Aeschylus' Oresteia and Prometheus Bound: Hubris and the Chorus

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The dramatic presentations of ancient Greece developed out of religious rites performed to honor gods or to mark the coming of spring. Playwrights such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides composed plays to be performed and judged at competitions held during the yearly Dionysian festivals. Those plays were chosen by a selection board and evaluated by a panel of judges. To compete in the contest, Greek playwrights had to submit three tragedies, which could be either based on a common theme or unrelated, and one comedy. However, relatively few of these ancient Greek plays survive today. Known as the "father of tragedy", Aeschylus introduced a "second actor" on stage, allowing for action and interaction to take place and establishing a caste of professional actors (Bloom, 45). He let the chorus converse with the characters, introduced elaborate costumes and stage designs. Two of Aeschylus' plays, Oresteia and Prometheus Bound, illustrate the importance of Chorus and the characteristic concept of "hubris", or excessive pride, focusing on man's social and political consequences in the universe in relation to the Greek gods. Aeschylus was a native of Eleusis, a Greek town near Athens. The year of his birth was 525 B.C. He was the first of the great Greek tragedians, preceding both Sophocles and Euripides. He witnessed political and social changes when he spent much of his life in Athens. Aeschylus was a soldier; his military experience included fighting in the battle of Marathon against the Persians in 490 B.C. He later fought against the Persians at Salamis and Platea in 480 B.C. (Bloom, 58). Athens, at that time, was part of a federation of small Greek states allied against the forces of the Persian army, which was led by King Xerxes. Aeschylus fought against the Persians who invaded Athens and lost his brother in the final battle. Over eighty plays are credited to his name, of which only seven have been preserved in full by the efforts of ancient historians. Of the seven surviving plays, the Suppliants is generally agreed to be the earliest and is usually assigned to the first decade of the century. The Persians was produced in 472 B.C., the Seven Against Thebes in 467, and the Oresteia in 458 (Bloom, 43). In Aeschylus' trilogy, the Oresteia, he dramatizes the phenomenon of the ancestral curse upon the House of Atreus. Agamemnon and Menelaus, sons of Atreus, have inherited the curse. Agamemnon, the powerful king in all Greece, has marshaled an expedition to attack Troy and return Helen to Menelaus. Encountering the wrath of Artemis, Agamemnon must in appeasement sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. Agamemnon is the first of a triology, the Oresteia, the other two parts of which are The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. Agamemnon depicts the assassination of the title character by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. The Libation Bearers continues the story with the return of Agamemnon's son, Orestes, who kills his mother and avenges his father. In The Eumenides, Orestes is pursued by the Furies in punishment for his matricide, and finally finds refuge in Athens where the god Athena relives him of his persecution. Aeschylus wrote the Prometheus Bound in about 456 B.C. The play is a tragedy that details the sufferings of Prometheus for his rebellion against Zeus. This play is composed of almost entirely of speeches and contains little action since its protagonist is chained throughout the play. At the beginning of the play, Cratos and Bia and Hephaestus chain Prometheus to a mountain in the Caucasus and then depart. The daughters of Oceanus, who make up the chorus, appear and attempt to comfort Prometheus by conversing with him. Prometheus is then visited by Io, who has been changed into a cow by Zeus to save her from the wrath of Hera. Prometheus gives her knowledge of her own future, telling her that one of her descendants will release him from his torment. Finally, Hermes is sent down by the angered Zeus to...
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