Another important important contemporary of Sophocles playwright is Aeschylus. The importance of Aeschylus in the development of the drama is immense. Prior to his writings, tragedy (as opposed to comedy) had consisted of a chorus and one actor. Aeschylus introduced a second actor, expanding the dramatic dialogue and he revolutionizing Greek tragedy. He acted in his own plays, and directed the chorus. The role of director assumed a new importance in the person of Aeschylus. His most famous tragic trilogy, Oresteia, the only example of a complete Greek tragic trilogy which has come down to us, consists of the “Agamemnon,” the “Choephorae,” and the “The Furies.” Students should read at least one of the trilogy selections and compare it to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The following is the beginning of Agamemnon:

Pray the gods to quit me of my toils,
To close the watch I keep, this livelong year;
For as a watch-dog lying, not at rest,
Propped on one arm, upon the palace-roof
Of Atreus’ race, too long, too well I know
The starry conclave of the midnight sky,
Too well, the splendours of the firmament,
The lords of light, whose kingly aspect shows–
What time they set or climb the sky in turn–
The year’s divisions, bringing frost or fire.
And now, as ever, am I set to mark
When shall stream up the glow of signal-flame,
The bale-fire bright, and tell its Trojan tale–
Troy town is ta’en: such issue holds in hope
She in whose woman’s breast beats heart of man.
Thus upon mine unrestful couch I lie,
Bathed with the dews of night, unvisited
By dreams–ah me–for in the place of sleep Stands
Fear as my familiar, and repels
The soft repose that would mine eyelids seal.
And if at whiles, for the lost balm of sleep,
I medicine my soul with melody Of trill or song–anon to tears I turn,
Wailing the woe that broods upon this home,
Not now by honour guided as of old.
But now at last fair fall the welcome hour
That sets me free, whene’er the thick night glow
With beacon-fire of hope deferred no more.
All hail! [A beacon-light is seen reddening the distant sky.
Fire of the night, that brings my spirit day,
Shedding on Argos light, and dance, and song.
Greetings to fortune, hail!
Let my loud summons ring within the ears Of Agamemnon’s queen, that she anon
Start from her couch and with a shrill voice cry
A joyous welcome to the beacon-blaze,
For Ilion’s fall; such fiery message gleams
From yon high flame; and I, before the rest,
Will foot the lightsome measure of our joy;
For I can say, My master’s dice fell fair-”-Behold! the triple sice, the lucky flame!
Now be my lot to clasp, in loyal love,
The hand of him restored, who rules our home:
Home–but I say no moreore: upon my tongue
Treads hard the ox o’ the adage.
Had it voice,
The home itself might soothliest tell its tale;
I, of set will, speak words the wise may learn,
To others, nought remember nor discern.
[Exit. The chorus of old men of Mycenà enter, each leaning on a staff. During their song Clytemnestra appears in the background, kindling the altars].
(Charles W. Eliot, The Harvard Classics, Vol. 8< /SPAN>, NY: P. F. Collier and Co., 1937, 7-8).

In Ancient Greek tragedy, like Oedipus Rex, there was as an attempt to attain what Greek critics (e.g., Aristotle) called the “art impulses of nature.” Like mixing acids and bases in a chemical compound until one reaches equilibrium, Greeks sought to mix passion and realism to attain a sort of cosmic equilibrium. Thus the tragic plot would emphasize the realism of this play and the metaphysical lyrics of the chorus would highlight the passionate ingredient of the same play. The hope was that the net result would be a pure tragedy full of feeling and reason.

Students should ask themselves these questions, “Was that balance attained=2 0by Sophocles in this play? Was the play too incredible and passionate to enjoy? Or did Sophocles manage to inspire and to inform the view at the same time?”

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