PATRIOTIC AND RELIGIOUS IDEAS OF AESCHYLUS

This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927. p. 33.

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LIKE most of the earlier Athenian poets, Aeschylus was intensely national. His plays reveal a constant care and anxiety for Greece and the traditions of greatness which she had inherited. The Persians is in a sense the earliest specimen of Greek history in existence. It was composed in the full flood of national pride, in the face of the humiliation of the enemy. Aeschylus sings,

"Impregnable the walls of Athens stand,
Her fearless children are her bulwarks sure."

Aristocratic in his principles, Aeschylus believed that the government of the state should lie upon the shoulders of the educated and the well-born. The rights of suppliant and guest are sacred. Hospitality is one of the paramount duties. Liberty, reverence for the gods, generous suffering for the good of others, and the ancient noble heritage of the Greeks--these are topics on which he loves to dwell. His moral earnestness is apparent in each one of his plays. To him Zeus was the sublime and just ruler of the universe, punishing sin and evil. There are laws of right and good in accordance with which man must live; but patience in suffering disarms even the wrath of the gods and brings rest at last.

Mixed with his deeply religious temperament were all sorts of ancient superstitions, mingled with a tinge of wholesome skepticism. In his plays, as in some of the examples of primitive drama, there are lessons in geography, in the history of civilization, and in the origin of human customs. The very core and kernel of one of his greatest plays, the Prometheus, is the spectacle of an undefeated will struggling against an enthroned power. Aeschylus placed the wreath of immortality upon him whose courage and determination held fast in the face of threatened disaster.

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