AESCHYLUS was the first of the great tragic dramatists of Athens. He was born in 525 B.C., fought in the famous Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.), and died in 456 B.C. He is credited with having added a second actor to the chorus and its leader, thus creating the possibility of dialogue between characters and transforming choral lyrics into drama. He wrote about 90 plays, seven of which survive intact. The best known is the Oresteia trilogy (458 B.C.), based on the tragic end of the House of Atreus: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides.
SOPHOCLES was born in 496 B.C. and died in 406 B.C., and seven of his 120 tragedies have survived. The most famous versions of the story of Oedipus are in three plays by him Oedipus the King (date unclear) tells of Oedipus's fatal discovery of the truth about his parentage, Antigone (c. 440 B.C.) tells how she defied Creon and the posthumous Oedipus at Colonnus (401 B.C.) tells of how Oedipus, pursued by the Erinyes for his sins, died at a place near Athens and was buried by Theseus. Another famous play was his version of the story of Electra.
EURIPIDES was the last of the
three great tragic dramatists, and more of his plays have survived. Born
about 480 (or 484) B.C., he was a controversial playwright in his day.
He was suspected of impiety, and he may well have held unconventional
views, since he was a disciple of the philosopher
Anaxagoras and a friend of Socrates. He
was also opposed to the excesses committed in the name of the war with
Sparta. In 408 B.C. he found it advisable to go into exile in Macedonia.
He was productive to the end; one of his greatest plays, The Bacchae was produced in 406
a year after his death. Our best known versions of several other myths
are based on his plays, including Alcestis (438 B.C.), Medea (431 B.C.), and Hippolytus (428 B.C.). His
Electra is less well known
than that of Sophocles but is of interest for
making its putative heroine an unsympathetic nut case.
[Last posted July 15, 2002, by Bob Canary, mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org]