeared on stage for the first time they caused 'young children to faint, patriarchs to urinate, and pregnant women to go into labour.' He may also have been the first to develop stage decoration.


Probably the most obvious thing Aeschylus did was to write in verse; all of his plays were in a poem format. Aeschylus' tales were focused on morality, which gave a new depth to tragedies. But Aeschylus eased his audiences into them by making the stories distant. Either gods were the central characters (the Prometheus trilogy) or the plays were put in faraway settings (as in The Persians). Doing that kept his audiences from feeling too uncomfortable.

The Ghost of Darius Appears
The Persians

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account